The Red Dragon
When the foursome landed near the highest mountain of the range, the morning twilight had just ended. The plateau they stood on looked over several peaks of the lesser surrounding mountains. “Are you sure he would be on this one?” Riker asked Vylasgarden. She took a moment closing her eyes and deeply inhaled. The air was tainted with sulfur and she felt a great warmth underneath her clawed toes.
“Yes, I am sure this is his domain,” she finally replied. “We should rest before facing him.”
“I second that,” Azariah replied and Kruzco grunted in agreement and soon after they all laid out their belongings and sat on the cliff. While they rested, Vylasgarden watched Azariah care to the hippogriffs and kept them tame with her food rations.
“You would rather give your food to them rather than keep it for yourself,” Riker stated.
Azariah turned and scolded Riker from across the way. “What do you know of animal handling Riker?”
“I know nothing,” Riker replied admittedly. “I do know that predators like them are more than capable of finding food for themselves.”
Azariah chuckled mockingly and said, “One cannot tame a creature without establishing trust in the relationship. By feeding them my food, I am reinforcing trust with the hippogriffs.”
Riker broke eye contact with her, “I can’t object to that. I can’t even say I knew that.” Azariah smugly turned her attention to the hippogriffs. As the afternoon approached, the group carried on to the peak. As they climbed higher, the smell of sulfur grew stronger and assaulted their eyes and noses. Eventually the volcanic smog at the top of the peak obscured Vylasgarden’s vision and she had to rely on the wall of the incline to guide the way ahead of her and the others. “This may kill us before we even get to the entrance of the lair,” Riker said as his lungs filled with smoke.
“There!” Vylasgarden called out pointing ahead at a tall but slim cavernous opening in the peak.
“Lead the way Vylasgarden,” Azariah said as the foursome entered the cavern. Vylasgarden immediately noticed the difference in the atmosphere. Outside the region’s heat was challenged by the elevation’s air currents, but inside the mountain the dry heat weighed on them like a strong force of nature.
“We have to keep going,” Vylasgarden said to the party. They were all sweating and breathing heavily.
“We’re right behind you,” Azariah insisted with sweat dripping from her face.
“I think we should turn back,” Riker spat out. “We’ll die before we even see the dragon.”
“Good place keep intruders out,” Kruzco panted.
“We have to keep going,” Vylasgarden insisted as they all turned a corner and found an area with a tall ceiling and mounds of treasure nearly as tall spread throughout the lair. “Is that…gold?” Riker questioned.
“No one touch anything,” Vylasgarden warned. “A single touch will alert him of our presence.”
“There is more treasure here, than all the Civil Kingdoms’ personal hordes,” Azariah said wiping her brow. They ventured deeper with Vylasgarden leading the way and found a narrow path among the hordes of gold and treasures. They avoided the edges which glimmered lustrously in the hot cave. Various spouts of burning natural gases illuminated the darker parts of the cave where Vylasgarden saw flashes of scratch marks on the walls and ceilings. These could only belong to a gargantuan creature. A monster with claws strong enough to crush stone. The gas hissed and sputtered from the ground as they passed; they eventually found themselves at the back of the cave where treasures were absent and the elevation descended to a space where various animal carcasses picked clean of their flesh lied scattered about like a graveyard.
“Where is he?” Riker whispered. “This place has no one home.”
“He is here,” Vylasgarden said in a hushed tone. “He is sizing us up from the smoke.”
“How do you know?” Azariah asked standing closer to Vylasgarden. Her eyes darted left to right looking for the hidden monster.
“I feel his presence through the ground, like a vibration.”
Riker looked at Vylasgarden skeptically. “What the⏤”
“Who dares possess the courage or the foolishness to enter my den?” a low booming voice echoed throughout the cave. The party froze still, petrified by surprise. None of them spoke a word. “Speak before I burn you for your insolence!” the voice came again.
“W-we come seeking your aide, ancient one,” Vylasgarden fawned. She bowed her head and knelt before the wall of smoke.
“You. You are of dragon born…” the voice said calmly. “Have you come to vow allegiance to me, young blood?”
“I have come to enlighten thee of misfortune that may threaten thy domain,” Vylasgarden spoke. Perhaps if she spoke this way, it will gain the dragon’s favor. It was the best way she thought to address the dragon without angering him. What followed was a deep growl that grew into a rumbling roar. Perhaps she thought wrong.
“It true dragon!” Kruzco shouted.
“I AM NO ORDINARY DRAGON MORTAL! I AM DIABOLI, THE RED DEVIL! ONE OF THE ANCIENTS, LORD OF TREASURES, AND MASTER OF ELEMENTAL FIRE!” the voice roared as a red winged serpent with spikes and horns bounded from the burning smoke and took its large claw the size of four human men to Kruzco’s body, pining him to the ground.
“Spare him please Diaboli!” Vylasgarden cried and intercepted the dragon’s large mouth with her hand.
“Such bravery within you young blood,” Diaboli stated. “I shall eat you last.” the red dragon opened his mouth revealing what looked like a roaring furnace it his throat. Suddenly Diaboli was interrupted by the sound of Riker playing a calming song with his lyre. “That sound…it is produced with magic…” Diaboli said surrendering his inner fury to the music.
“Let my friends go,” Riker commanded. Diaboli’s large eyes linger on Riker but he obeyed and released Kruzco from under his claw.
“I had under control,” Kruzco wheezed.
“Right,” Riker smirked while he stopped playing the lyre. “I am casting a sleep spell on you that would incapacitate weaker willed creatures. Do we have your attention now?”
“The strings. They are made of bleuthril,” Diaboli followed in awe as his large eyes were now fixed on the lyre. “I must have it.”
“First you must grant my friend her favor,” Riker insisted.
“All of you reek of impertinence,” Diaboli said annoyed. “I will take it whether you give it to me or not.”
“We came all this way because I know of your power, great one,” Vylasgarden said. “The world as you know it may be in danger and only you can help us stop it.” Diaboli stared down Vylasgarden and considered her.
“What do you ask of me?” he said.
“Ancient one, the Dark Realm Dwarf has been set free from its eternal prison and we fear it will raise its dead army and threaten the innocent and anything that stands against it.”
Diaboli paused for a moment as if pondering something. “I knew the Alliance wouldn’t be capable of destroying the abomination for good. Every time they killed him with conventional weapons, he would rise the next dawn more powerful than before.”
“How do you know this?” Azariah asked.
“I was there,” Diaboli growled turning his massive head to Azariah. “The kings and clan leaders of the Alliance recompensed me for laying waste to the dwarven ranks and their armies. Why do you think it is my name written in your books child? It is my name that strikes fear in the hearts of the dwarves that mine from this very mountain!”
“You helped the Alliance fight against the dvergar?” Riker questioned. “Then why weren’t you enough to stop the Dark Realm Dwarf?”
“I would have been!” Diaboli refuted. “But he cowered away every time I was near. Soon, your ancestors were not wealthy enough to keep me in service to them.”
“So, you abandoned them?” Azariah yelled. “Hundreds. Thousands. Hundreds of thousands perhaps died because of your greed!”
“I KEEP A BALANCE IN THIS WOLRD!” Diaboli roared back at her. “I keep weapons and magic away from mortals like the Dark Realm Dwarf so that your kind may prosper!” Kruzco grabbed Azariah by the arm to force her to back down.
“I guess you couldn’t keep the sword away from him,” Riker said referring to the Dark Realm Dwarf. Diaboli snarled at Riker but Vylasgarden intercepted by saying, “Now may be the time to finish what you have started. The Dark Realm Dwarf grows stronger by the minute and only we are the ones aware of his glooming presence.
“We came to you Ancient One to help protect the masses for we cannot do it alone.”
Diaboli looked Vylasgarden over. “There is something special in you young blood. Something most unusual to your kind. A connection to your ancestry. I sense it,” he waited and contemplated momentarily. “I shall aid you mortals. The group of you are not like most. You are brave, courageous, and possess power that eclipses others like you.”
“Thank you Ancient One,” Vylasgarden said bowing her head.
Kruzco came and knelt beside her. “Kruzco want power like dragon. Kruzco will serve dragon for help.” Riker and Azariah’s eyes widen but neither of them said anything.
“Come Ancient One, we must hurry to the Civil Kingdoms,” Vylasgarden stated standing up.
“I said I will help you. I did not say I will go with you,” Diaboli corrected.
“What?” Riker said. “We need you. The provinces needs you.”
“I have retired from interacting with mundanes I don’t eat. You are all lucky to have impressed me,” Diaboli replied.
“Then how will you help us?” Azariah asked annoyed.
“I will use my magic to take you were you need to go,” Diaboli said plainly.
“What do you want in return?” Riker asked.
“Riker!” Vylasgarden called to him.
“There is no way a greedy dragon is going to do this for us and not expect anything in return,” Riker continued. “You want my lyre, don’t you?”
“Right you are, mystical one. But I no longer desire your bleuthril,” Diaboli replied.
“What is it that you want?” Vylasgarden followed.
“In addition to the human’s voluntary allegiance, I will demand a favor of you when the time comes,” Diaboli stated. “And you will not refuse me,” he said with a growl. “Come. You shall be on your way.” The dragon retreated into the darkness behind the smoke. On the other side was a humanoid size throne and a tall mirror with a golden frame.
“Where go?” Kruzco asked.
“Diaboli?” Azariah called out.
“Only an Ancient like myself possess the intelligence to harness magic without the aid of bleuthril,” Diaboli’s voice stated as the mirror began to glow. “This bleuthril stained mirror grants me the ability to scry or locate anything or anyone I desire so long they are on the same realm of existence as I,” he continued.
“You like god,” Kruzco said in awe.
“At a time, I was…” Diaboli replied just as the mirror magically revealed the Nekodarz in a forest surrounded by hundreds of undead dwarves cutting down trees and constructing mechanisms such as trebuchets and massive rams. “It would appear your adversary is preparing a sieged attack.”
“That’s in Thorn’s Forest,” Azariah pointed out. “That is within the borders of the Kingdom of Flos Sergens. Depending on where in the forest they are in, they could be somewhere between eighty to one hundred kilometers away from the Feudal Lands. We need to get to the city. Now!” Azariah panicked.
Diaboli’s massive head appeared behind them. “Stand back,” he said before taking in a breath. The hot air around them was sapped away and into the living furnace. Diaboli blew a large ring of fire that had a gentle pull at its center. “Quickly!” he instructed as the party approached the burning ring. As they all stepped through the fiery portal, Diaboli gave each of them a lingering gaze as if memorizing their faces. “Remember our deal mortals…” he said as the ring of fire gradually collapsed into itself and evaporated in space.