Chronicles of Draezoln

Tales of the world of Draezoln

Monthly Archives: November 2010

Chapter 12-1

Chapter 12: Spirit


Almonihah made his way south at a very brisk pace. No point hanging around where Galindakherithan might reconsider and decide there was some joke in Trollish he had to hear or something. The faster he was out of her territory, the better. The Ranger made a mental note to keep an eye out for other dragons’ territorial markings in the future, though dragons were rather notorious for marking their territory in ways that could only be detected from the air. If they marked their territory at all.


He could tell that summer was in full swing in the North Forest. Which meant he’d been stuck in that cave for over a year. The realization didn’t make him particularly happy.


It did feel good to be free again, though. Perhaps not good enough to make him forget the bitterness of captivity, but definitely good. Almonihah spent a couple of days just enjoying being able to go wherever he pleased, though his first brush with a manticore reminded him that just because he was free didn’t mean he was free from danger. Fortunately, the only spike that hit him just barely drew blood. His arrow, however, drew considerably more blood from the manticore.


He neared the edge of the North Forest rather quickly, despite the fact that he slowed down quite a bit once he felt he was far enough away from the copper dragon’s territory. Almonihah wasn’t quite sure how he knew he was nearing the forest’s edge—he just knew. Maybe it was just long familiarity with the forest or something.


It was then that he heard voices approaching from the south. The Ranger froze, brushing aside his idle speculations, and listened with his keen ears. There were two different voices, and they spoke for only a little while before they were silent again. Whoever they were, they were trying to move quietly, though they were doing a mediocre job of it. Almonihah did a much better job at sneaking towards them.


He soon caught sight of the pair. They were two human males, both with bows, arrows, and spears. They looked to be Plainsmen—their manner of dress and their heavily-tanned skin both indicated as much. That would explain their difficulty with traveling quietly through the forest, as Plainsmen usually lived… on the plains.


They were also walking straight towards a pit plant.


Quickly, Almonihah moved to a concealed position on the opposite side of the carnivorous plant and called out, “Stop.”


The two Plainsmen froze, looking around them cautiously for the source of the voice. As one of them opened his mouth to speak, Almonihah fired an arrow. It hit what looked to be a pile of leaves a few paces in front of them with a wet-sounding “thunk”. As it did, the “leaf pile” twitched, revealing for a moment a circular pattern of wedges… as well as giving a glimpse of the hole lined with acidic secretions that lay beneath.


One of the Plainsmen gasped a little as he realized how close to danger they had been. After a moment, he recovered from his astonishment and called out, “I thank you, stranger.”


He paused for a moment, and as he did, Almonihah stepped out of his hiding-place into plain view. Both of the Plainsmen gasped in astonishment and fell to their knees when they saw the half-dragon. The one who had spoken earlier then said, his voice trembling a little, “Great spirit, forgive us for not having given you proper respect earlier…”


“Stop that.” Disgust was plain in Almonihah’s voice. “I’m no spirit. ‘nd get up. That’s ridiculous.” He gestured at their kneeling forms.


Hurriedly, the two rose to their feet. “Forgive us, spirit…”


“I told you I’m not a spirit,” Almonihah growled, making sure to speak clearly so they understood. He didn’t think his Common had gotten that sloppy during his time with Galindakherithan, but it seemed like they hadn’t understood him the first time.


“Yes, g…” the Plainsman floundered for a bit, then continued, “Uh… what would you have us call you?”


“By my name,” Almonihah replied, having to suppress the urge to make his disdain clearer. Then he realized he hadn’t told them his name. “I’m Almonihah.”


There was silence for a moment. It seemed like the two Plainsmen were expecting him to say something more. Then it occurred to the half-dragon that humans usually had a last name. On a whim, he said, “Almonihah Zrathanzon.” That felt… right somehow.


“Almonihah Zrathanzon…” the Plainsman who had been quiet before said, carefully trying to pronounce the name like the half-dragon had.


Almonihah nodded in acknowledgement.


“Almonihah Zrathanzon,” the Plainsman tried out the name again, a bit more confidently, “We owe you blood-debt. Please, come to our camp and accept of our hospitality in token of our acknowledgement of our debt.”


It sounded to Almonihah like he was repeating something he’d memorized. But their camp was almost certainly to the south, and it would be kind of nice to get some respect after being pushed around by a dragon for a year. So he agreed. If this was what Zrathanzon had meant about Plainsmen having ‘strange ideas’ about half-dragons, he didn’t mind them too much.



He did quickly get tired of the superstitious awe that both of them treated him with, and with how the one who had spoken first always had to keep himself from calling the half-dragon ‘spirit’. He did get the other one to the point where he would actually call him just Almonihah, instead of Almonihah Zrathanzon, but it took almost the entire walk back to their camp. The other one… well, he was a lost cause.


Almonihah could see their camp as soon as they came to the edge of the forest. It was a little ways off, but it looked like it consisted of a small cluster of conical tents. He’d seen such camps from a distance before, and Zrathanzon had told him that they were long-term hunting camps. Apparently, during the spring and summer, the hunters of a tribe of Plainsmen would take these tents and spread out from their home village for a month or two at a time to bring down game to salt and bring back to their village. The preserved meat would help keep them fed through the winter.


One of the pair ran ahead a bit to tell the camp of their visitor. Most of the hunters were still out pursuing game, but the few that were in camp, along with those of their wives and children who had come with them, all came out to greet their visitor. If anything, they were worse about the whole superstitious awe thing than Almonihah’s two guides. Some of them seemed quite terrified when he corrected them about calling him “great spirit” or “thunder spirit”, and it took the half-dragon a considerable amount of time and energy convincing them that he wasn’t really angry at them for calling him something he didn’t want to be called. He also got the impression that they still thought he was some sort of supernatural spirit creature. It was all very annoying.


He had just about decided that he’d had enough “great thunder spirit”’s when a small group of Plainsmen made their way from the other side of camp to the gathering around the Ranger. Their leader wore a necklace of claws and teeth from various dangerous creatures, which Almonihah took to be proof of his hunting prowess. The Ranger noted idly that he had killed all of the creatures whose claws and fangs adorned the Plainsman’s necklace himself.


As soon as this Plainsman caught sight of the half-dragon, his face paled, and he fell to his knees. “Thunder spirit,” he began his voice trembling.


“I’m not some thunder spirit!” Almonihah interrupted, angrily. He wasn’t about to let this guy start on the whole “great spirit” routine.


The Plainsman seemed nonplussed by this response. After a moment, he recovered enough to ask, “What are you, then?”


“’m what happens when a bronze dragon spends too much time ‘n human form with a beautiful human sorceress,” Almonihah snapped, his frustration coming out in the bitterness of his response.


The Plainsman stared blankly at Almonihah. After a moment, Almonihah growled in frustration and elaborated.


“I’m a half-dragon. Half-bronze dragon, half-human.”


The Plainsman’s stare didn’t become any less blank. After a moment of silence, however, he apparently decided to simply drop the issue and asked, “How should I call you?”


“Almonihah Zrathanzon. But just call me Almonihah.”


The Plainsman seemed to be getting more used to the idea of his strange visitor. “Almonihah,” he tried the name out, doing a better job at it than most of the others had, “What brings you to our humble hunting camp?”


The Ranger simply nodded at one of the two hunters he had saved. The indicated hunter explained about what had happened, and the Plainsman with the necklace nodded.


“I see. It was right to bring him back here. You, and the tribe, owe him a debt.” The Plainsman with the necklace, who the other Plainsman had referred to as “Hunt-Chief”, turned back to Almonihah. “We are grateful for the lives of the two hunters that you have saved. You honor our camp. However, I fear that this humble camp cannot offer you much to repay our debt.”


“In three suns, we will strike camp and return to our village. There, we can thank you properly. There, our Chief and Shaman, who are much wiser than I, dwell. There, perhaps, we can begin to repay our debt to you.”


There was silence. All of the Plainsmen were looking expectantly at Almonihah. It made him feel just a bit uncomfortable.


Irritably, not quite wanting to agree to anything yet, the half-dragon asked, “Which way is it?”


The Hunt-Chief, accustomed by now to his unexpected guest asking unexpected questions, replied, “It is to the south and east, maybe four suns’ distance from here.”


Almonihah shrugged. “Might ‘s well. Same way I was going anyways.”




So, Almonihah’s finally free of Galindakherithan! And now he runs into the Plainsmen. This is an interesting part of his life. I must admit, though, that I know just about nothing about what life in a society like this would actually be like, so there will no doubt be… inaccuracies.

Chapter 11-3

The next morning went much as the last morning had. This time, however, when Galindakherithan went out to hunt, Almonihah carefully made his way out of the lair, nimbly stepping around the various wards etched into the cavern floors. He still had plenty of time when he finally emerged into the sunlight, but he didn’t waste any time in getting under the cover of the forest.

The half-dragon stealthily slipped between the trees for over an hour, leaving the dragon’s lair far behind him. Even after he felt fairly certain that he was out of sight of the lair, he kept to cover. No telling where Galindakherithan might be hunting.

Almonihah felt his heart rate pick up when he heard the sound of heavy wingbeats approaching. Quickly, he found a spot that could not be seen from the air and hid himself. The Ranger held perfectly still as the sound drew nearer, until it passed over him. He listened as the sound grew more distant… until suddenly, with a soft thud, it stopped. Then there was the sound of something large moving through the underbrush. Almonihah hardly even breathed as Galindakherithan came into view.

She was looking right at him.

I wondered how long it would take you to try to leave, she said smugly. I wasn’t sure at first if you were the impatient type or the careful type. She sniffed disdainfully. I guessed right.

Almonihah resisted the urge to ask which one she had guessed, and settled for an angry glare. “Put some kind ‘f locater spell on me.” Almonihah’s question was more of a statement.

Of course. Galindakherithan seemed surprised that he would even suggest that she wouldn’t do such a thing. Now then, I’d best carry you again. I wouldn’t want you getting any funny ideas while walking back.

Almonihah had thought that being carried the last time was an uncomfortable experience, but he found that Galindakherithan had been gentle with him last time. This time, she gripped him uncomfortably tightly, and he felt each wingbeat jolting him. Fortunately it was a quick flight, but he still felt bruised and battered by the time the dragon set him down in her lair.

Now, then, I trust you’ll find your way to your room while I go back out hunting? Galindakherithan said, then turn and took off again without waiting for an answer.

Almonihah picked himself up off the ground, suppressing a groan. He wasn’t quite sure whether or not to be insulted that she wasn’t even bothering to make sure he went in. Then he remembered that she had some kind of tracking magic on him, and decided that insulted probably wasn’t the right response. Angry, yes. Resigned, eventually. But insulted, no.

He did make his way back to his room, just in case. It took him all of a minute to be bored out of his mind. He started pacing. That got boring pretty quickly, too. So he decided that the dragon hadn’t told him to stay in his room, and went back out to the main lair area where there was more room to do some weapon drills.

Almonihah started to feel a little bit better as he worked through the familiar movements of his drills. He’d have to do this more often, if for nothing else than to forget for a little while that he was a prisoner. Not to mention he was going to need to work on keeping in shape if he was stuck here for a while.

You’re not practicing to kill me, are you? Galindakherithan’s voice made Almonihah jump.

Once he had recovered from his surprise, Almonihah turned to face her. The dragon was in human form, which didn’t fully explain how she’d been able to sneak up on him. Probably more magic. “’m not that stupid,” Almonihah said.

Galindakherithan laughed. So you do admit to being somewhat stupid, then?

The half-dragon grunted in acknowledgement of her hit. He’d have to remember to beware her sense of humor at all times. It was bad enough when she was deliberately telling jokes.

After that, Almonihah resigned himself to being stuck in Galindakherithan’s lair until she got bored with him. Or he learned enough Great Eagle for her to tell him a joke. Or until he went insane. Whichever she was going for.

Almonihah settled into a routine fairly quickly. The copper dragon would spend a couple hours on teaching him Great Eagle in the morning, then he’d drill while she hunted and did whatever else it was she did while she was gone, then she’d come back and teach him more Great Eagle. Sometimes she’d go to her library or study in the evenings, leaving Almonihah to figure out what else he could do with himself. It usually ended up being more weapon drills. He was making up new ones to keep himself entertained. He just regretted that there weren’t really any good archery targets. Shooting his practice arrows at rocks would be a good way to not have practice arrows for long.

In time, Almonihah took to sitting at the edge of the lair for long periods, looking out on the world outside. Galindakherithan would often catch him at it, but at first, she said nothing. After several weeks, however, she finally told him he could go outside as long as he stayed within a mile of her lair, so the half-bronze dragon took to rambling around the woods around her lair. Save for the occasional patch of evergreens, most of the trees had already lost their leaves, with only a few clinging on to red or orange leaves. There was a pleasant chill in the air, not really enough to bother Almonihah, but enough for him to enjoy the difference.

As the weeks turned to months, Almonihah and Galindakherithan settled into a sort of unfriendly friendship. The copper dragon continued to make jokes at the half-dragon’s expense, and the Ranger continued to see how lazily he could speak in the Common Tongue and still get the dragon to acknowledge she knew what he meant.

Sometime during the winter, perhaps because she felt a bit bad about her “guest” wandering around in the snow because he was bored, Galindakherithan allowed the half-dragon into her library. While books had never interested Almonihah much, he did know how to read, and it was something to do other than doing the same weapon drills over and over and walking the same mile of snowy forest over and over again.

Almonihah was rather surprised to find that the copper dragon had a fairly large collection of books. While several were on jokes, a fair number were on other topics—philosophy, magic, religion, even a text on draconic anatomy. All were full of marginal comments in a very fine hand, some in Elven, some in Common. The anatomy text was particularly heavily marked with rather disparaging comments, and the half-dragon recognized his “host”’s sense of humor.

Almonihah was even more surprised to find that he actually enjoyed reading. Not enough that he didn’t keep in practice with his weapons and take plenty of walks outside, but he had read all of the books he was interested in by the time the snows had retreated up to the peaks of the mountains.

By this time, Almonihah was starting to feel fairly confident in his command of Great Eagle, and Galindakherithan was starting to (grudgingly) agree. The Ranger was starting to wonder if she was going to think of another excuse to keep him here or if he was finally going to be able to leave.

It was sometime late in the spring, or maybe early in the summer, when Galindakherithan finally said, in Great Eagle, Well, I think you’re finally ready to hear my joke.

It took Almonihah a moment to fully appreciate what she was saying. She took his pause to be an expectant silence, and launched into the joke.

Once she was done, Almonihah snorted in amusement. She’d been waiting this long to tell him that? It didn’t even make sense, even as a joke. Then he thought over it again, and realized he’d mistranslated part of it. He chuckled—just a bit—at his mistake, because it was kind of a funny error.

Ha! I knew you couldn’t resist my jokes forever! Galindakherithan crowed (in Draconic). After a moment of silence, she said, a bit more quietly, Well, now that you’ve finally laughed at one of my jokes, you’re free to gather your stuff and go whenever you’d like.

Almonihah blinked. She was really letting him go? It seemed like the world away from the lair was just a dream, it’d been so long since he’d been out there. Slowly, though, the realization that this was real sunk in.

He realized that it would probably be polite to say something to the copper dragon. Polite seemed like a good idea.

“Well…” he trailed off for a bit before thinking of what to say, “Thanks.”

Galindakherithan laughed a bit. Laconic as always, I see. Well, you are welcome. Do stop by again sometime if you’re in the area. You are rather amusing company, even if you hardly ever laugh yourself.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” the Ranger replied as he headed towards his room to pick up his stuff. He made a mental note to never come within a hundred miles of this place again.


So, it’s been over a month, but I finished chapter 11! Huzzah! I’ll try to be better about writing more often in the future, for my loyal readers’ sakes.

Anyways, this was actually a fairly important period in Almonihah’s life, and not just because he learned Great Eagle. I’m not quite sure I want to just tell you why, though. So just keep your eye out for reasons why.

Chapter 11-2

You will stay here during your time with me, Galindakherithan said, waving imperiously at the room. Feel free to find a place for your things. I will come back for you shortly.

And with that, she walked out and shut the door.

Almonihah looked around the room, growled, and paced around for a bit. After a moment, he decided he might as well take his pack off. He leaned it against the wardrobe, then took a seat on the bed. He was startled so much when he started to sink into it that he jumped back up on his feet. He glared at it, already feeling a little bit ridiculous. He may have been sleeping on a bedroll on the ground for years now, but he had slept in a real bed in inns a few times. Muttering to himself darkly, he sat back down on the bed and thought.

It was obvious that he couldn’t escape while Galindakherithan was around. If he was lucky, she wasn’t serious about this whole teaching him Great Eagle thing, and she’d let him go tomorrow after she felt she’d made her point. If not… well, she had to leave to hunt sometime. While he was more accustomed to hiding from lesser (and stupider) predators than dragons, he was certain he could disappear well enough once he reached the forest outside that the copper dragon wouldn’t be able to track him. He’d be good for a day or two while he observed her habits, but the next day, when the time was right…

His keen ears picked up the sound of footsteps outside the door after spending a while ruminating. He quickly sat up from the bed as the doorknob turned.

Galindakherithan, again in human form, opened the door. I trust you’ve had sufficient time now to settle in… she said, her words half-question, half-statement. Her eyes flicked to the pack leaning against the wardrobe. When she looked back at Almonihah, there seemed to be a hint of disapproval in her gaze.

Almonihah nodded. Galindakherithan waited for a moment, but when it became clear that the half-dragon had nothing to say, she said, Well, why don’t you come out here now so we can start your first lesson?

The Ranger grunted in acquiescence as he walked to join Galindakherithan in the hall. She led him back towards the main chamber of her lair. Once they were out of the narrower part of the tunnel, she shifted back to her dragon form.

Much better, she said as she stretched out her legs and wings. I’ll never understand how you manage to live your whole lives cooped up in your little bodies.

Almonihah’s only response was another grunt.

Galindakherithan taught Almonihah the basics of Great Eagle for the rest of the day. Despite how much he hated the fact that he was being forced to do it, he had to admit that he almost enjoyed it. He was rather proud of how many languages he knew and how proficient he was at learning new ones.

Not bad… for only being half dragon. Galindakherithan said at the end of their session. I guess you inherited a bit of dragonkind’s vocal flexibility. Most humans can’t even make the sounds required to speak Great Eagle.

Almonihah just grunted again. He wasn’t quite sure how much she was actually complimenting him. He found her attitude towards him and his half-dragon status… well, he wasn’t quite sure what to think of it yet. The Ranger sincerely hoped that he wouldn’t have the time to figure it out.

The copper dragon interrupted his thoughts. Well, it’s time for me to go out and hunt. Do be a dear and don’t try to run away or go anywhere I’ve told you not to.

Almonihah’s response was a snort and a nod. He knew better than to touch a dragon’s things, and as for running away, he needed a bit more information before he tried that.

Seemingly satisfied by her “guest’s” response, Galindakherithan made her way back out of the lair. Almonihah stood for a little while in the main chamber, then decided to look around some more. He started with the main lair chamber, where he already was. He explored around, noting the subtle differences in slope in the cavern’s floor, the interesting formations in the corners of the chamber where the dragon hadn’t destroyed them, and the small grooves and smooth areas made by the daily habits of Galindakherithan. After a couple of hours, he felt he knew the room almost as well as its resident did.

And after that, he felt quite bored.

He didn’t quite dare study the other rooms in the kind of detail he’d studied this room, as the other cave chambers were closer to the entrance—which would hardly look good if Galindakherithan flew back in while he was studying them. And his room and the hallway… well, he suspected that studying them would be at least as boring as sitting on his bed doing nothing.

When Galindakherithan returned, the half-dragon was pacing about the main chamber of her lair like a caged beast. The copper dragon observed him with amusement as he turned to face her. Almonihah looked at her for a moment before speaking.

“Took you long enough.”

That is hardly an appropriate way to welcome a dragon back to her lair, she replied, her voice and manner oozing with mock majesty.

Almonihah replied with his characteristic grunt.

Galindakherithan shook her head a bit, chuckling deep in her chest. For such a seemingly humorless fellow, you do have quite a number of amusing quirks.

The half-bronze dragon didn’t deign to respond.

The remainder of the day was spent on more lessons in Great Eagle. Once it was night (as far as he could guess from so deep inside of the lair), the copper dragon ushered her “guest” off to his room.

The next day dawned bright and clear… not that it mattered to Almonihah, deep in the mountain. He was already awake when his hostess came to awaken him. If Galindakherithan was surprised at all by this, she didn’t comment on it. She did, however, tell him to come out for some breakfast. The meal consisted of some roasted meat, as well as various nuts and berries. Almonihah wondered when she’d gotten the food, but decided not to ask.

Lessons came after breakfast. They seemed much more intense than the day before, as if the copper dragon had decided that her pupil could learn at a much more rapid pace than she had first thought. The increased pace of his lessons didn’t bother Almonihah, as he actually enjoyed exercising his talent for languages… not that he would admit it to Galindakherithan. He had a feeling that she knew about what he was trying to hide, though.

The dragon left after several hours of teaching Great Eagle, and Almonihah quickly went to work scouting the front two chambers of the lair. Unlike in her nest chamber, he was looking for something in particular this time. Most dragons were skilled in sorcery, and often used magic to guard their lairs with wards of some type. Hopefully they’d be more to keep things out than in, but he’d still rather know they were there.

It didn’t take him long to spot one. Near the tunnel leading further into the lair, there was a strange pattern etched slightly into the stone. While the Ranger couldn’t make any sense of it, he noted its location for future reference.

He spotted several more in that chamber, and even more in the entrance chamber. Once he was fairly certain he knew where they all were, he went back to the main chamber to think. If he’d really seen all of them, and if she stayed out hunting as long as yesterday…

He had a fairly good idea of what he wanted to do by the time his “host” returned. She had, indeed, stayed out about the same amount of time as yesterday. Good.

I trust you’ve been keeping yourself entertained, Almonihah? The dragon’s voice made it half-statement, half-question.

The half-dragon’s response was a combination of a shrug and a grunt. I’ve been looking around. I haven’t been on the inside of a dragon lair before.

And what do you think? Galindakherithan’s tone seemed to imply that she already knew he was impressed.

I prefer the woods, was Almonihah’s blunt reply.

The dragon looked at her guest in shock, as if unable to believe that the Ranger would say such a thing to her face. After a moment, though, her expression smoothed into a smile.

You probably think you’re clever, don’t you? Trying to get me angry and have me throw you out into the woods, aren’t you?Well, I think it’s time for some more lessons. You’re not going anywhere until you hear my joke in Great Eagle.

Almonihah suppressed a groan as he moved to the place she indicated for him to sit. Hopefully he hadn’t just made it harder to escape…


So… it’s been over a month. School happened. It’s getting better.

Anyways, this chapter has been kind of fun to write. Almonihah didn’t enjoy it, but it’s fun from Galindakherithan’s point of view. Really, though, it serves to reveal more of Almonihah’s character (as well as give a glimpse into what at least one Draezolnian dragon is like), so it’s not just for fun. It is fun, though.

Chapter 11-1

Chapter 11: Captive

Almonihah was walking across a clearing a couple of days later when he noticed something large flying towards him. As he looked more closely at it, he could make out the silhouette of a dragon. He waited tensely as it approached until he could make out the color of its scales. Copper. Almonihah relaxed a bit. It was a metallic dragon, so it probably wasn’t hostile. Then he thought back to his ruminations on the mountain and snorted in amusement. Maybe he would get an opportunity to find out about a dragon’s lifestyle sooner than he had thought.

He stood in the clearing as the dragon flew down and made a gentle landing a few yards from him. She—he could tell now that the dragon was female—was a middle-sized adult copper dragon, probably two or three hundred years old. She looked to be about forty feet long from nose to the tip of her tail. She looked at him down her snout.

Well, what have we here? Her voice was pleasant, even when speaking Draconic, and not as loud as one would expect from a creature of her size. A half-bronze, if I’m not mistaken?

Almonihah opened his mouth to speak, but all that came out was a coughing fit. How long had it been since he had last spoken out loud? After he recovered, he responded with a simple Draconic, Yes.

The dragon seemed amused. Such a lot of effort to say so little, wasn’t it, little half-dragon? She moved her head down to be more on his level, the scales on her sinuous neck glinting in the sunlight as she moved. I hope you don’t have that much trouble every time you talk.

Almonihah did not appreciate the amusement in her voice. Not usually, he growled.

Oh, my. You are a grumpy one, aren’t you? She lifted her head a little bit, a grin playing across her lips. I know just what you need. Have you heard the one about the bar?

Almonihah grunted noncommittally, but inwardly he was incredulous. Was this dragon honestly going to start telling him jokes?

The dragon didn’t seem to care about her audience’s lack of enthusiasm. This is a good one. It will cheer you right up! It only works in Common though. Then she said in Common, “So, two men walked into a bar… and the dwarf walked under.”

Almonihah simply stood, his arms folded. The copper dragon waited expectantly for a few moments, then sighed.

I see. Tough audience. Well, I know one that would make a rock laugh. Have you…

I am sorry, but I have to go now, Almonihah said, struggling to be polite to her. His former curiosity about dragon lifestyles had completely evaporated. There was no way he was going to sit here and listen to her tell jokes, even if she was several times his size.

Almonihah started to walk away until the dragon slammed her claws down on the ground in front of him. I insist! she growled as her head followed her claw to get uncomfortably close to the half-dragon’s face. He could smell the acrid scent of acid on her breath. Apparently she was rather serious about her jokes.

After a few moments, the copper dragon relaxed and pulled her claw and head back to a more comfortable distance. I trust you understand me now. Now then, where was I? Oh yes, I was about to tell the one about the dwarf and the pickle barrel…

The sun was low on the horizon when the dragon finally stretched and said, I don’t believe I’ve ever had such a touch audience.

Almonihah was still standing with his arms crossed. He’d shifted around some to keep his legs from falling to sleep, but he hadn’t moved far. He wasn’t taking any chances with those claws. Of course, neither had he laughed at any of her jokes.

It is getting rather late, isn’t it? The dragon said, then continued without waiting for an answer, I guess there’s only time for one more. You wouldn’t happen to know Great Eagle, would you?

No, Almonihah replied.

Hm… it only makes sense in Great Eagle. Well, I guess there’s nothing else to do but take you back to my lair and teach you Great Eagle.

“What?” Almonihah was so surprised that he switched back to the Common Tongue without even thinking about it. “I am not…”

I insist. The dragon’s tone was still pleasant, but Almonihah remembered how she had acted the last time she had said those words. He had a feeling he didn’t have much choice about this.

The dragon looked him up and down. It’s a pity you weren’t born with wings.

Almonihah suppressed a flinch at those words. If she only knew how many times he’d wished he had…

I guess I’ll just have to carry you back myself. Hold still.

Almonihah froze as she reached for him with one clawed foot. Gently, she closed her claws around him and picked him up off the ground. Then she leaped into the air with a powerful downbeat of her wings and started flying northwest.

Almonihah found that being carried was a much less comfortable way to fly than riding. Not only was the dragon’s firm grip on him rather uncomfortable, he could also see just how far from the ground they were getting. While he didn’t think himself a coward, seeing that much empty air below him with nothing but a dragon’s claw to hold him up made him a bit nervous. At least he couldn’t sweat.

Well, since you’re going to be my guest, I suppose I should tell you my name, the dragon said, her voice carrying clearly despite the wind whipping by. I am Galindakherithan. And what is your name, half-bronze?

“Almonihah,” the Ranger called back, almost yelling to make sure he was heard.

Almonihah, Galindakherithan repeated, her voice thoughtful. An odd name… it’s not from the Common Tongue, nor is it Draconic…and it’s definitely not Elven or Dwarven… maybe it’s Ancient Draconic?

There was an expectant pause. After a while, Almonihah guessed she was waiting for him to say something.

I… don’t know, he admitted.

What, your father never told you?

He died first. Almonihah’s response was as much growl as yell.

Galindakherithan was silent for a while. Eventually she changed the subject. So just what brought a young half-dragon like yourself to be wandering about in my territory?

I am a Ranger, Almonihah replied.

After waiting a bit for him to elaborate, the dragon asked, Aren’t Rangers usually down by the Madlands?

I’m not, was Almonihah’s reply.

Well, I could tell that. Galindakherithan’s was rather sarcastic. After a moment’s pause, to give the half-dragon an opportunity to explain himself, the copper dragon said, So, in other words, you wander around other people’s territories.

Almonihah snorted, but didn’t say anything. He felt as much as saw her shake her head.

You half-dragon types… she said, then chuckled herself. As if I would know. I must admit that you’re the first one I’ve met.

Almonihah grunted. I am not surprised by that, he said.

There are not that many of you, are there? Galindakherithan asked, though the question seemed rhetorical. As if to confirm the impression, she spoke again before he had a chance to respond. Here we are!

Almonihah looked ahead. They were nearing a cliff face on one of the mountains of the Stormpeaks. As he looked closer, he did indeed see a large opening in the cliff, though it was partially screened by trees that came up to just before the cave mouth. Galindakherithan slowed as she approached it, then came down gently to a landing in the small clearing in front of the cave mouth.

Now then, you know better than to try to run when I put you down, right?

Almonihah hated the patronizing tone in the dragon’s voice, so he responded in Common. “Yeah.”

Galindakherithan set her half-dragon ‘guest’ down. After waiting for a couple of seconds to make sure he didn’t decide to try running despite her warning, she started walking towards the cave opening.

Come along then, Almonihah.

Almonihah grunted and followed her.

Galindakherithan’s lair seemed to consist of a series of interconnected caverns. The first, where they entered, was wide, but fairly shallow, with a narrower tunnel in the back leading deeper into the lair. Despite the smaller size of the tunnel, the copper dragon fit in it with plenty of room to spare—which she might well need in a few centuries, if she continued living in this lair.

They next passed through a large cavern with a high ceiling. Galindakherithan took a rather winding path through it.

Just some things here to discourage unwanted guests while I’m out hunting, the dragon said over her shoulder as she turned yet again to go across the chamber instead of towards the opening in the back that Almonihah could dimly see.

The next cavern looked to be the one the dragon used to sleep in. There was a shallow depression on one side of the chamber which looked to be rather scratched up that Almonihah suspected was the copper dragon’s nest. He was not surprised to see that her hoard was not here. Zrathanzon had said that the legends about dragons sleeping on their gold were false.

Don’t even try to go down there, Galindakherithan said, pointing towards another tunnel opening in the right side of the cavern that was a few feet above the floor. Then she pointed at another, smaller opening in the other side of the cavern. Down there is where you’ll be staying. Let me show you to your room.

She started walking towards the opening on all fours, with Almonihah following. After a little while, the tunnel began to narrow quickly.

The copper dragon waved Almonihah on. I’ll be along in just a moment, half-dragon.

With another acknowledging grunt, the Ranger passed his hostess and walked further down the tunnel. He heard Galindakherithan mutter something behind him, turned his head to look at her, but saw only a tall human woman in a silvery-colored dress.

Almonihah seemed unsurprised. “Thought you could do that,” he said, then turned back and continued onwards.

You really are no fun, the woman said in Draconic, with a bit of a playful pout in her voice.

“Be a lot more convincing ‘f you didn’t speak in Draconic,” Almonihah replied.

“Human is such a dull language,” the shape-changed dragon said airily in Common. “Draconic really has much more power to it.”

Almonihah’s only response was a snort.

The tunnel dead-ended in an unusually smooth, flat wall with a door in it. There was another door in the wall of the tunnel on either side, also in suspiciously flat walls. Almonihah noted that they didn’t look to have been worked with tools, which led him to conclude that someone—probably Galindakherithan—had used magic to shape the surrounding stone and then installed doors in the resulting walls.

Galindakherithan walked around Almonihah and pointed at the door in the left wall. This will be your room, she said, speaking in Draconic again, then indicated the other two doors. The middle door is my studio, and the right one is my library. You should know that both of those doors have traps on them—another little deterrent for unwanted guests. I would suggest that you not touch either of them.

Almonihah nodded in understanding. Once the human-shape dragon was satisfied he understood, she opened the door to his room and walked in, motioning for the half-dragon to follow. The room was fairly large, with a wardrobe, a large bed, and various other furnishings. All of the walls were straight and flat, like something that had been built by men, but with none of the tool marks that would usually accompany such work.


Yes, Almonihah was just taken prisoner by a dragon because he wouldn’t laugh at her jokes. Dragons can be funny creatures sometimes… but Almonihah doesn’t think this is funny.

Note how Almonihah’s speech is different in Draconic. Draconic doesn’t lend itself to the kinds of contractions and dropped syllables (or words) that Almonihah is fond of in the Common Tongue.

Chapter 10

Chapter 10: Solitude

Almonihah made good time as he headed back north. He slowed down a bit when he hit the jungle, however. Zrathanzon hadn’t had enough time to properly train him on all the dangers of the area, so Almonihah was making sure to be extra cautious as he traveled.

He did manage to avoid any major incidents in the jungle, though he did have a couple of close calls with monsters prowling the area. Once he reached the other side of the Lost Sea and started ascending, he noticed a definite chill in the air. Fall was coming to a close, and winter would soon begin in earnest. It was not a good time to attempt the pass.

He scouted around the area just above the jungle for a good winter campsite. He found a place where a stream made its way down into the valley, headed towards the Lost Sea. After checking around, he confirmed that no large predators had been in the area for the last while, so he set up camp.

He had developed a marked preference for sleeping without a tent, but he set one up in anticipation of the snows. He supposed he could have made his camp a little bit lower in the valley, where the snows never reached, but despite the time he had spent in various other climates, he still felt most comfortable in forests. The jungle was full of wonders, but he knew it also had dangers he might not be aware of. He was much more familiar with the dangers of the forests.

The winter passed fairly uneventfully. While Almonihah did have a few brushes with dangerous creatures, and even had to kill a winged, leonine creature (he later learned they were called manticores), his skill kept him from serious harm. Zrathanzon had, indeed, taught him well.

He ranged wider as spring started to thaw the mountainsides, venturing into the jungle and the surrounding forests. He had hardly sat still during the winter, but it felt good to just wander around, observing the plants and creatures that called the Valley of the Lost Sea home. He found them better company than most men he had known—excluding, perhaps, the Rangers.

Once he was reasonably certain he wouldn’t be caught in a blizzard, Almonihah headed for the pass. While it was bitingly cold at the level of the cave, the half-bronze dragon could handle the temperature much better than he had as a child. He was soon through and going down the other side.

Spring was already turning to summer in the great central plain as Almonihah descended from the Dragon’s Teeth Range. The Ranger could see small figures moving on the plains as he descended—the great herds of the plains, and the Plainsmen who hunted them. These he made sure to avoid. Zrathanzon had said that, while friendly folk, they had some strange ideas about half-dragons. Almonihah had never bothered to ask what kind of strange ideas they were, since he’d gotten the impression they weren’t the lethal kind of strange ideas. Still, he didn’t feel like bothering with people, so he made sure to avoid them, his keen eyes easily spotting them on the plains long before they saw him.

It was truly summer by the time Almonihah reached the North Forest. It felt good to step back into the familiar shadows of the trees. While it had been something like two decades since Almonihah had lived in a house, he felt on coming into the shade of the forest that he was coming home.

Then he noticed he’d stepped in under a blood vine.

He quickly dodged its first attempt to ensnare him, a swift slice from his longsword chopping the vine in two. He quickly looked for the root of the vine, and, finding it, ran over and hacked at the base of the vine. After a couple of chops, the vines overhead quit moving. Inspecting his work, Almonihah nodded in satisfaction and continued on into the forest.

Almonihah meandered about in the forest until the middle of fall, his wanderings carrying him generally east. He enjoyed the familiar sights, sounds, and smells of the forest, and the difference between the immature abilities of his past and his present skill in avoiding the hazards of the North Forest. As the leaves began to fall from the trees, he began to think of his travels in the area with Zrathanzon, and of how there had been a certain point beyond which they had never gone further east. Why was that? What was there?

Was it where his mother had died?

Despite the pain the thought still brought, Almonihah decided he needed to look at the place with older eyes. What he was looking for, he wasn’t sure, but something drove him to look.

He found the place when the first snows started to fall. It must have been complete luck—he had no memory of how to get to the place, and the North Forest was vast. The forest was already well into the process of reclaiming the area his father had cleared, and the cabin where he had lived was hardly recognizable. Only the symbol of Bahamut etched on the remains of the stone that had formed the base of their fireplace told him it was the right place. The logs that had once formed the cabin were scattered and rotting. Before long, nothing recognizable would be left of them.

Almonihah poked around the area for a long time, careful not to damage the young trees growing in the area. It was after the sun had set that he finally left and set up camp. He still didn’t know what he had been searching for, but he knew he hadn’t found it. Whatever it was, it wasn’t here.

He headed generally north and west as the snows deepened. Despite the cold and snow, Almonihah still traveled, some restless urge impelling him to move. It was on the day of a true blizzard, in which even he didn’t dare move, that he finally realized what made him even more restless than normal.

He had no purpose. He had sworn in to the Ranger Order, and he meant what he had said, but he couldn’t sit and wait for Javni’Tolkhrah to come to him, and he was still too mistrustful of human company to stray close enough to human settlements to protect them in more than just a general sense. The wilds called to him, yet they provided no purpose, no meaning for life, just… life.

He wrestled with this feeling of purposelessness for the entire winter, and spring found him still meandering aimlessly west with no true reason to be anywhere. He tangled with some of the beasts of the forest a couple of times, and the thrill of adrenaline and the hunt banished the feeling of meaninglessness for a time, but it always returned. In time he began to seek out monsters to fight, justifying it to himself by saying he was keeping them from attacking the human villages to the south, despite the fact that he knew they rarely strayed so far from their lairs.

After one particularly close call while fighting a pantheron (an unusually large panther-like cat with a leonine mane), Almonihah finally admitted what he was doing. He was acting like the creatures he most despised, those who hunted for the pleasure of the kill rather than to live. And in a way, he was risking his life precisely because he had no reason to live. He looked to the south, thinking of the other Rangers risking their lives for something that had meaning so many miles away. Perhaps, in the coming year, he would go back, and join the Line, at least until he found what he truly wanted to live for.

Until then, he decided he’d like to climb a mountain again. He and Zrathanzon had climbed a few mountains before for the sake of training, and something about the focus and concentration the activity required appealed to him.

Having a destination and a goal sped his feet and lifted his spirits as he headed west. He reached the Stormpeaks in the middle of the summer, in the month of Kazrati. He found a peak that looked difficult, but not impossible, to climb, and began his ascent.

The effort and the mountain air seemed to clear his mind. It was a difficult ascent, as he had hoped for, and doing it alone made it all the more dangerous. There were a couple of times when he was hanging with his claws jammed in a crevice to keep from falling that he was sure he was an idiot for trying to do this alone, but the truth was, the danger just made the challenge more satisfying.

He did, in time, make it to the peak of the mountain. While it was not so high that it still had snow on it in this, the warmest time of summer, the air was chill and clear. Standing on the peak, he could see for miles to the east, though higher peaks blocked his view to the west. The view stirred the old memories of flight in him, both those on Varack’Nara and those he was sure were from his dragon ancestors.

He spent a couple of days there, thinking and simply enjoying the view. The memories of flight made him think on dragons. They lived for longer than any of the Races of Men, even elves. He wondered what purpose they had for their long lives. As he thought, he realized that the only dragon he had ever really known was his father. While Almonihah had met a couple of dragons during the course of his travels with Zrathanzon, and they had even killed a red and a blue dragon that had been raiding human settlements, he hadn’t really had a conversation with a dragon since his parents had died.

He was still thinking of dragons as he descended from the mountain. As he neared the bottom, a thought struck him. He was half-dragon, but he had in all honesty lived his whole life mostly as a human would. A human who was a Ranger, certainly, but a human nonetheless. Shouldn’t he be more somewhere halfway in between how a dragon and a human lived? But how did dragons really live?

Almonihah snorted in amusement at his own thoughts. He knew intellectually how dragons lived, just as he knew the habits of the various animals and monsters of the wildernesses of Draezoln, but that wasn’t really what he needed. Without the knowledge of what a dragon’s life was truly like, this train of thought didn’t really help him.

As he left the mountain and headed back into the woods, he felt more at peace than he had a few weeks ago, even though he still didn’t feel like he had a purpose for his life. He was looking for a purpose, and perhaps that would be enough of a purpose for now.


This chapter ended up being much more introspective on Almonihah’s part than I had anticipated. I guess it’s a side I don’t see of him much since he has to be completely alone for extended periods to come out, or something. Regardless, it does help me make some sense of him.

Chapter 9-2

Almonihah spent the rest of that day maintaining his equipment and doing his weapons drills. Zrathanzon returned just as the sun was touching the mountaintops. He smiled upon seeing his former pupil.

“So shall I call you Ranger, now, Almonihah?”

Almonihah nodded.

Zrathanzon smiled a bit more broadly. “I guess I’d better get ready for the party tonight, then,” he said, as he strode over and clapped a hand on the younger half-dragon’s shoulder. After a moment, he removed it, his smile smoothing out as he asked, “So, are you planning to go to the Line, or back north?”

“North,” Almonihah replied. “Don’t think I could stay put.”

Zrathanzon chuckled. “No, you’re certainly not the type to stand on a line and wait for something. I, on the other hand…” his expression sobered again, and he sighed a bit, “think it’s time I watched the Line for a while. It’s been a century or so, and I don’t really feel like going back north for a while.”

Almonihah’s gaze was a bit suspicious. He had noted that, ever since… things had happened, Zrathanzon had avoided the North Forest. He wondered if the same thing that kept him from his old route contributed to his desire to stay down at the Line, where the Rangers watched for he Javni’Tolkhrah coming out of the Madlands, and did what they could to keep innocent animals from wandering in to the cursed area.

“Well, I suppose I’ll introduce you to a few of the other Rangers here, if you’d like. You’ll be seeing them plenty tonight,” Zrathanzon offered.

Almonihah nodded. It wasn’t as if he had much else to do.

Zrathanzon introduced him to the handful of other Rangers who manned the Northern Order Headquarters. There was the blacksmith, a heavily built dwarf with a deep, powerful voice named Hrothan, the fletcher, a nimble-fingered elf called Ffalwen who seemed nearly as old as Imlloen, and the quartermaster, a middle-aged female human by the name of Kina. There were also a few other Rangers who stayed in the general area of the Headquarters for the dual purposes of guard duty and messenger services. One of them was the Lieutenant that had shadowed Almonihah, whose name he now learned was Carda.

“There are also a few druids who maintain a shrine to Naishia nearby, and there’s usually a Ranger mage here, too,” Zrathanzon explained. “The druids usually don’t participate in these little gatherings, though, and the mage had to teleport some reinforcements to the west, so he’s not around right now. He’s the one that Imlloen uses to contact Rangers when he needs to.”

A few other Rangers trickled in as the sun disappeared behind the mountains to the west. Apparently, those who watched the part of the Line nearest the headquarters often returned to camp by the cabins. When they heard that a new Ranger had been accepted, they quickly began helping with preparations for the evening’s celebrations.

The celebration was a simple affair, consisting mostly of a large meal around a bonfire accompanied by tales of Rangers gone before. One in particular caught Almonihah’s attention. It concerned Falloen Surebow, an elven Ranger from long ago, the only man ever to cross the Madlands. Apparently doing so had not been his only adventure, but the feat was widely acknowledged among the Rangers as his greatest.

“He became the third Ranger Commander, after he finally gave up his wandering ways,” Commander Imlloen explained when Almonihah inquired about him. “His knowledge of the Madlands was a great asset to the Rangers, and it is said that breakthroughs by Madness-Touched were so rare during his time as Commander that they were nearly forgotten by all but the Rangers.”

Almonihah accepted the explanation with a nod. It sounded a little bit exaggerated, like most tales of former times were, but something about Falloen seemed to ring true to the half-dragon. Perhaps it was the wanderlust he was said to have possessed. Almonihah never enjoyed staying too long in one place.

The celebration continued for a while, but not as late as many parties in civilized lands often would. The Rangers knew they would have to get back to their duties in the morning, and none would suggest that those with night duty extend their watch too far into the day. Almonihah made camp with the other Rangers by the side of one of the cabins, and fell asleep with the speed typical of an experienced traveler.


If I’d had this finished when I posted the first part of chapter 9, I would have just posted it with it, since this piece was pretty short. Not a whole lot else to say about it.

Chapter 9-1

Chapter 9: Test

Almonihah left the small cluster of cabins, heading roughly south-south-west. Once he was a little ways away, he found a likely tree and nimbly climbed up it. Getting as high as he dared, he could just barely see the tops of the mountains well enough to make out the landmarks he needed. Gauging the position of the sun, he gazed in the direction he needed to go, identified a few land features he could double-check his course with, and climbed back down.

He repeated the process several times over the next several hours as he traveled, making small course corrections each time. He reached what he was fairly certain was the spot he was supposed to be as evening fell and started to look for a good campsite. It only took him a moment to find a spot in a small ravine next to a creek. That found, he strung his bow and went hunting.

He returned to his campsite a little while later with a smallish buck, quickly and efficiently cleaning and preparing it. He would cook enough to eat for today and then do enough to preserve some for the next couple of days. He wasn’t equipped to make real jerky, but he could make something that would last for a week or so, especially since his draconic digestion could handle food that would make a normal human ill. After completing his preparations, he went to bed.

He rolled out of his bedroll before he was fully awake, his hand already pulling his longsword out of its scabbard when he opened his eyes. It was still dark, and he wasn’t quite sure what had awakened him.

There it was again! A soft sound, just at the edge of his perception. He whirled, eyes straining, and just barely caught sight of an arm slipping back behind a tree. It took Almonihah a moment to think through the probable meaning of the sighting. Probably it was a Ranger observer, watching him during his test. It made sense that there would be one. Apparently he had underestimated the acuity of Almonihah’s hearing… and how lightly he slept. Now fairly certain that there was no danger, he went back to his bedroll and slept again.

The next day passed without much incident. Almonihah scouted around the general area he was in, finding some roots and berries to supplement the meat he had. He detected the Ranger observer a couple more times during the day, watching him from concealed locations. For a moment, he considered acknowledging the Ranger’s presence, but decided against it. If he wanted to remain unseen, Almonihah would keep pretending he hadn’t seen him.

The second night, Almonihah woke again, awakened by a sound nearby. He quickly and quietly got out of his bedroll, searching for the source of the noise. This time he could tell it wasn’t a Ranger. Whatever it was, it sounded BIG. The half-bronze dragon quickly rolled up his bedroll and secured it to his pack, then climbed a nearby tree. He was stringing his bow when he saw what had awakened him.

It lumbered into view on all fours, at least as high at the shoulder as Almonihah was tall. Almonihah froze. It was a giant bear. He had known about the existence of giant animals, had even seen a giant hawk once, but this was certainly much bigger than the hawk had been. He watched as it rooted about below the tree in which he hid. The half-dragon didn’t think it wise to alert the bear to his presence. The thing looked like it could knock over the tree he was in with a single swat of its paw.

After a while, it moved along, but Almonihah wasn’t about to get down, just in case it came back. He fell asleep securely wedged in the branches of the tree.

He was a bit sore when he woke up, but dragon scale was tougher than tree bark, so he wasn’t bad off for his night in the tree. He dropped lightly to the ground, listening and looking for more signs of the bear. All he saw were its hours-old tracks. He figured out which way it had went and walked in the other direction.

The rest of the day passed uneventfully, as did the next night. Almonihah was considering again whether or not he should tell his Ranger shadow he knew he was there when the half-dragon heard another big creature crashing through the underbrush. Again Almonihah took to the trees, stringing his bow as he listened to its noisy progress. Whatever it was, it was moving fast, and didn’t care much what it stepped on as it did so.

His bow strung, Almonihah shifted his position in the branches to one from which he could easily fire an arrow or drop to the ground, depending on his needs. Then he waited for the creature to show itself. He didn’t have to wait long.

When the creature came into view, he knew immediately that it wasn’t natural. It looked like a giant leopard in general body shape and coloration, but two crab-like pincers grew asymmetrically from its back, one on each side, and its tail ended in a rather nasty looking stinger. Almonihah knew immediately that it was Javni’Tolkhrah, a Madness-Touched, as they were called in the Common Tongue, a once normal animal that had strayed into the Madlands and been warped by the chaotic powers of Jivenesh. As Almonihah looked more closely, he saw that the monster was wounded, bleeding from a pair of gashes on its side, and that it had blood on its claws, fangs, and pincers.

It started to charge past him, and Almonihah knew there was no time left for thinking and analyzing. He nocked an arrow and fired at the base of the creature’s neck as it ran past him. The arrow struck, but a little to the side of its spine and throat. The Javni’Tolkhrah roared in pain and whirled, looking for the source of the attack. Almonihah nocked and fired another arrow as it looked around, this one sinking into its shoulder. It roared again, and then started charging back towards him. Almonihah had just enough time to put another arrow to his string before it leaped at him. He fired the arrow as he jumped off the branch and to the side. The arrow bounced off the monster’s pincers as it sailed over the branch on which Almonihah had been shortly before.

The half-bronze dragon threw his bow to the side as the Javni’Tolkhrah landed, drawing his two swords, a plain longsword in his right hand, Zithrandrak in his left. The monster turned again, growling as it looked at its foe. Almonihah matched its growl with one of his own, frost collecting on Zithrandrak’s enchanted blade as the Javni’Tolkhrah tensed to spring.

It leaped at Almonihah again. Almonihah started to jump to the side, then, reacting on instinct, suddenly dove to the other side. The Javni’Tolkhrah disappeared, mid-jump, then appeared right where Almonihah would have been had he continued in the first direction he dodged. The monster roared as it saw that its foe had escaped it, then roared again as Almonihah stabbed its flank with Zithrandrak. The magical cold of the rapier bit the creature even as Zithrandrak exited the wound it had made.

The leopard-like monster landed heavily, turning towards the half-dragon with a growl as it prepared for another spring. Then another arrow thudded into its side, piercing its lung. Its growl turned into a cough, and the beast stumbled, but it shook its head as if to deny death and whirled to look for this new threat.

Almonihah turned his head to look as well, and saw another Ranger. The Ranger was a female human, wearing the typical tough, worn leather of a Ranger, though Almonihah could see a hint of chain mail sticking out from under one of her sleeves. Almonihah guessed that she was the observer that had been shadowing him. She loosed her arrow, but the monster moved one of its pincers to block it, and the arrow bounced off harmlessly.

Almonihah saw an opening as it prepared to spring at the Ranger. He darted forward, swords apart to attack from two angles at once. The monster saw him move just fast enough to snap at him with the pincer on that side. It grazed his right arm, pinching off a small piece of flesh and scale. Ignoring the pain, the half-bronze dragon plunged Zithrandrak deep into the Javni’Tolkhrah, piercing its heart.

The beast was dead, but it refused to recognize the fact. Its pincer snapped again, and its stinger flashed. Almonihah dodged them both, though he had to leave Zithrandrak buried in its side to do so. The monster lurched towards him, lifting a forepaw to slash at him, before finally collapsing, the blood leaking from its mortal wound freezing from the magical cold of Almonihah’s rapier.

Almonihah watched the dead Javni’Tolkhrah warily for a moment before striding forwards and retrieving Zithrandrak. Then he turned to the Ranger.

“Thought I was supposed to kill the thing myself,” he growled.

“That thing has already killed another Ranger,” the woman snapped. “It was deemed too dangerous for a Candidate to handle.”

Almonihah snorted. “Had the thing before you shot.” He paused for a moment, then added, a bit grudgingly, “But thanks.”

The Ranger glared at him for a little while, then whirled and started stomping back towards the Ranger Headquarters. “Well, your test’s over. Come on.”

Almonihah retrieved his bow, then followed her in silence for a while. Finally, he had to ask, “I pass?”

The female Ranger didn’t even turn to look at him. “That’s for the Commander to decide.”

They hiked in silence for the remainder of the trip back to the Ranger Headquarters. The female Ranger preceded Almonihah into the Commander’s cabin.

Commander Imlloen stood up as the two entered. He looked at the woman. “How has the Candidate performed, Lieutenant?”

The female Ranger paused for a moment before responding. “The Candidate has shown competence in finding his way through the wilderness. He arrived at his assigned post with no difficulty, and remained there for several days living off of the land. He successfully coped with the dangers of the land.” She glanced at Almonihah and then added, “He also noticed me watching him several times.”

The Ranger Commander nodded. After a moment of silence, he asked, “And the Madness-Touched?”

The Ranger glanced at Almonihah again before responding. “The Madness-Touched the Candidate slew had already slain a Ranger before reaching the Candidate. When the Candidate engaged him, I intervened, thinking the challenge too great for a lone Candidate.” She paused for a moment, then continued, “I fired only two arrows. The Candidate did the rest. I find him more than capable of being a Ranger, Commander.”

Commander Imlloen nodded again, his eyes on Almonihah. “Thank you, Lieutenant. Dismissed.”

The female Ranger left the cabin, closing the door behind her. There was a long moment of silence as Imlloen looked at Almonihah, his steely blue eyes seeming to bore into the half-dragon’s sea-green ones. Finally, the Commander sat back down in his chair, then motioned at the only other chair in the cabin.

“Bring that chair over here, Candidate, and have a seat.”

Almonihah complied. Once he was sitting, Commander Imlloen continued.

“I knew the Ranger who was slain by the Madness-Touched you killed. He was a good man, experienced, competent, and well-equipped. That you were able to slay it with so little help says a lot about your ability.” The Ranger Commander put his elbows on the table, steepleing his fingers, and continued, “I won’t lie to you, Almonihah. We need men like you, and we need them badly. If you and the Lieutenant hadn’t been there, that Madness-Touched could very well have escaped to the north, and who knows what havoc it would have wrought then?

“I can guess. We don’t have enough Rangers to keep all of the Madness-Touched in the Madlands. I’ve seen what they do when they get through. It isn’t pretty.” Commander Imlloen paused, his gaze still fixed on Almonihah. “But I have a feeling you don’t want to help us hold the Line. You’ve lived with Zrathanzon, and it’s been longer than most humans live since he’s been on the Line.”

The Commander sat back up, folding his arms, but his gaze never left Almonihah. “We can use Rangers like Zrathanzon, too. Not only do people in the wilder parts of the world need someone like him to look out for them, sometimes a Ranger who’s not on the line can help with those Madness-Touched who do get through. But I have to make sure that the Rangers who aren’t on the Line really are Rangers.”

Imlloen leaned forwards, putting the palms of his hands on the table. His gaze seemed even more intense. “So I have to ask you, Almonihah. Why is it that you want to become a Ranger?”

There was a long moment of silence. Zrathanzon had mentioned that this question might come up, but now, under the intense gaze of the Ranger Commander, all of Almonihah’s reasons that he had thought of before blew away like smoke. Yes, they contributed, but their contribution was small compared to the true core of his reasoning.

Finally, Almonihah spoke, his voice even harsher than normal, but his speech was clear. “I’ve lost my family. Twice. Both times, it was the wilderness that took me in afterwards. The wilderness where I learned to keep living. The wilderness took care of me. I want to do what I can for it now.” He paused for a long moment, then said, his gaze as intense as Imlloen’s, his voice almost a growl, “And I don’t want another kid to watch his mother get killed by a monster out in the woods.”

There was silence in the cabin for a long time. Then Imlloen nodded in his swift, decisive way and sat back in his chair normally.

“Ranger Candidate Almonihah,” he intoned, his voice falling into the practiced cadences they had when he had presented the test, “You have done all things that are required of you to become a Ranger, save one. You must swear the Ranger’s Oath. Do you now swear to devote your life to the defense of the natural order from the power of Jivenesh?”

Almonihah’s voice was firm and sure. “ Yes.”

“Do you swear to defend it from all else that may threaten it?”


“Do you swear to do these things even should they require your death?”


“Do you swear to defend those who may be harmed by things unnatural, even should your life be endangered in so doing?”


Imlloen’s tone of voice changed slightly, as if what he was now saying was not as practiced as the rest. “Lastly, you must know that the natural world and the Races of Men often come into conflict. If you become, as I suspect you will, a wandering Ranger, you will often be called upon to moderate these conflicts. This will be one of your most difficult duties. You must seek to make peace between the Races of Men and the wilderness as best you can. How you may best do this is something that only you can determine, but you must remember your other duties as you make these decisions. Do you swear to do this, to the best of your ability?”


Imlloen stood. “Then I declare you, Almonihah, a Ranger of the Northern Ranger Order. So long as you keep your oaths, I or my successor will be your Commander, save when you are upon the Southern Continent. So that I may call you when we are in great need, I now require a small item from your body, be it hair…” Imlloen paused, looking at Almonihah’s hairless, scaled head, realizing that the words he had said so many times didn’t quite work in this instance.

Almonihah reached into a small pouch hanging from his belt and withdrew a piece of bronze scale. Zrathanzon had mentioned this, as well, so when a piece of one of his scales had broken off while they were traveling, he had saved it for this purpose.

“This do?” he asked, holding the fragment of scale out.

Commander Imlloen looked at the fragment for a moment, then took it. “Yes, that will be sufficient, Ranger.” He put the scale on his table and turned his attention back to Almonihah. “Now, Ranger, I must determine your initial deployment. I have several places I could use you on the Line, but if you desire to go north and watch the wilds away from the Madlands, you may.”

Almonihah was silent for a moment before saying, “I’ll go north.”

Imlloen sighed. “I thought you would. Very well then, Ranger, you may travel where you wish. Know this, however. I may call to you with magic wherever you are. When I call, you must answer. I will only call in the most dire of circumstances, but when I do, you must come. Beyond that, I ask only that you report to me from time to time on what you have seen.”

Almonihah nodded, then said, “Bit more frequently than every twenty years?”

Commander Imlloen laughed. “I would prefer that, yes.” Then he sobered. “You may leave whenever you wish. However, I believe Zrathanzon would like to see you again before you left, and it is… something of a tradition among Rangers to have a small celebration the night of a new Ranger’s acceptance into our Order.”

Almonihah nodded again. “All right.”


So, Almonihah is now officially a Ranger! Huzzah! Not that there was ever any doubt.

I think I should explain a bit why I made such a big leap between chapter 7 and chapter 8. First of all, most of the stuff that happened in that decade or so that was there was either boring or not important, and second of all, Almonihah doesn’t really want to talk about what was important during that time.

Almonihah’s evolution from the child of chapter 7 to the semi-adult of chapter 8 was really a slow, quiet process, one that he didn’t really realize was going on himself. I felt it would be more interesting to present him as essentially a new character and then allow you, the reader, to reconstruct how he got from where he was to where he is over the next several chapters, especially since he isn’t quite sure himself what happened. Despite what he thinks he knows.

Chapter 8

Chapter 8: Ranger

Almonihah’s boot splashed in one of the many puddles in the pass. He froze, his senses straining to detect anything whose attention might have been drawn to him by his indiscretion. He didn’t detect anything, but he didn’t relax quite yet.

Zrathanzon came up by his side. The Ranger was just barely taller than his pupil, now. He said nothing, only nodded approvingly of the half-bronze dragon’s caution… though he would have to talk to him about having made the noise in the first place.

The Pass of Storms was living up to its name. All throughout their ascent, it had been raining steadily, and now that they had reached the top of the pass, they could hear thunder. Almonihah took it all in with pleasure, feeling the wild power of the storm building, but allowed no sign of his pleasure to touch his expression.

Zrathanzon didn’t like the storm as much. “Some of us wouldn’t appreciate being struck by lightning,” he said, humor tinging his voice, as Almonihah’s pause lingered just a bit longer than he thought it should.

The younger half-dragon grunted in acknowledgement and started moving again, choosing his footing just a bit more carefully to avoid a repeat of the incident. Having just spent most of a year training in the desert south of Bet-Rarat was no excuse for forgetting how to move in a rainstorm. He’d been doing so in plenty of places by now.

He thought back over the past decade or so since… everything had happened. He and Zrathanzon had traveled all over the Northern Continent, the more experienced half-dragon teaching his pupil about surviving, tracking, and fighting in all different terrains, climates, and conditions.

He leaped acrobatically over an overflowing stream that cut diagonally across their path, then glanced briefly back at the half-gold dragon. He was moving with his typical lithe grace. Every time Almonihah thought he was getting good, he looked at his teacher and saw just how far he had to go. He wasn’t quite sure if the Ranger had just been holding back when Almonihah was younger, or if it was just the fact that, the better he got, the more clearly he saw how much more he had to learn. Whatever the reason, he was sure Zrathanzon must have a lot of practice—centuries worth, he guessed. Not that he could ever get the Ranger to admit to his age.

The storm broke in earnest as they descended through the pass. Despite their desire to reach the other side quickly, the two half-dragons decided they needed to seek shelter when the hail started falling. Fortunately, there was a small cave a few feet up a cliff along the edge of the pass. A short climb later and they were out of the storm.

They had to wait several hours in the cave. Despite Zrathanzon’s occasional attempts at conversation, Almonihah waited in silence. The Ranger had gotten used to this treatment over the past several years, though there were times Almonihah thought he wondered where the curious young child he had once taught had gone.

Almonihah knew. That child had been buried with his friends.

Eventually, the storm let up. After waiting a little while longer, to make certain it wouldn’t pick back up, the pair emerged and continued on their way. They exited the pass that evening, coming out from under the clouds just as the sun disappeared behind the Stormpeaks.

“Ranger lore says the Pass of Storms is enchanted,” Zrathanzon said as they made camp next to a stream—probably the very one they had crossed up in the pass. “Certainly no one’s crossed it without getting rained on, that I’ve heard of.”

Almonihah grunted in acknowledgement as he finished setting up his tent. As he’d aged, he’d found it less and less necessary to talk. It was typically just a waste of time and energy, though he did find the bits of trivia Zrathanzon sometimes shared interesting. He just felt no need to say as much.

The Ranger sighed. They finished setting up camp and eating dinner in silence, as they had for so many nights over the past decade. Finally, as they finished cleaning up, Zrathanzon spoke.

“Do you know where we’re going?”

“South. Lost Sea, probably,” was Almonihah’s terse response.

Zrathanzon nodded. “Do you know why?”

Almonihah shrugged. “Haven’t been there.”

Zrathanzon chuckled, then sobered. “There’s a bit more to it than that. Yes, the south-central part of the area is a jungle, and we haven’t been in a jungle before, but I’ve got another reason other than training for going there.”

He paused, but Almonihah said nothing. If Zrathanzon wanted to share his other reason, he’d do it without Almonihah asking him. After a moment, the Ranger sighed and explained.

“The Northern Ranger Order Headquarters are in the Lost Sea area. It’s been too long since I’ve reported, though they’re pretty lax about anyone who’s not on the lines watching for Javni’Tolkhrah.”

“And I could join.” Almonihah said it more as a statement than a question.

“You can take the test,” Zrathanzon corrected. Then he smiled a bit. “Though I doubt you’ll have trouble passing.”

Almonihah snorted. He’d already been living as a Ranger for almost his whole life. Not to mention being trained by one of the most experienced Rangers alive. He doubted he’d even have to work hard on the entry test. From all that he and Zrathanzon had discussed about Rangers, the test was more to make sure some city-type with no clue how to live on their own in the wilds tried to be a Ranger. They needed more men too badly to turn away anyone who might be able to do the work.

They arose with the sun the next morning and continued on their way. The two half-dragons headed mostly southeast, staying in the foothills rather than crossing the plains. As they traveled, the mountains to their south grew taller and taller. The Dragon’s Teeth mountains were considered the tallest peaks on the Northern Continent. Most people said they were impassable.

Rangers knew differently. Zrathanzon told Almonihah they were headed towards a pass—the Lost Dragon Pass. It was a high pass, and too narrow for wagons. There were few outside the Northern Ranger Order who knew of it, according to Zrathanzon, and they were generally the only ones who used it.

“I would have liked to have reached it earlier in the year,” the Ranger told his pupil, “but we got caught in those sandstorms.”

Almonihah nodded. The memory of the lashing sands was fresh in his mind. He had been quite glad for his scales, then—he hadn’t envied the orc tribes who made the desert their home, with no more protection than their clothes for their skin.

“As it is,” Zrathanzon continued, “we might get caught in some early snows in the pass. There’s not much shelter up there, so I’d rather not have that happen. The better time we make, the less likely that is to happen.”

Almonihah’s response was to pick up his pace from his normal fast walk to something of a trot. Zrathanzon grinned as he hurried to keep up.

They did make good time, reaching the Lost Dragon Pass during Tiamia, the first month of fall. There was snow on the peaks as they climbed up into the mountains but the skies were clear. Almonihah searched for the pass above him as they hiked up the steep slope, but saw only a solid wall of rock.

Zrathanzon saw the younger half-dragon’s searching gaze and said, “You’ve got sharper eyes than me, but knowing what you’re seeing is often more important than having a bit better eyesight. You see that opening there?”

Almonihah looked where the Ranger was pointing. “It’s a cave,” he said, cautiously.

“A cave that comes out on the other side of the mountain,” was the half-gold dragon’s reply.

Almonihah nodded. No wonder so few knew about the pass.

Snow crunched under the half-dragons’ boots as they approached the cave mouth, but no new snow was falling. Looking in, Almonihah could see that the cave continued into the mountain for a little ways before turning a corner. Zrathanzon entered while his student was looking into the cave.

“It makes a couple of turns before coming out the other side, but it’s not long,” the Ranger explained.

Almonihah entered the cave, his eyes quickly adapting from the snow-reflected sunlight to the darkness of the cave. Then they turned the corner, and he had to rely on his magical black-and-white vision that worked even in total darkness. The cave was rather sizable, and seemed to be a combination of natural formation and widening by something that left long gashes along the walls.

They turned another corner, and Almonihah could see that the cave had once split into two passageways, but one had long since collapsed. Zrathanzon pointed at the collapsed passageway.

“Once, a silver dragon lived here. He was a friend to the Rangers, and guarded this pass for us. One day, though, this passageway collapsed, and he has never been seen since. Most think he died in the collapse. It is in his memory that we call this pass the Lost Dragon Pass.”

“Know him?” Almonihah asked, in his characteristically brief manner.

Zrathanzon shook his head. “It was before I was a Ranger.”

“Hm,” was Almonihah’s response.

Soon they reached the other side of the cave. It exited high in the mountains, and Almonihah could see that they still had a lot of mountain to cover before they reached lower ground. They spent the rest of the day hiking, and once they even had to climb down a short cliff. It was clear no one would have made his way through this pass with heavy equipment, or even a horse.

“This is why basically only the Rangers live in the Lost Sea area,” Zrathanzon explained as they camped for the night in a canyon. “No settler could get here with the gear to farm with, and no trapper could carry many furs out of here.” The Ranger paused, thinking, then continued, “Just as well, too. Settlers would really mess this area up. You understand,” he nodded at Almonihah and the symbol of Naishia hidden under the boiled leather armor he usually wore.

Almonihah grunted in agreement. His preference for wilderness over settled lands had only become more pronounced over the past years, which was one of the many things he felt he and Naishia had in common.

It took them two more days to get out of the mountains. The path they followed was treacherous and difficult, and twice more they had to climb cliff faces.

“Part of the test?” Almonihah asked the Ranger, pointing at the cliff they had just climbed down.

Zrathanzon nodded. “You might say that,” he replied. “Not many people who can actually get to the Lost Sea would fail the test.”

Finally, they turned a corner in the canyon and Almonihah could see the valley of the Lost Sea. Despite his self control, he gasped just a bit at the sight. The day was crystal clear, and they were still quite high up in the mountains, so Almonihah’s keen eyes could see for miles. The mountains sloped gently down into the valley, their sides covered first with evergreen and then with deciduous trees. In the middle, just at the edge of his vision, he could see the glint of water—the Lost Sea, the only sizable known inland body of water that didn’t drain to anything else.

Zrathanzon was obviously pleased with the younger half-dragon’s response. “I thought you would like it,” he said with a grin.

Almonihah nodded in reply. “Definitely glad humans don’t settle here.”

Zrathanzon let Almonihah take in the view for a little while longer, then said “Come on. We’ve still got to climb down here,” he gestured down. They were standing at the top of a cliff face.

Almonihah just snorted. He and Zrathanzon had climbed mountains with worse cliffs than these.

Almonihah could almost feel the temperature and humidity climb as they descended into the huge valley. He hadn’t noticed as much the drop in temperature as they had climbed, perhaps due to the warmth of physical exertion, but he definitely felt the change as they descended. After two days of hiking through forest and then jungle, it was warm enough to actually make him uncomfortable.

He glanced at Zrathanzon. He didn’t seem to mind the heat. Of course, he was half-gold dragon, and golds had a much higher heat tolerance than bronzes. Something about breathing fire did that, he supposed. At the same time, he was glad he wasn’t a human or an elf. If this was uncomfortable for him, it must be unbearably hot for them, especially since the humidity would actually bother them.

As they descended, the foliage changed. He didn’t recognize the trees around them, nor most of the other plants. He supposed they were now in the jungle around the Lost Sea. Zrathanzon said that it was like no other place on Draezoln, and Almonihah thought it was probably true. He took in the new sights, sounds, and smells as they traveled. This place was alive, even more alive than the North Forest, as if every inch of soil was crawling with life.

Zrathanzon identified some of the larger and more interesting plants and animals they saw as they traveled, and Almonihah asked terse questions for clarification or elaboration when he felt they were needed. They traveled for several more days in this way, until they reached the Lost Sea.

Almonihah gazed out over the blue as they broke from the jungle onto a beach. The Lost Sea truly looked like an ocean, its other banks beyond the reach of even his eyes. Waves gently lapped at the sands, just as they had the ocean beaches he had been to.

They traveled along the edge of the Lost Sea for a few more days. Once they reached its south shore, they struck off to the south through the jungle. After a bit of travel, the land started to climb again, and the temperature slowly started to drop. A few more days’ travel brought them to an area fairly high up which seemed to have a more temperate climate, and trees that seemed more like those Almonihah was familiar with.

It wasn’t long before Almonihah heard a strange bird call. He frowned. Something didn’t seem quite right about it. He realized what it was when Zrathanzon responded with something that closely resembled a bird call himself. After a brief moment, a figure strode out of the woods in front of them.

“Greetings, brother Ranger,” an elven voice said, as the figure came into sight.

“And to you,” Zrathanzon replied.

The elf was equipped much like the two half-dragons, with tough leather clothing and armor, bow, and sword. His leather armor was very intricately worked, with a design picked out in silvery thread on the breast—a rampant unicorn, a symbol of Naishia, much like the one that hung around Almonihah’s neck.

“And this one with you?” The elven Ranger inquired.

“An applicant,” the half-gold dragon replied. Almonihah nodded in agreement.

The elf nodded in reply. “I see. You will wish to see the Commander, then. I shall not longer delay you.”

The two half-dragons traveled for perhaps another hour through the woods before they came on a collection of a few cabins nestled in a small ravine around a stream. As they neared the area the cabins were in, Almonihah felt a familiar feeling—this area was dedicated to Naishia.

The half-bronze dragon glanced at his teacher, a silent question in his eye. The older half-dragon didn’t seem to notice. Almonihah shrugged and turned his attention back to their destination. There were a few other Rangers in the area, some coming, some going. One of them noticed Zrathanzon and rushed over.

“Zrathanzon, you old lizard! Where have you been all these years?” The speaker was a big bear of a human, slightly taller even than Zrathanzon, with a deep, booming voice and a mirthful twinkle in his eye.

He wrapped the half-gold dragon up in a big bear hug. Zrathanzon returned it only a little less vigorously.

“Birek, you old bear!” Zrathanzon exclaimed when the stranger finally released the half-dragon. He looked the human up and down, shook his head, and said, “It’s been too long. You’ve gotten gray hairs without me being around to watch.”

Almonihah had noted the silver in the human’s hair. It made sense, if the man knew Zrathanzon. After all, he hadn’t seen another Ranger to Almonihah’s knowledge since taking him in almost twenty years ago.

Zrathanzon continued speaking as his pupil observed his friend. “I’ve been busy. I took this fellow,” he pointed at Almonihah, “in not long after you joined the Order, and he’s kept me pretty busy. What about yourself? Haven’t gotten yourself eaten by a Javni’Tolkhrah, I see.”

The man—Birek, apparently—laughed. “No, they haven’t gotten too big a piece of me. A couple of them have gotten some bites, but the druids around here patch me up pretty well, and none of ’em have lived to get a second bite.”

Zrathanzon nodded, his face sobering a bit. “So you’ve still been holding the Line, then.”

Birek shrugged. “Haven’t got anything better to do.”

The half-gold dragon chuckled a bit, then sobered again. “We’ll catch up later, old friend. Right now, I’ve got a long-overdue report to give and an applicant to present.”

The big man nodded. “Well, I’ll be around.” He turned to Almonihah. “Applying, hm? Well, don’t think that test’s too big a deal. If Zrathanzon’s been training you, you won’t have a bit of trouble.” He winked at the half-bronze dragon and continued on his way.

“Friend of yours?” Almonihah asked the older half-dragon as they neared the large cabin.

Zrathanzon grinned. “My last student before you, as a matter of fact.”

Almonihah’s only response was a grunt.

They entered the cabin. Almonihah glanced around. The place seemed to be decorated with maps. They lay on tables, were nailed to the walls, and were rolled up on shelves. Most of the cabin was this one map room. One end of the room was walled off and had a door in it, the other held a fireplace, the only part of it made of stone.

In the back of the room, behind the largest table (which had a number of maps and papers on it), an elf sat in a simple chair. He looked up as the two half-dragons entered the cabin. Almonihah could see signs of age, which, on an elf, meant he was old indeed, at least seven centuries old. Despite his age, however, there was a steely look to his eyes, and he stood up with the assured grace of an experienced elven warrior.

“Zrathanzon,” he nodded at the half-gold dragon, “You were supposed to report in more often than once every two and a half decades.”

The half-dragon Ranger shrugged. “Things come up. I had another kid.”

The elf snorted, unable to completely conceal his amusement at Zrathanzon’s response. “Last time you ‘had a kid’, you at least reported what was going on. I’d begun to think we’d lost you.”

“I’m not that easy to get rid of,” Zrathanzon said, with a wave of his hand, as if waving away the idea. “Now, I’m sure you’re awaiting my report, but first I think you’ll want to meet Almonihah here.”

The elven Ranger turned his attention to Almonihah. “Almonihah, hm? I take it you’re the reason Zrathanzon hasn’t bothered to talk to another Ranger for so long?”

Almonihah shrugged. “Suppose so,” he replied, the harsh, growling edge to his voice even more pronounced than usual as he eyed the elf uncertainly.

The elf stuck out his hand to shake. “Commander Imlloen, head of the Northern Ranger Order.”

Almonihah took the proffered hand in a firm shake, careful to keep his claws from piercing flesh, but not gentle. If the rough hardness of his scales bothered the elf, he didn’t show it. His grip was as steely as his gaze.

“I’m guessing if this old lizard here,” the Commander said with a gesture at Zrathanzon, “is calling you his ‘kid’, you’re wanting to sign on with the Rangers?”

Almonihah glanced over at his teacher. “How many times’ve you done this?”

Zrathanzon shrugged. “I stopped counting around the same time I forgot when my birthday was.”

Commander Imlloen shook his head. “You remember better than my records do how many Rangers you’ve trained, and you know it.” He fixed him with a glare that had just a hint of humor in it. “And you know perfectly well that you turn 541 in five days, a week before my birthday.”

Zrathanzon chuckled. “I never could fool you, Imlloen.”

The corners of Imlloen’s mouth twitched upwards for a moment, and then he settled back into his chair, his expression relaxing a bit as he allowed the grin to show. “No, you never could. But you’re right, your student here takes precedence over your report, overdue though it might be.” He turned back to Almonihah. “I take it, trusting Zrathanzon has done his usual job, that you have about as good an idea of what you’re getting yourself into as you can?”

“Yes,” Almonihah replied.

The Ranger Commander nodded decisively. “I’ll take your word for it. Zrathanzon wouldn’t have brought you here if he didn’t think you were ready, and his judgment is pretty good after all these years.” He glanced over at the half-gold dragon. “Speaking of you, I believe it’s time for you to wait outside.”

Zrathanzon nodded, his expression sober again, and walked out of the cabin, closing the door after himself.

Imlloen turned back to Almonihah. “I don’t think he’d do anything he shouldn’t if he was in here, but I have to make sure everything you say and do for the next little while is not influenced in any way by anyone else. You will be making binding promises, ones that cannot be taken lightly. Do you understand, Almonihah?”

Almonihah nodded, solemnly.

“Now, Almonihah… do you have a last name?”

The half-bronze dragon’s lips twisted bitterly. “Don’t know it.”

Commander Imlloen nodded in understanding, then continued, “Almonihah, whom do you worship?”

“Naishia,” Almonihah responded.

Imlloen nodded again. “This order was established by worshipers of Naishia, and most of us still call on her, though the Ranger Orders accept followers of all goodly deities.” Returning to his questions, he continued, “Almonihah, do you affirm this day, in the hearing of Naishia, that you truly desire to become a Ranger, without outside coercion of any kind?”


“Almonihah, do you now swear, should you be accepted into the Ranger Orders, that you will defend the natural world from the influences of Jivenesh and all other threats, to the best of your ability, so long as breath is left in your body?”

Almonihah didn’t hesitate. “Yes.”

Commander Imlloen looked hard into Almonihah’s eyes for a long moment, then finally nodded his head once. “Very well then. Before acceptance into our order, all who would join us must pass a test of ability and worthiness. Before I explain this test, do you understand that you may, at any time before you are formally accepted into the Ranger Orders, renounce your intentions to join?”

Almonihah snorted, mildly amused by the line of questioning, then said, “Yes.”

The Ranger Commander continued, the words obviously familiar, “The test of the Ranger is this: you will go out, alone, to a location I will show you on the map. You must reach the location with no guide. You must remain there, alone, until another Ranger retrieves you. During this time, you will likely be attacked by a Madness-Touched. If you cannot defeat it on your own, you need only retreat and call for help. You will, however, fail the test if you do so. Almonihah, are you prepared?”

There was still no hesitation in Almonihah’s voice or gaze. “Yes.”

Imlloen again held Almonihah’s gaze for a while before saying, “Very well. Come.”

Imlloen waved Almonihah over to his side, then pointed at a location on one of the maps spread on the table before him.

“This is where we presently are,” the Commander said, pointing at a spot on the map. “Here,” he pointed at a spot closer to the southern mountains, “Is where you will be tested.”

Almonihah studied the map, carefully memorizing the landmarks, directions, and distances he would need to reach the site.

“What’s this?” Almonihah gently tapped a red line that passed a little south of the position he would be occupying with a claw.

“That,” Commander Imlloen replied, “Is the approximate border of the Madlands. I would suggest you don’t overshoot and end up there.”

Almonihah nodded, thoughtfully. That would explain where the Javni’Tolkhrah would be coming from.

“Is there anything else you need to know, Almonihah?” the elf asked, after Almonihah stood up from studying the map.

Almonihah simply shook his head.

“Then be on your way, Candidate.”

Zrathanzon was a little bit away from the cabin door when Almonihah exited, talking and laughing with Birek. He saw his most recent pupil exit and strode over to meet him.

“Off to be tested?”

Almonihah nodded.

Zrathanzon laid a hand on his shoulder. “Then good luck, though I doubt you’ll need it. You’ll make a fine Ranger.”


So, this chapter represents a fairly major jump in time. We leave the child Almonihah behind and meet semi-adult Almonihah. This Almonihah is much closer to the familiar, antisocial, gruff half-dragon I’ve known for several years, which is probably part of why this chapter flowed much more easily than the last.

This is our first view of the Northern Ranger Order, but we’ll be seeing a lot more of it over the next several chapters. It’s kind of a strange organization, with officers who you aren’t bound to obey… but we’ll get into that later.

Chapter 7

Chapter 7: Parting

The next few years passed swiftly, much as the past ones had. Almonihah continued to grow, both in size and skill. Llinos even started to teach the young half-dragon a few druidic spell-prayers, the words and gestures used to importune Naishia for blessings. The Druid explained that all priests of the different gods used some form of spell-prayer to call on their gods. These spell-prayers were the way dictated by the gods to receive their aid in the form of magic. Llinos taught Almonihah a couple simple spell-prayers of healing, as well as a few other useful spell-prayers.

Almonihah’s skills with weapons continued to improve, as well. He was becoming accustomed to fighting with a small sword in each hand, though he knew very well from watching Zrathanzon that he was nowhere near as skilled as his mentor in swordplay. He was quite proud when he graduated from the small practice bow he had been using to an actual shortbow, though he used it more like a longbow.

Varack’Nara also matured. He didn’t grow much larger than he already was, but he mellowed considerably. By the time the spring of the year in which Almonihah was probably 13 (he hadn’t been keeping very careful track of his age), it was obvious that something was on his mind. Something that involved girl griffons and nests. Sadly, Almonihah agreed when Zrathanzon said it was time to let him go. They took off his saddle and the other gear he carried and informed the griffon that he was free to go. After nudging the two half-dragons with his beak in a way that Almonihah guessed was his way of saying goodbye, he took off, circled twice, and then flew off towards the mountains.

Almonihah sighed. He had gotten to be quite skilled at riding Varack’Nara, and almost as good at shooting his bow from griffon-back as from level ground. In truth, though, he would miss both the company of the griffon and the treasured time flying, free from the ground in a way he might never be again.

Despite missing his griffon friend, the year passed just as swiftly as the past years had. The yearly loop was as familiar now to him as Zrathanzon’s voice. They neared Llinos’s valley a little early this year. Almonihah was looking forward to seeing Llinos and Garekh. The wolf had aged quite a bit as well, but he was still a good friend, even if both of them were too old now for romping around like pups.

As they passed the tree marked with the symbol of Naishia, Almonihah frowned. “Something’s wrong,” he said to Zrathanzon.

The Ranger looked down at his pupil in surprise. “What is it, Almonihah?”

Almonihah was silent for a moment. “Something doesn’t feel right.” He thought for a moment more. “It doesn’t feel… peaceful here, like normal. More… angry?”

The older half-dragon was silent for a moment, then started jogging. “You’re right. Something’s wrong. Let’s go!”

Almonihah ran to try to keep up with his mentor, but slowly fell behind. After a little while, the half-gold dragon topped a ridge and disappeared from sight. Almonihah hurried to catch up, reaching the top of the ridge just as Zrathanzon came back up.

“Stop!” the Ranger yelled as he saw the younger half-dragon, but it was too late.

The area on the other side of the ridge looked like a battlefield. Dead men and animals were strewn about the clearing, including an elven man with a wolf at his feet, both with arrows sticking out of them. None were moving.

Almonihah could say nothing, only shake his head in useless denial of what his eyes reported. To have his family killed not just once, but twice…

“I’m sorry, kid. I was coming back up here to tell you not to look, but…” the Ranger’s voice trailed off uselessly.

“But what!” Almonihah yelled, seeking to push back grief with anger. “What could you have told me! They just weren’t here right now? It would have just made it worse.” He was struggling to keep from crying as he yelled. “At least I know the truth this way…”

He thought of his father, and his unknown fate, then pushed the thought away as Zrathanzon spoke.

“A misunderstanding,” the Ranger said, as he looked over the scene. “I know that man,” he pointed at one of the dead humans, “a hunter and a trapper. He comes into these parts of the forest sometimes. He was always a bit antisocial, suspicious, even paranoid. He probably saw some animal, say that wolf there,” he pointed at a wolf with a bandaged leg, “Limping his way in here, saw him wandering around bandaged sometime after, and decided that someone here was gathering the wild animals to attack. Seems like the kind of thing he’d think of.

“He gathered together some other hunters and trappers in the area,” he gestured at the other human corpses, “and came here to take care of the problem. They found Llinos here with Garekh. Someone fired an arrow, and the whole valley started to attack the humans. They must have thought killing Llinos would stop them. It just made the animals angrier.” Zrathanzon shook his head, a mixture of emotions playing across his face as he did. “It ended like this.”

Almonihah trembled with pent-up rage and sorrow. “Stupid humans!” he yelled, running over to the nearest human corpse and kicking its head. He fell to his knees with an inarticulate growl and started pounding on the dead hunter’s chest until he felt a gentle, clawed hand on his shoulder.

“Does it make you feel better?” Zrathanzon asked, gently.

Almonihah shook his head, still holding back tears. He felt sure that nothing would ever make him feel better.

Zrathanzon sighed long and loud. Then he spoke. “All we can do is bury them. At least they can respect each other in death.”

Almonihah had no desire to do anything, but for some reason, his feet followed his mentor’s. The Ranger produced small shovels from his pack. Almonihah had long ago concluded that the pack much be enchanted to contain all of the equipment Zrathanzon apparently carried in it. Then he handed one to Almonihah and instructed him on how to dig graves.

Almonihah threw himself into the work, transferring all his rage into the soil. He attacked the ground savagely, as if it was some evil monster he had to slay. While the graves he dug weren’t exactly regular in size or shape, they did get dug. By the time he was finished, the worst of Almonihah’s anger and sorrow had passed.

He did, however, flatly refuse to help bury the humans.

They got to Llinos last, in some kind of instinctive show of honor to the fallen druid. It was now that Zrathanzon noted that the elf had been holding something in one of his hands. Gently prying the fingers apart, he saw that it was a finely carved likeness of a unicorn in what a student of heraldry would call a rampant position.

“It’s another symbol of Naishia,” he murmured, as much to himself as to Almonihah. Examining it more closely, he found a small ‘A’ on one of the hoofs. “I think he was making it for you, Almonihah.”

The Ranger handed his pupil the symbol. Almonihah accepted it, tears again threatening to burst forth. He choked them back as he clutched the symbol to his chest.

They buried Llinos, as they had the animals and the humans, in one of the graves they had dug. Zrathanzon planted a seed from a nearby tree at the head of the grave. Both half-dragons were silent as they finished their work, then made camp.

Despite being physically exhausted, sleep evaded Almonihah that night. In fact, he didn’t even try hard to sleep. Rather, as soon as he thought his mentor was asleep, he arose from his bedroll quietly, still holding the unicorn symbol. He walked over to Llinos’s grave and stood there in silence far into the night.


A short, sad chapter. Maybe I should have warned you last time. I’d known this was coming since virtually the moment Almonihah mentioned Llinos. Which didn’t make it any easier to write. At least it didn’t take a lot of writing.

The next chapter represents a jump of several years. While a lot does happen in between, it seemed that it could be covered best in flashbacks and mentions rather than dragging you through all of it. So be ready for grouchy, antisocial semi-adult Almonihah next post!

Chapter 6-2

The year passed swiftly, much as past years had. Almonihah was pleased to note how much progress he was making in the various skills he was learning, though he could tell from observing Zrathanzon when he took time to practice his own skills instead of teaching his young pupil that he still had a long way to go. Almonihah was particularly pleased when Zrathanzon got a pair of small short swords to for the younger half-dragon to use in place of the daggers he had been using.

The first snow of the year came early, catching them still several days’ travel east of Llinos’s valley. Zrathanzon seemed a bit worried by this.

“Early winters usually mean trouble,” he explained to Almonihah. “Creatures that can usually get enough food stored up for winter in a normal year sometimes come south to finish getting ready for the snows when winter comes early.”

The next day, as they were traveling, Zrathanzon suddenly stopped. Without turning, he asked the younger half-dragon, “Almonihah, do you notice something odd?”

Almonihah frowned in concentration as he strained his senses for something out of the ordinary. After a few moments, his frown changed from one of focus to one of worry.

“It’s too quiet.”

Zrathanzon nodded. “We’d better tread carefully and quietly. No telling what’s wrong.”

They traveled in silence for the next few minutes before Zrathanzon stopped again. This time Almonihah didn’t need any time to tell what was wrong. There was a narrow swath of large footprints heading south in the shallow snow lingering in the shade of the trees.

Zrathanzon stooped down to examine the footprints, then cursed in Draconic. “Ice trolls,” he spat the words out. “A whole tribe of them. Must have had a tough year up north and decided to come south for easier pickings.”

The Ranger stood up and whistled for Varack’Nara, who was soaring overhead. When he landed, the older half-dragon motioned for Almonihah to get on the griffon. “You’ll need him to keep up with me,” was his explanation.

Once Almonihah had mounted, Zrathanzon started running in the direction the footprints headed. “There’s a village just south of the woods here.”

Almonihah needed no further explanation.

They traveled as quickly as they could, hoping to arrive in time to help. They reached the edge of the forest just in time to see a large group of creatures charging towards the stockade surrounding thing village. The creatures looked vaguely humanoid, though they stooped over and ran with both feet and the knuckles of their hands like some kind of gorilla. Some clutched clubs or spears in their hands as they ran, though how they could hold on to the weapons and still use their knuckles to run was a bit of a mystery to Almonihah. Their hides ranged in shade from a dirty white, like old snow, to a very pale blue.

Zrathanzon broke into a run again as the ice trolls reached bowshot of the stockade. A few arrows flew out to meet them, and while most found their mark, only a couple actually penetrated the thick hides of the trolls, and even those didn’t seem to do any true harm. The trolls with spears paused for a moment to throw their spears in reply. As far as Almonihah could tell, they didn’t hit any of the men guarding the stockade, but it did make them spend some time ducking and dodging instead of nocking arrows.

“Almonihah, stay back and just shoot arrows,” Zrathanzon commanded as Varack’Nara started to follow after the Ranger . “You and Varack’Nara don’t have any business getting close to an ice troll.”

Almonihah didn’t need to be told that twice. The first of the ice trolls were getting near the stockade now, and he could tell that, even hunched over, the creatures must be nearly as tall as the wall was. He definitely didn’t want to get close to them if he could help it. Varack’Nara didn’t seem eager to get close to the creatures, either, and he glided down to a landing well away from them.

When the first trolls reached the walls, they stood up all the way, which brought their clubs and massive fists on level with the top of the wall. One of the defenders managed to put a spear through a troll’s eye, and it fell back to the ground with a thud that Almonihah could hear even from where he was. Most of the defenders weren’t as lucky, and the trolls’ blows sent them flying. Almonihah doubted any of them were alive when they landed.

Then Zrathanzon fired an arrow. As soon as it left his bow, it blazed with a bright white light. It sped through the air much faster than the humans’ arrows had, and buried itself deep in the neck of one of the trolls. The beast stumbled, clutching its throat, then toppled to the ground. The other trolls paused to look behind them, searching for this new threat. This gave the human defenders a chance to strike. A fresh barrage of arrows, spears, and other weapons forced those trolls nearest the walls to turn their attention back to the humans. What looked like the largest of the trolls gestured to some of the other trolls, then at Zrathanzon. About half a dozen trolls from the back of the group turned back and started to charge towards the Ranger and his pupil.

Stay here,” the half-gold dragon whispered to the younger half-dragon, then continued running towards the trolls.

Almonihah obediently halted. He watched as his mentor fired two more arrows even while running, each shot felling another troll. Then he was too close to the trolls. He put his bow away and drew his sword, which burst into flames. Almonihah wondered why his mentor hadn’t used all of the magical abilities of his weapons when they had been fighting the fell-wolves, but filed away the question as he drew his bowstring to do what he could do to help the older half-dragon.

Zrathanzon nimbly dodged the club that tried to smash him as he reached the four trolls, and neatly hamstrung the troll who was wielding the club. The giant creature cried out in pain as its leg gave out underneath it. The Ranger was already moving on as it fell, slashing the wrist tendons of a fist that tried to smash him, stabbing another troll in the kidney region, then ducking under another club.

Almonihah, who had been looking for an opening, thought he saw one. He fired his little arrow at the eyes of the troll who was clutching his bleeding wrist with his other hand. He watched his arrow as it flew to its target, only to see it skip off the thick hide of the troll’s shoulder. Determinedly, he knocked another arrow and took another shot.

While his pupil was doing what he could, Zrathanzon had worked his way back around to the hamstrung troll, which was shakily trying to get back up on its other leg. Zrathanzon darted under it as it rose up on its knuckles and one leg, his sword flashing. The troll collapsed to the ground, its last breaths bubbling through the blood flowing from the gash in its throat.

One of Almonihah’s arrows finally penetrated the troll’s hide. The creature grunted in surprise, looked up at the young half-dragon, and started charging towards him. Then it toppled face-first into the ground as it too was hamstrung, as Zrathanzon moved to protect his protégé. The Ranger jumped up on its back and stabbed his sword down into its back, piercing its heart. Then he ducked under a club as one of the remaining two trolls swung at him, then jumped off the dead troll just high enough to chop into the attacking troll between its ribs. As it fell, he quickly finished off the last remaining troll.

The battle at the stockade was going badly for the human defenders. Only one more troll had fallen, and there seemed to be only a few warriors still fighting those that remained. Zrathanzon hurried towards the stockade, and then, once he was sure he was close enough to be heard clearly, roared out something in a harsh, guttural language that Almonihah didn’t recognize, though he guessed it was probably Trollish.

Whatever the Ranger said, it got the attention of the big troll. He responded in the same guttural language that Zrathanzon had spoken. The half-gold dragon responded, and then the big troll said something to the other trolls. They started to back away from the wall.

Zrathanzon called out to the remaining human defenders. “They’ve called a truce while I settle this with their chief. If you stop fighting, they’ll stop.”

Warily, the humans stopped firing at the trolls. Meanwhile, Zrathanzon and the big troll who must have been the chief the Ranger had referred to approached each other. They spoke some more, the troll chief emphasizing some points by pounding his club on the ground. After some discussion, they both fell into ready stances and started circling each other.

The troll struck first, springing forwards and slamming its club down surprisingly fast for such a large, ungainly-looking creature. Zrathanzon wasn’t caught off guard, however. He had already dodged to the side, his flaming sword slashing towards the chief’s forearm. Surprisingly, the troll managed to move quickly enough that the sword only singed its hide. A little bit surprised, Zrathanzon leaped back just in time to avoid a counterattack from the troll chief. Clearly this wasn’t going to be as easy as the other trolls.

They circled warily for a little while longer. This time Zrathanzon initiated the exchange, dashing forwards to slash at the troll. It swung its club high at his head as he neared, but the Ranger, rather than dodging, dove under it, coming to his feet inside of the troll’s reach before it could recover from its swing. He slashed at it, and it could only dodge enough to turn what could have been a very dangerous blow to a painful gash across its belly. It did have a surprise for Zrathanzon, however, as it kicked him hard enough to knock him back beyond the reach of the club.

Despite obviously being caught off guard by the blow, Zrathanzon turned his landing into an acrobatic roll, somehow ending up back on his feet before the troll chief could take advantage of his blow. It swung at him, narrowly missing him. As it recovered from its swing, the half-gold dragon breathed a gout of fire at its face. While it truly didn’t do a lot of damage—troll hide is amazingly tough—it did blind the big troll for just long enough for Zrathanzon to get inside its reach again. It managed to get its arm in the way just in time to turn what would have been a stab in the kidneys into a stab in the arm, but from the way the creature grunted, it was obvious that the deep wound had caused it a lot of harm.

Zrathanzon danced back out of the way as it brought its club back around, then again as it whipped the weapon back. Then he darted forwards as it stumbled a bit, its wounds slowing its recovery just slightly. He wasn’t quite in time to dodge as it suddenly turned its stumble into a swing. The club only hit him glancingly, but it was enough to knock him over, though again he rolled with the blow right back onto his feet. As the club passed by again, he dodged back, then struck the club two-handed with his sword. It stuck deep in the wood, and was ripped out of his hands as the club passed by. The troll said something that was clearly boastful. Zrathanzon simply warily circled, watching the chief.

The troll idly walked towards Zrathanzon, swinging its club lazily. It clearly no longer regarded the Ranger as a threat. Zrathanzon simply continued to dodge, watching the troll carefully. After a while it got a strange expression on its face, as if suddenly realizing that it had failed to account for something. Then it yelped and threw its now flaming club away from itself. Zrathanzon ran after it, then retrieved his flaming sword from it, its work well-done.

The troll chief watched Zrathanzon approach closely, obviously aware of how the Ranger had just turned the tables. This time, as the half-gold dragon charged, there were only fists to meet him, and while they moved quickly, he was faster. He managed to get around to the side of the beast, and slashed the back of its leg. As it stumbled, he nimbly moved behind it, stabbing deep into its back in a couple of places. It tried to recover, keeping its weight off of its leg, but it was obviously being slowed by its injuries. It just couldn’t move fast enough any more to keep the Ranger away from its vitals.

The battle didn’t last much longer.

After the troll chief stopped twitching, Zrathanzon stepped up on top of it and turned to the trolls, who were looking at him uncertainly. He called out in their guttural language, pointing to the dead troll, then to himself. Then he took the remaining trolls in a sweeping gesture, still speaking in Trollish, then gestured sharply to the north.

Grudgingly, the trolls started straggling towards the north. Turning his attention briefly to Almonihah, Zrathanzon called out in Draconic, “Make sure to stay out of their way.”

Almonihah didn’t need to be told to stay out of the way of the sullen trolls. He and Varack’Nara were far off to the side when they passed, grumbling in their harsh tongue. Obviously, they weren’t happy about leaving without the food they must have come for, but just as obviously, they didn’t want to mess with the Ranger.

Once the trolls were out of sight, Almonihah and Varack’Nara returned to Zrathanzon’s side. Zrathanzon turned to his pupil from watching the edge of the woods.

“Let’s see how much of that herb-lore you remember.”

They approached the gates of what remained of the stockade, leaving the griffon outside with orders to stay put . One of the remaining guards hailed them as they neared.

“Ranger! Praise the gods that you showed up here in time!”

“Just wish I’d been earlier,” was the half-gold dragon’s reply.

“We’re just as glad you showed up when you did,” the warrior said. “You coming in?”

Zrathanzon nodded. “See what we can do for the injured.”

The warrior motioned to someone behind the wall, then turned back to the half-dragons with a sigh. “I’m not sure there’s many you can do much for, but we’re grateful for anything you can do.”

They entered the village, and it was clear what the guard meant. There were several men sprawled on the ground, and even a couple partway through walls of some of the homes in the village. None of them were moving.

After asking around a bit, they found the place the surviving wounded had been taken. There were only a couple of them, men who had only been struck glancingly by the trolls. A priest was there, caring for them. He looked up as the two half-dragons entered.

“I’ve done everything I can for them. They should be fine in a few days,” the priest said, stepping aside for the Ranger to inspect his patients.

Zrathanzon shook his head. “I doubt I could do anything more than you have.”

The priest nodded in appreciation, then turned back to his patients.

The Ranger turned to his pupil. “Let’s go. There’s not anything more we can do here.”

A few villagers thanked the half-dragons as they passed on their way to the gates. Just as they reached the gates, a woman’s voice reached them, cursing them. Almonihah flinched at the yell.

She’s grief-stricken. No doubt her husband was one of those we were too late for,” Zrathanzon murmured to his pupil.

“Oh,” Almonihah replied, her words still ringing in his ears.


This is the end of chapter 6. I hadn’t really known about the whole section about the ice trolls until pretty recently, when Almonihah decided to inform me of just how good of a warrior Zrathanzon really was.

So, I guess this is my second fight scene. This one’s a bit more detailed, as appropriate to Almonihah’s greater age and faculties at this point in time. How do you think it turned out?