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The Living Stone: Hunting Goblins, Seeking Dragon


KBink wiped his stubby hand across his broad forehead, flicking the rivulets of sweat from his fingers. He retrieved the spear he tucked under his other arm, which was adorned with a crude shield crafted from a piece of sturdy shale. He once again hefted the weapon, testing its weight as compared to the light javelins he was accustomed to. It was a thick sturdy shaft with a long head, but the head was much too heavy to be thrown. Chief Rangus had told him it was not meant to be thrown, but thrust. The head was made of a stone far too rare to waste it with one strike. Bink could see little difference between the stone of the spearhead and regular stone, except that it was black and rough, unlike the flat stone used for javelins. Rangus himself supposedly crafted the spearhead, and twenty one others like it.

Those other spears bobbed up and down behind Bink, the twenty other warriors Rangus had selected to hunt the dragon. Out of the hundred goblins in the Rockjaw tribe, only forty were worthy warriors, and Bink was not one of them. Yet here he was, marching in front of the twenty strongest goblins in his tribe, next to his leader no less. He was only supposed to hunt for food and scout, he was not supposed to be fighting huge dragons that ate his friends.

He looked up at Rangus, the larger, stronger goblin plodding forth like the miles meant nothing. Though his spear was longer, the head was the same as all the others, with the addition of a sticky, smelly black substance that Bink could not identify. When he asked why only Rangus’ spear had been treated, his chief grinned at him, and said, “It’s a surprise for dragon, will only work once. No one else needs it.” Bink had a feeling the Chief knew it would affect the dragon somehow, but then why not give it to everyone?

Bink puzzled over this still as they approached the cleft the dragon lived at. Rangus held up a hand for the others to halt, and turned to face his warriors. “We wait,” he said, barely loud enough for all to hear. “Bink will go to find dragon, but Bink says it hides well.”

“How you hide a dragon?” one of the closer warriors chuckled.

Rangus glared at the transgressor, instantly silencing him. “You callin’ Bink a liar?” he growled. The Warrior shook his head emphatically. Rangus stood up high as he could. “Bink be the only one who saw dragon. He tells me it hides real good, and Bink would not lie to Rangus.” The chief spread his arms out wide. “That because Rangus would not lie to you. For goblins to live, the goblins must be strong. Goblins get stronger with strong chief. Strong chief trusts his warriors, and warriors trust him. That is why old chief died, he was weak, lied and used you! You feared him, hated him, but did what he said because he whipped you when you did not!” Rangus narrowed his eyes, and met the gaze of all the goblins. “Would you follow old chief to slay dragon?”

All of the warriors shook their heads. Rangus grinned. “You followed Rangus to dragon. You trust Rangus.” He thumped his hand to his chest. “Rangus knows dragon may still kill some goblins, knows his friends may be eaten in front of him.” He raised his spear above him. “But know that Rangus will fight first, flee last, and be eaten right next to you!”

All of the goblins lifted their spears in salute, even Bink. Had there been no need for quiet, Bink knew the goblin’s cheer would be heard for miles.

“Let me go in with Bink,” the warrior from earlier said. “Bink be safe with me!”

“Not only you!” another goblin spoke up. “Let me go too!”

Several others started to request to escort the brave Bink, but Rangus raised both his hands for silence. “Bink must go alone. When he finds dragon, he comes back, we will make plan then.”

“Why wait, chief?” a goblin at the back said. “So many goblins can kill one dragon easy! You said so!”

Rangus laughed. “Dragon can still kill us all, no matter how many goblins. Twenty goblins or more still get killed by Rumbler, yes? But only five goblins hunt Rumblers, make ‘em angry and get ‘em runnin. Rumbler run so fast, it don’t see the hole the goblin’s dug ‘til it’s too late. Then all it takes is one spear, and dead Rumbler.” Rangus tapped his forehead. “Numbers don’t kill dragon. Traps and plans kill dragon.”

Many of the assembled goblins nodded, grinning deviously. Bink had hunted many times for Rumblers, only goblins stupid enough to fall in the hole with the Rumbler got killed. He had seen some of the supplies Rangus had asked to be brought with them, and knew he had a plan, but he did not know what kind of plan killed a dragon.

Rangus finally turned to Bink. “Warrior Bink, you know what to do. We wait for good news.”

Bink proudly saluted his chief, and made his way to the cliffs. He climbed into the cleft, descending the way he came in the day before, following the walls to the spot where he knew the dragon hid.

Bink soon stood just around the corner from the dragon’s hiding place. His heart beat echoed in his head, and his mouth dried out just thinking of the huge beast around the bend. His tribe was counting on this for food, though, and that thought kept his feet shuffling to the edge of the wall. With all the courage his little heart could muster, he glanced around the corner, expecting the beast to roar in his face.

All that remained was the rubble surrounding its old hiding spot.

Bink felt all the blood drain from his face, and his heart beat faster. Where did the dragon go? Where could the dragon go? That’s when Bink remembered the beast had great big wings, big enough to take it far away.

The little goblin hurried out of the cleft, running right up to his chief. Rangus took notice of his approach, and stood up from the stone he sat on.

“What is wrong, Warrior Bink?” Rangus asked. “You find dragon? He after you?”

“Dragon gone, sir!” Bink exclaimed. “He had wingses! He must’ve flown far away when Bink and Dogo find him!”

Many of the goblins shouted angrily at Bink, but Rangus held up his hand for silence. He scanned the surrounding area, his eyes cast up high.

“One … Two … Three nests.” the chief counted, pointing out tall spires amongst the crags. He shook his head. “Dragon is smart. Won’t fly around Chiraptors.”

“But he’s not here!” one of the warriors said. “What do we do?”

“He not fly, so he walks!” Rangus explained angrily. “What you do to find prey on ground, hmm? You find tracks! Dragon no different! We still can find dragon if we hurry!” He pointed to a group of warriors nearby. “You five take Bink and look for nearby tracks. Dragon still might fly where there are no nests, but if we know which way he goes, we find him other ways.” Rangus turned away as Bink went to join the other warriors. “We will find dragon, and when we do, we prove our tribe is strongest of all goblins!”

Kra stood transfixed in a clearing covered in soft grass, staring at the strange plants surrounding him. The mosses and grasses he had seen before paled in comparison to these behemoths. The tallest weeds barely grew past his ankles, these plants stood well taller than him, broad at their bases and tapering as crooked, arm-like appendages reached out from centers in all directions around them. At the tips of fingers of these arms sprouted large, flat blades of grass splayed out wide. These grass blades were on most of the plants, but for each one the shape of the blades was different. There were so many different shapes, sizes, and colors, Kra felt that he could spend ages looking over all of them and not find any two plants with the exact same greens.

Furthermore, these were very tangibly living creatures. They made no movement save for the rustling of their greens when the wind brushed them together, a musical sound that almost sounded like a thousand whispers spoken at once. Despite this, Kra could feel their roots digging through the earth, feel the subtle change of the air as they breathed in and out, and hear the pulse of their life force permeate the land. Everything they touched felt more alive.

This was what Kra was searching for. Life that did not hate, did not want, did not do anything but live for the sake of living. He understood the balance of living in his heart, the balance they kept going daily. These could only be one thing, something lost to time that he’d only heard tales of …

So, these are what trees look like …

Kra’s eyes snapped open. His breath came in loud gasps, his ears filled with the sound of his heartbeat. Terrified of his lack of composure, he struggled to regulate his breathing and relax himself. His paw trembled as he held it up to his chest, and his wings tried to spread on instinct, brushing the sides of his little underground cubby. He cursed his carelessness; he had become lax in the past few days since finding the underground pool.

Kra hated when he dreamt. It made him forget where he was, made him feel secure. He learned quickly after his exile to banish his dreams, to be asleep yet awake. He was able to repress his dreaming out in the open, where there was always risk of attack. When he took the cave as his home, however, the dreams returned. Ever since he was cursed, the dreams showed him the strangest things. Things he had never seen, but felt were familiar in his heart. The trees were the newest things, and by far the most striking vision. But no matter how beautiful or entrancing the dream, he despised the fact that his body was forgetting important survival instincts mere days after finding a safe place to sleep.

His breathing had gotten better now but his heart still pounded and his paw still trembled. Knowing the only thing that would work, he placed his paw over the other, the dragon position of prayer, and whispered a quick, quiet prayer to the Motherwyrm. The familiar words and motions relaxed him enough that his pulse slowed, but he still was uneasy.

Kra crawled out of his cubby, into the expansive cavern, stretching his limbs and spreading his wings as wide as they would go. His cubby rested on the lowest of three shelves, practically on the same level as the deep pool. The other shelves were steep ridges carved out by the water over time as it had receded. There was room enough on this shelf alone, the smallest of the three, for ten dragons his size, and at least twice as much on the next one up.

The roof was domed near the top where Kra had unearthed the pool, but descended rapidly as the shelves lowered the floor. The ceiling near the pool was lower, but there was still enough room for Kra to take off from the bottom and fly out from the mouth he dug out. There were ancient water stains up on the high walls, and Kra theorized that the pool once filled the whole cavern, which may have been an overground lake, but had receded over time. He was not sure what buried it, but it was clear that his new home had not seen life in many years.

He reached the edge of the pool and thrust his muzzle into the water, which just barely reached the edge of the shelf. He drank deeply, the clear water rushing into his throat and cooling his whole body. At last, his nerves settled and he sighed as he slumped into a relaxed position, resting his bulky body and spreading out his limbs, dipping one paw into the pool and swishing his tail along the smooth stone. He let himself have some time to space out in the mornings. After all, he was safe here. Nothing ever came close to the underground pool, save the darcats that had ambushed him when he found the cave. Not that anything could reach the cavern floor from the mouth without surviving a hundred foot fall, and there were no chiraptors nearby that could stumble upon his sanctuary.

It occurred to him that he got very angry with himself for lowering his defenses when he was asleep, but not when he was awake. If his instincts told his body it was alright to dream, why was he so angry about it? He let himself go for great amounts of time resting by the pool, knowing that he was safe, and his cubby wasn’t even visible from the entrance, so why should he get so angry?

In answer, he turned to the dreams themselves. They gave him a peace that he did not deserve. They made him feel at ease, and that was not acceptable. He still had a mission, and such a peace was not what he needed to achieve his goals.

Swishing his paw about in the water, he lifted his head from the edge, remembering his experiment. He lifted himself up from the water’s edge, and strode along the shore to the left hand wall. There, just below the edge, Kra had made a long vertical scratch on the otherwise smooth wall, partially submerged in the pool. He placed his paw along the wall, feeling through his bloated scales for the notch he had made the day before. It was no longer at the surface, and he searched out the length of the wall above the water and found nothing. He dipped his paw into the water and noticed immediately that the horizontal scratch he had made yesterday was below the surface now, by about an inch. He stood back up, puzzled by the discovery. Something was causing the water to rise again, and it had been receding before he had found it. But ever since his dreams had returned, the water level was steadily rising.

He wondered if the two were not mutually exclusive for a moment, then dismissed the notion. If the Motherwyrm was truly trying to tell him something, why would she waste time with some water spring?

He considered that for a moment. Now that he thought of it, human settlements often gathered around wells like his, because of their scarcity. Dragons could thrive for long periods without water, but when a spring was found a clan would settle for as long as it lasted. His clan’s spring had been found when Kra was only a week old, and had only run out mere days before he was exiled. But somehow, human settlements could make their wells outlast several generations. Few dragons now grew larger than Kra, and the amount a dragon needed to consume in a week was about the same as a human, because of the dragons’ efficient metabolism. Why were their springs drying up where the humans’ lasted?

Left with many questions with no one to answer them, Kra peered up to the entrance to his private sanctuary. He felt very lonely, for the first time for a very long time. He was not worth much to anyone the way he was; men who came upon him were more likely to kill him for food, and any dragon that saw that he was Twisted would not even look at him. No, Kra was completely alone. It was the first time he realized it; survival had taken the place of contemplation long ago. Even if he somehow found out what had taken his parents’ lives and destroyed it, where was he to go? Was he destined to become what his clan had made him, a cursed beast that would one day outgrow its own limbs and become just another dead rock?

Shaking the despairing thoughts from his mind, he beat his wings and flew up to the entrance. His food was depleted; the remnants of the darcats he killed were last night’s supper. He needed more food before too long. It was not likely that he would find another bounty as big as the darcats who had intruded upon him before, but Kra had learned to make a little last a long time.

He shot past the entrance to the cave, rising high into the sky. He surveyed quickly the crags of Argassa, noting the possible hiding places for prey. He would not stay in the sky, the threat of swarming chiraptors, bats that excelled in taking even dragons down in mid flight, was too great to hunt from the sky. He would scout from the air, then hunt on the ground.

As he flew he noted in the west the cleft he had encountered the goblins. He had not realized how near his new home had been to his old one. He was tempted to return to search it out for prey, but saw a better spot out of the corner of his eye. Just to the north in the middle of a field of stone crags was a place where two stony outcroppings met, creating shade under the overhang. If he was lucky, the place would have a nest of stone rats or shufflebird eggs. Fixing the spot in his mind, he dove back to the ground to begin his hunt.

If Rangus had never believed rocks could fly he surely believed it now. It was indeed a dragon, but what kind of dragon had rocks for scales? It mattered not, such a thing was still edible. And if other tribes learned that Rangus and his goblins had taken down a dragon, he knew many would want to gather under his banner.

He pointed to the dragon in the sky, startling his warriors. “It flies there! We go now! Make it mad and bring it into the open!”

“Make the dragon … mad?” Bink asked, standing at his side.

“Yes,” Rangus replied. “Throw rocks, yell at it, and taunt it. Dragons have pride, easy to provoke. Easy to trick, to lure into traps.” Rangus grinned. “Hunting starts now, boys! Challenge the dragon, and he will come!”

Kra approached the overhang cautiously, eyes hungrily awaiting the sight of his prey. He was practically upon the overhang when he heard the sound of running footsteps drawing closer from behind him. Kra turned back to the overhang, thinking of using it for cover, but before he could move a large rock hurtled through the air and pelted the side of his muzzle. He whipped his head around angrily, back in the direction of the footsteps, where the rock seemed to have come from. Standing out in the open were several goblins, now cackling with delight.

“You gots him, Drak!” one of them jeered. “Right on stupid face!”

“Hard not to miss,” another said. “Dragon big as mountain itself!”

“Stupid, fat dragon! You must eat rocks to get so big!” yet another cried, flinging a smaller stone Kra’s way. “Have all the rocks you want!”

All the goblins picked up rocks and began to barrage the dragon, all the while jeering and cackling like children taunting a wounded animal.

Kra was shocked at their audacity, and though the hail of stones bounced harmlessly off his hide, their puerile taunts fueled his anger like never before. The nerve of these creatures, treating him like some kind of animal! Did they think themselves superior to him? Were they just goading him to react? Surely they did not think themselves a match for him, did they?

Part of him did not want to sink to their level. He wanted to just ignore them, but the burning in his chest bade him to stand up, not for himself, but for all dragonkind.

“You want to throw rocks?” Kra growled. “Fine!” He turned back around to the overhang and stomped over to it, grasping the nearest outcropping with his forepaws. He twisted and heaved at the rock face, easily dislodging a massive section and depositing it on the ground in front of him. The goblins ceased their stone throwing and watched as he hefted the boulder he had dislodged, balancing on his back legs and bringing it to rest on his chest. His distorted scales threatened to overbalance him, but through raw anger and determination he held his balance long enough to launch the stone using both his forepaws, sending it hurtling awkwardly through the air in the goblins’ direction. It barely reached them, but it was enough to scatter them.

“Go away!” Kra roared. “I’ve had enough of you!” The dragon turned away, thinking the goblins scared off. Another stone bounced off his back and he spun back around.

“Stupid dragon doesn’t know when he’s beat!” one goblin shouted, standing atop the same rock Kra tossed at them, another rock in his hand.

All his instincts told him that something was not as it seemed, but his pride raged within him. They were mocking him, and now they would pay. He threw himself forward, snarling and baring his teeth, rabid with rage. These pests were going to be crushed.

The goblins ran, as he expected, but did not scatter, instead weaving around the knifelike outcroppings in an attempt to confuse him. His bulk did not allow him to navigate the crags as they did, but he smashed through the parts of the landscape that they could avoid. They darted into a rocky crevice, almost too tight for Kra to manage, but by tucking his wings up high, he managed to follow without losing much speed. He was nearly upon them, his jaws agape and his pride hungry for blood, when he charged straight between two high outcroppings.

The net was not meant to befuddle his legs, but instead his wings, held aloft by several other goblins. His maddened rush tore them from their perches, but his wings were clamped down by the fibrous net weighted by stones. He stopped his pursuit of the goblins to tear at the net uselessly with his bloated claws. Kra’s efforts ceased when he heard the goblins cry out, and the rush of footsteps over the hard ground.

His heart sank. He had run headlong and headstrong right into their trap.

The first few came into view from around the corner, brandishing spears. Kra began to back out, worried that the tight space would hinder his fighting ability, when another swarm of goblins darted out from the shadows behind him, all wielding similar weapons.

Though his situation appeared dire, Kra was not truly concerned. His thick hide was stronger than the stone that goblins habitually used to make their spears, so all he had to do was strike wisely and keep his eyes on the exit. Once out, he was fairly certain that he could outdistance them long enough to break the net and fly away. He would need to spend a few days away from his home, but he could eventually come back to the underground lake.

The first of the goblins came charging up to him and thrust its spear for his chest. The dragon maneuvered his foreleg in between the weapon and his vital, but mostly paid it no heed.

Until he heard a sharp crack and a searing pain shot up his arm.

Kra’s roar was low and sorrowful. Not in ten years had anything broken his skin! Not even the tearing of Darcat claws incited such an awful sensation!

The goblin tore the spear out, yelling its triumph, and prepared a second strike. Kra was not about to allow it, and lifted his paw to swipe at the miscreant, when a series of spear strikes behind him began cutting up his hind legs. Kra stumbled, dropping his attacking paw to steady himself, and the first goblin and two more stuck their merciless spearheads into his forelegs and torso.

Kra was in danger. The entrance to the crevice seemed miles away now. He tried desperately to sweep away the offenders from behind with his tail to clear a path, but his movements were too slow to get purchase enough to knock one of them away. He kicked out behind him once and received a crippling stab to his upper thigh as punishment. The despairing dragon thrashed his head to discourage the forward attackers, but they darted away from his cumbersome movements without much effort, back to resume the attack before he could even twist himself back into a defensive stance.

Kra’s heart pounded. More and more nicks and wounds dug through a hide he had thought impervious, and more of the blood on the ground was than the goblins. His defensive tactics were no use where there was nowhere to move around.

His front right paw suddenly screamed in pain, but when he moved to withdraw it, he found his foot pinned to the crevice floor. He looked down and to his shock discovered that his bloated paw had been impaled to the floor by a particularly big and vicious looking goblin, standing about three quarters the height of a man, almost two heads above most of the goblins surrounding him.

The goblin’s grin was the worst thing that Kra had ever experienced. It was so smug and superior, so full of itself, he wanted to just step on the creature to spare himself the agony of that glaring grin.

“I am Rangus, dragon!” the goblin spoke. The other goblins around him stopped attacking and cheered. Kra attempted to swat at the devilish little beast with his free paw, but that one and his back left were instantly and almost simultaneously pinned by waiting goblins. Kra’s howl seemed to make the smug goblin swell with pride. Kra’s balance finally gave way, and he crashed down to the ground, pinned and humiliated.

“You are strong,” the goblin continued. “These spears made of old metal! Not a lot left, you know. I thought spears might be no good against that hide, but they strong enough against stone it seems.”

He moved back, and Kra watched him with tears of rage mingling with blood dripping down his face, creating a smell he did not like at all. The smell of defeat, he thought. The goblin called Rangus moved to a small goblin holding a different spear, who trembled as he handed it to his master. The weapon was much larger and more suited to the bigger goblin. As he brought it near, Kra could smell something different about it that made him struggle against his impaling bonds. That spear was more dangerous somehow, made of the same materials, but stinking of ash and death. Even with his renewed struggles, his wounds and exhaustion made him too weak to do more than twist feebly on the ground.

Tyradus …

Kra twisted to where he thought he heard a voice, but turned back as the smug goblin leader approached.

“Long ago, dragons were feared all over, bigger than mountains, breath like fire,” Rangus said in low voice. “Where is your fire now, dragon?”

Kra growled low, and Rangus stepped up calmly, practically with biting distance, close enough for Kra to smell its breath.

“Would you like that fire back, dragon?” Rangus said quietly, almost teasingly.

Kra hissed at him.

The goblin chief’s eyes grew wild and he outstretched his hand, a torrent of crimson flame washing over Kra’s vision. Everything on his face screamed out as the flame crawled up his nose, into his mouth, and around his eyes. Kra writhed in pain as the sensation diminished, where Rangus still stood, terrible and arrogant.

“I have the fire now, dragon!” he roared, wreathing his hand in fire. “I am gifted with flame, and you …” he stopped, bringing the spearhead to his fiery hand, igniting the substance around it and causing it to burn bright yellow, illuminating the dark crevice. “You are the one who will burn!” He hefted the spear to throw, and all the world seemed to slow for Kra. He was out of strength. He was ready now to give up and die. Somehow he longed for this, a way out of the nightmare that he lived every day.

You can’t go like this …

We can help you …

Let us out, young one …

The voices! Kra’s heart raced once more. He thought they were gone!

This should not happen …

It isn’t right …

There is much left to do, Tyradus …

“No! NO!” Kra began to scream, thrashing against his impaled wounds with renewed vigor. “Let it be! Let me die!”

Rangus began to laugh. “You will die, dragon!”

You must not die …

We won’t let you give up!

Stand again … Embrace life!

“Please … no …” Kra whimpered, and he could feel the vibration in the stone, sense the stirring life, smell the land come to life beneath him.

“Chief! What is that rumble?” the small goblin at the back cried out. Rangus turned to regard him angrily then stopped as something caught his eye at the ground. Kra’s very spirit almost left him when he saw what was poking out of the ground.

A small, green tendril of grass sprouted up at Rangus’ feet.

Tendrils began to appear everywhere, along the ground and across the walls of the rock. Where once there was only dead rock there was now a flourishing of green life.

“Get out of here!” Kra warned weakly.

Rangus looked to respond to him when one of the goblins behind Kra started screaming. The dragon and the goblin leader both turned to the creature, his arms covered in twisting vines. He was raised up by the tendrils, moving on their own accord, and the goblin, seeming to be in a great deal of agony, twisted and writhed as his verdant captors brought him higher. All of a sudden they snapped taut, and the goblin let out a yelp.

The goblin warrior ripped in two with one sickening tear.

More vines erupted from the walls. Goblins began to panic, scattering like insects from a fire. Many more were caught by the twisting vines, some held aloft by their necks to suffocate, others simply battered and hurled away.

Rangus, in the midst of the struggle, thrashed the burning spear to keep the vines at bay, all the while trying to reassemble his troops in the overwhelming chaos. None of the orders he shouted seemed to be heeded, all the goblins trying to get out alive. A few loyal goblins managed to make their way to his side, keeping their leader safe. But none of them were prepared for dealing with such a strange enemy, and for every vine that was chopped down, two more sprang out to strike back.

Kra watched it all helplessly, terrified by the power of the plants around him. The power, he knew deep inside, that came from him. He did not want this! His rage had driven him to violence, but no amount of pride was worth this bloodshed. All he wanted now was for it to stop.

He looked about for anything that could help him, for some way to remove his restraints. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed a single goblin standing away from it all, shivering in horror but trying to get close to his leader, a piece of slate being used as a shield on his arm. Kra recognized the goblin as the one he had scared away in the cleft, too scrawny to be one of the warriors.

“You! Bink is your name, right?” Kra raised his voice above the carnage. The frightened goblin’s eyes snapped in his direction and he nodded. “Come here! Help me or your friends are going to die!”

Bink looked from Kra to Rangus, who was slicing vines and scorching them with fire, unaware of the smaller goblin’s predicament. Bink started moving toward Kra, keeping his eyes on the walls. When Bink made it over to the dragon he meekly nodded his attention.

“Get these spears out of my paws! If I can get away your allies will be safe!” Kra ordered. “I’ll do what I can about the net on my wings! Hurry!”

Bink looked nervously at Rangus, still occupied with the vines, then grabbed the spear in Kra’s right paw and yanked at it. Kra growled as the spearhead tore back through his paw, and flexed his claws to make sure they worked. The goblin went to work on the second of the spears, and Kra turned his attention to the net. He craned his neck to see how badly his wings were tangled, and was surprised to see that they were not caught as badly as he thought, his wings were simply covered and held down by the weights. He worked to smoothly maneuver his left wing outside its grasp through the blinding pain, and was easily able to shake it off his right. By the time he was loose, the little goblin was already loosening the spear in his back foot.

“Bink!” Rangus roared. Bink froze, and turned to his furious leader, the flames behind him casting an ominous glare. “What you doing?”

“Dragon say let him go! Dragon says it will stop if he goes!” Bink shouted back over the din of battle.

“No! Dragon must die!” Rangus insisted, swiping away a tendril with his blazing spear. “We kill him, we strong ones now!”

“Not if all die!” Bink shouted.

“You let dragon go, we start hunt all over! We hunt you too, little Bink!” Rangus threatened.

“I’m trying to save you!” Kra shouted. “If I stay they’ll kill you all!”

“You lie, Dragon!” Rangus roared, beating back another vine and scorching it with a burst of fire. “Do not believe him Bink!”

Bink’s face screwed up in frustration and fear. Kra waited, giving the poor goblin a moment to face this difficult decision. Impatient Rangus, however growled and thrust his burning spear directly at Kra’s eye, ready to be done with this impudent dragon.
Whatever powered Kra’s guardians did not like that at all.

Rangus’ spear hand was seized almost immediately by several vines, the weapon was grabbed and torn from his hands just as quickly. A swarm of vines quickly took hold of all the chieftain’s limbs, and a single vine wrapped itself around his neck. Rangus tried fighting back, fire spurting impotently from his hands and mouth, nowhere near the threatening vines.

“Free me!” Kra practically screamed at the goblin. “He’s going to die!”

“No!” Rangus managed to gurgle before his mouth was covered by the wrapping vine.

Bink looked back to the dragon, who had tears streaming down his eyes. “I don’t want him to die! Save him! Save me!”

Bink turned a baleful look toward his leader. Rangus’ fire was practically streaming from his eyes. His limbs were all pulled taut, and the vines were looking to snap back any moment.

“Look out!” Kra warned, and Bink turned to see three vines snaking toward him at an unsettling speed.

“For Rangus!” Bink screamed, putting both hands on the spear that impaled the dragon’s hind foot and ripping it free.

Kra wasted not even a second of his freedom. He twisted the rest of the way around in the narrow crevice, snatching up the goblin that saved him with one wounded paw, heaving himself to his feet, and running as best he could with only three feet beneath him past the remaining fighting goblins. He could already feel the plants activity dwindle beneath his feet, and soon heard the angry roars of the goblin chief. As soon as his wings were clear of the walls, he pumped them with all of his might, and one agony filled moment later he was in the sky.

The goblin in his grasp twisted about, and Kra gently held him tighter. “Be still, we’ll land soon and I’ll let you go! We need to get far away as quickly as we can!” Kra shouted to the wind, and the squirming stopped. He regretted the little goblin’s predicament. No one should have to choose in a situation like that. He cursed his whole existence then and there, for Bink and his allies, as well as for himself.

“How?” he muttered to the wind. “How can they still reach me after I was Twisted?” The last time the voices came to him was shortly after he had been changed, a mere few days before the ritual of salvation.

Kra flew past his den, planning to backtrack later. For several more minutes he flew, as straight as he could manage. He wanted to go on, but a throbbing ache in his left wing convinced him otherwise. He imagined that he strained it with the extra effort, or maybe pulled it when it was caught in the net. Either way, he needed to land before the pain overcame him. Picking a safe spot some distance from the cave, he came to rest on a relatively flat stretch dotted by tall boulders. He landed by one of the larger ones, and after depositing Bink, he leaned heavily on the huge stone for support.

Bink stood after collecting himself, and gazed at the huge dragon for a moment. “You saved me, dragon,” was all he could mutter, his eyes full of wonder. “You saved my clan, after we attack you.”

Kra shook his head. “Your people have you to thank, Bink.” He turned his face to the little goblin, trying to force a smile through his distorted features. “If you had not reacted so quickly, none would be alive now.”

“But now, they hunt you,” Bink said, regret hanging in his voice. “I wanted to run, leave you alone! But Rangus say we kill you and we be most respected in Argassa. We hunt you, almost kill you, why you save us?”

Kra sighed, his stone scale grinding against the boulder as he slumped down. “I can’t say why. I just did, really.” He looked at his own wounds. “I don’t like seeing others get hurt. You must think me a liar, after I killed your friend, but it’s the truth.”

Bink shrugged. “We hunt, some goblins die. Most because they too stupid.”

Kra laughed weakly. “What about you’re chief? Was he stupid to hunt me?”

Bink thought a while on that one, and then shrugged. “Chief Rangus strong. Makes even little gobs like Bink feel strong. We all thought we could win.”

Kra nodded. “You might have. But I am Twisted. Something follows me, hurts those around me. I am very dangerous, more so than any other dragon.” He gave the little goblin a grave look. “You are not safe with me, warrior. Return to your people when you can. I will leave your lands, and never return.”

Bink stood up as straight as he could and looked Kra right in the eyes. “No, dragon, I will not.”

Kra regarded him strangely, cocking his head and propping himself up. “Why? You’ve seen what happens to those around me.”

“You save Bink, and all his people. Bink’s pappy say, when someone give you hand, give your hand back.” The goblin extended his tiny hand to the dragon, looking rather silly to Kra, but he was sincerely warmed by the gesture. Not in ages had anyone treated him with such respect.

“Bink will help dragon,” he went on. “Bink has nowhere left; his tribe will hunt him like food. Dragon leaves, Bink leaves too.”

“Not scared I might eat you?” Kra asked.

“If dragon needs to eat Bink,” he answered, straightening again, “then Bink will try to be tasty.”

Kra shook his head. “Chief Rangus has lost a loyal warrior today indeed.” He stood again, testing his injuries. His forepaws and back paw were almost totally healed, and the deeper cuts and punctures were almost completely healed. His wing flexed normally without spasms. His recovery had been quick as always, the only boon to his curse.

“Come, we should find a new home. My old cave is no longer safe.” Kra turned to the south and started moving.

“Not that way!” Bink warned. Kra turned to regard him again. “That way leads to more goblins. Other tribes will be after you soon, after Bink’s tribe tells about their hunt.” The goblin folded his arms, considering his own words. “Rangus might make other tribes fight for him, many more next time.”

Kra saw no flaw in the goblin’s logic. “Well then, companion, where to?”

Stunned momentarily by being considered for his opinion, Bink stood quietly in thought. “I say north!” he blurted suddenly, his beady eyes lighting up. “Drakvald! No goblin wants to be in dwarf lands!”

“Then why do you want to go?”

“Where you never look for goblins, dragon? Nowhere near dwarves!” he said, cackling gleefully.

Kra conceded, thinking the goblin much cleverer than he seemed at first. “Fine, we will go to Drakvald.”

Bink nodded, starting to stride in that direction proudly. Kra shook his head and took one long stride to stand in front of him. He offered his paw as a step to his back. “Get on. At your pace it will take us a week to get out of here.”

Bink nodded and clamored up the dragon’s scales, coming to rest at the base of his neck, before his wings. “Does dragon … have name?”

Kra hesitated. “No. My name was taken from me when I was cursed. I no longer have the right to use it. If other dragons must refer to me they only call me Kra.”

“Kra … That is strong name,” Bink said, obviously pleased with the abrupt syllable.

Kra reflected on the irony. Bink would not approve so much if he knew that the name Kra was given to dragons whose clans wanted them to disappear.

In the draconic language, Kra meant nothing.

But to one little goblin, it now meant everything.

This story is the property of Tyler Clapp, Author (AKA "Cael") Copyright DarkFireGraphics.com