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The Living Stone: Unlikely Hero


Wardan lifted up his hand as soon as he could feel the breeze, but that was still to slow to keep from getting a mouthful of sand.  He coughed and spit it out as best he could, but the aggravating wind continued to blow in his face.  Every attempt to eject the unwanted particles in his mouth served to replace them with just as much, if not more than before.  He grunted as he forced his eyes to squint forward, as the wind died down.  Rilea was far ahead again, seemingly unfazed by the latest in a series of desert gusts.  Wardan made a mental note to ask her why she chose the dustiest, most irritating path possible, instead of the old road used by the raiders. 
He turned behind him to see the state of his fellow raiders.  Nellik trudged behind in stoic fashion, a piece of cloth wrapped around his mouth and nose like a mask.  Wardan sorely wished he'd thought of that now, the last few hours would not have been so trying.  Beyond him, Grif stomped through the sand, his formidable beard and mustache serving him in the same capacity as Nellik's cloth.  The dwarf's eyes squinted against the stinging sands, and it looked like he could barely see, but he managed to follow behind Nellik well enough that Wardan didn't dwell on it.

He regretted that Denrick was once again left behind, but in this case it was for the best.  His talent in first aid was needed among the wounded from the raid on the fortress, now called Norwatch and being repurposed as a new outpost for the Norheim Raiders. Among the wounded was Loka, her wound from the first battle having grown infected.  Denrick promised his friends that he would make sure Loka got better, and then return to the city where they would have a drink together once they reunited.  Still Wardan wished he could have brought Denrick along for this one, it promised to be quite the trek.

Not stopping to tear his clothing, the raider simply put his arm up in front of his face, closing off his nose and mouth with the crook of his elbow.  It served him well as the wind washed over him again, not a single grain getting into an unwanted place.  He started to put his arm down, when another gust started to pick up.  Starting to see the flaws in his plan, he shrugged and kept the arm up over his mouth.  He would rather get a kink in his arm than a belly full of sand.

Soon, Wardan understood why Rilea wanted to take the path through the desert, over the dunes he could already see the crown of the Mountain in the Vast.  With her leading, they were already upon their destination.  Wardan knew that taking the path around the desert would have taken them another day at least.  Best of all, most predators avoided the desert, saving them from further setback.

By nightfall, they were no longer treading on loose sand but the rocky outcroppings at the edge of the desert.  The wind was just as harsh but no longer bombarded them with hot sand, just roared impotently in their ears. 

Nellik suggested that they set up camp in a small cluster of rocks that guarded from the wind.  The area also boasted a small gathering of scrub brush and dried grasses, perfect for making a tiny fire.  Grif set out gathering the materials, while Wardan and Nellik cleared out the campsite.

"We don't need to stop," Rilea stated as they pitched the tent.  "We could make it to the mountain in the dark if we don't stop."

"Perhaps the Gifted might," Nellik said, securing a tent ring.  "You can tell where to go without seeing, and Wardan might scrape against rocks as he stumbled in the dark, but he would be unharmed in the end.  Grifthalgas and I are at quite a disadvantage; we break easily."

"You must have torches you can use, if you are lighting a fire," Rilea argued.

"Oh, astounding idea!" Nellik said bitterly.  "We'll just stroll across the wasteland at night carrying fire, attracting Darcats and chiraptors and whatever else hides in the night.  No, I'll take my chances in a defensible position with cover."

"I'd listen to him," Wardan said.  "He's thought this through."

"Aye, and faster than we can belch twice!" Grif said, hauling a small pile of flammables back through the camp. 

"I don't think any faster than you, friend," Nellik admitted.  "You'd be surprised to find how much time you save just to think ahead."

Rilea sighed.  "Well, since you've thought of everything, you must have considered just how much time it will take to get to the top of this mountain.  I am skilled at climbing, but you don't look like you will fare so well.  The sooner we get to the mountain, the sooner we can drag you to the top."

Nellik grinned.  "Who said I would be climbing?  Grif and I are the rear guard in this case, you and Wardan will go much faster without us."

"We worked this out before we left," Wardan explained.  "I've been at the top of that mountain before, so I know a few tricks on how to climb it.  Nellik and Grif will hold a camp down at the foothills, and the whole trip up and down will take us less than two days."

Rilea considered his words for a moment.  She then smiled, saying.  "That suits me just fine." 

"I'm glad we are in agreement," Nellik said.

The three raiders settled in to a relatively relaxing evening while Rilea stood watch.  They ate a meal of simple rations over the campfire, trading anecdotes and tales.  Grif explained to them how his last squad, the Arbalesters, had repurposed an old catapult to deliver live, dwarven missiles into the enemy ranks, and Nellik told them about the time he once tripped an ogre with a rope trap and dropped it on top of its own goblin warband.  After they had finished and turned in for the night, Wardan decided to check on Rilea.  She might be used to sleepless nights of travel, but at least he could alleviate the watch duties.

When he found her, she was crouched on top of on of the boulders guarding the camp from the wind.  The gusts had died down to a breeze since they had stopped, filling the night with its wistful song.  Rilea sat perfectly still on the edge of the boulder, her hand splayed across its surface. 

Before he could say anything, she turned to him with a gazeless smile.  "Hello Wardan."

"Evening," he responded.  "Thought you might be wanting a rest."

She shook her head, still smiling, and turned her head back down to the rock. 

Wardan sighed.  "Well, wake me when you want to rest, I'll finish the watch for you."

"Did you know it's raining in Argassa?" she asked, her smile growing.

"I ... wait, what?" Wardan said, startled by her change of topic.  "How do you know that?"

"I can feel it through the stone," she said, very matter-of-factly.  "Tiny little uneven pitter patters in a wide swath far to the south.  Only water feels this delicate on the ground, so gentle and soothing.  Have you ever felt the rain, Wardan?"

"I have," he said.  "It was a long time ago."

She cocked her head, as though listening for something.  "The storm is still strong, and moving north."  She turned to him, almost palpably excited.  "The rain may even reach us at the Mountain in the Vast."

It was Wardan's turn to smile.  "You're strange."

"My gift is strange," she said.  "It's had an effect on me."

"One moment you're calculating and shrewd, the next you are like a child, getting excited about rainstorms."  Wardan crossed his arms.  "Not sure which one I prefer."

"Lucky you, you don't need to choose," she said sweetly.  "This is just how I am.  You learn to appreciate the simple things in life very quickly, having a child."

Wardan started to nod, then caught exactly what she said.  "You have a child?"

"A daughter, actually," Rilea said calmly.  The smile on her face seemed sadder now.  "She has never felt the rain, or even heard it."

"You told Borlan you lived near the desert," Wardan remembered.  "Can you really raise a family out there?"

Rilea took her hand away from the stone.  "As long as you are prepared to do whatever it takes."

Wardan nodded, trying to put together the mystery of this woman.  "Are you sure you don't want to rest?"

She sighed, and hopped off of the boulder.  "I suppose.  You be careful, boy.  I didn't feel any predators nearby, but ..." she stopped in mid sentence, a look of consternation on her face.

Wardan was about to ask what was wrong, but then he felt it to; a light tremor in the ground and a booming echo on the wind.  "What was that?" he asked.

Rilea crouched down to the ground again, placing her hand on the dirt.  Her face became lined with concern.  "Something ... very heavy.  It landed near to the mountain."

"We must be closer than I thought," Wardan guessed.  "It was probably just a boulder falling off the side of it."

"No," she said, standing up.  "I felt the steps of men as well.  It may not have been so simple."

Wardan patted the air in a calming gesture.  "Don't get too worked up over this.  The nomad merchants that travel the wastes often meet and stop to rest by the Mountain.  They could also be village raiders, out far from home.  No need to jump to conclusions."

Rilea nodded her agreement, but her face remained stern and suspicious.  "We'll find out tomorrow, one way or the other."


Kra lay calmly on his back in the shallow cave they had found about halfway up the mountain, one forepaw resting on his chest rising and falling with his deep, relaxed breaths.  He watched as his paw moved up and down as his chest rose and fell with each breath, noticing how much less movement there was than a month ago.  His scales grew steadily, regardless of his determination to survive.  He had felt not long ago that he could keep up with their growth, as long as he remained active and built muscle.  But it was beginning to dawn on him that eventually, whether it was months or years from now, he would succumb to their weight and be nothing but a stone.

He reached off to his side, where there was a large pile of dead bladehawks, and took one.  Bink had set about debeaking and cleaning them and this pile was his.  The goblin's pile, much smaller, sat in a different corner, waiting to be cooked.  Kra had never had cooked meat before, and wanted to join the goblin in his feast tonight, but for now he was fine eating one or two of his birds raw.

The two of them discovered that they were quite the team when it came to hunting.  Bink's technique for hunting the bladehawks worked like a charm.  When they noticed the flock, Kra hatched a cunning plan.  Obscured by the dragon's stony body, Bink threw several stones out onto the dusty ground.  The foolish birds, thinking the skipping stones were leaping ashrabbits, dove straight down for their imagined prey.  Many dove hard and fast enough that the sharp crests on their beaks pierced deep into the ground, rendering them immobile.  Others, somewhat more fortunate, were able to pull up at the last second, just enough that they didn't crash, but not enough that they didn't have to land. 

Once they were in position, the trap was sprung.  Bink used his little spear to skewer the birds that were stuck, while Kra dealt with the rest.  Not giving them the time and space they needed to take off, he bounded out in front of the grounded birds and heaved himself on top of them.  Those not crushed or trapped beneath he were quickly snatched from the ground by his claws, swept up by his tail, or covered and trapped by his wings.  They managed to trap or kill all of the birds of the flock, not a one got away from the unlikely pair.

Bink had spent most of the day after that cleaning the birds after they transported them up to the cave they had found earlier, which required more delicate a touch than Kra could help with.  He had instead busied himself collecting up all the feathers Bink pulled out, stacking them in a pile in the corner.  They made a much softer, and more importantly warmer, bed for Bink than the hard stone. 

Shortly after, Bink had mentioned the fire, and though Kra had initially protested, Bink had won him over with the temptation of cooked meat.  The goblin had gone out some time ago, looking for materials that would burn.  It was the first time in a long time that Kra lamented that his kind were no longer masters of fire.  That at least would be something he could share with his new ally.

Now he lay quietly and simply, relaxing for the first time since his cave in Argassa.  He originally worried that they would not be able to find water easily, but the back of the cave there was a small pool that was fed from a trickle that came down the wall from a crack in the ceiling.  Kra guessed that the mountain was high enough that ice formed near the top and melted through cracks down into lower caves.  He had already made marks near its surface, preparing to keep track of his water supply, and also to restart his experiment from before.  He was concerned that his curse was having an effect on his environment, and wanted to find out just how powerful his curse was.

Putting water out of his mind for now, he let his mind dwell on yet another disturbing subject: the men from last night.  He knew that eventually he would have to bump into the widespread creatures, but that was not the way he wanted to do it.  His appearance already lent him the guise of a monster; he did not wish to reinforce that image any further.

Long ago when he was but a hatchling, his father told him a story about the first dragons, and how they took pity on the creature that was man.  But when the dragons went to offer help, the men grew afraid, and drove off the dragons with force.  The eldest dragons decreed that their kind should not interfere with the business of man.  Many dragons took that as meaning that the doings of man were beneath them, but others, like Kra and his parents, understood that the dragon's self imposed exile from the world of men was to protect both men and dragons from each other.

Kra had started this journey thinking of man as another threat he would have to face.  The more he thought of it, though, the more he compared it to his alliance with Bink.  The two of them got a lot out of their relationship, and all it took was a situation that forced the two of them to coexist, somewhat reluctantly.  Kra's life had been considerably improved by the existence of one goblin; how much help could he give and receive if a village of humans decided they needed him?

What if it was not just him, but other dragons as well?  Not just men, but dwarves, and goblins, and even orcs?  What if all the wise races put aside their squabbles and worked together against this dying world?

"It would never happen," Kra muttered under his breath, before snapping up another hawk. 

But still, a voice said in the back of his mind, such a thing would be beautiful.  He would be wary of men still, yet he would hold onto that beautiful thought.


Startled by the sudden shout, the dragon reflexively tried to bolt upright, but his stiff scales did not allow his torso to bend properly. Craning his neck, he saw Bink with a bundle of sticks and a pale look on his face, standing at the cave entrance. 

"Kra, humans are coming up trail!" the hysterical goblin shouted.

The dragon rolled to his feet, suddenly keenly aware of how indefensible the cave was from the trail.  "Show me."

Bink led him down the trail a fair bit, and pointed out from their ledge what looked like a pair of human shapes coming up the mountain trail.

"What we do, Kra?  You kill them?" Bink asked.  Kra glanced at the goblin, trying to detect whether or not he expected the bloodshed, but all he seemed to show on his exaggerated features was a frightened creature looking for guidance.

"No, not unless we must," Kra answered.  "We need to find out more."

Bink nodded and started back for the cave.  Kra stopped him with his wing. 

"We not go back?"

"The cave isn't safe," Kra told him.  "I have a better idea, get between me and the wall, and stay silent and still."

Bink ducked under Kra's body to the other side, pressing himself up against the wall.  Kra curled up, tucking his face under his foreleg as best he could so his eyes, nose and mouth would not be visible, but his ears could hear just fine.  He tried to calm his breathing, knowing that was the only thing now that could dispel his disguise.  He finally managed to get his nervous breathing under control as he picked up on the sound of the humans coming up the path. 

The first one moved with heavy, certain footsteps that made Kra think of the military marching of hobgoblins.  That one moved with certainty past the dragon's camouflage.  The second one had much lighter footfalls, just as practiced as the first, but not nearly as bold.  This one's movement spoke of caution, and that worried the hiding dragon.

The moment came when the second person stopped, standing right next to Kra's body.  The dragon fought hard to keep his breathing calm at that point, and there was a moment where he thought this person had noticed some recognizable feature and his facade had been pierced. 

"Rilea!" shouted the voice of the first person, a man, further up the trail.  "What's the matter?"

After a long pause, the second voice, clearly female, said, "It's nothing."  A moment later, Kra heard her footsteps moving up the trail once again.  He let a few moments pass before moving away from the wall and releasing Bink from the wall.  The little goblin gave a mighty gasp for air.

"Dragon squish Bink up against rock," Bink said, still gasping.  "Hard to breathe."

"I'm sorry Bink, It was the only way they wouldn't notice us," Kra said apologetically, offering his paw for Bink to climb onto his back. 

"We go back to cave now?" Bink said, climbing up onto Kra.  "So tired, and hungry too..."

"Not quite."  Kra said to Bink's disappointed moan.  "We need to know what these humans want with this place.  I did not make this place my home to lose it so soon."


The day was going just as Wardan had planned it, at least in broad terms.  They arrived at the foothills of the Mountain in the Vast before midday, and he and Rilea had started climbing up via a trail carved out by previous raiders.  The mountain was something of a rally point for those who needed to find their way in the wastes, and offered shelter to travelers who passed by. 

Now, they were nearly to the top, and Wardan was happy that for once climbing meant he was not hanging off a sheer rock face to be toyed with by the wind.  He loved being able to see from up high, the view of the wasteland from above made his homeland look almost beautiful. 

Rilea, traveling not to far behind him, was not as invigorated by the climb as he was.  Wardan knew why; the events of their walk had thoroughly disturbed the entire team.

As they were approaching the mountain, they came across an abandoned camp.  They would not have given it much attention, but Rilea insisted they investigate.  What they found was a bunch of unused traveling provisions, a burned out firepit, and a small stack of real wood.  Nellik examined it, to find that it was indeed the same kind of wood they found in the fortress. 

Rilea was furious about the discovery, and insisted that they move on.  Wardan argued that this was a Destructor camp, and they needed to investigate it further, but she told him that they would find more destructors if they just got to the mountain.  Grif suggested they take some of the wood with them, and Rilea screamed that they would do no such thing.  The annoyed dwarf asked why they should just leave it, when it could be useful to them, and she replied by asking if Warden or Nellik died, if he would burn them for fuel. 

Nellik asked her where the wood came from, and all she would say was, "It comes from groves that should never be disturbed."  The march to the mountain was silent from that point on.

Between Rilea's curious admission to him last night and her outburst at the camp, Wardan wondered exactly what this stuff was, and what her connection to it was.  However, Wardan did not wish to press her further, she obviously needed space right now, and he endeavored to give her exactly that.  He had marched up the mountain in stoic silence, every now and then humming a few lines from a dwarven mountain song.  Once he thought he heard Rilea humming with him, but he never once acknowledged it, save for smiling to himself.

After several more hours of climbing, taking hand over hand shortcuts when they found them, Wardan and Rilea finally managed to get to the plateau at the top of the mountain.  Wardan took a moment to bask in the view, all of Drakvald spread out below him.  Even Cairn Korrodas was dwarfed by the view up here.  The only thing that rose above the view was the Rivenwall to the north. 

Rilea wasted no time in doing what she came here to do.  She pushed past Wardan and stood at the edge of the plateau, looking out over everything.  She stood perfectly still, her robe and headband blowing in the wind.

"What now?" Wardan asked, unsure of what she was doing.

"Now you let me smell the wind," she said simply.

"How does that help us?"

"The bloodwood gives off a very distinct scent when it burns," she explained.  "If I can catch wind of it, I can trace it back to its source."

"How can you do that?" Wardan asked. 

"How can you break metal with your hands?" she countered.  "Just let me use my gift, I'll let you use yours, no questions asked."

Wardan knew where he was not wanted.  He moved to the opposite side of the plateau from her and sat down, trying to let himself absorb more of the excellent view. 

Hours seemed to pass by unhindered by action as they sat silently on the plateau.  Wardan started thinking about taking a nap when he saw Rilea move out of the corner of his eye.  He stood up to see what she was doing, and was startled when he noticed that her blindfold was lifted and she was seemingly looking around. 

He could see that she was squinting, but at what she stared at he could not tell.  She appeared to be following the flight of some invisible creature in the distance.  Her gaze drifted off to the northeast, and she finally replaced her blindfold. 

"Did you... find something?" Wardan asked, uncertain.

"Sure as stone, I found something," she said.  Her tone was much improved over its earlier coarseness.  "The wind is carrying the scent all the way from the Black Needles."

"So if we just went to there like you told Borlan..." Wardan started, but she gave him a sharp look.  "I'm sorry, I meant to say that I'm glad we know exactly where they are and not searching blindly." 

"I thought you might prefer that," she said sweetly. 

A sudden powerful gust almost knocked Wardan off balance.  "Whoa, we'd better get going, this wind is getting nasty."

Rilea's features became stony and pale, even as she fought against the wind.  "That's not a regular gust.  I must have missed it, from focusing on the bloodwood, but I smell it clearly now, a danger on the wind!"

Wardan regarded her for a moment, but drew his sword.  Moments later, a downburst buffeted them both as a gray scaled, slender dragon bigger than any Wardan had seen descended on them from above.

Wardan dove away for safety, and Rilea did the same.  Rolling into a crouch, the raider watched as the dragon came crashing down between them.  This was the worst situation to be fighting a dragon in; they had very limited movement and the dragon could easily pick them off the trail if they decided to flee.  The only chance they had was to keep the beast on the ground with them somehow.

The dragon seemed to understand that it had the upper hand.  Its movements were confident and deliberate, hardly as nervous and instinctive as other dragons Wardan had fought.  The monster's body was solid muscle, and its shoulder at full length was almost Wardan's height.  Its acid green eyes glanced at him first, then turned toward Rilea.

Thinking fast, Wardan grabbed his knife from his belt and threw it at the dragon as best as he could.  Luck seemed to favor him, as the worthless blade went straight for the creature's sinewy neck.  The blade bounced off harmlessly, but the challenge had been issued.  The dragon whipped its head back around viciously, its glare promising doom.

"That's right, I'm the one you want," Wardan taunted.  "Just you and me, you overgrown Wall Crawler."

The dragon inhaled deeply, and then issued a roar that almost knocked Wardan over.  The raider just smiled, saying, "I've heard dwarves belch louder than that."

He lunged in for a strike with his sword, but the dragon's backhand swipe was stronger.  Wardan's blade was knocked away, sent spinning into the air off the cliff.  The raider stumbled back, his arms numb from the dragon's counter.  Its claw already raised, the dragon's claw was poised to either tear him apart or crush him like a bug.

The dragon winced and turned its head behind itself, and Wardan could see Rilea as she leaped off the dragon's back, a sly grin on her face as her claw reaching for the beast's wings. 

A sickening sound like tearing leather split through the air, followed by the dragon's pained bellow.  Rilea landed under the dragon's wing as it thrashed in pain, and without losing pace she tumble underneath the dragon and reach for the lowered second wing. 

Wardan wasted no time in following her lead.  Without a weapon, he gave a roar himself as he charged and leapt up, wrapping his arms around the dragon's neck and holding fast.  The wyrm swung about but the raider refused to give way.  He swung his leg back, snapping it forward to give a solid kick to the dragon's chest. 

The beast buckled under the strike, giving Rilea all the opportunity she needed.  With the wing finally low enough, she jumped up and hung from the outer flange of the dragons wing, pulling it down even further.  Ducking beneath the wing once more, she thrust her claw up into the membrane and ran forward, the reverberating slice even louder than the last.

Wardan dropped down from the dragon’s neck and backed away a bit; his fists up and ready to make this fight work for him now that the beast could no longer fly away.

His spirit was stolen away as the dragon's glower fell upon him again, its wicked eyes damning him to a future of nothing but pain.  The dragon lashed out with frightening speed before Wardan could set himself, crashing its head into Wardan's side.   For the first time in a long time, Wardan felt something give in his body, and agonizing pain spread from his ribcage.  He crumpled and fell like a dry reed to an axe, sprawling out on the ground and trying to find his breath.

Rilea lunged at the dragon from behind, her claw poised to strike at its flank, but the dragon was wise to her game.  Instead of kicking out its leg, its wing waved backward, knocking into her and tossing her back. 

From Wardan's viewpoint, there was no way this would end well.


Kra watched his kin from the trail behind the rim of the plateau as the other dragon tossed the two humans around like a Darcat playing with a pair of ashrabbits.  Bink twitched nervously on his back, also seeming to be conflicted about the fight unraveling before them. 

On the one paw, he could let this dragon have the fight.  This might dissuade humans from coming to the mountain again.  This dragon was obviously quite powerful, if a bit younger than Kra.  He had heard of the dragons in Drakvald, how they were more animal than dragon.  But this one was different, it carried itself with the pride that all dragons should have.

But on the other paw, that another dragon was here was far more worrying to him than some humans.  If this dragon decided to claim the mountain after killing the humans, there was no way he would accept Kra's presence nearby; contact with Cursed dragons was forbidden and shunned.  If he did not step in and assert his territory now, he could lose it for good.

Torn between his kin and his safety, Kra could only watch as his despair mounted.

"Kra, you can save them!"

Kra looked to his shoulder where Bink leaned over to get his attention.  "Why?" he asked the goblin.

Bink blinked a couple times, as though the question confused him.  "You save Bink, yes?  You save the humans now!"

Kra turned away.  "It's not that easy, Bink."

"Yes easy!  It super easy!" Bink shouted as quietly as he could.  "Bink say you beat other dragon like sack of turds!  You beat Rangus, you beat anyone!"

Bink's words seemed to make things so simple, but more than that, Kra could feel that the little goblin really meant it.  That alone filled the dragon's heart to bursting.  To be regarded with awe is one thing, for even one person to believe in you so strongly was the difference between arrogance and true pride.

Kra turned back to the fight, just as the man was knocked to the ground.  He recognized the dragon's strength, but could also see now the brazen arrogance in his eyes.  This dragon was strong, but he was flaunting his power without regard for others.  His strength was not tempered by his heart.  He was without the guidance of the Motherwyrm.

"Bink, you stay here," Kra warned.  "This will not be pretty."

The goblin nodded and jumped down from the dragon's back.  The moment he was free from the goblin, Kra leapt up onto the plateau, making a barreling charge for the dragon as he stalked toward the fallen man.  The other dragon noticed at the last second, just a moment too late to stop Kra from tackling him to the ground.

"Oh great ... another one," the man said weakly from the ground. 

Kra stood up strong and tall from the attack, and the other dragon did the same, rage in its eyes. 

"Stone scales, red eyes ..." the other dragon observed, speaking in the draconic tongue.  "You are Kra."

"Then you know I am Cursed," Kra proclaimed in draconic.  "Leave now, lest my curse befall you, brother."

The other dragon laughed, a mocking, boorish sound.  "I will not run from a nothing."

"You will run from a dragon then!"  Kra roared, lashing out with his powerful claws.  The other dragon tried to defend himself, but Kra's heavy strike knocked him away.  "You will fly back to your old territory, in shame, and tell your kin of me.  You will tell them that a Kra is here, and he will not just disappear into the wasteland!  I am not just another curse to be forgotten, I AM THE LIVING STONE!"

Kra's last roar echoed out into the wind, off the mountain as though it filled the whole of Drakvald.  The other dragon smoldered with rage at this Kra's proclaimation.  "You are bold for a rock," he growled.  "You must be crushed to dust before you forget your place!"

The dragon leaped savagely at Kra, clawing, biting, and buffeting with ferocity born of arrogant rage.  His blows were strong, but Kra weathered them well, using his bulky scales as shields and his blunted paws like clubs.  The younger dragon was wiry and solid, just about Kra's size, and if he was never Cursed, the fight against this one would have been almost impossible.  But Kra knew how to fight with his afflicted body, and he had the advantage of bulk. 

He swept a massive paw into a gap left by the other's attacks, sure to take the other off his feet.  However, the other twisted away just at the right moment, avoiding the swipe and countering with a strike from his wing.  The buffet caught Kra in the jaw, not doing any real harm but keeping him off balance. 

Though his claws were fast compared to others with his affliction, this dragon was much too nimble for him to land a blow.  The other had the advantage of speed, and if he placed his strikes right, there was a chance he could fatally wound Kra. 

Accepting this turn of events, Kra widened and lowered his stance, digging himself in and going on the defensive.  The other dragon reared up and poised to strike between Kra's wings.  With strength born of patience and practice, Kra pushed his front legs up and snapped his neck up at the same time, head butting the other dragon in the belly. 

Stunned by the surprising maneuver, the other dragon toppled backward, landing on his side.  Seizing the opportunity, Kra pushed off mightily with his front legs, lifting himself onto his hind legs and aiming to topple straight down onto the other.

But the other was still too fast.  Recovering from the fall with incredible ease, he sprung up and met Kra's paws with his own, catching him with surprising strength.  Kra steadied himself before the other was able to push him over, and the two stood upright, claws locked, both knowing that the first to fall would be the one to die.

A stone sailed over the head of the other dragon, and both looked in the direction it came from without losing sight of the other.  The man on the ground looked disappointed with his throw, but he grasped around for another rock to throw.

From the other side the woman tried to rush the other dragon, as she had before.  Once again she was rebuked, the other dragon's tail snapping out quickly and sweeping her off her feet.  The tail curled back into place just as quickly to keep him balanced.

The other dragon snarled and began digging his claws into the sensitive space between Kra's claws.  Kra showed no pain, but he knew he could not hold out much longer.

The other dragon suddenly roared and reared back grasping at his face. Kra pushed with all his might, toppling over his foe and landing on top of him with all his weight. 

Glancing to the dragon's face, he half smiled as he noticed the telltale shaft of one of Bink's javelins sticking out of the flesh of the dragon's cheek.  He turned around briefly to see his companion standing on the plateau, his arm poised to through another deceptively deadly missile.

Kra lifted himself up off the other dragon.  He clearly was in no condition to fight further, both his front legs crushed and his ribcage shattered. 

"I shall give you death as a mercy," Kra said in common.  "May the Mother forgive you."

"To the wastes with the Mother," the other dragon rasped, his eyes defiant in defeat.

Anger swelled within Kra's chest.  Grasping the dragon with both claws as best he could, Kra gave a mighty grunt as he lifted his enemy bodily off the plateau.  With one titanic heave, he threw the defeated beast off the side of the plateau and down the mountain, as it howled in rage all the way down. 

Kra steadied himself with a breath, sitting down and putting one paw on top of the other.  "Praise to the Mother, she has made me strong."

"That's for sure," said the human, drawing himself up off the ground.  He winced as he cradled the side of his ribs that got smashed in the fight.

Kra looked to either side of him, the man on one side and the woman on the other.  Beyond nursing their injuries, neither of them made any move, nor said anything.  He wondered if they knew about Cursed dragons, if they would shun him as his kin did.

"Greetings, lovely humans!" Bink shouted as he ran forward, first to the man, who looked regarded the goblin with a confused smile.  Bink took hold of the man's free hand and shook it as heartily as was safe for the man, then ran eagerly across the plateau to the woman and did the same.  Even through her red blindfold, Kra could see the bemusement on her face.

Kra wished the little goblin was more subtle about the meeting, but was glad at least that someone had said something.

"Pleasure to meet you, little one," the woman said, humoring him.  "May we know the names of our saviors?"

"My name Bink," the goblin said, then turned and pointed to the dragon. "That my friend Kra!"

"Many thanks, Kra," the man said, making his way over to the dragon.  "We would have certainly died if it wasn't for you."

Kra nodded humbly, saying nothing.  He was in no way prepared for such a meeting.  What was he supposed to say?  What was he supposed to do?

"You hurt!  Both have big owwies!" Bink exclaimed.  "Come, follow!  Kra and I take you someplace safe!"

"I won't say no to that," the man said, looking to the woman for confirmation. 

The woman nodded.  "We won't make it down the mountain like this.  As long as you have somewhere for us to rest we'd be grateful."

Kra wanted to object to this plan, but deep inside he felt a curious longing.  This was his chance to learn more of men and their ways, if only for a short while.  He needed to know more if he was to survive in this new land. 

"Good good!  Yes yes!" Bink cackled gleefully.  "We have nice cave, some food, you love it, I promise!"  He took to woman's hand and started guiding her to the trail.  She went along with him, her amusement still clear on her face. 

The man started limping down after them, but Kra stopped him, stepping in front of him and lifting his paw up.

"I will carry you, if you wish," the dragon offered to the man.

The man shook his head, smiling.  "I'll be fine.  I won't belittle your strength by asking you to carry my sorry behind."

Kra fixed him with a sincere look.  "In these past few days, I've learned that strength is nothing if you don't share it with others." 

The man considered the dragons words, and a smile spread across his face.  He stepped up onto the dragon's paw and was lifted as to reach his back, sitting at Kra's neck.  Kra carried the man down the trail, taking his first step into a much larger world.

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