Part 42: The Stone Fortress and the Volcano- The Stone Fortress and the Volcano
Yesterday I'd vanquished the swamp dragon and received a tip from Oric about a possible dragon residing in the stone fortress to the south.
After gathering my things and stocking up on supplies I set out from the castle heading south.
Further down the river, across from the orcish palisade, was an old, rotting bridge that connected to a faded path on the other side. I crossed the bridge cautiously. I was now in enemy territory.
Some Orcs had occupied a rope bridge. I believed that, before the fall, this had been an orcish temple of sorts.
Just past the bridge I encountered my first bit of opposition. Two orcs guarded the path up the hill. I dealt with them and continued onwards.
A group of lizards, both fire and normal, had made this slope their home. A good half dozen had begun nesting here and were not too fond of my intrusion on their land.
I took out my map to get my bearings. According to the map, if I continued following the faded path up the slope and over the hills I'd come to the old fortress.
I caught my first sight of the lizard men at the top of the old path. Their appearance alongside the dragons couldn't be a coincidence.
The mountain path branched up ahead, each guarded by two lizardmen. I choose the right path first
. I knew that the fortress lie straight ahead but I'd suspected that there may be something ahead.
Unfortunately, I was wrong. Aside from some dead dragon hunters, ring, and an old crossbow there was nothing. There was, however, a good view of the volcano to the north. The energy emanating from it was immense. I was sure that another dragon was there.
I returned to the crossroads and this time went down the other path. Sure enough I could see the fortress ahead. It didn't seem to have changed much since I last saw it.
I fought my way over the bridge and up the winding path.
At the top of the old trail was a stone golem. Despite my greatly increased ability since I last saw a golem, I still needed to be careful. A golem's charge could send me flying and if I was sent off a cliff I was sure to die.
The Golem was a pushover the magic from my sword having done most of the work. I climbed the stone ramp that joined the path and fortress together and was somewhat surprised to see a group of harpies.
Harpies were quite adept at avoiding swords and other such weapons, but were awful at avoiding arrows. Using my hunting bow I eliminated them from a distance before climbing up to where they had been. The old, stone platform was still present in the fortress though it seems that the lizardman arrival, or the barrier's fall, had caused some damage. The pedestal that once held a focus had since fallen and shattered.
I continued my trip up the fortress, climbing atop a fallen pillar that now connected the upper and lower portions of the fort.
At the top I found a passage that connected to another room.
The large room had since had a hole made in it that allowed access to the roof.
It was here I caught my first glimpse of the stone dragon.
I approached the evil creature with the Eye in place around my neck.
"Yet another presumptuous wight who dares to climb my rock. You little humans. So brave, and yet so fragile. I shall tear out your entrails and feed them to the rats."
"Not so fast," I warned, "I bear the Eye of Innos. You will obey me and answer my questions."
"Arrh. Ask your questions!" the dragon bellowed.
"Who are you?"
"I am called Pedrakhan and I shall slowly skin you alive when I catch you."
"Who is the strongest among you dragons?"
"We draw our power from the elements of this world. Their hierarchy is clear and simple: Land formed of soft earth bestows life on all creatures under the sun. Yet it will open up and swallow you entirely if you get too close to it. The rock, which would rather break than ever surrender, towers with pride and buries the careless beneath itself. And yet it offers the best protection from the tide. The spark of life lives in the deep fires of this world and yet the fire incinerates everything in a breath, leaving nothing but ashes. All our elements preserve and destroy but only in water that has become hard and solid as rock will everything be transformed into an eternal pillar of salt where life is barely possible."
"Whose orders do you follow? Who sent you here?"
"Our future and well-being is controlled by the Master with his Word of Power. Soon no one will be able to resist him. His long arm already stretches far from the Realm of the Dead. The spirits of the night gather in joyful anticipation of his arrival. He will overcome you humans and rule the world. In his shadow, we are no more than accessories to his creative power. The Master will come to raise your afflicted bodies from the ashes and use them to reshape the fate of the world." I could feel the power of the Eye ebbing away.
The fight with this dragon was less than exciting. Early in the battle, I drew him toward a corner where his mobility was greatly limited. With his wings caught upon a sharp stone he was unable to move and was an easy target for my bow and sword. A dozen or so blows from my sword and the creature bled out. I walked up to the body, cut the heart out, and returned to the castle.
In the chapel I recharged the Eye and went to find Oric. I had an idea where to find the remaining dragons, but a second opinion couldn't hurt. The last thing I needed to do was waste time.
I reported the defeat of the Stone Fortress dragon to Garond. He was quite pleased, once again granting me a bonus of 300 coins.
Oric, the Lord's strategist, stood nearby.
"I need more information about the dragons. I have this feeling that I didn't get to all of the dragons yet. Maybe I overlooked something?"
Oric nodded. "Following the last attack by the dragons, one of them is said to have disappeared near the volcano to the south. You should look for it there."
I'd been up that hill before and I just to know a shortcut. I left the besieged castle and set out to the path behind Hosh-Ppak's encampment. A set of stones were arranged in a stair-like shape.
I began climbing. This shortcut allowed me to bypass a good deal of orcs and fire lizards on my way up.
Further up the mountain, a shaman emerged from a cliff side cave to fling fireballs at me. I wasn't having any of that so I drew my weapon and charged him.
There was no sign of any other orcs living with him in this cave so I could only wonder what he had been doing there. Did Orcish armies also have deserters?
Finally I reached the top of the hill which turned out to be about midway up the volcano. A few lizard men blocked the road but they were few in number. I dealt with them and continued onwards.
A fire golem stood over the body of a deceased and badly burnt Dragon Hunter. I had no doubt that the magical creature was responsible for the damage but I had to be careful. Fire Golems were made of a seemingly unending source of fire. Fire that they were able to project at will.
I charged in a zig zag like pattern to avoid oncoming fireballs.
When the distance was closed it was time for a difficult fight. The golem took many hits, and I suffered severe burns, until it fell to ground and cooled to rock.
At the end of the narrow path I could barely make out the dragon in the distance. The volcano caldera pulsed with magical energy. Something told me that this was going to be a much more difficult fight than the previous two. I readied some scrolls in preparation.
I put on the newly recharged Eye of Innos and approached the winged lizard.
"I simply cannot believe that there truly are still people who will forfeit their lives merely to see a dragon in the flesh."
"I haven't come to see you. I rather had something more radical in mind, I'm afraid."
"You do not mean to say that you wish to challenge me? Ha ha ha. I shall break your scrawny neck!"
"Not so fast, my friend! I carry the Eye of Innos with me. You cannot resist my will. Answer my questions or the agony will be unbearable to you."
"Arrh," the dragon roared, "Then pose your ridiculous questions while you still can. Your power will not last long."
"Who are you?"
"My name is Feomathar, and that is all that you will learn about me. Once I can escape the spell of the Eye, you will go up in flames."
"Every dragon has a hoard where he stores his collected treasures. So, where's yours?"
"In a place that will be inaccessible to you, once I am finally free of the chains of the Eye. I keep my treasure high up on the hot cliffs which should be all but impossible for a wingless human such as you."
"How can I defeat your master?"
"He is almighty and nigh unto invincible. Should you be so foolish as to meet him nevertheless, you will die a slow and painful death."
"This isn't the first time I've heard that. Nearly invincible doesn't mean I can't kill him. So, out with it: What must I do?"
"In order to oppose my Master, you require things which he would never be able to obtain."
"And that would be?"
"You must acquire the finest armor known to your earthly community, and wear it on your skin. You need a sword which has been blessed by your god. The most difficult condition of all is that you must win five companions who would follow you into death. Then, and only then, can you face the Master." That didn't sound too hard. I was sure Milten and the others wouldn't mind risking their neck to save the island.
"The eye has lost its power and you will not survive the next day."
The dragon leaned back, preparing a burst of fire breath. I dove to the side and began shouting the words of Demon summoning.
The demon burst forth from the ground and immediately set upon the dragon. The dragon, concerned with this new arrival, focused all of its attention on it. While the demon was distracting the fire dragon, I attacked from the flank.
The demon fell, ravaged by the sharp claws of my demon and my blade. After cutting its heart out I looked about for the creature's hoard.
I found it on a nearby cliff. Despite what the dragon said, I'd been easily able to climb there. I looted as much gold as I can and took some silverware, a magical piece of black ore, and a longsword. Then I teleported back to the castle.
I'd noticed that it was getting late. I visited Oric one last time to confirm the location of the final dragon and retired to sleep. Dragon Hunting took a lot out of a man.