Strogoben stood before the cave entrance. Preparing himself mentally for the greatest challenge of his life. Something he had prepared for ever since he was a young child. He stood there silently. Breathing deeply. Taking in everything he could gather with his five senses and more.
They had been sharp enough to help him survive ever since beginning his journey to locate Venomshank, the Warblade of Ballara. His quest had begun many moons ago when he first arrived in Dysheimr.
Those who pointed the way had indicated the entrance at the Chambers of the Golden Raven. From there he had made his way down through the Haunt of the Thunder Giant. Struggling to find his way through the Maze of Destruction. And finally coming out through The Screaming Tunnels. And now he had arrived. His final destination.
The Lair of Vor’onuuth who was known among men as The Flames of Darkness.
If his sources were correct, this was where he would find the Warblade.
After catching his breath, Strogoben pressed forward through a portal that had been revealed only after releasing a burst of flames underneath it. It was designed that way so that only the dragonkin and those who could control fire might pass through.
Strogoben stepped through into the foreboding environment that awaited him. This one completely different from the previous he had encountered when stepping rough the Portal of the Golden Raven.
The air was dry and hot here. Bright strobes of light blinded him. Strogoben could feel his lungs burn with every breath. It was a harsh world. Reminding him of the desert he had traveled through as a child after the Jooppi tribe had wiped out his people and taken him captive.
There they had trained him to fight. Taught him magic and how to use the elements. Preparing him to take down small dragons in the desert single-handly. The Joopi had known his people were descended from the dragonkin. They wiped out the adults but kept all the small children alive.
Strogoben had been no more than seven when they had captured him. They loved his skills and abilities. The Joopi people had admired him. The chief had treated Strogoben like a pet though. Locking him in chains and using whips to keep him in line.
The chief had depended on his mage’s magic as well to keep the young boy obedient. But they hadn’t been enough to keep him down. He was careful to watch and observe everything the mage did.
He practiced and experimented at night on his own. When he grew strong enough, Strogoben broke free. Wreaked his revenge on the tribe of nomads who had destroyed his family. Strogoben had burned them all with fire. Battling their own mage had been no easy feat. But he did it. He had freed himself.
From there, Strogoben set out on his own. He had continued practicing and improving his skills over the years. And eventually, he had settled down in the region just south of Dysheimr. There he kept his skills a secret. Rarely using them.
Strogoben had lived their peacefully, planting a farm, and even taking a wife. He had married a beautiful young woman named Freygerd Styrbiorndottir.
But before they were married a year, the land had come under attack by the fire gnomes. They swept through taking cattle and sheep. Burning crops and destroying the farms as they went. Occasionally even taking humans as well.
And that was when they had taken Freygerd with them.
Strogoben was devastated. He spent weeks searching for the fire gnomes without luck. The burning trails they left behind all disappeared at the river they used to escape.
After searching high and low across the land, he came across an old priest who mentioned someone that might be able to help him.
Vor’onuuth. Part human. Part dragon. Part giant. Created by the engineers, he had escaped and wreaked havoc in the lower realms. Eventually, locked away and unable to return to the surface. The dangerous path to find Vor’onuuth, served just as much to keep him in as to keep others out.
Strogoben was willing to make the journey. Not to meet Vor’onuuth. What he really wanted was this Venomshank. An ancient weapon once left behind by the Engineers responsible for the dragonkin.
It had been lost after the great war by Strogoben’s ancestor who ruled the land. Strogoben had heard the stories and legends as a child. Those descended from the Dragonkin who had enough skill and power could wield the Warblade. Using it control any of the fire-based creatures under the Warblade’s command.
Strogoben hoped to use it to locate the fire gnomes and find his wife.
According to the priest though, the Warblade hadn’t been lost. It had actually been taken by the engineers. Some said they removed it from their game because it was too powerful of a weapon. Others said that they had locked it away with Vor’onuuth for safekeeping until such a time as one worthy to carry the blade should be able to take it from him. It was the Engineers way of leveling up the game and increasing the difficulty.
The village chieftain had been excited to hear that Strogoben would attempt to locate the Warblade. He gave the young man all the supplies the warrior could carry.
“The outer farms have come under attack, I’m sure we’ll be next to receive a beating by those brutes. I appreciate anything you can do to save us and stop those nasty gnomes. I’m in no state to fight, but I know you’ll manage without me. Please, take care of those gnomes for my people. I will give you anything you want, even up to half of the land I rule if you can find a way to stop their rampage.”
And so had begun Strogoben’s quest to find the warblade and stop the evil fire gnomes. That had been at least five moons ago. It was hard to keep track down here. He had crossed two different portals and had no idea if moons here were the same back in Dysheimr.
Strogoben had little hope of ever finding his wife, but he refused to let go of the idea that someday, somewhere, he would find Freygerd. Yet here he was, he had finally made it to the entrance of Vor’nuuth’s lair.
His heart thumped loudly. Partially with the excitement of being so close to finding the Warblade to find his wife and also from the nervousness of not knowing what danger he was about to face to achieve it.
Strogoben’s short, dark hair hung clumsily over his round, time-worn face. Bloodshot gray eyes, set wickedly within their sockets, watch warily for danger.
His freckles spread beautifully across his cheeks and forehead. Leaving a bittersweet memory of his adventurous love life with Freygerd many weeks ago. He was tall compared to most of those who lived around him. He had a light frame but was wiry and well-muscled from his years of preparation and formation.
People found him alluring. Perhaps it was his presence or perhaps simply the feeling of anguish after his wife’s kidnapping. But nonetheless, people tend to hit it off with him, while treating him to a good meal when he’s around.
Strogoben prided himself on what he called charm, wits, and good looks, as he had always joked about with Freygerd. But here in this dungeon where he was headed, Strogoben knew that it would take more than that. He would need more than charm and good looks to weasel a prized Warblade out of a dragon.
Strogoben came to a wide pair of granite doors in a small sultry grove. They marked the entrance down into the dungeon below. He continued through them cautiously. Beyond the doors lay a narrow, timeworn room at the bottom of the stairs. It was covered in mawt droppings, rubble, and large bones.
He could see remnants of what once must’ve been a mess hall of sorts, battered and wrecked by time itself.
Strogoben pressed on through till he came to two tunnels. He sensed that the right was a dead end. He didn’t know how he knew it exactly, but he did. He had learned to trust his instincts long ago in the desert where it was often a matter of life or death. Survival belonged to the fittest and the smartest. Rarely giving second chances to those who failed to get it right the first time.
The twisted trail continued to lead downwards and soon he entered an eerie area filled with tombs. Their owners were no longer in their graves where they belonged but had been dragged out and spread across the floor.
“What happened in this place?” Strogoben thought to himself.
He cautiously proceeded onwards, deeper into the dark shadows. He passed dozens of similar rooms and passages, each with their own twists, turns, and destinations. But eventually, Strogoben made it to what he thought was the final room.
An immense granite door blocked his path. Various odd symbols were scratched into it, somehow untouched by time and the elements. He stepped closer to inspect it and listened quietly. It seemed as if he could hear a scratching sound coming from behind the door.
Strogoben pulled his dragon-skinned jacket closer around him. He had purchased it brand-new in the market before leaving on his journey. And then had an old dragon mage etch protective runes into the scales and a large protective sigil on the back.
But now it was tattered and threadbare. Barely tied together with some old string he had picked up to replace the buttons that had long since fallen off in his runs through the tunnels to escape the grey cave mawts and in his struggles against the Aracni’s that often attacked while he slept.
The jacket had a wide, round neckline which reveals part of the worn-out yellow shirt below it. And over that a faded black belt, which was tied everything together. The belt had initially been bought on a whim to as an accessory to the rest of his look, based on the recommendation of the pretty young saleswoman at the market.
But now, they were absolutely necessary to holding up his pants since he had lost much weight on the journey. With little time to find and prepare food along with the extra exercise, Strogoben had returned back to the lean, ripped form he possessed in the desert before softening up during his good life at Dysheimr.
His pants were still in good shape, all things considered. They were simple and of a comfortable fit. Reaching down to his bound cloth shoes. The shoes were made from an unusual cloth that wasn’t dragonskin. But the shoemaker demonstrated to him that they were fireproof as well. Other than that though, his shoes looked no different from any other shoes he could have bought at the market.
Strogoben tightened his belt around his waist and the shoes around his feet. He wanted to be ready to face whatever creature lay behind those doors. Vor’nuuth or not.
He slid his shield down off his back. Strogoben affectionately called it Eclipse. He had taken it from an enemy who had challenged him in the desert. He had looked for another shield to replace it, but had never found anything this good.
It was an impressive round shield made from ironbark that offered stalwart cover against arrows and bolts. Extremely strong because it was forged by lunar dragonkin in a storm workshop. The shield’s edges embellished with spikes and decorated with metalwork emblems of victory and personal accomplishments at the center. It’s clear this shield has seen glory and victory. Dints and dents made by who knows what. But one thing is sure, this shield isn’t done serving just yet.
In the end, Strogoben decided to just keep it and stop looking for another shield. Once he found out where it had been made, he tracked down the old lunar dragonkin blacksmith that had made it and requested a matching sword. It was a long, strong blade that had served him well over the years.
The young man shook himself off and stepped forward to figure out how to open the door. It opened instantly without him even having to raise a finger. That was surprising since most of the others had required the activation of a rune or resolving of a puzzle before he could pass.
Strogoben quickly leaped off to the side, in case any foul creature came charging through. But there was only silence. He couldn’t see much past the threshold. It was pitch black. Even for his eyes. And that was because Strogobend’s eyes were powerful enough to walk through caves and tunnels without needing to light a torch.
He waited for a few seconds, but when nothing else happened, he stepped through. The impression that he had was of something or someone actively absorbing all of the light in the room. It was the strangest sensation. Then he remembered the name of the creature.
Vor’nuuth, also known as the Flames of Darkness.
Strogobend had assumed that it was simply a name given by storytellers and adventurers seeking to embellish their stories. But now that he was here, he realized that the name fit perfectly.
He sucked his breath in short shallow gasps. The heat was intense. Not enough to burn him yet. But still enough to make him uncomfortable even in his dragon skin clothing and flameproof shoes. He could sense the protective sigil on his back being activated as designed to do if he got into a firefight with a dragon. He sensed the familiar hum of energy as it began to glow.
The glow was enough to light up the area immediately surrounding him. But even that was dulled and faded at more than a few feet away from him.
Strogoben took a few more steps deeper into the darkness. He heard a loud hiss off to his left and paused. Something rustled in the darkness. Then the sound of muttering as if someone were awakening from a deep slumber. There was a small clink and rattle as it moved around.
He couldn’t see what was there and what was coming, so he ducked down to make himself smaller in case it tried to target him. He raised his shield in front of him. There were several more whispers and rattles. Then the room fell silent again.
After a few moments, he took another step forward. A loud voice challenged him from the darkness.
“Who goes there? And what do you want?”
Strogoben leaped back and spread his arms out as he crouched low once more.
“Hurry up, I tell you. I don’t have all day. There’s no sense in sneaking around. I can see you just fine.”
The man stood up and straightened his clothing with his sword hand. He bowed stiffly even though he couldn’t tell exactly which direction the voice was coming from as it boomed loudly all around him and echoed off the walls of the dungeon.
Strogoben cleared his throat before answering.
“Hello there! How are you? I’m quite fine thank you. It’s a great pleasure to meet you. Even though I can’t see you.” he shouted out.
His voice didn’t boom loudly like the others. It sounded rather weak and hollow. Even after he tried to deepen it toward the end.
“Oh, right? Excuse my rudeness,” Vor’nuuth replied with as rasp somewhere between a snicker and a growl. “Where are my manners? Oh, yeah. I do that so people who walk in with their sword drawn and shield up ready for battle can’t attack me.”
“That’s quite understandable,” Strogoben replied a little ashamed of himself. “It’s just that I heard something scratching the door. I didn’t want it rushing out to attack me unaware.”
“That was one of my pets. I pulled it out of the way and tied it up to keep it from escaping as soon as I heard the door opening. But don’t you think it’s a bit rude to just walk into my home without knocking? What do you think would happen if you walked into a human home unannounced and their dog bit you because they didn’t know that you were coming over. Would it be their fault for not warning them or theirs for not tying it up?”
“Yes, I do see your point,” Strogoben said with a weak laugh. “Sorry, I should have knocked. I just didn’t know where to announce my coming. The door swung open automatically.”
“Hmm! I wondered how you got in so fast. I’ve never had anyone break through before, although many have tried. I do suppose that means you are here for the Warblade then as most who make the journey down here. Eh?”
“You are so wise and intelligent, great Vor’nuuth,” he said using his old tactic of buttering up the Joopi as they thrived off it.
“Oh, come on. Don’t think I’m going to fall for that malarkey now. Do you? You don’t even know me and you come barging in her talking like that, it’s obviously not true.” Vor’nuuth growled. “So, state your case and tell me why I should hand over Warblade.”
That last part took Strogoben back a bit. He hadn’t expected to just walk in and ask for it, much less have the creature just hand it over.”
“So, how many others have made it down here?” he asked.
“Three, in the past two hundred years.” the monster in the darkness replied.
Strogoben let out a low whistle. “Guess you don’t get many visitors. Huh?”
Vor’nuuth let out a loud laugh. “I guess. Right?”
The human stepped back as the peals of laughter continued to ring around him.
“You are funny, human. I will give you that. Now state your name, and I will provide some light for you to see me.”
“Strogoben of Dysheimr,” he replied loudly, emboldened by the creature’s laughter.
“Dysheimr,” Vor’nuuth growled. “Don’t lie to me human. There are none of your kind in Dysheimr.”
“My kind?” he asked hoarsely. “I wasn’t born there, but that is where I have been living for the past few years. I was enslaved and taken from my home when I was yet a child. So, I never knew the name of my city. It was wiped out by the Joopi.”
“So, why do you seek the Warblade?” Vor’nuuth hissed quietly.
Strogoben could hear the voice loudly though and sensed that it had moved closer. He wanted to duck instinctively into his shield in case he spat dark flames in his direction. But he resisted the urge to flinch and stood firm.
“I remember that my family was descended from Harald the Stout of Novgorod who once wielded Venomshank. I have come to claim what belongs to my bloodline,” he said, half-expecting the beast to take that as a challenge to fight.
“Yes, that’s obvious, since you were able to enter my lair so easily. Only those of your bloodline have been granted access. My question is why you seek it now. What do you hope to accomplish with it?”
Strogoben breathed a bit easier. Maybe this wouldn’t be as difficult as he thought.
“I come for love!” he declared boldly, hoping to pull on the creature’s emotional strings if it had any.
“Love. Huh? That sounds typically human.” Vor’nuuth snorted. “Flowers and sweet treats were created to woo love. The Warblade was created for blood and battle. Guts and glory. Most only come looking for Venomshank when they are beyond despair and have no other hope of achieving the vengeance or salvation their soul desires. I’m afraid you come to the wrong place looking for the wrong thing.”
“But it’s not. I mean I haven’t come to the wrong place. I’m looking for all of that. I seek vengeance against those who have taken my love from me. I will do battle against them. And as for glory, I will receive my own kingdom if I defend the realm of Dysheimr.”
“Hmm. Oh my. That does sound like a worthy cause. Maybe you will be willing to pay the price.” the creature muttered. “Who took your love from you and threatens Drysheimr?”
“The fire gnomes,” Strogoben spat quietly.
“Argh!” Vor’nuuth growled. “I knew that those little rascals would be nothing but trouble. I tried to put a stop to them, but they wouldn’t let me. The Engineers locked up down here for meddling.”
“Why?” Strogoben asked.
“Why what?” Vor’nuuth asked. “Why did I meddle? Or why did they lock me up?”
“Well, both are good questions, I guess,” Strogoben replied. “Someone told me that you were locked up for wreaking havoc in the lower realms. They made it sound like you were somewhat of a troublemaker.”
“Is that what they say about me. Do they?”
There was a flicker in the darkness. It didn’t last long and was really low, yet brought relief to Strogoben’s eyes since they had been staring into nothing but pitch black darkness the entire time.
Slowly, the dungeon around him began to come into view. There was a light glow off the walls around him. Eventually, a dark form began to take shape before him. It wasn’t so much that light came into the room, but rather that this creature, whatever it was, stopped absorbing what little light was available in the room around them.
As it did so, the heat seemed to let up a little in the room. The impression that Strogoben had was that the dark flames had diminished and regular flames began to take their place. It was the strangest sensation he had ever experienced.
The smell of burning sulfur filled the air around him, and Strogoben had to close his nostrils and cover his mouth with his jacket to breathe without gagging.
As the beast came into view there was a sparkle in the smoke, a cracking of wood, and suddenly he was met with an outlandish beast of smoke and flame. The first thing that stood out at him were two huge, desolate eyes staring back at him with harrowing excitement, and another sparkle thundered from its ridged mouth as if to summon others. Several sharp teeth poke out from the side of its mouth and give a preview of the terror hiding inside.
The eyes were almost level with him, but as Vor’nuuth stood to his full height, they rose quickly towering above Strogoben. Almost five times the height of the human. And that was only from the knees up because the giant stood in a pit filled with the strange flames.
Four horns adorned its the creature’s bony, angular skull that sat atop a broad, robust body. Two smaller horns in the center which gave the creature a very ominous looking appearance. Along with two larger ones rooted into the sides of its rugged head. A constant plume of smoke escaped the creature’s narrow nostrils set within a hollow nose.
Its skin was blackened and charred. Continuously burning off in ashes that floated carelessly off the burning red flesh that burned underneath. The skin seemed to simply replace itself before burning off again.
The first thought that came to his mind when he saw it was that a giant bull wanted to barbecue itself and built the firepit that it was roasting itself in. Strogoben would have burst out laughing if he hadn’t been so terrified.
The creature strode closer toward Strogoben. Two muscular limbs carried its body and allowed the creature to stand noble and elevated. Each limb had 4 digits, each of which ended in pointy talons seemingly made of onyx. Its legs gracefully carried its fiery body with a hurried energy. Its movements were playful, yet determined.
Strogoben took a step back. Away from the edge of the pit where he had been standing. If the creature hadn’t spoken up, he probably would have fallen into the pit with the black flames.
Though now, he could no longer see them. Regular yellow, orange, and reddish flames leaped up over the edge casting an eerie glow over the creature and across the room.
Steam and heat wafted up out of the pit around Strogoben. Not that it had really diminished or grown hotter, but there was a definite difference in the type of heat that the flames were putting off. The light colorful flames seemed bright and cheery compared to the previous dark flames. Those had been oppressive. Seemingly sucking the life and energy out of the room.
“Well, I meddled with the Engineers because they created the fire gnomes from my own flesh and fire. It was a little experiment they were doing on me for their game. They wanted me to continuously be generating little fire gnomes. Like these things would just pop out of my flesh and take off screaming. I knew they were bad news, and it hurt like water being poured on my flesh. That’s why I wreaked havoc in the lower realms and became a troublemaker. Because I wouldn’t let them do what they wanted with me.”
“So, they didn’t lock you up down here? You created this place for yourself.” Strogoben said as it dawned on him.
“Well, I didn’t create it. It already existed. I destroyed it and made it more to my liking.” Vor’nuuth said with a grin.
“How would destroying it make it more to your liking?”
“They released me as a weapon against a civilization created by another engineer. The fire gnomes annihilated it. I felt horrible. So, I tracked down the Engineers who had released me. And this was where I found them. I killed most of them. A few escaped. They tried to take it back, but they didn’t stand a chance against their most powerful creation. Here I’m safe and comfortable.”
Strogoben looked around and noticed that it was absent of any fire gnomes.
“The flames of darkness prevent you from producing any more of those nasty little critters?” he queried.
The giant nodded.
“It burns them off before the can form in my flesh and come out through my skin.”
“Ouch, that must really hurt.”
“Not really. It just numbs me. And it’s a lot less painful than birthing fire gnomes out from under my skin.”
Strogoben really did feel sorry for the creature. Here he had come ready to fight to the death to kill it. If he had known the fire gnomes had come from Vor’nuuth, he would have tried to kill it without asking questions. And here it had locked itself away and was doing everything it could to keep from producing more.
“Wow. I’m really sorry about that. I had no idea. That must be awful. It’s like a fate worse than death.”
Vor’nuuth smiled sadistically.
“You don’t think I brought the Warblade along with me for nothing did you?”
“What do you mean?” Strogoben asked.
“I knew that if I continued running around out there, the fire gnomes would continue to propogate. And I had no idea where to find those of your bloodline. I would release too many fire gnomes across the land on my journey. So, I brought it with me so that those of your kind would come to me.”
“You want me to use Venomshank to kill you and put you out of your misery?”
Vor’nuuth nodded and fell to his knees. Lowering his giant head till his eyes were level with Strogoben.
“I will give you the Warblade willingly. I don’t want to suffer anymore. It takes three days of pure agony to give birth to a batch of fire gnomes when I’m not near the dark flames. But I don’t want to while away my days here in this pit any longer. Besides, the flames are growing weaker. They aren’t as strong as they once were. Once they die out, my suffering resumes.”
Strogoben’s heart went out for the poor suffering creature. He slid his sword back into its sheath and stepped forward.
“I came here to fight you for the Warblade. Even planned to kill you if necessary. Not that I probably could anyway. I really had no idea what to expect. I thought you were like a dragon or something. But seeing you in this situation is horrible. It’s ridiculous that someone would do this to you and make you suffer so. There has to be something we can do to stop it.”
The giant dragon demon thing, whatever Vor’nuuth was, just shrugged.
“I’m tired of the struggle. Two hundred years. Wasting away. It seems pointless. Like I’m putting off the inevitable. Just waiting for something worse to happen.”
“Like what? What could be worse than this? You’re still alive. That’s what counts.”
Vor’nuuth threw his head back and laughed mockingly.
“Great. Woo. I’m living. Yee ha. Holed up here in this fire pit of oppressive heat and darkness just to keep from feeling worse. Put yourself in my place. You would be grateful.”
“Surely, there is something you can do. Someone who can help you. An Engineer who can reverse the effects.”
Vor’nuuth pointed to his back and stood again. There was a large yellow sigil that lit up around his back and head. Strogoben had seen it earlier, but hadn’t paid much attention to it. It was a large, glowing circle with runes around the edges.
“The Engineers have branded me. This seal was placed upon me when I officially joined their game. None of this clan will dare to go against it. and none of the other clans are allowed to touch it, lest they be cast out. It’s hopeless.”
“You mean you willingly submitted yourself to this?” Strogoben asked incredulously.
“Yes. I mean not this exactly. They promised me power and wealth and all kinds of amazing things I never dreamed of. Once I was in, it was too late. I couldn’t back out. And this was the result.”
Vor’nuuth knelt back down and leaned forward. He reached out one long finger of his right hand. There was a sword balanced on the tip of his finger. Strogoben sucked in his breath. This was it. This was the warblade. One of the finest ever forged in the mines of Ballara on the other side of the continent.
It was exquisite. Even more amazing then he had imagined. He could feel the power that had been forged into it emanating directly into his body. Strogoben could feel the connection it had to his blood. It recognized him as one authorized to wield it in all its power and glory.
Strogoben wanted to reach out and take it immediately, but he pulled himself back.
“I can’t kill you if you give it to me,” he said softly.
“But you would have killed me in a fair fight to take it from me by force?” Vor’nuuth spat indignantly. “You humans and your sense of justice.”
Strogoben shrugged. “It’s different.”
“Oh! So, it okay to kill me against my will, but if I give you permission, then suddenly you have moral qualms about taking my life. That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of.”
The human shrugged again. The fiery beast sighed.
“Fine. Let’s do it. We shall duel to the death.” Vor’nuuth declared, standing again to his full height.
“That’s silly,” Strogoben spat out. “You’re just going to let me kill you. It wouldn’t be a fair fight.”
“Yeah. Is that what you think.” Vor’nuuth said stepping up out of the pit and placing his giant foot beside Strogoben.
The human leaped back. He stumbled and tripped over a stone. Strogoben hit the ground hard and rolled over. Trying to get back onto his feet while pulling out his sword at the same time. He raised his shield and continued to back up as the giant set his other foot outside the pit.
Strogoben dashed for the door, but Vor’nuuth didn’t even have to take another step to stop him. The large creature simply reached over the man’s head and blocked the exit. Then he opened his mouth and spewed out a stream of yellow fire.
The shield barely protected him from the blast of heat. Strogoben could feel the flames curling around the edges as he put his head down to protect his eyes. If it had been for his dragon skin jacket and hood, he would have been toast. He could sense the protective sigil on his back absorbing a good portion of the heat as well.
His toes started to heat up. Strogoben looked down to see what was going on. The shoes were still holding up well against the flames as well. He was glad he had paid the extra gold to get this pair. Others had been cheaper and even more comfortable. But he had taken these anyway in case he had to face a situation like this.
It had happened once before. In one of his first dragon fights. The Joppi hunted them for their skin. It was just a small dragon. Probably a baby that didn’t know how to fight very well. But it still managed to get off a puff of fire that burned and blistered his feet. He had learned to go in to any dragon fight well protected.
Being forced to hunt the skins for the Joopi was why Strogoben had refused to ever buy clothes made of dragon skin after that. But before making this journey, he had known he would need them. So, he made sure that the clothes he picked up did not come from the Joopi marketers.
Strogoben was glad for the shoes. They really did protect his feet even better than a pair with dragon skin soles. He barely even sensed this toes warming up.
As soon as the blast of fire from Vor’nuuth shut down, Strogoben stood up and raced to the side to get behind some protective rocks. But before he could make it, two blazing beams of light shooting from the monster’s eyes blasted the rocks to smithereens.
That brought Strogoben up short. He changed direction and raced directly toward the giant beast’s legs. At least there it wouldn’t shoot itself in the foot or try burning it’s own leg. At least that’s what he hoped anyway.
The warrior leaped up onto its feet and looked up. It’s mouth glowed once again, and Strogoben leaped off to get behind it just as a quick blast of flame burst out around him.
It took a moment for the creature to realize where the human had disappeared to in the flames. Strogoben took advantage of the time to catch his breath. He was furious. There was no escaping this place or the monster. He didn’t want to kill it, but he didn’t see any other options.
It was either kill or be killed.
Strogoben didn’t even know if he could kill this creature. Something this powerful would surely take some sort of magic or power that he didn’t know if he possessed. He was a good fighter. Wielded his fair share of power. But he had never fought anything this size.
He decided to give it a go though and see what kind of damage he could do. Strogoben raised his sword and leaped at the monster’s calf. He drove his sword deep into its flesh and pulled down as hard as he could leaving a large gash in its flesh. The beast gave a mighty roar and jerked its leg up, pulling Srogoben up with it.
The movement flung the human across the room and sent his sword flying. The creature thrashed madly around. Shattering the stalactites and stalagmites from around himself. In one of his thrashes, it smashed its head against one that didn’t shatter. It stumbled forward and fell to its knees. Grabbing its face it let out a horrible roar. Then it leaned forward and slowly toppled to the floor.
Strogoben leaped to his feet and raced for his sword. He picked it up with both hands and waited for Vor’nuuth to rise again. But it lay still. The warrior walked forward to take a closer look at his mighty foe.
“C’mon. It couldn’t have been that easy.” he said, reaching forward to give it a quick jab in the face with his sword.
Vor’nuuth winched at the pain and opened one eye.
“Oh, seriously. You didn’t finish me when you had the chance.” the monster ground. “C’mon. You were supposed to finish me. That was your cue. Slice my head off and put me out of my misery.”
“You wouldn’t have stood the pain two seconds. As soon as he started sawing away at your head, you would have screamed like a baby dragon. The slammed me across the room.”
Vor’nuuth chuckled bitterly.
“Yeah, I suppose so. I don’t really want to die. But I just don’t see any other way out of this misery.”
“Why don’t you let me try to find some help for you. Give me the sword, and exchange, I will seek out one of these Engineers who can help you.”
The giant growled and shook his head as he sat back up.
“How do I know you won’t just run away with it. Or worse yet die out there trying to fight the fire gnomes to save your wife. Then I’ll be stuck down here still with no way to attract another one of your kind to kill me.”
“Yeah, I guess you could just wait down here for another 200 years to see if anyone shows up. Though, by then, everyone may have forgotten about you and that stupid sword.”
Vor’nuuth spat angrily at the thought and pulled himself up. He scooted back toward his pit.
“I don’t have long before I need to start up the dark flames again. You should leave.”
“C’mon. I’m your best chance. Let me try. Send one of your pets along with me to keep an eye out for me. It can help me. And if I die, it can bring the Warblade back to you.”
“I suppose I could send Milsa with you. But what would you do to help me?”
Strogoben placed his sword back in his sheath and bowed low. Even getting down on one knee. Tell me what you would have me do. If you grant me the sword that I may save my love and avenge myself on the fire gnomes to obtain my half of the kingdom, I would spare no expense or effort to attempt to help you obtain relief from this horrible suffering.”
Vor’nuuth growled and then sighed.
“What choice do I have in the matter. It is what it is. If it is to be, it is to be.”
He leaned down to Strogoben and handed him the Warblade once again. The human took it carefully with both hands. He felt it hum in his grip. It felt perfectly balanced. Everything he had ever imagined in the perfect sword.
Venomshank was a hundred times better than his current sword.
“Three months. Find a way to free me from these flames, or else return to kill me. That is my condition. After that, you may seek to free your wife.”
“No, that’s impossible!” Strogoben roared.
“Three months is more than enough time,” Vor’nuuth shot back.
“It took me more than three months to find this place. Now, I have to go back and start looking again. Even if I find it, I still have to return all the way back here. But that’s not the point. I have to save my wife first. She may die or worse happen to her if I don’t find her soon.”
Vor’nuuth shook his head. Three months is all I will accept. Return quickly. Otherwise, at the end of this time, I will return to hunt you down until you kill me. If you don’t I will destroy everything you hold dear and everyone you love for making me suffer by leaving these dark flames to produce more fire gnomes.
“But you’ve been down here two hundred years. What are a couple of more months? Even a year?” Strogoben cried in anguish, trying to figure out how he was going to find his wife and save this beast in three short months.
“I will go directly to the fire gnomes, find your wife myself, and then come after you to kill her before your very eyes. Return in three months. Kill me. Then continue to search for her.”
“But she is in immediate danger, and you aren’t. You are safe here.” Strogoben exclaimed in exasperation. “Please. I have to help her first to have a clear head to focus on your problem. I will do my best. I just need to help her to get that cleared off my plate. Then I will do everything in my power to help you. Even if it takes twenty years. I won’t give up on you.”
Vor’nuuth growled and turned away. Settling down deep into his pit of dark flames. They slowly began to rise up around him. Extinguishing the light from around the dungeon. That darkness began to take over the room. The dark flames absorbing the light in the room. The giant fading away into the darkness of the flames licking up around him.
Soon, the only thing that Strogoben could see was the yellow glow of his eyes. Unblinking. Staring back at him out of the darkness.
“Fine. Save the woman if you must before helping me. But that doesn’t diminish the time frame. Three months to save her, find a way to help me and return here for my judgment if the solution is acceptable.”
Strogoben nodded and bowed low.
“I swear that I will do my very best to resolve this as swiftly as I can. You have my eternal gratefulness, and I owe you more than you can ever demand of me. I will return at the end of three moons, whether I have found my wife or a suitable solution for you. If I don’t return it is because I am either dead or imprisoned against my will.”
The room was almost completely pitch black once again. Strogoben heard Vor’nuuth shift down deeper into the flames.
“Go,” the creatures sighed. “May Mishal help you, guide you, and protect you. She is of the fire too, so you can control her with the Warblade. May your journey be as swift as your vengeance when you come upon the fire gnomes.”
Strogoben backed toward the door. A quiet patter followed him. He could hear the creature’s nails clicking on the floor as it walked.
When he got back out through the doors, the slid shut behind him automatically. Strogoben looked down once again at Venomshank in his hand. It was amazing. And he was so excited to have the possibility of saving his wife.
He glanced over at the creature that had followed him. It looked like one of the doberman pinchers the king of Drysheimr raised. Only this one was twice as large and pure black. Even its eyes were completely dark. No whites at all.
“C’mon, Mishal. We have a great adventure ahead of us. And there is no time to waste. We should try to make it back out of here over the next three days. We shall have to fly. But I’m glad to have your companionship on this journey.”
The creature cocked its head to the side and wagged its tail briefly. Then it pushed on past him and took the lead as if it understood wher he wanted to go.
Strogoben followed close behind it. Pleased to not be alone. It was late and it had been a long day. He would soon be tired. But he wanted to get out of this dungeon before finding a place to settle down for the night.
He continued to walk along behind Mishal as he admired Venomshank. Hardly believing that he actually had it in his possession. Especially since he didn’t have to take it by force or even kill the giant who had given it to him.
Strogoben smiled. Finally, things were starting to look for him.
“Hang on, love of my life. I’m coming for you. I will not stop until I have found you.”
They made a strange pair as they pressed though the cavern. The human and a large, black dog that was almost as tall as he was. He could sense that they would hit it off well and have many adventures together.