Genoran took a sip of his brew, and lowered his wooden cup ever so slightly. “When did Canton tell you that my father, the King, was with him?” It was an innocent question but Haryk felt the weight of it like donning a suit of full plate armor. Once more, Haryk sensed something strange about it. He looked over and saw that Andril did too.
Fritz answered, “Aye, my Lord, I wondered when you would ask.” He took a deep breath and exhaled. “I know this part of the story will not be easy for you to hear.”
“None of the story of how we lost the isles after defeating the Host of the West will ever be easy to hear. Nor is it easy to know that demons from Ket itself have now taken up residence to the West waiting for the darkness to come again. A matter that, as we have discussed, we will be sharing with my subjects at the right time.”
Andril and Haryk and Fritz too nodded. This had not been a topic open for debate, but Haryk wasn’t worried. He figured it was a great card, and he was getting ready to play it.
Fritz, heavy in thought, continued the story. “I remember finally making it to a ridge. Not knowing what I would do, who was left. Far Realm was buried under a mountain quake. Then, I saw the elf, his pirates in tow. I knew many of them, Seebo the Oorstman, Telchar the barbarian from the wilds back home. And finally, I saw him. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was the King your father, there in the jungle of Far Realm, under the invasion we couldn’t stop! My heart dropped. It was the worst moment of my life, my Lord.”
Genoran nodded, waiting for Fritz to go on. “I remember Canton’s words clearly. The Celn forces are not coming. We have just received word. I thought it was impossible that our fortunes could be even more dire! That’s when I realized my duty now was to crown, to the king’s safety!”
“Canton told me that there was a single ship, hidden in a small bay on the Eastern shore. Our plan became a simple one. We would ensure the King made it off the isle. Then, we would create a diversion. That was all we could do, and it was all we desired. With all haste we ran through the steaming jungle, dodging the molten rivers of rock. We were nearly at the bay, which still to Canton’s joy was undamaged from the mountain quake. By this point, smoke and ash had covered all, it was hard to see, harder to breathe. We just needed to make it to the cliffs. The King would scale down. A captain there, and a sailing crew were kept waiting, for just this contingency said Canton. We were going to make it, he would be spared.”
Several of my best warriors led the King to the cliff and with all haste they climbed the rope ladders down to the ship. I could see over the side, it’s crew was making ready the sails. And then we heard the jungle come alive around us. Canton and I fought side by side, diverting the creatures from the cliffs and the ladders, leading them away deeper into the jungle. Behind us, the wind whipped for we were near to the thunder cliffs which line the entire Eastern shore. Fighting for our lives, we watched as the ship set sail, catching the breeze quickly. We cheered, not caring for our own lives, knowing that we had done our duty. The King would be saved, sailing past the still waters, returning to Cellinor. Turning to my fate, I then saw dozens of the dark hooded figures, hacking down my comrades, advance. Canton and I were pushed back to the cliff itself. And then they simply dropped.”
“As you told us in the sea cave?” Asked Genoran.
“Aye my lord. Just as that. It was as if the haggard soul they possessed was taken from them. They simply no longer were filled with a spirit. Their bodies, most of which were once the Ata’ but some which were halves or Celns fell to the jungle floor. Inbelievably, I thought for the briefest of moments, Canton and I and the last dozen or so of my brave soldiers would sruvive the darkened day. But then we saw the jungle around us move again!”
“Let me guess,” sighed Andril, “A big head with a large eye in the middle and some eyeballs on stalks for hair? Or how about a creature or two with an octopus stuck to it’s chin?”
Haryk raised in hand in mock excitement, “Oh, Oh!!!” He cried, “I know. I know! How about a bunch of creepy looking half spider, half men looking creatures with jagged blades covered with slick poison?”
Fritz, whose sense of humor was clearly not as developed as the others said simply, “Aye, and a few other creatures I will have nightmares of as long as I breathe.”
“You could not take on such a force, and yet you lived,” said Genoran. Haryk knew Fritz had not yet told him of his father’s fate. He too knew what it was like to lose your father and have to hear the story from another. He felt sympathy for the man.
Fritz went on, “The beasts did not attack us outright. Instead, they began to collect the bodies around us that had fallen. Something hissed in my mind. I don’t know how I knew, but I was sure it wanted me alive! Canton and I knew what fate awaited us if we were captured. So did the rest of the men. One by one, I watched each jump off the cliff into the sea below. And then, Canton and I jumped too.”
“The sea was still churning and frothing from the island’s quaking. Massive waves pulled me and my armor under. I found a palm tree floating in the foamy water and grabbed on for all I had. We were being thrust towards the cliffs. I looked out at the sea, knowing I couldn’t fight the waves coming for me, but still hoping to some fortune. Then, I saw the ship’s mast over a breaking wave, and when it fell the craft underneath it. And there was a dragon. So large.”
“The blue?” asked Genoran.
“Nay, my lord!” Said Fritz. “This was a dragon of steel colored scales. And atop it’s neck sat a rider! A human or perhaps an elf. I thought she were a woman.”
Haryk turned to Andril and mouthed, “Ariea.” Andril winked back, making a kissing motion with his lips.
“The dragon flew around the ship, presumably trying to find the best way to attack it. The sound of the sea was all around me, crashing against the sea cliffs behind me. If there were men on the deck, I couldn’t tell, nor could hear anything other than the waves washing to my doom. But none of that mattered anymore. I was riddled with fear, loathing myself at what I had done. But then, I couldn’t believe my eyes, for the dragon hovered over the vessel, and did not attack it. The rider pointed to something and the dragon turned to face it. And then I saw them. The blue, even larger than the steel. And it wasn’t alone. It’s kin flew alongside of her in a formation. It all happened so fast.”
“What happened, Fritz?” Genoran could no longer contain himself. He needed to know now. “What happened Paladin of the Flame?”
Fritz held tightly to the insides of his breastplate and Haryk saw his eyes drift to the back of the cavernous hall. He knew his thoughts were fading to a different place with the memory. The man was shaking. “It all happened in seconds your majesty. The ship was obliterated, it’s many pieces splintered, exploding outwards. It was gone beneath the waves before I could blink my eyes. I saw the steel dragon and it’s rider blown from the sky. The great beast struck the sea, and was gone too.”
Fritz, now tears streaming down his face, coughed, and stood as still as he could. He was a proud soldier Haryk thought. He was not cut from the same cloth, but he still respected the man.
“What became of the blue wyrm?” Asked Genoran after a time. His voice was expressionless now.
“I did not see my Lord. That was when I heard men shouting. Canton had found a sea cave, the very one in which you found us. I made my way to the cliffs somehow and was pulled to safety by several of the men. And that is how you found us, my lords, and that is how your father, the King perished.”
Fritz only stayed a few minutes longer. Still refusing to sit, he excused himself. King Genoran had been gracious and made sure the man knew he had done all he could to save Borindin. But Haryk knew, it was a grief that Fritz would carry to his death, and beyond.
The fire had died low, and the bottles of Dyinng God ale were replaced. Servants tended to the fire and soon the red and white flowers of heat blossomed again. Haryk felt the welcome warnth of it returned to his bones.
He took another sip from his now full chalice and spoke in Andril’s strange pirate code voice. “It would seem, Bookworm, as if we were not the only ones to answer the call to come to Far Realm.”
“Aye, Lord Haryk,” replied the mage, “The plot thickens.”
“Do you think Abraxas was really trying to protect us, as we heard Hasai herself say?”
“Perhaps,” answered Andril, “Perhaps not. It doesn’t really matter now though does it? Abraxas the Ancient is now dead. And I suspect the only person who knows more about him than us isn’t here.”
“And don’t forget, she wants to stab us still,” said Haryk.
“Aye,” said Genoran and he took a large gulp of ale. Haryk was most certain his fear was not for their benefit, but was most real.