Prologue - 'A Speedy Getaway'
Deep beneath the monolithic, isolate Trollfell Mountains in the caverns and mines once worked by a long dead people, the silence lay heavy as the thick darkness. Then, like the desecration of a sacred tomb, the stillness was shattered by inhuman cries of anger, fearsome and guttural. Declamations of sacrilege were chittered in the heathen tongue of the goblins as their sacred totem, a strange amulet, was discovered missing, its loathsome guardian daemon slain.
Pursued by those murderous cries through black tunnels of living shadows lit by scant and eerie earthlights four figures raced. They followed an escape tunnel created by the dwarven clan who had once carved this mine long before their end at the claws of gold-hungry dragons and marauding goblins. Unchanged by the passing of centuries it led straight and true from the stygian depths to the sun-blessed realm of the surface. Its smooth-carved walls became increasingly rough-hewn the further the pursued climbed, bridging yawning chasms of unimagined abyssal depth with spans of gravity defying carven stone. Ancient torn and weathered maps would reveal there to be seven such bridges across seven such bottomless crevasses but harsh reality would soon mockingly show that only six of these bridges had withstood the tests of time.
The first of the rushing figures, carrying in one hand a small pouch containing their precious prize, did not even break his stride as he assessed the distance and launched across the chasm. The walls were too close for him to use his black leathern wings to aid his leap but even so he cleared the gap with ease and landed at a run on the far side with his barbed tail lashing out behind to keep balance.
The second, this time a woman who at first appeared human, upon seeing the bridge was out, slowed her pace and jogged back a few metres. She stopped, turned to face the ledge once more and paused for a few precious moments, brushed her roan hair back behind her long, pointed ears to keep it from her teal eyes and breathed deeply, steeling herself for the leap. With a final deep breath she started her run-up and hurled herself across with a wordless animal battle cry. Her graceful leap landed her right on the edge of the precipice. For a heart-stopping moment she felt herself start to tip backwards but she flung her arms forward, shifted and righted her balance just in time.
Looking ahead she saw their dracosvulf companion had already disappeared round one of the bends of the twisting, turning passageway up through the mountain’s heart. Hearing the footsteps behind grow closer she turned to watch the last of the three Daemonslayers appear through the smoky gloom.
Dressed head to toe in black chimera leathers, only the occasional glint of a silver buckle, his ashen white skin and thigh-length blonde hair made him at all visible in the eternal subterranean night. He sped up to the yawning abyss and, with a breathtaking display of footwork, bottled out and went from full sprint to complete halt inches from the endless drop.
Soul hopped up and down as she watched her lover and fellow warrior from the safety of the far side, “C’mon, Shade!” she said, loudly as she dared.
“I’m not going to make it!” he hissed back, staring into the fearsome depths.
“Sure you will, hun. And you’re dead anyway – what’s the worst that can happen?”
“I could find myself falling three miles, bouncing off every outcrop and breaking every bone in my body along the way and then, after regenerating having landed in a bloody smear at the bottom find that I can’t climb out again!” he replied, looking about urgently for some other way across. One thing was for sure: there was no going back.
Wondering what was keeping his companions, Blackjack had jogged back down the passage and joined Soul at the far edge, “What the hells are you doing? Or have you forgotten there’s half the goblin army of the Trollfells on our heels?” he snapped, “Stop pissing about and jump, will you?”
“Easy for you to say! You can fly!” Shade retorted to the cursed dragon, glaring at those glowing eyes – the left red the right icy blue - as they glared back at him through the gloom.
A noise from behind made Shade start. He turned and saw a huge, four-armed figure looming up behind him. Highly reflective yellow feline eyes regarded him as the two metre-tall degarii mutate approached, slowing from his run to a walk, “Ho, friend!” said Moorin, puffing only a little from their mad dash, “Need a boost?” Without even waiting for a reply, he picked Shade up with just one of his heavily muscled arms and hurled him across the chasm.
Blackjack neatly side-stepped as the startled Daemonslayer, arms flailing, slammed into Soul who was not so quick to move, sending them sprawling in a heap.
“Oops. Sorry!” Moorin called as they tried to untangle the undignified mess the two near-humans landed in. He crouched down onto all fours (or all sixes, in his unique case), wiggling his hips a little like a housecat about to pounce as he calculated the leap, and then sprung forward. The single bound carried him easily across the distance and on to a perfect landing. Helpfully he picked Shade and Soul up, one in each of his upper arms, and set them on their feet.
“Uh, thanks.” Said Shade, dusting himself off.
“No problem!” smiled the affable feline, smacking Shade so heartily on the back it almost sent him sprawling again “But we’d best go: those gobbos were right behind me. Blackjack, how far to the surfac– Blackjack?”
There was a complete lack of any individuals answering to that name in the immediate vicinity.
“Typical.” Soul tutted in annoyance, “I hope he runs into something horrible up ahead. I mean, sheesh, we only had to kill the daemon. Why’d he go and swipe the gobbos’ sacred totem wossname?”
“Because under that cuddly furry exterior he’s still a black dragon at heart?” Shade said with a sigh.
The first arrows of their pursuers whined through the air and clattered harmlessly against the ageless stone. Shade, Soul and Moorin took this as their cue to leave. Although they were safe from immediate pursuit, there was always the concern the goblins would manage to rub a couple of brain cells together and send a party to head them off at the tunnel exit. But as fortune would have it, at the end of the long run, they emerged into an empty, forgotten clearing at the foot of the mountain. Blackjack was waiting for them, already mounted up on his dire unicorn, Knightmare.
“You took your time.” He said scornfully. Knightmare tossed his head, black mane flying in the wind as though to echo what his master had just said.
Shade gave him a dirty look, “Yeah? Well some of us aren’t in the habit of running off and leaving our friends behind.”
“Your point being?” Blackjack smirked. He then fished about in an inner pocket of his sleeveless jacket and retrieved the pouch he had been carrying earlier, “It was worth it, anyway.” He said, drawing out a long golden chain at the end of which dangled a small yet exquisitely carven dragon, “Those superstitious throwbacks thought this kept old Glimmerfang from attacking them.”
“That gold dragon?” asked Moorin, scratching his head “Didn’t you kill him back when the Dragon Wars first started?”
Blackjack laughed, “Yep. He should have known better than to try and defend the humans. For some reason the goblins think he isn’t dead, hence the amulet.” As he spoke the trace of an ancient malice crossed his features, emphasising his dark dragonic aspect over his vaguely canine features.
“I don’t wanna hear about you picking on dragons that were smaller than you.” Soul said, not really liking to hear about Blackjack’s ‘glory days’ as Bloodbane. “So what’s so special about your new trinket that you wanted to risk our necks for it?” She was starting to suspect that all along Blackjack had had an ulterior motive for sneaking into the goblin infested mines beyond simply wanting to destroy the foul daemon that had guarded the tribe’s totem.
“It’ll restore me to my true form. For a time.”
Shade frowned, apparently not overly liking the sound of that, “You can do that yourself.”
“Not voluntarily.” Blackjack admitted, uneasy in admitting a personal shortcoming.
“Fine. So why don’t you use it now and fly us all back home?” suggested Soul.
“Because Meccha,” he said her name like it meant ‘idiot’, “It’ll only be good for one use!”
Soul was speechless but finally found the words, “You mean all that running and being chased and being shot at and it’ll only work once?!” The rest of her exclamation was not repeatable.
Shade put a hand on her shoulder to calm her down, “Look, we have to get out of here before any more goblins show up. We can argue about it on the way back to Moorin’s.”
To be continued .
Comments, questions, whatever, can be addressed to me at the Facebook page