Part 40: The Dragon Hunt- The Dragon Hunt
I teleported back to the entrance to the pass. Since the knights had been killed, there had been no replacements sent.
I continued on through the pass until I came to the Orcish encampment. I drew a few of the outlying orcs away from the main group.
With their numbers down, I charged into their midst and targeted the magic users first.
Once the pass was clear, I ventured over to the Mines side. The trip was much shorter than the trip through the mines, only taking an hour or two instead of the entire afternoon.
Not surprisingly, some Orcs were stationed here as well.
It was here that I'd first arrived, and here where the convicts received their shipments of food, alcohol and, ugh, even women. Diego had told me that he left he gold somewhere here so I began my search.
I found it sitting atop some old, wooden beams. Two orcs were nearby but my armor's thick plating allowed me to absorb many more blows than my past equipment did.
The gate, previous manned by a convict guard, was still standing. I was surprised. I'd expected it to have been torn down long ago.
I was now where I'd have arrived had I come in through the mine. A dead dragon hunter, one of the mercenaries, was sprawled out nearby. I cautiously walked further down the path.
There seemed to be a whole group of them at the bottom of the hill. I guessed that the Dragon Hunt I'd heard so much of in the mercenary camp had finally begun.
Amazingly, my obvious allegiance caused no hostility between us. I supposed that a common enemy would do that.
"Hey, come over here." one of the hunters called.
"What do you want?"
"This valley is a dangerous place and without the right equipment you'll find yourself dead in no time."
I'd heard that before. "I assume that YOU've got the right equipment?"
"You guessed it. I might even sell it to you."
"Do you sell information as well?"
"That depends. If the place is right, I'll tell you everything I knew."
"How much do you charge?"
"Hm. Hard to say, but I think that 50 gold pieces for every piece of information I give you sounds about right."
That was reasonable. "Tell me about the Dragons."
"Dragons are ancient, incredibly powerful creatures. Once there were thousands of them living all over the world. It's been over a hundred years, though, that any of them were seen. Their blood is as hot as boiling oil. If they look into your eyes, your heart will turn to stone. So I've heard."
I'd hoped for information regarding THESE dragons, but I supposed I should have specified. Either way, I paid the man the money and purchased the usual supplies of potions and arrows.
It took me a few minutes to notice him, but Gorn was standing among the crowd. "I see you joined the dragon hunters." I observed.
"I followed Sylvio into the Valley of Mines, because I know my way around here best and wanted to get a clear picture of the situation. I'll tell you what. Something definitely brewing here. I've never seen so many orcs in one place in all my life. It wouldn't amaze me if Garond and the paladins in the castle had all fled or been slain by now.
Further down the path stood another hunter. I passed by, but apparently a bit too close for him. "Hey, you! Fellows like you should watch where they're going."
"What are you trying to tell me?" I asked.
"I mean that the air out here isn't good for your health. The place is just swarming with orcs and monsters. Not to mention the dragons. It's just a well-intentioned warning."
"Are you the boss here?"
"Do I look it? Certainly not. We don't need any self-important jerk ordering us around. When Sylvio tried to act like he was the boss, we showed him and his buddies what we thought of that. There was a brawl. In the end, they left on their own. I hope Sylvio would up in the soup kettle of some orc."
"Can you tell me anything I don't know already?"
"I can give you a good piece of advice, and it's even free. We can't use anyone here who faints dead away at the slightest dragon fart. Go home, this is a job for real men."
"Have you seen a dragon yet?"
"Not so far. But the beasts can't hide forever."
It seemed like no one here had a clear idea where to find the dragons.
I teleported back into the chapel and headed outside. I noticed that Udar stood alone near the breach.
"It's good that you've come. All hell is breaking loose here."
"The dragon hunters are strutting around here in the castle and bragging that they can solve the dragon problem but I'll tell you what, the way they look, they won't even kill a sick, old snapper. A lot of us are getting really worried by now and no longer truly believe that we'll ever make it out of here alive."
"Weren't there two of you sentinels up here?"
"Not any more. Sengrath stood here on the battlements when suddenly he fell asleep. His good crossbow fell down when that happened. We could only just see one of the orcs snatch it up and disappear with it into the darkness. Sengrath woke up then and just ran into the night towards the Orc palisades. He hasn't come back since. Innos be with us!"
I turned to check out the rest of the camp. Udar was telling the truth. Some Dragon Hunters had entered the castle and were sitting near the forges, chatting amongst themselves.
Keroloth was standing nearby, half heartedly training some younger soldiers.
"You're pulling such a long face" I observed.
"Damn it to hell. I tell you, you have to watch like a hawk. If you turn your back for a moment, all your stuff is gone. Dirty scum!"
"Did someone steal from you?"
"No, they smuggled 20 gold pieces into my pocket. Of course they stole something, you idiot! I tell you, when I get my hands on the dirty swine..."
"Those dragon hunting riff-raff, of course. Who did you think I was talking about? You've got to watch out, I tell you."
"So what are you missing?"
"My purse, with all my savings in it, and now it's gone!"
"It'll turn up somewhere." I shrugged and walked toward the castle.
I couldn't believe who I saw standing outside the main building.
I tapped the bald man on the shoulder. "Don't I know you? You are Cor Angar. You used to be a templar in the swamp camp."
He looked beaten down. "Call me Angar. I have set aside my title. The Brotherhood of the Sleeper has disbanded. Curious, but you seem somehow familiar to me. Yet, I cannot quite recall you."
I found that hard to believe. "What's the matter with you?"
"Oh. I haven't been able to sleep properly for some time. These constant nightmares."
"How did you get here?"
"After the collapse of the magic barrier, I hid myself in the mountains. It became time for me to do something. I strayed about for days, until I suddenly awoke in the castle. Do not ask me what happened. I don't know. To make matters worse, I have also lost the amulet which I have had for years. I shall go mad if I do not find it again"
"What will you do next?"
"I shall rest awhile first so that I may take up the search for my lost amulet. I have heard something of dragons. It is also being said that many warriors have come to the valley of mines to hunt them. I am thinking of joining them."
"Where exactly did you lose your amulet?"
"Somewhere in the south, shortly before I awoke here in the castle. I suspect it was stolen. I absolutely must have it back."
"Maybe I can help you find your amulet."
"Why not? Some help cannot hurt."
"When will you go?"
"As soon as I feel better."
"Where do you want to look?"
"I shall go to the south, where I was last. There is a cave tomb there, surrounded by many boulders."
I could overhear some dragon hunters across the courtyard speaking. I approached to see what they were up to.
"What are you doing here in the castle?" I asked.
"I heard about the dragons and wanted to help fight them. Unfortunately, I lost my sword when I was sneaking past the orcs. Now I'm stuck here. Without a sword, I can't get out of here, and the swords I can buy here are the worst junk."
"I shall find your sword."
"That would be great. You should look for it on the high cliff to the south. I probably lost it there, near the orc tents."
That was uninteresting, but I supposed It'd be good for a reward if I stumbled across it.
Another Dragon Hunter was sitting nearby. "It was a really stupid idea to come here." he was mumbling to himself. "I thought there was something to be had here. But there's nothing here but a few arrogant paladins and orcs."
"You forgot about the dragons!"
"How could I forget. I'll tell you what. I'm a blacksmith, not a warrior. I make weapons. The fighting I leave to others."
I saw that the forge was currently empty. "Then why aren't you standing behind an anvil?"
"The paladins here won't let me into the smithy. I can't make anything unless I want to wind up in the dungeon. You're one of them, too. So how about putting in a good word for me?"
"I'll try to help you."
"How will you manage that? Parcival has ordered a watch kept on us. No one would dare to disregard it."
"I'll do whatever I can."
Just as I finished with Jan, the third mercenary here had begun to sharpen his sword. "Don't the paladins mind you being here?"
"Nonsense. They have entirely different problems. Most of them are glad to still be alive. The boys' morale isn't the best. That will be their downfall. I mean, just look at those nicked blades they're fixing to go into battle with. Any reasonable warrior would desert immediately."
"Who do you want to fight against?"
"Against the dragons, of course. What did you think?"
"Have you all separated form your group?"
"My group? I don't have a group. I'm a trophy collector. If I go home without a trophy, then I won't know what I came for. So, I can't use anybody else."
"Aren't you afraid that somebody might beat you to it?"
"What? Who? Sylvio? Have you seen the pathetic figures he's got with him? Sylvio can be glad if he gets out of here alive."
"Sylvio was here?"
"Here in the castle, you mean? Yeah, he was. But only for a short time. He chatted with a few people here and then set out again."
"So where is Sylvio now?"
"The paladins mentioned an ice dragon in the west. It's supposed to be the most dangerous and powerful of them all. You should have seen the gleam in Sylvio's eye when he heard that. One guess where he went."
"Have you set eyes on a dragon yet?"
"No. I want to get my weapons in shape before I set off."
"Can you help me improve my weapons?"
"Improve? Better to buy something new and throw away the junk you're carrying around. Maybe I've got something for you. Interested?"
I shrugged and checked to see what he had to offer.
Unfortunately, I had to pass. He carried only two handers.
I went to see Gerold the prison guard next. "All quiet?" I asked.
"Quiet, yes. My navel's rubbing against my backbone, man. Garond cut the food rations again. If I don't get a decent meal down my throat then I'm going to bite Garond's fat ass."
"Maybe I could give you something."
"Are you crazy? Certainly not here. If one of the others sees, I'll have a ton of new friends if you know what I mean. You can find me in the magicians temple when everyone else has retired. There's hardly anyone in the temple at this time anyway. I'll wait for you there. But just don't show up with a loaf of bread or a hunk of raw meat, got that?"
Everyone else outside of the castle was busy or not worth my time. I wandered into Garond's building with the intent to go see him.
Instead, I got a bit distracted. I began wandering the upper level of the castle. In one of the rooms I found a key to a locked room on the floor.
I unlocked the door and walked inside. Another locked door led to the storage tower, but the key didn't fit. I decided then to rifle through a nearby chest.
On my way out, I couldn't help but notice that the Paladins here didn't bother to redecorate when they took over.
Down in the throne room, I found Oric and Parcival talking amongst themselves. When they were finished I approached Parcival to see about Jan.
"How's the situation?"
"The camp is surrounded by orcs. They've really dug themselves in but even more alarming are the attacks by the dragons. They have destroyed the entire outer ring by now. Another dragon attack and we'll take heavy losses."
I nodded, only half listening. "I need to talk to you about Jan."
"Jan? Who's that?"
"A dragon hunter. He's a blacksmith."
"Oh, yes. I remember. What about him?"
"He wants to work in the smithy."
"Out of the question. He isn't one of us and I don't trust him."
"Can't you reconsider the matter with Jan?"
"No, my decision is firm."
It seemed I was going to need to speak to Garond about it.
I spoke with Oric next. "What is your task?" I asked the man. We hadn't yet been properly introduced.
"I am a strategic officer of the king, and I currently answer to the honorable commander Garond. We are the last of the paladins here in the castle. All the others have left or fallen. It is now our responsibility to bring a good end to this expedition. And that we shall do. By Innos, that we shall do."
I recalled that I'd been given a message for him some time back. "I have a message for you. Your brother is dead. He got as far as the pass. "
"This news is like an arrow which pierces my heart. I shall seek new strength in prayer."
"I need more information about the dragons."
He nodded. "A rather large swamp has developed in the last couple of days to the west of the old castle. That's rather suspicious wouldn't you say?" I agreed, and decided that it would be my first destination when I left the walls to explore.
Lord Hagen was sitting on his throne looking trouble.
"I'm back." I said.
"I can see that for myself. Where are the reinforcements."
"Lord Hagen will come as soon as he has settled everything. Much has happened. I don't care. I need troops. There are more and more orcs and we can't hold out much longer. My men are tired and we're running out of provisions."
"Some volunteers have arrived." I observed.
"You mean the dragon hunters outside in the yard? They may help us, but there just aren't enough of them. If Hagen doesn't send some men soon, I can't make any guarantees."
Now seemed as good a time as any to bring it up. "There's a problem with the smith."
"What smith? He's disappeared into the woodwork. Is he back then you can tell him-"
"No, I'm talking about Jan. One of the dragon hunters. He's a smith."
"That's good. Our previous smith just slinked off, the coward."
"Jan would be willing to take over the smithy."
"I see. So you think I can trust him? If you're so sure then you can vouch for him. If he causes any trouble, you'll answer for it. Agreed?"
That was a big risk to take but the castle needed a smith. I'll vouch for Jan."
That satisfied Garond. "All right. He can use the smithy. Of course he'll also have to provide my men with swords."
It was getting late so I left the building for the barracks. On my way, I stopped by Jan to tell him the good news.
"Get your hammer. There's work for you."
"You did it? How did you manage that?"
"I had to voice for you, so don't disappoint me."
Jan wandered over to the forge and I went to sleep.