Ubasti the Serpent Killer

Grey porridge sky sank upon Aerin’s head, and the weight of the world seemed burdened upon her shoulders as she stood, back bent, upon the ashen peppered river scree mound leading up to the stony temple.  She looked out down into the surging waters, as Opheus and Fjalar also stopped to wonder.  Fjalar parted his bearded lips and let out a gruff bellow and Orpheus thrusted a readied spear forward to point westwards along the river at a large red flicking tail sinking quickly into the water.  “It’s  a comin’ quick” he said fearfully.  Fjalar turned sharpish and headed between two carved feathered snakeheads sculpted into the rock.  Here there was the start of a conduit that followed a long tunnel up into temple.  Orpheus laid a steadying hand upon Aerin’s shoulder and the trio moved on.  They soon parted further from the water as they followed shallow steps cut into mineral-dusted stone to form a concave path that led spiralling upwards in a square pattern through the earth to the centre of the structure.  Fjalar spoke in a hushed tone, never stopping, about the strange powder that covered the walls and ceiling.  A substance likely composed of pyrite littered serpentine rock to provide a special brightness to the place and a peculiar atmosphere that caused a permanent shiver to run down Aerin’s spine (though that may have just been the snake in the depths below).  The glittering black veins of magnetite drew like fingers reaching out to grasp their shadows as they climbed within its tunnel.

Fjalar stopped for a moment to catch his breath and snuck a peek over the side of the steps down the direction from which they had come to spy only a small square of water nestled at the very bottom to which he proclaimed this “pleasing”.  He grinned broadly at the thought of being so far away from that “slippery beast” however this was soon to fade as he caught sight, within that small square, of the large reddish bulge of the snake’s grotesque body moving through the water.  He pulled back from the side. “I’m no’ likin’ this one bit” said Orpheus as he too had stopped to peer into the deep.  Aerin nodded as she too dared to turn back to look down from their position and instantly regretted it. The trio continued on their journey, ever higher in silence.

Soon the climb ended and the travellers entered a more open chamber.  A small squall rushed from another passage to their left and lifted dust to swirl about them and make them cough and splutter.  They crouched low and made there way along stoney steps that led circling now downwards (much to their displeasure) around the circumference of a circular wall, the crest of which they now saw they stood upon.  Aerin jumped down onto the first stone step that jutted out from the edge as though floating in space, and then the second as the other two followed behind.  The steps continued spiralling downwards until finally stopping at the entrance to a small temple, nestled within the rocky basin.  Flames flickered wildly causing the temple to appear white and translucent.  Small jars, made out of the same stone, littered about the temple whilst two large statues, both white cats, stood bearing down upon those that entered the temple.  Above the entrance way to the temple lay one keystone calved with the word ‘Bastet’.  Fjalar stroked the white stone and then stroked his own beard, muttering under his breath “Alabaster this is,  calcite….the stone of the ancients, an’ what statues these are….so intricate”.  Orpheus marvelled at the stone sculptures also, “An’ so loif-like, I’ve ne’er seen anythin’ loik it!”

Upon the stone wall Aerin now noticed were figures and shapes carved amongst it.  She lit her lamp from the great bowl of flames situated at the temple’s entrance so that she could trace one particular shape with her fingers.  The grooves circled the entire wall and were the unmistakable form of a giant snake.  Aerin gulped loudly before saying quietly, “ It seems we were not the first to meet the snake, for I am sure this is he who we killed upon the riverbank.” She traced the markings upon its back with her fingers, stopping at its arrow-shaped head.  “See here, it’s markings are the same, the colourings are distinct.”  Orpheus lit his torch to gain a better light of the strange wall markings.  He looked a little higher and said “then the book was not wrong, for there are two more snakes calved upon this wall.”  Fjalar’s mouth fell open before he strained to say the words “oh goody”.

Fjalar and Orpheus pushed hard against the old and decaying wooden door of the temple.  It opened wildly and the three entered shyly into the building.  Its walls were a mix of the alabaster and weathered greenish-white noble serpentine with again long black veins that prominently grew from ground up.  Within the temple lay a grove of very tall Jacaranda trees “trees! down ‘ere!” proclaimed Fjalar.  He said that he thought he would never see anything stranger, but Aerin reminded him of the snakes and the dragon.  “Good point” he said.  The Jacaranda decurrens were staggeringly purple growing around what appeared to be a shrine, wherein lay a small sculpture (comparative to those standing at the entrance way) of a white, translucent feline creature.  The temple was square in shape, each side measuring twenty paces.  Around the shrine (except for the paved pathway that led to it) water collected in a channel before disappearing underground.  The ground itself was littered with  strange ointment pots, some broken but most not, that littered also the shrine itself.  Aerin thought it likely they were used to gather the fragrant flowers, leaves and root to be turned into an aqueous ointment.  She remembered reading about its medicinal value, and that the leaves and roots were prepared in the form of tea infusions, decoction and strong potions against inflammatory diseases and infections.

Orpheus strode purposefully towards the sculpted creature, and bent ponderously over spear cemented firmly upon the ground.  “Perhaps” he said, staring into the feline sculpture’s eyes, “this be the creature your book proclaimed we was not s’posed to ignore?” Fjalar walked around the shrine swinging one axe from one shoulder to the other.  “Well there’s nowt else here, so it must be it, cos it better not be those pesky snakes!  I’m quite happy ignoring them, thank you very much.  Though what a sculpted cat’s going to do to two giant flipping snakes beats me!”  Aerin pondered this thought and walked towards the shrine, placing her book upon its shelf.  She opened the book and stared at the white page thinking to herself, what are we supposed to do now, I wonder?

Is that thought directed at me?

Aerin stared down at the page and frowned.  “Well unless I can do some magick that I don’t know about, this sculpted creature’s not much use against two giant great lumbering snakes” She desperately looked about her hoping for inspiration, but found none, so her gaze was drawn again to the blank book.

Think of the prison doors, think of the ash tree in Ilus
…think of how you came to be here, in this temple.

I’ve been lucky, thought Aerin.

Luck has nothing to do with it…are you stupid?
This is your heka, this is your magick!

“My magick?” said Aerin (ignoring the ‘stupid’ comment). Fjalar at this looked quizzically at Aerin, “there is a look in your eye recently… somethin’ has changed, though I cannot put my finger on it…” Orpheus walked towards her and looked to to hold held her gaze, “Yep oi can see it too, your eyes ‘ave darkened, loik they did you wen you looked on tha’ dragon.  Look upon the statue now, p’haps somethin’ has changed.”

Aerin gazed at the statue and begun to speak, though she knew it not, in a whispering voice that cut through the air like the snake hissing in the dark.

“ Ubasti, Ubasti, she of the ointment jar, lady of flame and eye of Ra.  Ubasti, Ubasti, she of the ointment jar, lady of flame and eye of Ra.  Answer this call for the basilisks do circle once more.”

“What the devil?” said Fjalar, for the sculpture began to rise and form a large white cat, elegant and slim with large blue eyes.  The cat, once fully formed, jumped down from the shrine with much grace and strolled about the courtyard, in between the trees planted in the temple, brushing lightly over fallen purple flowers.

“Who is it that woke me from my slumber? Who has seen the basilisks of Bastet?” Asked the cat.

Aerin hesitated then bowed to the great cat (for she felt it was only right).  “It was me, Aerin Paean of the city of Ilus.  This is Orpheus” (she held her hand to him as he backed gingerly away from the cat) “of Goonbell” and this here” (she pointed at Fjalar as he cowered behind an ointment pot) “is Fjalar, a dwarf of the Black Mountains.  And who, pray, are you?”

The cat stopped in its tracks and begun to transform again, this time into a young woman, wearing a white robe, still with startling blue eyes that felt as if they pierced your soul.  “I am Ubasti, did you not call my name?”

“No” said Aerin curiously.  Fjalar and Orpheus looked confused and interjected at the same time, “erm. Ay you did, twice…as a matter o’ fact.  Did you not hear yourself?”

“oh, no.” said Aerin “I felt something, but did not hear a word” she said, astonished. She paused to look again at Ubasti. “what is your story Ubasti? How did you come to be?”

Ubasti stretched as if she had been sleeping for many a year before proclaiming, “I am Ubasti of Bastet.  How I came to be is a long story that I believe we do not have time for, at least right now, for you called me and I awoke, which means presumably we are in imminent danger.  Have the basilisks been seen?”

“Basilisks?” said Fjalar, “I don’t know no Basilisks” said Orpheus.  “The serpents” said Ubasti, you must have seen them if you are here in my temple!”

“Oh them” said Aerin.  “Ay we ran into one” proclaimed Fjalar “and saw another on our crossing here”.

“The book did say there were two left” said Aerin.

“The book?” asked Ubasti.

“Long story” Aerin said as she gathered it from the shrine, “magickal book, mildly annoying, useful though” and she tapped its cover.

“And the magical book said there were two left, not three?” Ubasti asked.

“Well we killed one, so that leaves two” replied Aerin, “the lowest one drawn upon the temple wall.”

Ubasti looked surprised.  “then you are of great wisdom and magic to command both the book and snake.”

“Well she had ‘elp” muttered Fjalar.

“A little” said Orpheus, “we distracted it!”

“Oh that I don’t doubt” said Ubasti, “goodness binds this world that evil seeks to break”, she smiled kindly at them both before she began to walk out of the temple.  “The serpents arrive, I must be ready.”

The walls of the temple began to shake and the water that had been held about the shrine dissapeared completely.  As the white walls began to quake stones became dislodged and fell to the ground.  Aerin, Fjalar and Orpheus ran quickly from the temple out into the hole beneath the stone steps.  They watched as two serpents, smaller than the first though just as powerful, descended the abyss walls coiling one clockwise, one anticlockwise along the pathways.  Ubasti stood in the middle watching their progression.  She bowed her head and closed her eyes to their imminent arrival.  She began to speak powerfully “Courage is not the towering oak that sees storms come and go; it is the fragile blossom that opens in the snow.” Her body began to change back into the large cat, her face transposed with long, sensitive whiskers whilst her ears moved to be repositioned upon her head in the style of the cats.  Her now cup-shaped ears turned to pinpoint the exact position of the serpents in the gloom whilst her sharp claws extended out her paws to tap upon the rocky floor.  She repeated the words over and over filling the temple with a cacophony of sound that lifted each and every petal from the Jacaranda trees.

As the snakes grew closer Fjalar drew his axes, Orpheus readied his spears and Aerin her sword.  Ubasti spoke to Orpheus clearly “throw your spears as their two heads do meet above the tip of the temple, no sooner, no later.”  Orpheus waited and released his spears as he was commanded when the serpent heads met at the very point Ubasti had said.   His aim was true and the snakes writhed in agony but continued down the wall whilst the spears quivered, protruding from their eyes.  “a good shot, but it is not enough” said Ubasti. “Fjalar, with your axes, swing true then fall away for their teeth are fast.”  Fjalar nodded to Ubasti and stepped forward stern and bold, waiting for the snakes to be drawn to him.  They turned their great heads and bore down upon him.  As their mouths opened to bite he jumped between them swinging his axes against their necks before ducking out of sight behind a large ointment pot.  The snakes writhed around in pain, looking for their attacker, but finding none.  Ubasti spoke at last to Aerin, “healer swing your sword to protect alone, for they are angered.” As her final words were uttered the snakes bore down upon Aerin, she sliced with her sword and cut both their snouts before their heads, knocking together, clashed against her shield.  She took the force of the snakes and felt her body shudder as she was tossed to meet the wall with a thud.  The snakes wailed in pain and moved forward to strike Ubasti but she was no longer still.  The cat had leapt into the air to scale the stone steps quickly upon the wall.  She gained height above the snakes in seconds before leaping down upon them with the full force of her powerful long legs, her talons protracted gorging out the serpents’ throats, one with each paw.  The snakes flashed their heads from side to side trying to catch the cat but Ubasti jumped again up onto a high ledge circling the snakes as they rose up upon their tails, their blood spilling upon the white temple, now lying red.  The feline pounced once more, first on one snake then, on the other, slicing her claws as she turned through the air to rip the snakes’ thick scales from flesh with ease before landing upon them with her full force.

The snakes stopped writhing and lay dead, Ubasti now stained blackish scarlet with the blood of basilisk.  “Come, we must leave this place” said Ubasti, and so they climbed up from the temple, back down to the tunnel towards the conduit and stepped out into the fresh air.  Ubasti protected her eyes from the slight sun and soaked her fur in the water to wash away the blood.  Then the trio took the stone steps once more, over the rocky ridge to return to the sandy river bank where the first snake lay dead and rotting.  They crossed back towards the south and continued to follow the river to a great waterfall, under which the great cat Ubasti soaked her fur once more, whilst the others did rest their weary souls.


More Snakes

Fjalar lay on the shimmering serpent flesh and felt a great sense of relief rush over his badly bruised body.  Dwarves do not bruise easily for they are hardy creatures well accustomed clanging on metal and stone deep below ground level but Fjalar was definitely bruised black and blue.  Orpheus bent down and lent his kind firm hand out to the dwarf, who took it gladly.  The spearman pulled him quickly to his feet and the pair were righted.    Fjalar laid his palms gingerly on his neck and cracked it back into position before turning first left then right to scour cobble and crag for Aerin’s whereabouts.  Finding none he grew more concerned with each second passing, “where’s she gone?” he said.

“I’ms not sure” proclaimed Orpheus, his eyebrows knotting furiously and raising with panic.  “Lost site of ‘er with all tha’ snake” he added, scratching his head.  They both immediately began shouting out her name many times over whilst scrambling up the mountain of scales to get a good view from atop the dead snake.  They met at the top of the snake pile and turned their backs against each other to survey all that stood beneath them.  The wilderness was eerily quiet and the slim silhouettes of willow trees gently moved side to side to tickle the river’s edge with serene tranquility.  Orpheus with his keen eyes peered further and narrowed his gaze to fix upon the the murky waters.  His eyes widened and his chapped lips parted soundless.  He pointed out into the nothingness then, without hard, ran from the snake, jumped and dived down into the river.

Fjalar twisted around in time only to see his departing soles as they left the rocky edge, “now where’s he gone!”  he said to no one in particular.  He placed his hands on his hips and walked swiftly down to the bank’s lip to stare fearfully down into the water.  He hated water and felt a strong urge to not jump in after.  “Oh bother it” he muttered under his breath and leapt with much despair off to meet his  watery doom, or so he thought.

It was after much struggling, heaving and splashing that the duo crawled onto a sandbank coughing and a’spluttering with no more energy left to untangle their limbs from the Riverweed and Mayapple that was bound to them.  Orpheus hit Aerin lightly on the chest “no toim for sleeping” he said and stroked wet away off her face and out of her eyes.  She had not yet taken a breath.

“Aerin, you lazy fool! This is no time for sleepin’!” said Fjalar desperately.  He gathered himself, stood then also laid a blow (perhaps less gently than Orpheus) upon her chest.  This time Aerin’s chest moved in reaction and her lungs grasped for clean air and rejected the silty water that had replaced it.  She turned her head, gulped deep breaths and coughed up vile river water.  “Looks like you near drank the whole thing!” said Fjalar with that familiar twinkle returning to his eye.  Aerin pretended to not hear the dwarf and instead collapsed back onto the sand. “You heard me young lady, this is no time for sleepin’!”  continued Fjalar.

Orpheus shouted “Aerin Paean get up this secon’!” as he also shakily stood.  Yet Aerin did not move, instead a slight smile crept upon her lips.  Fjalar chuckled and nodded towards Orpheus, he nodded back in  agreement.  In an instant they picked Aerin up, Fjalar hoisted her feet, Orpheus her body, and rolled her down the sandbank!  Aerin shouted to her friends “you limey scoundrels! I saved your bacon!” As she flopped down the bank, saving herself before the water’s edge to stand and look back upon the duo and up towards the mound of snake that had once been living.

“Speakin’ of bacon…” said Fjalar, clambering back up to the snake flesh whilst the others trailed after, “ I don’t suppose there’s any spare?” continued Fjalar, holding out his hand to Aerin to pull her up from the river after him.  The pair crumpled upon the floor in laughter as we often do when lightness returns so gladly after fear and dark.  “A’course there is” said Orpheus, jumping up from the river.  “Per’aps our rescuer would do us the honours o’ joinin’ us for breakfast?” he continued as he sought to reconcile himself with his spears and sack.  They all laughed heartily then and set about lighting the fire once more.

As the remains of bacon rinds spat and hissed in the pan after they had eaten their full and laid upon the ground, Aerin returned reticently to her leathered book.

I supposed congratulations are in order

Well don’t force yourself, thought Aerin.

I did say to avoid the snakes…

“Wait…snakes… snakes plural!  There are more?” said Aerin loudly.

“What?” Fjalar cried, “not more of them bloody things!”

“more what?” said Orpheus getting up quickly and backing away from the riverbank.

You didn’t think there was just one did you?  
They do breed you know, in fact they flourish
 in these parts… they’re quite common you know, 
very capable swimmers too.

“How many more?” said Aerin picking up her sword, and wondering nervously if they had bitten off more than they could chew.


“Two?” repeated Aerin after, causing Fjalar to quickly picked up his axes and swing them over his shoulders.  Orpheus gripped his spears with fear.  They were all three tired as hell but gritted their teeth with grim determination.

“And when were you planning on telling us this?” asked Aerin.

How silly, I’m telling you NOW.

“Does that stupid book have any suggestions as to what we should do about the present situation?”  shouted Fjalar.  “Cos I’d rather no’ hang around ‘ere waitin’ to be eaten!” shouted Orpheus at the book.

Aerin looked at the book and waited for a response.

I suggest journeying to the temple…quickly.

“What temple?” asked Aerin impatiently, secretly wondering whether there was a way to make the book tell her the required information at a more appropriate time.

Cross to where the river splits 
Using the stones that lie before,
Seek the land that runs between for there 
lies a creature you must not ignore…”

Aerin read the lines out loud to the others before slamming its pages shut, proclaiming to them “great, it’s talking in blinking riddles now”.

She walked sheepishly to the water’s edge and stared down into the depths looking for signs of snake, there were none, for the moment.  Orpheus followed behind and pointed towards a rock poking out from under the water. “Here’s a step of sorts, and another there” he pointed further out within the flowing river.  Mim hopped forwards onto the first step saying “last one there is a nincompoop!”  before skipping onto the next protruding stone.  Orpheus followed swiftly behind, and Aerin after him.  The water lapped about their feet with more and more unnerving ferocity and the stones themselves became more embedded within the water.  The stepping stones followed the blight then sought to cross it.  Jumping between the rocks became harder and the way slippier but the trio drew little concern, perhaps more preoccupied with thought of snake.  Soon they reached dry land again and were relieved.

Betwixt the river rose a small island that lay between two channels of the river.  They climbed the rocky edge of the island, occasionally their weary feet slipped upon mud or bulrush. There was urgency in their work all the while thinking of the two serpents the crept up from the deep behind them.  All three could sense the slithering forms lifting the river’s water but no one dared to look back as they rushed up its banks, hands in front of feet working to reach the small stone temple entrance that lay, visible now, at its summit.  They were not alone.  The once-rushing waters had once more slowed to languid trickle as some great bulk wedged itself between the meandering curve to block the flow.  Aerin dared not turn around but instead simply glanced a look towards Fjalar and Orpheus to mark the fear etched upon their faces as they clambered the final verge to stare upon the small temple’s archway, itself decorated with snakes’ twisting forms and echoed that which lay beneath them.

When they reached the top they stole a glance behind them, catching sight of a large red tail flicking above the water, Mim gulped loudly.  “I’m no’ likin’ this one bit” said Orpheus.  Aerin turned back to look down from their position to the central point of the island.  Here there were stoney steps that led circling downwards around the circumference of a circular wall, the crest of which they now saw they stood upon.  Aerin jumped down onto the first stone step and then the second as the other two followed behind.  The steps continued spiralling downwards until finally stopping at the entrance to a small temple, nestled within the rocky basin.  Flames flickered wildly causing the temple to appear white and translucent.  Small jars, made out of the same stone, littered about the temple whilst two large statues, both white cats, stood bearing down upon those that entered the temple.  Above the entrance way to the temple lay one keystone calved with the word ‘Bastet’.  Mim stroked the white stone and then stroked his own beard, muttering under his breath “Alabaster this is,  calcite….the stone of the ancients, an’ what statues these are….so intricate”.

Orpheus marvelled at the stone sculptures, “An’ so loif-like, I’ve ne’er seen anythin’ loik it!”

Upon the stone wall Aerin now noticed were figures and shapes carved into it.  She lit her lamp from the great bowl of flames situated at the temple’s entrance so that she could trace one particular shape with her fingers.  The grooves circled the entire wall and were the unmistakable form of a giant snake.  Aerin gulped loudly before saying quietly, “ It seems we were not the first to meet the snake, for I am sure this is he who we killed upon the riverbank.” She traced the markings upon its back with her fingers, stopping at its arrow-shaped head.  “See here, it’s markings are the same, the colourings are distinct.”  Orpheus lit his torch to gain a better light of the strange wall markings.  He looked a little higher and said “then the book was not wrong, for there are two more snakes calved upon this wall.”  Mim’s mouth fell open before he strained to say the words “oh goody”.

What Snake

In the morning Aerin told Orpheus and Mim all about her ‘conversation’ with the book, and also the contents of her all-too-vivid dreams.  Orpheus blamed the cheese and Fjalar responded by laughing heartily (with occasional snorts) before saying with much gusto “course we’re going with you, m’dear dunderhead!  We’re a team, an intrepid, mightily ugly trio!”

Orpheus nodded in agreement.

“Not that I like snakes much”, Fjalar continued “but if there’s witches at work..well needs must.  I hate witches…or at least the nasty ones…met a nice one once, bought her drink and talked about frogs…she let me go on her broomstick, lovely lady she was.  But when they’re bad, they’re bad you know.”

Orpheus shook his head and grinned at the dwarf’s ramblings, “as if I could just go back to Goonbell after all this! With witches ‘bout, an’ Keres killin’ an’ robbin’!  One dragon’s no’ the end of it, an’ tha’s for sure!”

So that was that.  Their fate at that moment, though little did they know it or indeed care, and been woven tight together to be as such in perpetuum.  They departed from old Twerg’s cave with their sacks strapped upon their backs, armed to the teeth whilst Aerin clasped the small black book tight in her fist.  They would journey swiftly and merrily back out through the caves’ system to head southward along the river as the book had suggested.  They passed many a burnt tree along the route, obviously remnants of the dragon’s passage. Once-grassy plains lay bare and blackened, fields that once were home to many creature big and small lay empty as wasteland.  Fjalar wept a little at the stump of a once particularly large cedar tree, proclaiming “I kissed snotty Susan underneath this tree” he sniffed, “an’ we scratched our names onto its trunk an’ everythin’, and now look at it, dead an’ gone.”

Aerin didn’t quite know what to say but Orpheus patted in the dwarf on the back and said “another’ll grow Fjalar, an’ it’ll rose from the ashes an’  be much strong’r than ‘fore… they always are” he added.  The dwarf seemed more settled for he stroked his beard a-wondering whilst he perched upon the charred stump.  It was here they rested for a moment to eat and chatter but as evening crept upon them they moved on, continuing the course of the meandering river.

As legs grew weary and cloak-tales trailed matted on the ground the dwarf stopped a moment at a large rock neatly cut in two to point frozen and proclaim “Rock of Endings”. The others stopped also and pulled up alongside the dwarf to stare at the clearly dwarf-made split in the rocks. “No dwarf has travelled further from our caves than here…accept underground o’ course” continued Fjalar.  He stepped determinedly through the crack with a deep sense of pride that made his steps seem lighter, with Orpheus and Aerin quick to follow.  They shadowed the river’s edge for a while longer, perhaps five mile after the way-mark before finally settling down to rest where the river split into a tongue, with two separate channels choosing different paths through the rocky landscape.  Orpheus lit a small fire and cooked some of the smoked bacon he had bought at Goonbell, and after, they eat ravenously before settling down to sleep close to the riverbank.  Fjalar muttered whilst closing his eyes “see, no snakes” and Orpheus rolled over, beginning to snore quite loudly.  Aerin, however, did not feel that she could fall asleep quite yet, an uncomfortable sensation had been growing in her belly ever since the bacon, but she did not feel that the bacon was the problem.  She instead returned to her book for guidance opening it at a random page she waited for words to appear, and, sure enough, they came.

See.  I told you so.

“Told me what?” said Aerin.

I said that you looked for danger, and here we are,
 sat next to the blinking river.

“So” answered Aerin, “it’s just a river, the water’s not that high”

Seeing as you don’t pay any attention to me
I won’t bother in future…

Oh for goodness sake, thought Aerin, how was she having an argument with a bit of parchment?

A bit of parchment, the cheek! 
I’ve a good mind to not tell you about the snake!

“The snake! What snake? There is no snake!” shouted Aerin quite angrily.  At that precise moment however Aerin realised that something had indeed changed, yet she was not quite sure what.  And then with but a moment’s hesitation, she realised what was wrong.  Orpheus had stopped snoring. Aerin turned her gaze towards him to see that he now sat very still, listening intently.  Yet that was not the only thing that had altered, for the river itself seemed to have quietened, the waters no longer rushing past.  Fjalar muttered “pesky snakes” in his sleep but continued to dream.  Aerin slowly dropped the book and reached for her sword and shield beside her, but she saw caught a glimpse of more words writing upon the page with much haste.

Now you take note, it’s in the river you know…

Orpheus meanwhile stretched his hands out across the grass to reach for his two spears in the gloom whilst whispering “wake up Fjalar, wake up…”  Yet the dwarf did not awake.  Orpheus shifted himself up so that he was now crouched low ready to pounce, Aerin cocked her head in the general direction of the river and Orpheus nodded in response.  He tipped one spear in the direction of Fjalar and knocked him gently on the head with it, Mim awoke startled with a splutter and began to shout “Wha…” but trailed off when he caught sight of Aerin’s pale and vexed face.  She held a finger to her lips as Fjalar looked around to see what had caused his awakening, then pointed towards the river itself.  Fjalar immediately grabbed for his axes and turned seemingly ever-ready for a fight, towards the river, following Aerin’s gaze.  Not soon after he turned did two large black glistening eyes appear above the bank as dancing coals suspended above two nostril slits and leering after a long flickering tongue.  Aerin tried to shape a stout-heart but her knees being lead could do nothing but cower.  The huge snake’s head floated higher and higher as the great serpent lifted itself towering shiny scaled head above the trio, the vast majority of its body mass still resting in the river below. The snake’s eyes were slits that flashed rapidly as it traced the ground for signs of movement as its fangs rested exterior to a wide jaw with flickering tongue.  Aerin, seeing the snake’s impressive and hideous form realised that any thought of running or hiding would be ill-advised.  The snake’s arrow-head was marked distinctively with silver stripes that even in dusk were visible. One ran dorsally from snout to the back of its head, another from snout to the eyes and then the last from the eyes to the jaw.

The trio watched as the snake opened its jaw, extending it forward to hiss and bite against the air, its large head whipping from side to side.  One word passed from its lips “di-nnerrrr” before the head plummeted jaw wide open to gulp Fjalar down in one.  Yet the dwarf had an advantage over the giant snake for though it had grown clearly large, powerful and strong its speed was quick but not nimble.  The dwarf was ready and leapt out the way of dagger-fangs with one swift motion to land awkwardly upon savage rocks, his axes slipping from his hands to hit a fallen tree.   He scrambled, twisted and turned over rock to hide his aching body and the snake’s head kept travelling but turned rapidly, this time lunging towards Orpheus catching him off guard.  He could only manage to avoid the serpent’s fangs by an inch but caught the hefty blow instead by the snake’s head, falling to the ground to be caught quickly by its ever-coiling, tightening body.  He plunged his two spears into the snake’s flesh as it tightened its grip and the snake screamed with pain, releasing him from its hold.  It turned its head quickly upon him lying now-weaponless upon the ground, lashing its neck around before tossing its head, jaw open seeking to plunge its fangs into Orpheus’ flesh.  Orpheus scrambled about the ground, spinning to the left franticly, and then to the right, to see the fangs glance the ground on which, moments before, he had lain.  He had nowhere to go and Aerin knew it.  Yet the giant fangs seemed to stick under roots and clunk upon stone as the snake dragged its head about in its attempt to catch Orpheus within its open mouth and thus it slowed slightly.  Aerin, sensing a rare opportunity, ran towards the head, now with no hesitation, leaping off high from rocky river boulder to power a strong plunge of her sword deep within the snake’s flesh.

Once more the snake recoiled knocking Aerin’s sword out of her grasp, still wedged firmly though within its neck.    The snake squealed in pain but lurched forwards once more, determined to seek out the soft flesh of Aerin’s body with its flicking tongue.  Aerin stood her ground as the snake opened its mouth ready to bite, and as the strike came she could do nought but meet its crushing blow with her shield.  The knock was hard and threw her back against river-rock but the blow had split also one of the beast’s fangs for it lay embedded in the shield’s crest.  Again the snake recoiled in pain but this time it lifted its whole evil body to show its huge terrifying form from the riverbed.  It seemed over twenty feet long and began to twist about Orpheus with precise rapid coils.  Its movement was surprisingly speedy for a huge beast and three folds had already ensnared poor stricken Orpheus about his waist and legs before Aerin could do a thing.  The great beast’s tail meanwhile scooped Fjalar’s legs from under him for it was determined to ensnare them all.  The snake constricted quickly sapping the energy from both and with quick impending darkness their eyes closed and their breathing grew shallow.

Aerin backed away from the beast as its disfigured head cut through the night’s grim air on a direct course towards her current position.  She sensed her own fragility and gripped her shield tightly.  The snake lashed its teeth once more against her shield as she raised it as high as she could above her head with her feet sliding upon the dirt from its Goliath pressure.  And then again, yet this time she was more thoughtful and turned the shield slightly so that it would clear catch the remaining fang smashing it with metal to send it into the night air in a hundred pieces.  The snake raged and loosened its coils around Fjalar and Orpheus to travel further towards Aerin and gain an increased height advantage.  Serpent-head coiled inside its own twisting body before recoiling as a loaded spring to strike once more at Aerin.  Yet she was nimble and feeling stronger by the moment.  Aerin leapt to one side and scurried over wetted ground, still clasping her shield about her.  She side-stepped the now lumbering beast, circling about it quickly positioning herself closer to Fajalr’s axes she had noted lying on the ground, “Hold on” she shouted to her friends caught tight in the snakes grasp.  The snake’s head lashed out again, this time Aerin took the blow letting it push her backwards against the ground, the snake hissed in approval, “you will dieeeee” it said, launching itself forward again to deliver the final blow, its neck beginning to thread itself through Aerin’s legs.  Aerin felt its body pressing against her own and her blood draining quickly out of her legs as they were crushed against the earth.  Then she quickly reached across the ground and groped about in the darkness in desperation, her hands finally clasping the axe she had been searching for.  She swung it wildly striking the snake’s body, slicing into its flesh.  The axe protruded and blood dripped upon Aerin’s pale skin.  The snake recoiled in pain and released her from its grasp but Aerin did not stop.  She slashed a few more times with dwarf blade and sort out the second axe to hurl it at the snake’s head.  Her aim was true and it lodged within its neck. The snake howled in pain but did not release its hold of neither Fjalar nor Orpheus.  Aerin could barely see them now for they were so far buried within the snake’s enormous weaving body.  The striped head shrank away and began to head towards the river, its body shifting to follow.  Aerin surged to grab the snake’s tail left behind, feeling its hard scales slither within her grasp.  The snake, sensing her grip shifted its weight, flicking its tail with its mighty body weight, causing Aerin to be tossed high into the air.  With this motion its grip on its captures was loosened slightly and Aerin saw them both stir as she flew through the air, their hands grasping snake flesh to give themselves some breathing room writhing in their scaled prisons. She fell moments after and the world went black.

Aerin, groggy, could hear vague whispers in the dark.  She turned in their general direction to an immense amount of pain and desperately opened her mouth to let in air.  The shouts grew clearer and her skin prickled for she now realised what she had fallen upon the damned snakes back.  She sought to lever her bruised body up away from scales with her shield and felt the air itself move as the snack lurched its fearsome head straight down as an arrow falling from the sky to pin her to its scales.

“Aerin” shouted Fjalar, “get up!” begged Orpheus in a deep bellow.

Aerin fought to regain focus bought could see nothing than solid fang fall towards her, sensing little else to do, she pushed herself up hastily so that she stood upon the snake’s back.  As the snake’s head crashed down upon her she rolled away, allowing to fall still further, plummeting into the cold river.  Aerin’s body was overcome by rapid water she dropped still further into the abyss.  Above her however the snake’s smashed jaw bit clumsily into its own flesh.  The snake squealed in yet more pain.   Orpheus and Fjalar gathered themselves, freed finally from its strict hold and pounced upon its weakened form.  They retrieved their weapons from its scarred flesh and sought to plant blade upon blade down on its suffered head.  Soon snake head was torn from snake body.  The snake’s head rolled away, whilst the body continued to writhe about in agony, Fjalar high into the air to land with an almighty bump upon its own dead flesh.  He closed her eyes and succomed to the pain.


What Today brings

Morning came, though dawn’s light had little bearing on King Twerg’s cave buried so deep within the rock.  Aerin, Orpheus and Fjalar rose from their hard beds rejuventated and spent an hour or so rummaging around the small hidden treasure cave once more to find food and drink.  Orpheus stumbled (quite literally) upon several bottles of an intriguing drink that Fjalar called ‘Aquavit’, as well as a good stash of bread, ham and slightly-too-moulded Gamalost cheese, a delicacy to dwarves (though not to Aerin’s taste) which smelt quite distinctly of old socks.  After filling their bellies they returned to the blue cave below where Fjalar promptly fell sound asleep (having polished off the remains of the Aquavit).  Aerin and Orpheus supposed another hour in the cave could do no harm so Aerin helped herself to another slice of bread and ham before turning her attention to the mysterious recovered old book.  She opened the first page and read

‘He [the sun] gave them [mankind] Heka as weapon of peace to ward off effects of dangerous events surrounded in darkness’.

Aerin skimmed through a few further pages but was astonished to note that nothing was written in any of them. Aerin skipped to the last page of the book to find one paragraph was written.

‘I call upon the reader to create energy using words and actions, to find one’s own voice to balance the equilibrium of good and bad within any situation.’

Aerin was intrigued and flipped to the back of the book to note the author, but there was none stated. Confused Aerin then returned to the last page of the book to reread the paragraph but instead a new paragraph was now written:

‘Heka is the force or life-giving energy connecting all things: objects, links and symbols of life with the universe, a subtle tapestry of energy only seen by few, a tapestry that the magician must learn to read if s/he is to work effectively.’

Aerin scratched her head in confusion, closed the book purposefully and stroked its ancient binding lovingly. How bizarre, she thought and tapped its cover impatiently. Then she turned to the first page of the book just once more to discover chapter one had now been written, from which she continued to read:

Inherent Personal Power

Wondering whether you are magickal? Then chances are YOU ARE. Think about it, coincidences, strange occurrings, reading signs, magickal friends, you picking up this book – it all is extremely suggestive, you’re magickal…DON’T PANIC

Aerin stopped reading to look about her in bewilderment, sensing as if some stranger was secretly watching her, however there was no one. Orpheus instead sat drinking his Aquavit and paused only to smile at her when she caught his gaze. Aerin smiled back and then continued reading.

Controlling Your Magick

De-cloud your mind through dream analysis: REMEMBER YOUR DREAMS.

Some stress is useful, putting yourself in tense situations may actually cause your magick to become more apparent. Though this is a dangerous technique to discover your heka powers, since it may not be helpful to the situation (such as finding out that you can create fire when being eaten by a giant squid in the middle of the Dead Sea.)

Aerin thought to herself that being chased by a dragon probably counted as a ‘tense situation’, as well as being locked up in a dungeon.

The book respond.


It continued to write.

What Today Brings

‘Potentially deadly day I’m afraid. Dark forces conspire against you… but don’t feel despondent, they’re conspiring against everyone! I suggest being on the lookout for snakes, or rather seeking to avoid them, especially the big ones, vicious creatures that they are…’

Aerin began to be a little disturbed by the tone of the book, wondering why it thought she, or indeed anyone would actively look for snakes, much less the ‘big ones’.

‘Don’t get shirty with me, you did manage to find a dragon…for goodness sake!’

Aerin was equally perplexed by this statement, but waited for the book to continue.

‘The Keres move southwards, under the watchful eye of witches, dark magic witches, evil stuff – don’t like ‘em myself. Keep your friends close, if they want to of course, they might not since you seem to have an overriding (potentially masochistic) tendency to seek danger.’

Aerin was sure she had just been insulted by the book, and consequently sorted to shout at it, “I don’t see them complaining.”

‘No, quite bizarre, I have a feeling they like you. Anyway, probably best to get some rest like your short friend there, long day today I’m afraid…oh and head by the river.’

And with that, the book turned blank and slammed itself shut. Orpheus stirred with the sound and said “Was oi dreamin’ or did you jus’ talk to tha’ there book?”

Aerin nodded, “long story, tell you later.”

And with that Orpheus and Aerin finally nodded off, though Aerin slept lightly only to wake suddenly from a nightmare involving a fight with a giant snake, damned book, she thought.

Chinese Rainbow Cave

The Treasures of King Twerg

Ebony blood gushed out onto the cave floor, seeping in-between all rocks and filling each and every crevice that it touched, turning the stone marble. The trio sat amongst the blood, too tired to be bothered to move their weary bodies from the dragon’s cave.  Their eyes glazed over greyish white as though skin had grown in front of the irises and immediately their limbs spasmed and spread across the bloody floor whilst their ribcages heaved taking in a long gasp of oxygenated air.  Whilst their actions stretched beyond their control, the dwarf, Orpheus and Aerin were not wrapped with fear, far from it, in that moment their minds leant more to ecstasy.    Aerin noted a change in the level of her own weariness and a strange tingling sensation that grew all over her body as it soaked in dragon’s blood.  Fjalar rolled across the floor and propped himself up against the cave wall, upon which he had not but half hour been thrown with a giant infectious grin spread across his crooked-lipped face accompanied with a black-bloody soaked beard.  Orpheus too had registered the change and announced to them both “Moi skin be a’ tinglin’, what is this magick?” whilst bearing his palms face-down in the blood to gather liquid with which he spread on his torn shoulder.  Fjalar moved his head from side to side, and stroked his neck, massaging the muscles with sanguine, “I could not move moments before I lay in such dragon’s blood an’ now I feel as right as rain.  More than right as rain….”.
Aerin picked her burnt arm up from the blood-soaked ground and wiped the dragon’s blood from it. Feeling no pain she looked at it in detail, perplexed, she felt nothing, no burn was left!  “I remember reading years ago of dragons and their blood. A myth I thought of a tribe living in the dragon’s land that collected dragon’s blood to use it in extreme cases as a medicine, retaining the magic of the beast” said Aerin in wonder.
“Well what a strange occurrence! Bless my soul, I never heard o’ such a thing…but then I’ve never heard a story of a dragon being slain, more the other way around!” Said Fjalar, picking up his axe he used its handle to lever his bedraggled body from the cave floor.  Orpheus wiped the dragon’s blood off that had sprayed across his face, then stood tall to retrieve his spears from deep within the dragon’s blue flesh. “An’ perhaps you could, next toime, tell us o’ such a thin’ before we meet it…you know if you’s ‘av any other knowledge of other magical beasts we may…’meet’” said Orpheus. “Quite” said Fjalar, “could be handy”.
“Alright, alright” Said Aerin, “I couldn’t be sure you see, for in another myth it was used as a poison…bringing instant death to all who touched it, in another it was used to dye wood, and another to gain wisdom of the beast itself. I was not sure of its use, but now I know!” Aerin righted herself and spun her sword in her hand then re-sheathing it upon her belt. Fjalar shrugged, “Now… now it ain’t a problem, all’s well that end’s well” said the dwarf, “I’m glad you didn’t tell us – specially the bit about it poisoning for how would we have killed the thing thinking that!” Aerin smiled and tapped Orpheus on the back “we would have found a way, I’m sure!” She knelt down amongst the blood and took her sack from off her back, reaching inside it she removed a large jar so that she could scoop some of the remaining blood into it to save for later, “you never know” said Aerin “when this could come in useful.” She replaced the jar into her sack and swung it behind her back. Fjalar picked up her shield and chucked it towards her, she caught it again in her right hand. “Now anyone interested in seein’ this ol’ King’s cave?” He grinned mischievously and swung their torch up to light again, “Absolutely” said Orpheus, and the trio walked back through the keystone cave and beyond to the dragon’s lair, the cave of King Twerg.
Like the dragon himself, the cave was littered with blue scales, creating an unusual carpet upon the ground that crunched underfoot. The cave itself differed from those that surrounded it, as its walls were composed of a different compound entirely, predominantly they were opaque, made of an azure mineral that Fjalar named as ‘Turques’. The dwarf entered with much excitement and quickly lit a fire in the central well of the cave (filled with a mysterious flammable liquid). Once the fire was lit the cave glistened with a blue hue as both ground and walls were cast with light, both shimmering as scale and crystals in the rock caught the light. Fjalar felt the walls with wonder, stroking their contours and muttering to himself mysteriously, Aerin could only make out the words “so pure, so pure, an’ crystals- large ‘uns too! My, my…”. Indeed, Aerin thought, the cave was incredible and stood for a while to admire her own skin, for it appeared quite blue. The walls of the well, once the fire was lit, glowed green. Orpheus stood open-mouthed for several moments before asking Fjalar in wonderment “How did this cave come to be?” at which the dwarf looked at their astounded faces and grinned, “Tis a sight! Well the story goes that dwarves did mine here many centuries ago amongst the Trachyte rock, that is the rock found in all through this cave system, for this here blue rock” (he pointed to the cave walls) “is Turques. Course they didn’t know how much of the stuff they were going to find, for I have never seen a cave such as this before. The Trachyte you see lies in feldspar  – found all over the earth’s crust – made from magma volcanoes and the like, so you don’t normally wind up with too much crystal or valuable gems nestled in it – except here! Now the cave was swiped by King Twerg o’course, to make it his own chamber – and no other dwarf was allowed to see it, not even his servants, until now that is! Ha! He’d kill me right where I stand if he could!”
Aerin had read of the dwarves prowess at mining, and saw why the King had made the cave his own, indeed she felt she could not part with it herself as she was awash with such feelings of contentedness. “Perhaps we could stay here, just until the morning” she said, “for my body suddenly feels drained of energy once more”. Orpheus and Fjalar were happy to oblige, and they each quite soon after laid themselves upon the floor to gaze upward and the azure light. As soon as their weary heads had touched stone however Fjalar pointed towards the ceiling shouting “Well I never, the cheeky git! So he did have some brains after all!” Aerin turned her head to see where he was pointing, and quickly saw what the (now jumping up and down) dwarf was so excited about. The dwarf king Twerg had found a hiding hole to store his most prized possessions away from thieving hands and thieving dragons way up in the head of the cave. Fjalar was quick to assert that most of it probably didn’t belong to him, and that since the king was dead and gone it seemed only sensible to make use of whatever was there, a point that neither Orpheus nor Aerin disagreed with. So it was not long before Fjalar scurried up the side of the cave climbing its curved sides at a great pace, plunging his axe into the rock where there were no crevices to hold. Soon he had reached the treasure trove entrance and disappeared into the hole. In a few moments a rickety wooden ladder was flung down from above so that Aerin and Orpheus could find their own way up. “Not such a stupid nincompoop King after all” he muttered. In the new small cave lay many a wondrous thing; precious stones and gold. A very light chain mail caught Fjalar’s eye and he hurried to where it lay, flinging his clothes off about him in quick succession in order to place the mail over his stoutly frame. It fit him neatly and he chuckled to himself before redressing. He also gathered two axes and chucked his own (now severely dented from impact with dragon’s claw) upon the ground, proclaiming “Two heads are better than one, eh Orpheus” as Orpheus stood laughing at the dwarf’s frantic antics. “Yes, friend – tha’ they are! And for myself I do plunder this diamond-stone for never have I seen one like it!” and held the diamond aloft and they all did gasp in wonder, “what a find, can’t say you don’t deserve it, but what would you have needs of such a thing?” Orpheus looked upon the stone and stated with much marvel “to keep in my pocket so that in times of darkness, when all beauty in the world seems but a distant memory I can look at it and remember the light of King Twerg’s cave next to the darkness of dragon’s blood – and our friendship.”
Aerin held up a goblet lying next to her feet “to friendship!” she cried, and the others laughed. Fjalar tucked his axes upon his belt and looked to Aerin, “and what would you have, wise Aerin, from the cave of Twerg?” holding his arms aloft. Aerin looked about her and saw a small book that had once been hidden by the goblet, she bent down to examine it and read the title, ‘Heka Magick: To ward off the blows of fate’. She picked up the book and noted that the pages were made of papyri and felt soft against her skin, “I will take this, if I can” said Aerin. Fjalar and Orpheus laughed “a book eh, well each to their own, can’t say it did much good for Twerg, but then he never was much of a reader, if you know what I mean.”


The Inferno of Taninim

Fjalar took over his wide-brimmed hat and wedged it betwixt his tightened cloak and short waist-jacket.  This, Aerin came to realise, signified the dwarf ‘meant business’.  His top lip curled upward and he snarled slightly whilst peering through the dark, beyond the nothing, towards the something that could not be seen but could, always, be heard.  Even the dragon’s shallowest breath rattled the caves as his great scaly frame pressed again the walls and sent tremors through the lying water.
“We must call him out ” Aerin whispered pulling her hood as she did so.  Orpheus followed suit and nodded once more.
“Oh and how pray do you wish to do that?” Said the dwarf, not taking his eyes away from the dark that lay before them “this isn’t a tavern brawl” he added through gritted teeth.
“Well..” Aerin sighed, there were few alternatives “Orpheus – you stay here, Fjalar  – you take the smaller passageway back” Aerin flicked her thumb back the direction that they had come “there and I push…forward.  Slowly, carefully – I find a decent place to stop. I hide, bang my sword and shield together and he will come…”
“And then?” said Orpheus,
“And then I run, back to you…the dragon will follow, you two pounce!”
“So simple…” said Fjalar, “nothing could possibly go wrong…”
“An’ if you’s don’t find a such a place t’stop or the dragon catches you before you’s make it back?” added Orpheus, “then where’ll you be?”
“Toast” added the dwarf with a wry smile “toast”.
‘S far too dangerous”  Orpheus shook his head back and forward in agitation “far too dangerous.”
The dwarf rested a hand on Aerin’s crouching shoulder “you’ll make it”.
“Absolutely” said Aerin with as much certainty in her voice as she could muster.   She departed from their position before it could be talked over any more.  Pointless discussing what had to be done she thought.  Aerin scrambled through the keystone passageway on slippy rock that snuck up on aching knees to make them ache some more.  Best be off before I had a chance to change my mind – what is it my father always said to me? “Thinking be the death of you, Aerin Paean”.  When her breath became rasping from the work of moving she slowed then stopped to cool it.  Once her lungs had slowed sufficiently Aerin progressed through the caves once more.  Her body pressed against the damp stone wall, she moved through the dark, allowing the path’s crooked contours to guide her.  She noted a change in the light level, or perhaps more accurately in the thickness of the dark.  In the cave of Fjalar and Orpheus they had been unable to see much through the gloom, however not one hour had passed since that point but Aerin could now seem to make out a little of the stone about her. It was strange, it was almost as if she could sense the cave walls as they vibrated with the breathing of the dragon.  Each stone had a different thickness and the water rested upon’t  as though cold soup on a dinner plate wobbling backward and forward on a crooked table.  Soon she came to a fork in the tunnels.  Here Aerin rested again always listening for the dragon’s rhythmical breathing – there it was, clearer than before, its deep clean breaths.  She allowed herself a minute or two to think, then, once the cold began to set in and her skin prickled like being left in a bath too long – she sought to continue.  She took her sword from its leather sheath and let it rest comfortably in her hand.  The breathing got louder quickly as she rounded the bend and the lizard notably seemed to stir as Aerin sensed its weight shift, its claws scraped once more against the rock.  Aerin took two quick steps more forward so that she reached another fork – this time she definitely heard the dragon move and sensed its body jerk towards her sound decisively.  At the fork in the caves she pushed herself into a tight hole within the fork itself so she was neither in one path nor the other.  She tucked her cloak about her for warmth and ducked beneath her shield held up to cover her face.  she, with purpose and without taking a breath hit sword upon shield with some velocity.  Aerin hoped that Orpheus and Fjalar had heard its ring since the dragon certainly had and made quick progress on her position.

What’s done is done, she thought. The caves fell silent, even the dragon’s breath seemed to fall quiet.  Butterflies of dread sat in Aerin’s stomach so much that she reached out to stop the ring of metal struck with her hand.  Then there was a terrific exhale of dragon breath that violently shook the caves.  She felt the heat change before knowing exactly what was happening.  A moment later a fireball that stank of age and decay scorched past Aerin’s left shoulder just catching the edge of her shield and making it hot to touch. It soon disappeared out of sight. Aerin turned her head slightly so that it was at least facing the direction the dragon would come and let one eye be able to peer out beyond the shield. The great lizard was listening for her, its breath had fallen quiet again and there was no more fire.  Next it dragged its heavy limbs across the cave floor, thumping its tail upon the ground in anger, she knew it was moving closer and it knew she was not dead. The thumping grew louder and louder until finally coming to rest maybe twenty /thirty feet from her position in the fork before it stopped.  The dragon once more took a heavy threatening intake of air and exhaled another fireball as consequence.  This time the heat was almost unbearable and after it had passed Aerin lifted her shield away her skin as it caused her flesh to burn. The dragon moved again its scales scraped effortlessly upon the rock eventually coming to rest at the very fork in which she cowered.  Although Aerin could not see the dragon around the corner she sensed its exact position and tried to visualised where it was stood, how it stood, and its position to hers.  The dragon roared with anger and spoke to the caves “Come out and play he that dares disrupt the mighty Taninim, the ancient dragon of the North.”

Aerin refrained to answer the dragon’s plea and waited patiently. It flicked its tongue out into the air, Aerin noted (since it flashed right under her own nose) sensing the air for vibrations.  “So be it, coward hiding!  Be brave, step forward man and meet your end!” barked the dragon.  Aerin assumed the dragon had not noted her position and so she said nothing. The fierce lizard eventually flicked its tongue one last time then turned and retreated in disappointment down the tunnel from whence it had come.  After what seemed an eternity Aerin readied herself to run and forced her hands to stop shaking furiously.  Taking a step down into the passageway she struck metal upon metal once more, this time not waiting for signs of movement as a response.  She began to run, never had she run so fast, her hands clutched her sword and shield tight and even in the dark and the damp she refused to slow.  Her feet skipped along the ground with consummate ease yet this time the dragon moved faster.  It picked up its pace and roared yet Aerin did not fear it.  For what she waited for was not the roar but the silence, for this she recognised was when the dragon collected the fire in its belly before spitting it out to hurtle along the corridor of caves.  Soon it came.   The silence, the deep intake of breath and the heat chased by licking fire just at the point where Aerin dived back through the keystone entranceway to fall ungracefully upon the rocky floor.  She rolled quickly to her right as the great fireball spilled over her head and whooshed out of sight.  Quickly Aerin gathered herself and pushed her body compact against the wall to the side of the entrance way, still grasping tightly her blade. She stole a glance then towards where Orpheus was stood, his readied speer was noticeable even in the dark.  He nodded in her direction as she held her sword parallel to her nose, ready to strike the dragon as it passed.  The beast continued moving towards them, now only inches away its blue nose creeping into the cave in which they stood past the keystones.  It sniffed and flashed its teeth before retreating slightly into the cave before.  It was cautious for dragons are not unintelligent creatures.  It had heard the clang of steel before.  It blew another fireball into the cave before leaping off its hind legs to launch itself at the entranceway that sheltered the humans!  The walls did shake with fear and forced Aerin and Orpheus to leap from their hiding place to meet the dragon face on (not a wise move), the dragon roared with laughter and flashed its mighty claws ripping through the air, narrowly missing both of them as they jumped out the way.  “You think I know nothing of these caves!” said the dragon. Aerin measured the striking distance of the dragon’s claws and leapt out from behind a fallen rock. “But these are not your caves, dragon, this is not your land!” Aerin shouted.  The dragon roared angrily, surprised at her boldness and reached out to strike Aerin down with its mighty paw yet Aerin saw the beast’s action before it occurred and side-stepped the would-be blow so that it clunked heavily against only rock and sword.  Her blade caught against its ill-thought paw, splitting scales.  The dragon howled with the pain and blasted another fireball in her direction, but Aerin had already shrunk back behind the fallen rock.  “You think that rock will protect you from me?” Shouted the dragon as he took a step closer to blow another fireball towards the stone.  Aerin felt the heat sear her skin of her left arm a little but did not move.  The dragon shuffled forward unerringly laughing and blowing still further flames at the rock behind which Aerin stooped.

Orpheus seeing Aerin;s predicament launched a single spear at the dragon’s beligerent head. His through was strong and his aim true for it buried itself within its eye, blinding it. The dragon roared with rage again and launched a tirade of fireballs around the cave in agony.  Orpheus dived then beneath the dragon’s great feet for protection and trembled in fear of what was to come.
“Where are you, you human filth?” shouted the dragon as he strode into the cave showering rocks about the place with the swish of its tail, one caught Orpheus square in the chest, pushing him backwards into the dragon’s sight. “There you are!” taunted the dragon.  He opened his giant jaw preparing to tear poor Orpheus in two!  Aerin jumped to her feet and shouted without hesitation “Come here you great lizard and I will cut off your head!” twirling her sword above her.  The dragon away from Orpheus then and lurched to strike Aerin down but she was too quick and dodged the ambling blow, catching the beast with her sword again.   He hissed and retreated slightly.  Drawing breath the dragon lay quiet and waited.  Aerin shuffled her position as her right boot moved on small stone.  The dragon moved so quick, flicked its head around the rock and prepared to exhale with such fury that Aerin could do nothing but turn on her heel and run, towards where Fjalar lay in the watery narrower cave beyond, and hope that fire would not catch her.  As Aerin took flight the dragon tumbled after her, its mouth open in rage, hurling fire after fire that warmed the air about her to such an extent even the darkness waved.  She felt it travelling quickly behind her.  The flames caught her quickly as she dived through the opening to the next tunnel, landing headfirst into the watery floor. She skidded in the water and felt the fireball fly above her head. The dragon launched itself then through the hole at where it thought she lay dying in the dirty water and yet all it met again was wet rock and sharpened blade.  Fjalar’s axed cut its exposed throat open with one blow and peeled back layers of scale.  It lashed its teeth in all direction, catching the shoulder of Fjalar and tossed him from such mighty jaw to crash squarely onto the cave’s far wall.  The dwarf and the dragon yelled in pain.  Aerin flung herself out of the dragon’s way and wielded her sword with all strength and purposed, protecting her face from another paw blow as she hacked again at its open neck. Finally the dragon recoiled and swung another paw met by her shield.  The metal felt the full force of the lizard’s ancient strength and the blow flung her too across the cave to slam against the wall. Her muscles hit bone and the pain was agony as Aerin could do nothing but wait for her body to slide down the wall and into the water as another fireball bolted across the cave.  Her eyes grew misted and she could do little but closed them to seal her doom as her limp body sunk into water.  In the murky dark she heard the dragon give another almighty yelp of pain and she fought to keep her consciousness and swam and clawed out of the water to confront the lizard.  Aerin opened her eyes to witness Orpheus sliding through the dragon’s gaping legs as he plunged his last remaining spear through the dragon’s neck to which its head finally fell upon the floor.  Fjalar stumbled from the water to regain his axe and swung a straight blow against the dragon’s head with all his last energy, both he and the dragon wobbled under the strain.  Whilst the dwarf’s axe was in motion, Aerin picked her sodden body up and flung her sword through the air to slice through the dragon’s wounded scaly neck.  She did not take time for a breath so that before the dragon had a chance to lift its head away she swung the sword again one last time and parted the final blow that separated the head from the ancient dragon’s body.

by luphia-d3iwicc

The way of the Dwarf

Fjalar was a strange-looking creature who’s face seemed as if he had taken to hitting himself repeatedly with the blunt end of his own axe, coupled with a large scar slashed across his left cheek.  His nose had definitely been broken many a time and his lip snarled up at one end of the large scar from a grand cut, which gave him the appearance of being permanently smirking.  Around his hut where metal artifacts created by the dwarfen kind, including large spears of all shape and size, a few swords, axes, helmets and the like as well as a rather fine-looking cloak of mail.  Aerin had read long ago in the library of Ilus that dwarves were magical creatures possessing rare gifts and great skill in metallurgy.  She looked about Fjalar’s home with wonder but could not help her eyes being drawn to a particular silver sword that dangled in the entrance way, as well as a small shield that hung next to it.
Fjalar was quick to see her eyes drawn to the sword “you’s eye’n up a good sword then?” asked Fjalar, snorting “and no surprise.  Of course it’s yours to have – no dwarf would let no man, nor beast…nor lady for’ at matter, to leave his humble abode to face a god forsaken dragon ill-equipped!”   .
“No, I have a sword though which will surfice” replied Aerin showing Fjalar the small blade she had brought from Goonbell.
“A knife? A knife! We’re not going to dinner you know, we’re going to slice off an enormous great honking dragon’s head!”  He chortled wildly and clambered up onto a rickety bookcase to retrieve the sword and shield, swinging them ferociously (and rather dangerously, Aerin thought) from his unstable perch.
“Well ‘ere” continued Fjalar, “I’ll let you borrow it, an’ this ‘ere shield…how’s bout that? An’ how bout something for you Orpheus?” (to which Orpheus immediately pointed to two new spears with little hesitation).  “Then if you two help me rid myself of this dragon as a neighbour what coming a cropper then I’ll let you keeps them for no offence, but you don’t look like the types that can stand to afford my weaponry otherwise…”.
“Oh thank you Fjalar, that is very generous” said Aerin, “Ay” said Orpheus “an’ what lovely spears too” he noted as he removed them from the cave wall and tested their weight in his hands.
“Well there’s not much point in me leavin’ them here for us to get burnt to cinders without’em tomorrow now is it!”  he laughed then followed up with a shout of “catch” at Aerin, whilst with zero warning, he launched the weaponry in her general direction.  Aerin swiftly turned to meet the incoming objects and surprised herself by catching both in her turn. “Well I never” said Fjalar, and she’s a girl an’ all!”
Now come over ‘ere” he said to Orpheus and pointed to a spot below the sword and shield. Orpheus did as he was told so that within seconds Fjalar had mounted his back and scrambled down his shoulders, hanging onto his frame before reaching the ground with a cheeky grin and a bow as a final flourish.
In the morning Fjalar awoke them early by banging his pans together noisily before serving them hot porridge and beer for breakfast, “Well we needs something to keep us going” he said.  The unlikely heroes trundled well fed down steep mountainous hillside from the dwarf’s hut.  After two hours of walking through thick forest the trio reached a large dark-rock cave entrance that stood foreboding on top of a tall hill.  Here Fjalar’s facial features contorted into a screwed up frown and, as he removed his hat his forehead wrinkles showed him to be melancholy for here lay five dwarves not long dead, burnt almost to a cinder, their charred remains a warning (least anyone hard forgotten) of what lay now beyond the great door.   Aerin regretted immediately agreeing upon the beer for breakfast, and by the look upon Orpheus’ face, it seemed that he was thinking the same thing. Sick to their stomachs they stared at the scene but could not bring themselves to turn away, such was its horror.
Orpheus whispered quietly “the guild said somm’et ‘bout there bein’ a dragon tha’ lived our way many year ago, fed it milk oi think, to keep it happy an’….”
Aerin interrupted “I don’t think this dragon’s going to be appeased through milk Orpheus!”
“Well I don’t ‘av any, anyway so we can’t, never did like the stuff! Said Fjalar, glad that someone had broken the silence and spell of the place.  He turned away his head once more to the great door and wiped away a tear that the others had not noticed falling.
“Oh” said Orpheus, “Jus’ makin’ talks, I get chatty when nervous.” Which, if nothing else, made Aerin feel distinctly more nervous than she had only moments before.
As they moved into the cave quietly Fjalar whispered into the darkness, “the last time I saw the beast he’d eaten a herd of cows… and wrapped itself around Worm Hill  which could mean he likes milk….”
Aerin decided it was probably best not to continue the subject any further and instead beckoned them forward into the darkness of a second cave whilst pressing a single finger to her lips to signify the need to be quiet (in the hopes also that the idea of giving the dragon milk might be forgot). The second cave led into a third and soon it became so dark that Aerin could not see the rock in front of her so she dared to light her lamp to continue.  In the ghostly glare of the lamplight their shadows leapt about the cave walls making each on of them startle in turn as they thought they saw movement in one corner, or a flashing eye in another.  Chasing shadows, Aerin thought.  At one point Orpheus noticed scorch marks on the walls, and within another narrower cave section the dwarf noted scales deposited upon the walls where the great beast had squeezed past rock, “at least we know we’re in the right place” said Aerin, hopefully.
After half an hour of walking in gloom they came upon a cave much lower down than the others, lying at a crossroads in the cave system.  It seemed many dwarves had tried to fight the dragon here but evidence of their failure littered the ground.  the trio sought to pick a quick and quiet path through bones, empty skulls and other such remains that lay nestled amongst weapons and armour, tossed useless now aside. Fjalar let out a small sigh and stepped over one particular pile of remains, trying not tread upon’t whispering as he did so, “sorry Albert” he said.  The way through the tunnels from then on was more difficult, some were underwater in short sections requiring them to hold their breath and swim for periods, which with their weaponry was slow progress.  The dwarf though was surprisingly good at the swimming part, mostly because his small body fit more comfortably between the narrow entrances, more easily accommodated also in narrow tunnels.  It was just before Orpheus had decided to hit his head upon the tunnel ceiling for the twenty-first time that they heard an unsettling noise, a distant rumble of dragon moving with its claws scraping rock as its scaly flesh pressed against cave walls. The three weary travellers held themselves still and resisted the urge to shiver as the ground beneath and above their heads began to shake.  Fjalar pointed a knobbly finger towards a larger cave in front of them, “We will need space if we are to lie in wait” he said, “for we cannot fight him in these smaller caves”. And so they moved on, trying to not attract the dragon’s attention.
Soon they rested themselves against great stone slats either side of a large entranceway marked with keystones all across its top. “We’s best put out the torch” Orpheus noted “or he’ll see us before we stand a chance”.  Aerin dropped the torch into the running water beneath her feet.  She preferred her chances in the light to seeing nothing, but did not voice her objections.  They waited in the tunnel for what seemed like four, maybe five hours but the rumbling of the great dragon seemed to get no nearer their position.  Eventually Aerin nodded up the passageway ahead of them, “if he will not come to us, then we must make to him”.  Orpheus agreed and  Fjalar nodded grimly “so be it” he said.