Chronicles of Draezoln

Tales of the world of Draezoln

Chapter 18

Chapter 18: Partings

“It is said that all things end, but I would say that endings are not truly final. For no matter the ending, still time and life continue on, and the echoes of that end may last until the true and final end, when all things at last fade and the gods look down and pass their final judgment.” – Garkhen

From his position on the wall, Almonihah had a good view of the portal they’d just come from… including the image of an enormous skeletal dragon still flying towards it.

“Shut it!” He shouted… or tried to, as it came out as more of a groan.

The wizards were already at work even without his warning, and the tear in the air rippled and vanished just as their pursuer reached it. Relieved, he let himself slump back down for a moment, exhaustion almost overpowering him. Almonihah was dimly aware that his head was throbbing, and that he shouldn’t be this kind of tired, but it seemed like too much work to care just at that moment…

He had only vague memories afterward of being carried from the room, of healers coming and examining him and casting spells. The Ranger wasn’t sure just how long passed before his wits returned, but soon enough he groaned and stirred. Then a thought struck him and he sat bolt upright, only to almost faint as his injured body struggled to keep up with the sudden motion.

“Please, sir, you must rest…”

“Zakhin’Dakh!” Almonihah demanded of the nearest healer. “Where’s Zakhin’Dakh?”

“The griffon, correct? He’s being taken care of,” the priest replied soothingly. “He was badly injured, but Mashano has mended the worse of his wounds, and he’s now resting peacefully. And you should, as well. You hit your head quite hard, sir.”

“Still want t’ see ‘im…”

“You’ll do him no good if you lose consciousness as soon as you stand—which is a very real possibility at present, sir.”

Almonihah frowned, growled, shook his head… and then groaned and gritted his teeth as a wave of nausea welled up in him.

“Please, just lie down and rest. Your friends aren’t in any danger. They simply need rest just as you do.”

Grumbling under his breath the half-dragon reluctantly lay back down, trying to arrange his wings to be comfortable as he does so. There was a reason he usually didn’t sleep in beds. There was just no way to get his wings out of the way. But just now his usual method of sleeping while sitting propped up against something didn’t sound so great…

He woke again sometime later, and rose rather more cautiously than the first time. Pleasingly, he wasn’t immediately assaulted with dizziness and nausea. For that matter there weren’t any priests hovering over him, which he took to be a good sign. In fact, he was alone in a small, dark room. There was the bed he was sitting on, a door… and not much else. Almonihah slowly got to his feet and walked over to the door. He listened a moment, and hearing nothing, he opened it.

Beyond was a curved hallway—likely he was up in one of the many spires of the Midport Mage’s guild, given the fancy stonework. And also the apprentice mage sitting in the hallway. Said apprentice stood with a start as Almonihah emerged from his room.

“Master Almonihah!” she started, but the half-dragon cut her off.

“Not a ‘Master’ anything. Just Almonihah.”

The young mage nodded sheepishly, “Uh… right, umm, well, Master Ganver said to tell you when you awoke that your friend is still sleeping in other room,” she pointed at a nearby door, “and to take you to your griffon.”

“Name’s Zakhin’Dakh,” Almonihah growled, “’nd he’s not mine. He’s his own.”

“Ah… well, he’s this way.”

The young apprentice led him down the hallway to some stairs, and from there on a winding course through the Mage’s Guild’s hallways. Almonihah grumbled under his breath about how wizards couldn’t build straight while doing his best to keep his bearings. He did note that the buildings seemed rather empty, with only a few people in some of the larger rooms they passed.

Finally they crossed a bridge to a cluster of low buildings on one of the small islands the Guild was built on. Two of them seemed like large stables of a sort, and the apprentice led Almonihah into one of these. Glancing around the half-dragon noted that most of the stalls in the stable were clearly for much larger creatures than horses, but he saw no sign of any of them being currently occupied other than the one he was led to.

Zakhin’Dakh was resting peacefully, sprawled across a large heap of fresh straw. Almonihah’s keen eyes could still pick out the signs of healing injuries on his big friend, but they were largely healed at this point.

Gently the ranger approached and murmured, “Zakhin’Dakh?”

The big griffon opened an eye, then jumped to his feet. “Almonihah!” he screeched happily. “You’re okay!”

Zakhin’Dakh stepped forward and looked Almonihah over. “I was worried.”

The half-bronze dragon reached out and patted his friend’s leg. “Yeah, I’m fine,” he murmured soothingly. “Glad you’re okay, too.”

“I’m big and tough!” Zakhin’Dakh screeched proudly in response.

Almonihah chuckled a bit. “Good thing, too.” He shook his head slightly. “Was too close a thing.”

“How’s Garkhen?”

“They tell me he’s fine, too,” the ranger replied, glancing over at the apprentice who’d led him here.

Said apprentice jumped slightly at finding huge griffon eyes turning towards her. “Uh, you’re speaking of the other half-dragon? Yes, he is well, resting after treatment as you were.” After a moment of looking at Zakhin’Dakh, she ventured a question. “Do you… actually speak and understand? I know the griffon-riders say their mounts understand them, but… I never knew…”

Almonihah snorted as Zakhin’Dakh nodded eagerly. “Yeah, he actually understands the Common Tongue. Can’t speak ‘t with a beak, but he can speak Great Eagle.”

“Oh. Great Eagle?”

Almonihah shook his head again. “Jus’ full ‘f questions, aren’t you? They’re like giant, intelligent eagles. Live up in th’ mountains. Now why don’t you go ‘nd make sure Garkhen’s not up ‘nd wondering where we all are?”

It was almost an hour later before she led Garkhen to the other two. Almonihah had carefully inspected his friend, making certain the healers knew what they were doing with Zakhin’Dakh, but he supposed they must have called in one of the healers that helped the griffon-riders, as all seemed in order. For his part, Zakhin’Dakh was just happy his friends were okay and they were back from that crazy place to somewhere he could hunt and sleep without the ground trying to drop him or eat him or something else horrible.

For his part, Garkhen still seemed rather the worse for wear. While he showed no sign of injury the way he held himself spoke of exhaustion—maintaining his wards had clearly drained the Warder.

Still, he was glad to see his friends well after their ordeals. They chatted for a few minutes before he ventured to ask, “What will you do now?”

Almonihah was silent for a long moment—long enough that Zakhin’Dakh interjected, “I’m staying with Almonihah!”

A hint of a grin teased at the corners of the ranger’s mouth. “Head back out into th’ wilderness. Too much ‘f cities ‘nd the Madlands for me ‘f late.”

Garkhen nodded. After another long, silent moment, he stated, “I should go back south. There are those I left behind I wish to see.”

Another pause. “…Sorry ’bout yanking you away from them,” Almonihah muttered, looking away from the Warder.

He shook his head slightly. “It all worked out. Without you and Zakhin’Dakh, I doubt I would have been able to destroy that amulet.”

Almonihah grunted. “Think we should stick around ‘nd see ‘f that undead dragon shows up?”

“Let us pray it does not!” Garkhen fervently replied. “I asked the young apprentice assigned to us, and she said the mages are watching for it, but thus far it seems to have returned to the Maelstrom and not ventured back out into their Sight.”

“Hm. Guess we can tell ’em to get us ‘f they th’ thing comes out ‘nd they think we can help.”

“Could we, if it did?”

Almonihah shrugged slightly. “Couldn’t just let it rampage around without trying.”

Garkhen nodded in agreement. “Its presence within the Maelstrom is worrisome, but in truth there are many dangerous creatures in our world. Let us hope that it remains away from the innocent like the others.”

“Right.” They both fell silent for a time, before turning to less weighty subjects.

They spent a couple of days recuperating, but soon enough Almonihah’s restlessness could not be contained, not to mention the energy of an enormous and curious griffon. The healers reluctantly agreed that Zakhin’Dakh and Almonihah were well enough to depart, and so that afternoon found the three friends standing outside, with the ranger finishing his second check of the straps on Zakhin’Dakh’s saddle.

“I suppose we truly are parting ways now,” Garkhen observed needlessly, saddened by the thought of their impending departure. While it was true their relationship had started… badly, he had grown fond of the gruff ranger and his excited companion. “Perhaps we shall meet again someday.”

Almonihah stood up, satisfied the saddle was strapped on properly, and definitely not trying to delay leaving. “Maybe. Might try t’ drop by Ferdunan sometime, ‘f we can find a boat that won’t get attacked by pirates. Figure tracking down a half-dwarf, half-blue dragon won’t be too hard.”

Garkhen chuckled softly. “Certainly I have not met any others.”

They stood there in silence for a long moment, until Zakhin’Dakh suddenly stepped over, crouched down, and gently bumped Garkhen with his beak. “Bye Garkhen, I’ll miss you,” he screeched softly, then stood up and more loudly proclaimed, “But I want to fly now!”

Almonihah couldn’t help but grin a bit as he translated for Garkhen. “Guess ‘t’s time, then,” he said, before half-jumping, half-pulling himself into the saddle. He looked down from his lofty perch at the Warder. “Make sure t’ not die.”

Garkhen chuckled in response. “I will strive to stay alive. I hope to see the two of you again in good health.”

Almonihah nodded in response, and Zakhin’Dakh, with a screech that might have been a laugh, did likewise. Then he bounded forward and took off, soaring into the air. A trio of griffon-riders met them in the air, their leader saluting the pair before giving them an honor guard out of the city.

Garkhen turned and walked back towards the Guild. He was not quite recovered, himself, and there would be time enough later to find a ship. He hoped he would see his friends again… and indeed, he could not help but feel that he would.

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Well… this is the end of The Chainer’s Legacy. Sorry it took so long–it took being stuck in an airport to get all the distractions out of the way so that I’d finish this.

I think this is a sign that I’m done with this story. It seriously needs editing and revising, but… I’m just going to leave it as-is and move on to other things. The spark’s gone, and I’m going to follow it.

So what’s next? Well… I’m deciding. I’ve got an Iolar story that’s slowly taking form, and some other ideas, too. Whatever it is, it’s going to take some time to outline (and hopefully apply the lessons I’ve learned here about planning).

Chapter 17-4

It was hard to say just how long they struggled through the madness. At some point Garkhen began to wonder if time itself was not fixed here in the Maelstrom. How would they even know if it were not? Certainly everything else seemed to change on a moment’s notice—once they almost fell out of the sky when gravity reversed directions, another time the air slowly turned to water around them, and they had to dive to breathe air where there had once been ground. They barely escaped before the air suddenly returned to being earth.

Finally, after what seemed an eternity of chaos, they reached their destination. With shocking suddenness their surroundings went from madness to emptiness, a plain of bare rock with only a single feature: an enormous globe of coruscating colors suspended just above the ground.

“The Eye of the Maelstrom?” Garkhen suggested after a moment of windswept silence.

Almonihah shrugged. “Good ‘f a name ‘s any. Think it’ll do?”

“Simply gazing upon it makes me sick at heart,” the Warder replied, glancing away. “If there is a more powerful concentration of Chaotic power, I dare not imagine it.”

“So th’ Amulet,” Almonihah half-stated, half-asked. When his companions voiced no objection, he pulled out its box and approached the Eye.

As Garkhen has said, even looking at it turned the stomach, and nearing it swiftly took more and more of Almonihah’s willpower. Gritting his teeth the Ranger forced himself closer until he thought he was in throwing range, then opened the Amulet’s container. He grabbed a rag and used it to seize the accursed artifact, but in spite of the separation between his scales and the Amulet’s chain he felt its power trying to overwhelm him, making his muscles seize up as if he were turning into a statue.

Somehow, with a supreme effort of will, Almonihah fought back against the Amulet’s power and hurled it into the Eye of the Maelstrom. It sailed through the air and struck the multicolored surface… and shattered, the fragments sinking into the Eye as if pulled into tar.

For a long moment the three friends stared at the place where it had been, then Almonihah turned his back on it and walked back to the others. Zakhin’Dakh knelt down to again allow the two half-dragons to mount him.

As he settled into place behind Garkhen, Almonihah commented, “Seemed like somethin’ more should’ve happened.”

As if on cue, a loud crack accompanied a bolt of many-hued lightning as it lanced out of the Eye of the Maelstrom and struck the stone not far from the three. Almonihah swore vehemently in Draconic, then shouted, “Get us out ‘f here, Zakhin’Dakh!”

With a shriek of agreement the huge griffon bounded forward and took off, plunging back into the Maelstrom. Almonihah twisted around as best he could to watch behind them. He saw the ground where the bolt had struck begin to crack and bulge, and then a huge, bony claw began to emerge…

“Faster!” he shouted to his big friend as another claw burst through the rock behind them.

Zakhin’Dakh pumped hard with his wings, though the air around him seemed to be thickening, slowing his progress. Behind them, more of the ground began to crack, and a huge, draconic skull started emerging from the rock. Two skeletal wings slowly followed as the big griffon finally broke through the thick air into more normal flying conditions.

Almonihah knew they’d gotten a fair ways away from the thing by the time it finished emerging from the rock, but even from this distance it looked huge—a skeletal behemoth that likely had been a dragon in life, though no dragon he’d ever seen had so many horns and spikes on it. Not to mention it was enormous even for a dragon. Oh, and it was a moving skeleton. That was different too.

The thing stretched and opened its mouth as if to roar, but no sound emerged from it that could be heard over the howling winds and grinding rocks of the Maelstrom. Then it spread its wings and leaped into the air… which worked far better than the roaring had, given that it did indeed begin flying. Almost immediately it was clear that the thing was gaining on them.

It was harder for Garkhen to turn around and look, given he was strapped securely into the saddle and in front of his taller companion, but he managed enough to get a glimpse of their pursuer. “Bahamut preserve us,” he prayed, quietly but fervently, at the sight.

“’f he’s helping, we could use it,” Almonihah replied.

Garkhen didn’t respond, instead trying to keep an eye on their pursuer while murmuring a prayer under his breath. For his part Almonihah kept a close eye on the skeletal dragon as it drew closer and closer.

“Just how big is th’ thing?” he muttered incredulously under his breath. With the oddities of the Maelstrom it was hard to say, but it looked as if its head was nearly as big as Zakhin’Dakh.

The big griffon, for his part, was flying as hard as he could. The Maelstrom didn’t seem to be mustering quite as much resistance this time, almost as if it was anticipating the undead monstrosity would take care of them. Looking around, he saw a region of large rocks that were floating in the air not far from his path and angled towards them.

Behind them the skeletal dragon opened its jaws wide. Iridescent lightning began to arc between its ribs.

“Dive!” Almonihah shouted, and Zakhin’Dakh, trusting his friend implicitly, tucked in his wings and dove as steeply as he could.

Lightning lanced out from the dragon’s maw, burned away the tip of Zakhin’Dakh’s tail, and blasted one of the floating rocks ahead, which exploded so violently it showered the three with shrapnel even from hundreds of yards away. Shards of stone rattled off of Garkhen’s armor, while one cut Almonihah’s cheek. His armor protected his torso, but his arms also suffered several wounds. The big griffon was the worst off, however, as dozens of sharp-edged stones pierced his wings.

Garkhen hurriedly uttered a spell-prayer of healing as Zakhin’Dakh struggled to regain altitude with his wounded wings. The injuries healed somewhat, though the Warder dared not expend the energy to fully restore them. Zakhin’Dakh pulled up and pumped his wings, plunging into the madness of the floating stones. He dodged and weaved between them, nimbly avoiding them. Behind them Almonihah watched the skeletal dragon slow, hesitating to follow them. After a moment it changed direction before Zakhin’Dakh dodged around a rock, cutting off his view.

The big griffon weaved in and out of the bizarre airborn landscape, swooping over, under, and around the floating hunks of stone. Now that they were among them it was obvious that they were not holding still, and Zakhin’Dakh had to focus to avoid colliding with one. A few times he cut it so closely the tips of his wings brushed one rock or another, and twice he actually had to push off of one of the floating stones to change direction swiftly enough to avoid crashing. What most worried his passengers, however, was that all around them were flying rocks, with no landmarks to point the way. Were they even going the correct direction any more?

How long they spent in that sea of stone, none could say, but Zakhin’Dakh was panting and exhausted when they finally broke through the other side. Amazingly enough, what they saw beyond was not more of the Maelstrom, but rather the desolation surrounding it.

And shortly after Zakhin’Dakh flew into open air, Almonihah shouted, “It’s here!” as the skeletal dragon dove towards them from above.

Desperately the huge griffon began to dodge and swerve, but lightning again began to crackle between the creature’s ribs. Garkhen chanted a quick spell-prayer, bringing up a ward just in time to deflect the deadly bolt, lightning crackling against his invisible barrier. He groaned and slumped in the saddle, the effort of blocking the bolt straining Garkhen to his very limits.

Almonihah shrugged one strap of his pack off his shoulder and quickly searched in it, pulling out the box he’d been given before they left Midport. He opened it and pulled out the small beacon rod inside, held it with both hands, and snapped it. A brief flash of light sparked between the broken ends, but nothing more.

“Hope that worked,” he murmured to himself as he dropped the broken pieces to hold on as Zakhin’Dakh dove again to evade the dragon’s claws.

The dragon flew just over the three, not quite able to change direction fast enough to catch the swift griffon, but close enough to make Almonihah glad he was leaning forward over the saddle as Zakhin’Dakh dove. Its claws whistled through the air just behind Zakhin’Dakh’s tail.

“The beacons!” Garkhen cried out once the big griffon leveled off enough for him to breathe.

“Already broke one,” Almonihah stated.

“Then we can only hope it worked.”

Almonihah nodded a silent agreement as Zakhin’Dakh pumped his wings to try to open up some distance between himself and the skeletal dragon. It didn’t last long—in spite of its complete lack of wing membranes, the undead dragon was fast, its only disadvantage being a lack of maneuverability. As soon as it had itself turned around it was again gaining on the three despite Zakhin’Dakh’s efforts. And so again the big griffon had to dive aside as it slashed at them with a claw… and then bank sharply as Almonihah shouted a warning about its breath.

Multihued lightning sizzled just past his head-frill. While normally lightning would not have been of concern to him, the half-bronze dragon suspected that a hit from this dragon’s breath would be quite deadly even to himself, or to Garkhen.

Suddenly a voice spoke from the air nearby them. “We have your position, but we’ll only be able to open a portal once with the interference here! Just fly straight for a while and we can get you out!”

Almonihah looked about suspiciously, wondering if it were a trick of the chaos around them. Garkhen, however, exclaimed, “It is the mages from Midport!”

“Right, but flyin’ straight’s easier said than done.”

“I can do it!” Zakhin’Dakh interjected. He dove one last time as the dragon made another pass and then leveled out.

Almonihah watched the skeletal dragon come around for another pass. “They’d better make that portal ‘f theirs quick…”

The big griffon held his course even as the dragon behind him finished turning and started closing, its jaws opening.

“Garkhen!”

The Warder chanted a spell-prayer and held up his symbol of Bahamut. After a brief moment there was a searing flash of light as the dragon’s breath met Garkhen’s ward in the air just behind Zakhin’Dakh. The Warder groaned as the strain of maintaing the ward struck him, but he hung on grimly until the bolt of chaotic energies faded… and then promptly fell unconscious, avoiding falling out of the saddle only because he was strapped in.

Almonihah swore under his breath. “’f they don’t open up that port…”

A sudden rippling split the air in front of Zakhin’Dakh, soon forming into a circular view into the interior of a building. The big griffon had only enough time to close his wings (and thereby avoid having them hit the edges of the portal) before he was through, talons and claws suddenly meeting stone floor as he crashed into the ground at full speed, Almonihah tumbling off his back and across the floor as he did so. The half-bronze dragon came to an abrupt stop when he smashed into a wall as Zakhin’Dakh skidded to a halt, partially on his side after his legs had given out from the impact of landing.

***************

So, here’s the rest of chapter 17. I just… I think I scared myself off from it. I’m still not particularly happy with it, but it’s done. I was trying to write a hectic, climactic final scene, and… didn’t really get what I wanted.

Chapter 18 is going to be the final chapter, and it’s already in progress. I’m hoping to wrap it up by next week, but either way I’ll post next week.

Chapter 17-3

They camped in the blasted wastes around the Maelstrom. Nothing stirred here, save for the occasional errant winds. No creatures moved beyond themselves. Fatigue, and the oppression of the desolate landscape, meant the little group spoke little as they made a cold camp. None of them knew what lay ahead in the Maelstrom… and none of them really wanted to discuss what they might encounter.

The sun seemed hesitant to rise the next morning, shining weakly through a haze that was not quite thick enough to call cloudy. The two half-dragons and one griffon arose just as reluctantly, eating a cold breakfast to prepare themselves for the day. They spoke few words, avoiding talking about the challenges ahead for just a few more minutes.

At last they could put it off no longer. Almonihah looked out over the wastes to the Maelstrom with a soft growl.

“Don’t like th’ thought ‘f flying through that,” he commented. “Walking ‘d be worse.”

Garkhen nodded wordlessly. Zakhin’Dakh screeched agreement, then knelt down to let his friends on.

The flight to the Maelstrom was uneventful, but not exactly silent. At first just the moaning

of a fitful wind accompanied them, but as they drew nearer the shifting landscape ahead of them, a bizarre cacophony met their ears. This was matched by the sights drawing ever-closer to them. Iceburgs crashed against one another in a sea of sand. Distant volcanoes erupted, sending hunks of electrified mud into the air, before the cones collapsed and became forested hills. Thunderstorms lashed the ground with a hail of nails, which swiftly dissolved into rivulets of acid as the stormclouds turned into floating islands.

“It is… rather impressive,” Garkhen opined after a few moments.

Almonihah snorted. “Mean deadly. Fly int’ the wrong thing here ‘nd we’re dead.”

“I can do it!” Zakhin’Dakh screeched, proudly.

Almonihah patted his friend’s side. “Yeah. Wouldn’t want t’ trust th’ flight to anyone else.”

And with that, they plunged into the Maelstrom. It was madness. It was chaos. Zakhin’Dakh had aimed for a clear-seeming patch, but shortly after he flew in, downdrafts buffeted him as a sudden storm swelled above them. The great griffon stroked hard with his mighty wings, fighting to gain altitude, to get above the storm before it hailed burning coals or something similarly unpleasant.

Garkhen chanted a spell-prayer, and a canopy of holy energy shielded them as the storm opened up—dagger-like shards of jagged ice, to be exact. He gritted his teeth against the expenditure of energy, knowing that much more would be required of him in the hours to come. He made the ward as weak as he dared, just barely strong enough to shatter the ice shards.

Then they were through the storm and soaring over a peaceful field of purple grass with green flowers. Green flowers that started shooting seeds at high speed upwards. Fortunately Zakhin’Dakh was flying high enough that they lost all momentum before reaching him, dropping back to the ground just below him. Just to be safe the big griffon flew a bit higher.

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I’m really struggling with this for some reason. I’ll try to get back on track.

Chapter 17-2

It wasn’t long before the half-dragons could also see a number of dots in the air in every direction, which soon started resolving into a menagerie of Javni’Tolkhrah. Almonihah took one look at them and growled, “There’s too many ‘f them. We’ll have t’ avoid most of ’em.”

Zakhin’Dakh shrieked a wordless agreement and started flying harder, aiming mostly in the direction they wanted to head, but somewhat between where some of the dots were coming from. Garkhen started chanting, but Almonihah growled, “Save it.” When Garkhen started to protest, the Ranger shook his head once and said, “’f we need it, we’ll need it, but wait ‘nd see if we do.”

Zakhin’Dakh’s swift flight soon brought them close enough to make out the nearest of the Javni’Tolkhrah, revealing them to be as bizarre and dangerous as ever. They had changed their course of flight, starting to close the gap between them to block the group’s flight. Seeing this, the big griffon turned his flight upwards, using his strong wings to try to get a height advantage over the oncoming monstrosities. They moved to follow, and it became clear that, while they didn’t look to be nearly as good of fliers as Zakhin’Dakh, he wouldn’t be able to just fly over them.

But that wasn’t his plan, and just as one of the Javni-Tolkhrah spat some of its teeth at him, Zakhin’Dakh dove, fast enough that Almonihah had to grab onto the saddle hard to stay on the griffon’s back, ducking down just in time for the teeth to fly over him. The monsters dove to follow, and Zakhin’Dakh turned and twisted, changing directions suddenly and unpredictably in an attempt to out-fly the clumsy chaos beasts.

The monstrosities steadily fell behind, their asymmetrical forms poorly built for swift flight and abrupt maneuvers, but they were hardly rendered safe. One of them sprayed a stream of violet liquid from a vaguely scorpion-like tail. Almonihah, struggling to keep his head up and watch them, kneed Zakhin’Dakh hard on one side, and the big griffon twisted away, but a few droplets still struck his wingtip. He shrieked in alarm as his feathers started to smoke and blacken, but then Garkhen lifted his holy symbol and chanted, and the smoking stopped.

Then Zakhin’Dakh leveled off his flight and flapped hard, starting to leave the Javni’Tolkhrah behind. They struggled to catch up, spat and threw spines at him, but they fell short, and slowly the three flew clear of them. The big griffon didn’t slow his flight until a couple of hours later, when the monsters following them had fallen out of sight.

Amazingly enough, they faced little opposition after that, only an occasional lone Javni’Tolkhrah. It was as if the Madlands had exhausted itself in its assault, and now had to rest and regain their strength.

Either that, or it was lulling them into a trap.

But if it was a trap, it didn’t yet spring. Mountains rose before them, and when they crossed over, the three friends could see a vast waste… and at its center, pandemonium, a rapidly-changing landscape shot through with fire and lightning.

“Th’ Maelstrom,” Almonihah stated. “Just about there.”

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I’m really struggling with this end sequence. I know how it ends, but I haven’t got all of the challenges along the way really clear in my mind. I’m still not really satisfied with this, but… here it is.

Chapter 17-1

Chapter 17: Heart of the Maelstrom

“All journeys must come to an end someday, even the journey of life. Not all endings are cause for sorrow. But this time, I greatly feared, lest our journey would end too soon.” –Garkhen

It was a sign of the Warder’s exhaustion that he did not wake even while being carried aloft in griffon talons. Almonihah was just as glad for that—they’d need all of Garkhen’s strength later, he was sure.

“Fly south ‘s hard ‘s you can, Zakhin’Dakh,” he ordered. “Got t’ do this fast ‘f we’re going t’ live.”

Zakhin’Dakh screeched a tired agreement and forced his weary muscles to pump harder, flying as swiftly as possible in spite of how hard he’d flown the previous day. Anxiously his Ranger friend watched the ground, trying to make certain they were really making progress—and to his relief, as best as his keen eyes could tell in the moonlight, the blur of the ground below them was due to true motion rather than deceit.

The big griffon could not keep up his pace for long, however, and soon his wing-beats began to grow weaker. Almonihah noticed and patted his friend on the head.

“That’s enough, Zakhin’Dakh. Probably need t’ rest th’ rest of th’ night… if we can.”

Zakhin’Dakh nodded, too weary to voice his agreement, and descended. He set Garkhen down carefully before fully setting down himself. The half-blue dragon slept through it all, oblivious to the danger his friends had saved him from. Zakhin’Dakh dropped off quite quickly afterward, again leaving Almonihah to keep watch.

This time, he managed to stay awake, though it helped that dawn came fairly soon after they’d landed. Whether because of the Ranger’s watch, the blessings of the gods, or because the Madlands themselves had to rest, he detected no sign of danger during the night.

Neither of his companions stirred until long after sunrise, leaving Almonihah to pace anxiously, looking every way for danger. Why nothing attacked them he had no idea, though he thanked Naishia for the respite.

Zakhin’Dakh awoke almost halfway to noon from dawn, and Almonihah, on seeing him start moving, immediately went to their bags and got food and drink out for his big friend.

“We’ll have t’ wake him before we go,” he said as the griffon ate, nodding at Garkhen. “Can’t believe nothing else’s tried t’ kill us yet. No way it can last.”

I’m better rested, so I kill them!” Zakhin’Dakh happily replied after swallowing another chunk of meat.

Almonihah snorted. “We’ll prob’ly need that, but we’ll still need all three ‘f us, I’m sure.”

Once the griffon had finished eating, Almonihah bent down and roughly shook Garkhen’s shoulder. “Garkhen!” He half-shouted.

No response.

Next time it was a full shout. “Garkhen! Got t’ go, ‘nd there’s no way I’m getting you strapped into th’ saddle while you’re sleeping.”

At this, Garkhen finally stirred. “Almonihah?” he quietly murmured, slowly opening his eyes and sitting up.

“Get on,” Almonihah commanded, pointing at Zakhin’Dakh’s saddle. “Can eat while we fly.”

“Right,” the Warder agreed, slowly getting to his feet.

Soon enough they were airborne again… just in time for Zakhin’Dakh to shriek a warning. “Bad things flying to us!”

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Sorry again about the infrequent posting. I’ll try to get my act together enough to finish this without more gaps.

Chapter 16-6

Garkhen was too tired to protest, instead simply giving a weary little nod. Zakhin’Dakh quickly descended, landing in a patch of off-color grass. Almonihah got down and pulled out his battered symbol of Naishia, conjuring up memories of spell-prayers. Haltingly he murmured one, and soft green light shone over his wounds. He gritted his teeth as fatigue started to set in.

As soon as he felt himself mended enough he stopped. “Don’t know how you do that so much,” he commented to Garkhen.

The Warder, however, was only half-awake at this point. Grunting, Almonihah said, “Guess we’d better camp,” and set about doing just that.

Once done, however, he was left with the issue of how to protect their camp with Garkhen now solidly asleep, himself fatigued from his minor healing spell-prayer, and Zakhin’Dakh worn out from hard flying. The Ranger looked around and growled softly.

“Hate being here,” he commented to no one in particular.

“Yeah,” Zakhin’Dakh screeched in tired agreement.

Almonihah glanced over at his big friend. “Get some rest, Zakhin’Dakh. I’ll watch.”

It was a sign of the griffon’s fatigue that he didn’t argue, instead settling down a bit more and closing his eyes. The half-bronze dragon, meanwhile, started pacing the perimeter of their camp. He’d let Zakhin’Dakh sleep a while, then wake him up to trade watches. It was a decent plan… but somehow, at some point during the night, Almonihah sat down to rest his feet for a moment and fell asleep.

He awoke with a start, though he couldn’t quite place why at first. Groggily he stood, and almost fell over on the steeply sloping ground.

Wait…

“Zakhin’Dakh! Garkhen! Get up!” he shouted as the facts of their situation sunk in.

When they had landed, this had been a fairly flat, grassy spot. Now, it was a steep mountainside, and Almonihah was fairly certain it was getting steeper as he watched. Before long it would be a sheer cliff.

Zakhin’Dakh stirred fitfully, grumbling as only a giant griffon can, in some kind of bizarre mix of eagle screeches and annoyed growls. Garkhen, however, showed no signs of stirring from the tent Almonihah had set up.

“Get up!” Almonihah shouted again at the griffon, while stumbling over towards the tent. He flung the flap open and swore, seeing Garkhen still sleeping with no signs of waking.

Instead, he took to the air with a flap of his wings, thinking it faster than walking on this treacherous ground, and flew over to Zakhin’Dakh, who was blearily opening an eye.

“Have t’ go now!” He shouted. “Grab Garkhen, he’s not going t’ wake up in time. Can’t afford to save th’ tent.”

Finally fighting his way free of the fatigue that seemed to be dragging at his mind, Zakhin’Dakh opened his eyes and noticed things were strange. He felt Almonihah land on his back and get in his saddle, and then his friend’s words finally started making sense. With a great cry, he spread his wings and took off, then circled back around and landed briefly by the tent. With one of his taloned feet he carefully reached into the tent (putting huge tears in it as he did) and gently grabbed Garkhen, then took off again.

Below them, the tent tumbled down the steepening slope into an abyss whose bottom was still hidden in darkness in spite of the moon’s light above. 

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Sorry this took so long. I’ve been a bit drained creatively of late–I think I’ve been RPing too much, actually, so I haven’t had much writing energy left. 

Oh, and also, I got engaged. Which has been a bit distracting.

Chapter 16-5

They soared onward for a couple of hours in silence, Garkhen concentrating on his ward, Almonihah and Zakhin’Dakh focused on their surroundings. It was the griffon who spoke up first.

Something there! He screeched, nodding his head to one side.

Almonihah peered forward, then got his bow ready. “Looks like we caught up t’ the Javni’Tolkhrah.”

As they neared, it became clear this was only a half-dozen of the monsters that had been harassing them. But this time, when Almonihah sent an arrow soaring just past one, they all turned around and started flying towards the three friends. Zakhin’Dakh shriek-roared a challenge at them and flapped harder, ready to meet them with his own beak and talons.

They were smaller, weaker Javni’Tolkhrah, but still dangerous. Garkhen switched from warding against the chaos around them to warding Zakhin’Dakh from claws and teeth, while Almonihah brought one of the monsters down with his arrows. Then they were upon them, and Zakhin’Dakh tore into one with his talons. It died swiftly, but the other four struck with claws, teeth, beak, tentacle, and stinger. Garkhen gritted his teeth as he held his wards against them, but none penetrated to harm the big griffon… quite.

Then they were past one another, Almonihah pivoting to keep his bow in play. Both Zakhin’Dakh and the Javni’Tolkhrah turned, angling to attack once again, while the Ranger blasted another arrow into one of the monstrosity’s sides. Its flight faltered for a bit, but it steadied after a moment… just in time for another arrow to hit it, this time in the shoulder. It still struggled on, until a third arrow pierced its skull.

Zakhin’Dakh’s slashing talons accounted for another before the last two struck… this time aiming for the half-dragons on his back. A stinger glanced off Garkhen’s armor, but Almonihah didn’t quite dodge the other Javni’Tolkhrah’s claws, and got a nasty gash on his arm. Cursing, he almost dropped his bow, but managed to catch it with his other hand.

Of course, that did involve hurling himself to one side, which lead to falling right off of Zakhin’Dakh’s back.

Injured, and suddenly far too busy flying for himself to aim his bow, Almonihah could do nothing to fire at the remaining two Javni’Tolkhrah. As he felt his friend fall off, Zakhin’Dakh turned as sharply as he could to interpose himself between the half-dragon and their foes. Garkhen tried to summon up the energy to do something, anything, but his vision wavered as unconsciousness tried to claim him, and he soon found himself clinging to the saddle in spite of the straps holding him in.

Almonihah managed to get himself under control and started heading towards his griffon friend, but the Javni’Tolkhrah returned before he could get back. Zakhin’Dakh intercepted one and quickly bit through its spine, but Almonihah had to dive to evade the other one. It shredded the sole of one of his boots as it flew by, but didn’t quite get its claws deep enough to draw blood.

By the time it came back around, Almonihah was clinging to the back of Zakhin’Dakh’s saddle with his good arm, and the giant griffon’s beak made quick work of the last Madness-Touched. Garkhen reached to heal him, but Almonihah shook his head angrily.

“Save it,” he growled. “We need t’ land, ‘nd then I can patch myself up a bit.”

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Sorry this took so long. I’m not sure why I’m struggling so much with this section. Maybe I just want to make sure I’m making the finale appropriately interesting.

Chapter 16-4

Worryingly, they were harried again and again over the next few days. Every time the Javni’Tolkhrah would approach them, and Almonihah would drive them off with arrows. Every time he injured or killed one or two of them… and every time even more returned.

“Don’t like th’ way this ‘s going,” he commented, watching as well over a dozen monstrosities flew away after the latest attempt.

“Perhaps it is better than if they simply waited until all had gathered?” Garkhen suggested.

Almonihah grunted. “Like they’re getting us used t’ it, or something,” he commented, ignoring Garkhen’s optimistic thought.

“We shall have to remain vigilant, then,” Garkhen replied. “Perhaps more that are capable of invisibility are gathering?”

Almonihah shrugged slightly. “Never tell with Javni’Tolkhrah. Could do just about anything.”

“That is hardly reassuring,” Garkhen stated. “I shall do my best to ward us, but it is draining.”

“Save it for when they attack,” Almonihah replied. “I’ll keep watch.”

“Me, too!” Zakhin’Dakh screeched. “I’ll watch too!”

“Let us hope it is enough,” Garkhen said, worriedly.

They flew on in silence for a little while, then Zakhin’Dakh screeched again, “What if we chased them?”

Almonihah grunted. “Chasing them’s prob’ly what they want. They always fly off in th’ opposite direction from where we’re going.”

Garkhen frowned, thinking over what he’d seen and realizing Almonihah was right. And something else, as well. “Then how are they always in front of us again?”

The Ranger paused to think, then growled. “Who knows if they have t’ sleep.”

Garkhen shook his head slightly. “They still seem to be living creatures, surely they must sleep.”

Almonihah grunted. He didn’t immediately respond, instead looking around. There was something to Garkhen’s words… something… something wrong around them. He narrowed his eyes, looking at the ground beneath them. They were zooming past it, but…

Wait. They weren’t going that fast. Things suddenly clicked into place as he took a hard look at their surroundings. They weren’t making a lot of headway. Instead the ground beneath them was… blurring, giving the illusion of motion, while they fought against a headwind that made it feel like they were moving fast.

Almonihah swore under his breath. “Garkhen, can you do something ’bout this?”

Garkhen, confused, tried to look over his shoulder at the Ranger. “About what, my friend?”

“Th’ blasted wind,” he growled in response. “Look hard. Th’ ground’s actually trying to fool us. Doing a good job ‘f it, too.”

Zakhin’Dakh screeched a wordless question, then peered at the ground himself. “Yeah!” he agreed after a moment.

“Let me see what I can do,” Garkhen replied after looking himself.

He half-closed his eyes as he thought through the spell-prayers he knew. He’d never run across one for wind… but if this wind was Chaos-wrought, he might be able to do something.

The Warder raised his symbol of Bahamut and chanted a prayer. The change was subtle, but as Almonihah watched the ground, he saw that the illusion of motion was quickly becoming truth.

“That did ‘t,” he stated.

Garkhen nodded briefly. He didn’t want to mention how much it was going to strain him to maintain this ward. Fighting back Chaos in the Madlands was draining, and he suspected they’d need all of their strength in times to come.

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This section brought to you by the difference between air speed and ground speed. Also by the Madlands being, well, Mad.

Chapter 16-3

Somewhat to their surprise, nothing attacked them in the middle of the night. Zakhin’Dakh grumbled as he stretched out his sore muscles, and complained about eating old meat instead of hunting, but he knew well enough why he was putting up with all of this, so his complaints were mostly wordless, unhappy screeches. Almonihah patted his big friend soothingly as they breakfasted.

The land around them had mostly stayed steady, though the vegetation seemed somehow… watchful. Baleful. As if the very grass was glaring at them. Garkhen shuddered slightly as he re-mounted Zakhin’Dakh. Did the Amulet draw even the very substance of the Madlands?

Zakhin’Dakh took off with his two friends on his back, heading southeast again, towards the Maelstrom at the heart of the Madlands. He had not flown for long, however, before they could see dark shapes flying towards them.

“Took ’em long enough,” Almonihah commented acidly as he got his bow out.

There were only a handful of small flying monstrosities. They flew right at the much larger griffon, only to be shot down one-by-one as Almonihah fired on them. The Ranger looked around suspiciously as the last one fell.

“Something’s not right about that…” he commented… then noticed he could still hear wing-beats other than Zakhin’Dakh’s.

“Dive!” He shouted.

Zakhin’Dakh trusted Almonihah. That was likely the only thing that saved them, for the big griffon hadn’t caught on to what was going on. He dove, plunging downwards suddenly at the Ranger’s shout. Almonihah felt as much as heard the whistle of something passing right overhead.

Garkhen began chanting, then held up his symbol of Bahamut. It flashed with silver light, and a half-dozen more Javni’Tolkhrah appeared in midair above them.

“Right!” Almonihah shouted in Great Eagle, and Zakhin’Dakh banked just in time for another monster to dive past them.

Again Garkhen began chanting a spell-prayer. As he finished, a shimmering silvery shield formed above them, just in time for another Javni’Tolkhrah to impact it. The Warder grunted as he channeled power into the ward, and the beast bounced off, flipping and tumbling in the air, killed by the sudden impact with an unyielding surface.

“Okay, level off,” Almonihah told Zakhin’Dakh as he straightened and got into firing position. “That ward of yours let my arrows through?” He asked Garkhen.

“Yes,” was the Warder’s terse reply.

Almonihah wasted no more words, either, instead opening fire. His first shot whizzed past one of the Javni’Tolkhrah, and suddenly they all broke off, scattering to the winds. He kept firing as they fled, managing to bring another down before they got out of range.

He growled as they left. “Going t’ be back,” he commented. “Too clever. Don’t like it.”

Garkhen let his ward fade as he said, “Agreed, on both counts. Is it the influence of the Amulet, or are Javni’Tolkhrah always this clever?”

The Ranger didn’t take his gaze off them as they flew away. “Clever, yeah. Organized? Usually not. That’s th’ part that worries me most.”

Garkhen nodded soberly. “We shall have to be wary. I shall do my best to ward us against the approach of invisible creatures. It will be an alarm only, to conserve my strength.”

Almonihah’s response was a simple nod of agreement. Zakhin’Dakh, however, spoke up in Great Eagle. “Yeah, next time I’ll bite them and tear them up!”

Almonihah snorted in amusement. “I’m sure they won’t like that, Zakhin’Dakh.”

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Nobody likes being torn up by Zakhin’Dakh. It hurts. A lot.

Chapter 16-2

The transition from normal reality to the Madlands looked subtle, but any who had crossed it knew it was felt more than seen. The feeling was impossible to describe, but unmistakable… a sense of the sudden shift in the laws of reality, perhaps? By now, all three friends knew the feeling.

Almonihah looked around warily. “Better keep ‘n eye out for Javni’Tolkhrah,” he commented.

“Indeed,” Garkhen replied, his voice subdued.

They flew on in silence for some time, looking at the terrain below them and the air around them. This close to the borders of the Madlands there was no visible difference, but it seemed to flicker slightly in the corner of the eye, like something was twisting and changing when not watched. But for now, that was all—no monstrosities flew up at them, no mad cultists fired at them.

They made good time stopping only to eat. Slowly the land below them started to change, becoming more obviously distorted, more warped and twisted. Vegetation grew in sharp, unnatural shapes, or drooped in writhing masses that shuddered in nonexistent winds. Soil and stone were stained with sickening colors—violent purples and yellows, or slowly mingling oranges and greens. The land itself slowly moved and shifted, mountains sinking or rising, sand becoming fertile earth only to crumble back to sand again. Where they landed to eat, the land seemed to hold stable for a moment, but it continued flowing and changing at the edge of sight.

“How can we sleep here?” Garkhen asked as night fell. He glanced up at the sunset and shuddered—for a moment it he had felt as if the sun were rising instead of setting.

Almonihah shrugged. “Didn’t have any trouble with that before. ‘course, I wasn’t lugging around th’ Amulet.”

The Warder nodded. “I shall ward our campsite as best I can,” he stated. “If the land itself does not strive to kill us as we sleep, we shall be safe enough, at least warned should danger come.”

Almonihah nodded. Zakhin’Dakh, hearing the discussion, screeched, “Does that mean I can land now?” The exhaustion in his voice was plain, at least to the Ranger, who snorted softly and reached down to pat the griffon on the side.

“Yeah, you can land, Zakhin’Dakh. You need th’ rest worse than th’ rest of us.”

Gratefully the giant griffon spiraled down to a landing in a spot that looked at least halfway safe, his friends dismounting after he landed. Garkhen busied himself with preparing wards around them while Almonihah fed his big friend some preserved meat from their enchanted bags. As soon as he was full, Zakhin’Dakh settled down and closed his eyes, exhausted enough that the soreness from the day’s labors couldn’t keep him from drifting off to sleep.

The two half-dragons ate in silence, wary of every sound and sight around them. Even as they finished eating and retired to their tent they said nothing. There was nothing to say. 

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Apologies for missing last week, I just got distracted.

The Madlands are not a good place. I don’t think I did a good job at establishing that during the earlier forays into it.