Chronicles of Draezoln

Tales of the world of Draezoln

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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.

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

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 16-1

Chapter 16: Flight to the Storm

“What is required to resist evil? Good is, of course, the obvious answer, but a somewhat insufficient one. The mere existence of good does not combat evil. Rather, it is the doing of good, the spreading of hope, the performance of kind deeds… these are the first defense against evil.”

“The last is blade and fang.” – Garkhen

At last they were ready to depart. Almonihah and Garkhen both had new bags hanging from their belts—small bags that were much larger on the inside. Zakhin’Dakh now had a saddle-bag, though given the unusual shape of his saddle, it was on the back rather than the side of his saddle. All were filled with provisions, especially drink.

Other preparations were not as physical. When not speaking with the Mage-Archivist, Garkhen discussed warding against chaotic forces with wizards of the guild. Almonihah, for his part, dredged up his memories of Llinos, trying to recall what little he had learned of Naishia’s magic. Zakhin’Dakh… simply enjoyed exploring human things.

The most critical preparation, however, was a container for the Amulet. Given its proven ability to draw in Javni’Tolkhrah, it was imperative for the success of their mission that they find a way to limit its influence. To this end, the mages of the Guild, Garkhen, and even a few priests of Mashano worked mighty wards and other spells into a box made of layered metals—lead, mithril, and steel—to block as much as possible the power of the Amulet. Garkhen now carried that box, with the Amulet within, in his pack as they met one last time with the Archmagi of the Mages’ Guild.

“We have done all we can,” the head Archmage said. “We would send more with you, but a small group is easier to guard against the corrupting influence of Jivenesh, not to mention easier to supply. One last thing we give you, however.”

He gestured, and an apprentice wizard came forward with two small boxes. He opened one, displaying a small rod with intricate runes carved all along its length.

“These are beacons. Break one when you near Midport again, and it will alert us to your location. We can only go so far into the Madlands before magic itself is too unreliable to aid you, but should you find yourselves in need not too far from us, we will come.”

“Thank you, Archmage,” Garkhen said, taking one of the small boxes, while Almonihah took the other.

There was little more to say after that. Those assembled wished the two half-dragons and their griffon friend good fortune, and then they departed. Almonihah, Garkhen, and Zakhin’Dakh walked out of the Mages’ Guild, the griffon again re-assuming his true size as they exited. Zakhin’Dakh crouched down next to a low wall, and first Garkhen and then Almonihah climbed on his back. Then he took off, flying southeast towards the Madlands. 

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It struck me today that I hadn’t posted yet this week. So apologies for the lateness, but it’s not quite next week yet!

Chapter 15-3

It took them days of research to make headway. The first tantalizing hints were just that—hints. Oblique mentions of some past horror involving the Javni’Tolkhrah, but never anything clear. It was as if there was some agreement between the authors not to speak of the subject more.

It was Garkhen who at last stumbled upon a hint. Theorizing that, if there were indeed some agreement to banish all memory of something, it was more likely to have happened later rather than sooner, he had gone to some of the oldest-looking books on the shelf and started reading them carefully.

He frowned as he ran across one passage in particular. The Warder re-read it a couple of times, then looked up at his friends. “Look here. I believe I have found something.”

Almonihah, who had been focusing more on teaching Zakhin’Dakh to read than actually reading himself, looked up. “What?”

“This passage mentions a “Chainer” in connection with the Javni’Tolkhrah. It sounds possible, does it not?”

Almonihah grunted. “Were chains all over th’ Amulet,” he admitted, cautiously. “What’s it say?”

“Simply that ‘Since the Chainer’s death, the Chaos Mages have never again so threatened our world.’ From there it goes on to discuss the hunting of Chaos Mages,” Garkhen stated, a hint of disapproval in his tone.

“Hm. ‘Least it’s something,” Almonihah replied, not sounding very impressed. He looked over at the Mage-Archivist. “Chainer mean anything to you?”

Mage-Archivist Delanoche frowned. “Chainer… Chainer… Let me see…” He went over to another set of shelves in the room and started looking over the books there. After a long moment he pulled one off and opened it, flipping through.

“Ah, here it is,” He declared after several minutes of searching. “This passage discusses the summoning of Chaos Beasts, as practiced by ‘The Chainer’.”

Garkhen looked up at the Mage-Archivist, an unasked question in his gaze. After a moment, he asked, instead of the question on his mind, “What does it say of him?”

Mage-Archivist Delanoche scanned a couple of pages. “That the author’s opinion is that The Chainer bound existing Chaos Beasts to his will rather than summoning them. This is a book on summoning, you see.”

“Does it say anything about the Amulet?” Garkhen asked, gazing intently at the book.

After several minutes he shook his head. “No. He says nothing of relevance to our problem. Simply his reasons for why he believes what he does, none of which mention any artifacts.”

The group was silent for a moment, until Garkhen stated, “That does, at least, seem to confirm this Chainer is related to this subject, for the Amulet seems to have power over the Javni’Tolkhrah…”

“So we have a name t’ look for,” Almonihah finished, when Garkhen trailed off. “Something, I suppose.” After a moment he narrowed his eyes. “Something in here on ancient wars?”


There were, indeed, books on ancient wars, which led to books on war magic, and so on through many subjects. Slowly they were able to piece together a picture of the Chainer.

“To summarize what we have found,” Garkhen said a few days later, as they stood again before the remaining Archmagi, “This Chainer found some way to bind Javni’Tolkhrah to his will. If anyone knew it was this Amulet, there are no records here we can find of it. It seems that he used this power to wage a terrible war on one of the early human kingdoms, nearly overcoming it before they were saved by the intervention of the dwarves.”

“After which everybody decided t’ hush up about th’ whole thing,” Almonihah interjected. “Probably didn’t want anyone else getting ideas.”

“Unfortunately, as none of them mention the Amulet, we are left without definite word on how it might be destroyed,” Garkhen continued. “However…” He hesitated. “The records do mention that they had discovered the Javni’Tolkhrah chafed against their master’s power, for Chaos is ever ill-suited to servitude…”

“So our best guess’s that enough Chaos’d break it,” Almonihah finished. He growled a bit at the thought, but after a moment of displeasure, he added, “’nd if there’s enough Chaos anywhere, it’s probably in th’ Maelstrom.” 

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Apologies for the unplanned hiatus. Holiday time can be like that. It didn’t help that I was debating on just how to do a library scene.

Chapter 15-2

The Mage’s Guild Library was as massive as anticipated, with seemingly endless shelves filled with books from floor to ceiling, arranged in fanciful curves within a massive tower. Garkhen was clearly delighted to be in a library, as opposed to the dour Ranger, who looked at all of the books rather doubtfully. Zakhin’Dakh, again shrunken to a more indoor size, looked all about him with awe. He had no idea what these funny human things were, but there were a lot of them!

Garkhen immediately went to a desk, behind which a robed man was murmuring and waving a hand over a stack of books. He held up his other hand, palm out, at the approaching half-dragon, and Garkhen obediently waited for him to finish. With a final flourish of his hand, the books flew into the air, splitting up and floating across the library until they settled into empty places on shelves.

“Ah, our guests,” he said, looking the two half-dragons and griffon over. “I was informed you would be coming. I am Mage-Archivist Delanoche. What topic is it you wish to research?”

“We are looking for information about methods used to control the Madness-Touched,” Garkhen began.

“Indeed?” The Mage-Archivist interjected, looking surprised. “And why is this?”

“The artifact we are seeking to destroy seems to have been used for such,” the Warder explained. “We hope that by discovering something of its past, we might uncover clues as to how it might be destroyed.”

“Indeed,” Mage-Archivist Delanoche said again, though this time it was more an expression of understanding. “Information on chaos mages is usually restricted… however, you have permission to access whatever portion of our collection you require, and it seems you shall require what we have on the followers of Jivenesh. This way.”

He led the way through the shelves, weaving between them with the ease of long familiarity until he reached an unassuming door. He reached into a pocket on his robe and pulled out an elaborate key, which he inserted into the door’s lock. The Mage-Archivist turned the key first one way, then another, then back, before at last twisting it all the way around. Then he murmured something, tapped a spot on the door, and removed the key.

A section of the wall next to the door slid open, revealing a small, unlit room, with a table at the center and more bookshelves on each wall. “This is the relevant portion of the restricted section,” Mage-Archivist Delanoche stated. “All of you enter so I may close the door.”

He watched as the three friends walked in, then joined them. With a quiet word the wall slid shut behind them, while a crystal globe hanging from the ceiling suddenly lit up, illuminating the room.

“Now, then… chaos mages, chaos mages…” he murmured, going down the shelves. “Ah, here. This shelf has all the books we have on the subject.” He waved a hand at them. “I must observe all use of the restricted section, so do please begin quickly.”

Almonihah looked down at Garkhen with a hint of a frown, but the Warder was already making his way over to the shelves. He looked over the titles and shuddered slightly. “This will certainly not be the most pleasant of reading… let us hope it is worthwhile.” 

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Now, who remembers that name, hm? And yes, of course the Mage’s Guild has a magical library.

Chapter 14-8

Garkhen, now thinking his friends safe enough, immediately fell asleep, too exhausted to stay conscious.

It did not take long to mop up the remaining Javni’Tolkhrah after that, but Zakhin’Dakh was hardly the only wounded, and there were many dead among the griffon-riders. It was a weary and wounded lot that flew back into Midport after the battle, many splitting off to visit various healers and priests in the city. Captain Theris found them and waved them over.

“We’ve not enough healers for everyone, but that wound takes priority over some,” he shouted as the three friends neared. They could see that he and his griffon both bore a few cuts and scratches of their own, but nothing too serious. “This way.”

He led them over the city to what was obviously the religious district of the city. A number of different temples—most of them to Mashano, but also a few to some other deities—seemed to compete with one another for beauty and size. A number of griffons had already landed in the various plazas and squares scattered about the area, with priests and acolytes rushing out to tend to them.

The Rider Captain landed in one of the less-crowded plazas and waved over one of the priests, pointing to the larger griffon descending behind him.

“Look to that leg—check it for poison, and stop the bleeding, at the least,” Theris ordered.

“And I suppose you’re confident that your own wounds aren’t poisoned?” The priest asked, already moving over to Zakhin’Dakh as he landed, keeping his weight off his injured leg. “Don’t answer that, I have something that will handle it.”

He pulled out a large amulet, which seemed built around a straight white horn.

“Unicorn,” he stated, briefly touching it to some of the blood trickling from Zakhin’Dakh’s injured leg. He examined it as he continued, “Given willingly, at the noble creature’s death, to one of my predecessors, or so the story goes.”

He seemed satisfied by what he saw. “You’re lucky. Whatever it was just had big teeth, not big poisonous teeth.” The priest murmured some words and waved a hand over Zakhin’Dakh’s wounds, and the bleeding stopped.

He quickly examined his work. “It will heal naturally, now, if it’s dressed. I doubt we’ve the power to spare for more right now.”

Almonihah, who had been trailing behind, landed behind Zakhin’Dakh while the priest went over to Captain Theris. The big griffon looked back at his friend.

Hurts, but not lots, he screeched.

Almonihah nodded. “Let’s see about getting ‘t cleaned up ‘nd bandaged, now.”

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Just a bit of time to calm down and clean up after the big battle. Next week, it’ll be a new chapter! This is getting fairly close to the end now–chapter 19 or 20 will probably be the last one, by my current plan. 

Chapter 14-7

For the most part his arrows simply bounced off the monster’s thick scales, though the blessing on them left little scorched spots on it as they did so. Zakhin’Dakh, meanwhile, charged at it.

“Be careful,” Garkhen cautioned him. “I cannot ward us much longer.”

The big griffon showed no signs of stopping, and so it was that, when the beast breathed fire upon them from its lower mouth, Garkhen’s ward had to hold off the flames. The Warder gritted his teeth, fighting his growing exhaustion as Zakhin’Dakh plowed through the fire to attack his foe. But when his talons met scales, they merely scrabbled at them, unable to penetrate. The Javni’Tolkhrah dragon gaped its double jaws at the griffon…

…which meant they were open wide enough for Almonihah to shoot an arrow into the upper one. It roared in pain as it flinched backward, bleeding from the wound in its cheek, but more in surprise than from pain. Then one of the griffon-riders blasted it with a jet of magical acid, and it roared again as its scales hissed and steamed, dissolving away until the supernatural liquid dissipated. Another rider passed over its back, his griffon’s talons finding no more purchase than Zakhin’Dakh’s had as he attacked in passing.

Almonihah, however, noted the area on its shoulder hit by the acid, and fired an arrow at it. Unlike his previous shots, this one sunk in deep… and while it was only a small injury on a creature of such size, it was still far more effective than his other shots had been.

“More acid!” The Ranger shouted up at the griffon-riders above, having no clue which one had thrown the spell or if they could hear him.

Zakhin’Dakh noted the difference, as well, but soon found a giant maw descending towards him. The big griffon leaped backward just in time, the dragon-monster’s lower jaw snapping shut just where he had been. Zakhin’Dakh slashed at its eyes, managing to pierce one with a talon… but with so many, it seemed like it wouldn’t miss one.

“Look out!” A voice called from above.

Zakhin’Dakh jumped backward again, and the griffon-rider who had shouted hurled a ball of acid at the monster’s head. It shrieked in pain as it struck home, splashing sizzling liquid all about its snout. Without even waiting for the acid to fade away, Almonihah fired an arrow at the spot, sinking one into its flesh just above the nostril.

The Madness-Touched dragon screamed in pain, thrashing about with its claws and teeth wildly, even though Almonihah was out of reach. Zakhin’Dakh, however, was not, and it clipped him with one claw, leaving a deep gash on his shoulder, and crashing into Garkhen with the hardened sole of its foot. The Warder was almost knocked off of Zakhin’Dakh’s back, kept on only because he was strapped into the saddle. Unconsciousness threatened to overwhelm him, but Garkhen growled and gritted his teeth, maintaining his awareness by sheer force of will.

The big griffon backed up more to stay out of the reach of the beast’s huge claws, while other griffon-riders began adding their own arrows to Almonihah’s. The Javni’Tolkhrah, however, did not flinch away now, instead whipping its head around and exhaling a huge blast of flames, catching those riders who had drawn too close in the fire.

Zakhin’Dakh saw an opportunity while it was doing this, and leaped on it, sinking his talons into its shoulder where its scales had been softened and tearing bleeding gashes into it. It whipped its head back around, too fast for the griffon to evade, and seized one of his back legs in its maw. Zakhin’Dakh shrieked in pain, but Garkhen forced himself into action, bringing Silverflame down on the injured spot on its snout.

Holy fire burned corrupted flesh as Garkhen’s mace impacted it, but it did not release its grip. As it dragged Zakhin’Dakh backwards, the Warder again lifted his mace, and again swung it down. Two more times he pounded upon the beast’s snout, until with his last blow something cracked, and the Javni’Tolkhrah at last let go of the griffon’s mangled leg.

This distraction gave the griffon-riders time to regroup, and now another volley of arrows struck it, some in the places its scales were weakened, while the spell-slinging rider again hurled an orb of acid, this time hitting its neck. Again it turned its attention skyward, but this time the riders were ready, and they scattered as its flames roared towards them.

Almonihah, still keeping his distance, shifted his angle to get a shot at its neck, sinking more arrows into its flesh. As he did, Garkhen considered Zakhin’Dakh’s injury. It was clear the griffon could no longer use the leg.

“I am sorry, my friend,” he murmured, “But I haven’t the strength to heal it now.”

The big griffon nodded his head jerkily, then awkwardly took to the air, retreating for now from the Javni’Tolkhrah dragon. It seemed to be slowing at last, blood flowing freely from the deep wounds in its shoulder, and trickling from around the many arrows now protruding from its flesh. Yet it fought on, spraying flames at any riders that drew too close. When they kept their distance, it started to lurch forward, down the slope.

Then another spray of acid struck it in the chin as it breathed fire at those above it. The monstrosity whipped its head over towards the spellcaster who had thrown the acid, but he had already flown back out of reach of its flames. Another griffon-rider zoomed by it, and it turned its head to follow.

Almonihah, seeing at last a chance to cause a mortal wound, fired an arrow at the now-unarmored place on its chin, but his arrow went wide, skipping off its uninjured shoulder again. Carefully, he watched it, nocking another arrow.

Another rider fired on it from the other direction, and it turned its head to follow. Almonihah fired, and this time his arrow flew true. It pierced through the weakened place on the Madness-Touched dragon’s chin, through the roof of both mouths, and into its brain.

With a suddenness that no one had expected, it collapsed. It convulsed for a few moments, then at last lay still.

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Yeah, don’t let dragons hang out in the Madlands. It’s bad.

Chapter 14-5

One of the healers serving the griffon-riders cast a spell-prayer upon Zakhin’Dakh, easing the worst of his fatigue. Still, he felt slow flying after the other griffons, struggling to keep up with them. By the time he reached the mountains around Midport they were well ahead of him… and already engaged in combat. Dozens of twisted monstrosities had risen into the air to meet the griffon-riders, and now arrows and blasts of magical fire and ice sailed through the air between them.

Almonihah added his own arrows to the fray as soon as he felt he wasn’t likely to hit an ally, the blessed projectiles gleaming as they arced towards their targets. Garkhen chanted a spell-prayer as they drew close, holding up his symbol of Bahamut and then breathing a bolt of lightning through it, his prayer turning it to a lance of holy energy that blasted one of the Javni’Tolkhrah from the sky. Then Zakhin’Dakh was there, his talons and beak slicing through muscle and bone as he crashed into the largest Madness-Touched he could see.

The midair battle raged fiercely, though to the exhausted friends it seemed almost a blur. Here, a griffon fell, rider screaming in fear as they plummeted. There one of the chaos-twisted monstrosities tumbled from the sky, head and chest pierced by more arrows than any creature should take to put down. Garkhen had to focus mostly on warding Zakhin’Dakh, for the big griffon was determined to stay in the thick of the fighting, but was too tired to evade properly. Almonihah simply continued firing arrows, aiming at whatever Javni’Tolkhrah he had a clear shot at.

The battle seemed to last forever, though it couldn’t really have been more than a few minutes. But then the rider captain looked down.

“The ones on the ground! They’ve almost reached the city!”

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Even short posts must end on semi-cliffhangers.