Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Little Island Tales - Part 11


    Despite the encroaching heat, the pair pushed forward through the forest; Diego leading the way and moving aside branches and underbrush while Johanas did his best to hobble along as fast as he could.
    "Anything?" the older man asked through a soft cough and a very clear wince of pain.
    "No."
    It had been thirty minutes since they heard the poping noise come from the mountain side but hadn't managed to find anything in the thick groves of palms and plants. Aside from the tracks, the most exciting thing they'd seen were a few wild pineapples.
    Diego wanted to take them with but Johanas encouraged him to grab them on the way back.
    "Won't do to carry it til you need to." he told the boy.
    As they walked, the older man continually pointed out things about the trail of footprints. Not only did he comment several times about how leisurely of a pace their mystery man seemed to be moving at, but also that this person wasn't just out for a simple stroll.
     With a stick, he pointed at a few tracks that were weird to Diego. Ones that were twisted or deeper into the mud. Prints that showed caution when they were moving and that moved slower than the majority of the trail.
    Prints that showed their man was checking his surroundings.
    "In short..." Johanas winced. "He's probably some kind of warrior. Or at least a hunter of some kind. He moves quickly but he's not oblivious to how dangerous the forest is."
    "But the warriors don't know about him?" Diego asked with a tilt of his head.
    "Not one of our warriors. Someone from somewhere else."
    "Like another island?"
    "Could be." Johanas said through a strained smile.
    They kept walking, kept following the tracks, but the heat and the frustration were started to get on Diego's nerves.
    "There's got to be something around here." he whined.
    "There is..." Johanas panted weakly. "And we'll find it..."
    For the first time since they started, Diego stared back at Johanas and really took stock of what he was seeing. He knew the man was a cripple. Anyone with a pair of eyes could see that. But the energy he had always shown despite that had made him seem, well, beyond that somehow. Now, as the man panted and fought against his broken body, it was readily apparent that wasn't completely the case.
    His concern ebbed his enthusiasm.
    "Yea." Diego said thoughtfully. "Maybe we could rest? I'm pretty thirsty," making up a quick excuse.
    Johanas, face red and sweat pouring down from his brow, still managed that same grin as he always did.
    "Okay. In that case we need water." the old man chuckled weakly. "So here's what you look for..."

    To Diego's amazement, it was only a matter of minutes before they found themselves in front of a small, burbling waterfall. The little spring bubbled out of the side of small cliff-face and poured down into a crystalline blue pool some feet below.
    With Johanas' instruction, it had been incredibly easy to find the pond. First, he started by pointing out a number of tracks that Diego hadn't even seen: animal tracks. After following them for a moment or two, he made the boy stand perfectly still and listen for, of all things, the buzzing of insects. They repeated this several times until on the fourth attempt, Diego didn't hear insects, but the splashing of water.
    "Incredible." was all Diego could manage as he stared at the idyllic scene.
    With the exception of a wild boar snoozing nearby, the pool looked untouched. The little pig, a young male based on the size, snorted as it woke and quickly scampered into the forest with a squeal as they approached.
    "Of course, running water should always be your first try. Green-water can make you really sick. Just like how you don't drink ocean water." Johanas said as he sucked hard on his cigarette. "But the plants and stuff have water in 'em too. I'll show ya later."
    They both drank deeply of the pool and, to Diego's surprise, the water was almost ice cold. The chill both shocked and refreshed him and it seemed to have the same effect on Johanas as well, who now seemed to be regaining a little of his composure. After drinking their fill, they both plopped down in the moss and sand next to the pond.
    "How do you know all this stuff?" Diego asked.
    His mind was still wondering at the sounds they'd heard earlier, but he had never really been into the woods before and with the old cripple showing him so many new things, it was hard not to get caught up in the moment.
    "Used to be a warrior." Johanas replied simply.
    "No. I know that."
    "And do you know it's not always lookin' pretty with fancy hats and spears down in the village then?"
    "I...no?"
    Johanas' smile only grew larger, his pain seemingly washing from his face for the moment.
    "The warriors that venture away from the village have to know how to take care of themselves. When we train up, we learn to hunt and fish and track and just survive out here. It's kind of necessary."
    "But don't the hunters do that?"
    "They do." the older man said with a nod. "But what good are the hunters if you're alone in the woods?"
    Diego thought about that for a moment before nodding in understanding.
    Johanas, in turn, took a long draw off his cigarette and blew it up and away from the boy. Diego was getting used to the smell in a way but was thankful all the same for the consideration. The smoke made him feel weirdly light headed if he smelt it too long.
    "Hell," Johanas continued and held out the cigarette for inspection. "That's how I found out about this stuff."
    "You found it out here?"
    "Yep. Big field of it on the other side of the mountain. Plus it grows quite a few other places too. It's like a weed. But it gets the job done."
    "What is it?"
    "Dunno, honestly. Found it because of a pig. Saw him eat it and, a little while later, it was really chill and calm. Gave me a laugh at the time. After I got hurt, Kaula was describing an herb that pretty much matched so a few of the other guys helped me get some and start growing it. She always just called it Pakalolo."
    "Does it help?"
    Johanas smiled bigger. "Decently. Not for the worst though. That's just good ol' suffering."
    Diego dipped his head, feeling a mix of pity and shame for the older man, but quickly got a soft pat on the shoulder.
    "Hey. Stop that kid. Ain't nothin' to look so sad about."
    "I just...I'm sorry you hurt all the time."
    "Ehh, me too." he said, taking another drag before letting the cigarette once again dangle precariously from his lips. "But you get used to it in a way."
    Diego offered him a smile and Johanas returned it with a wink.
    Shhishiishhh
    They both glanced up quickly at one of the bushes near the edge of the pond. It was still softly shaking from the moment before.
    Exchanging a quick glance, Diego stood and wrapped his hands around the older man's arm. Together, they struggled to slowly pull him up off of the ground, Diego groaning from the sheer weight and Johanas from the pain of the quick motion.
    "Shh." he hushed Diego as he hobbled in front of him.
    Johanas moved slowly, keeping himself between Diego and the bush. To Diego's surprise, as he moved, the older man seemed to lean to one side, his good side, putting more and more weight on his non-crippled leg. And, as he did, his hand wrapped threateningly around the base of his cane as though he might start swinging it like a sword. For the first time ever, the man didn't seem calm or even pained, but rather like the warrior he supposedly once had been.
    And, as if in response, the bush rattled once again followed by the sound of heavy footfalls moving towards them.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Little Island Tales - Part 10


    "Hey there, kid." Johanas said with that same, massive smile he always had.
    His cigarette bobbed up and down precariously as though it might stumble from his lips at any moment. The man's almost surreal grin was so wide that it looked like it might split his head in half at any moment and the words came with puffs of pungent, stinky smoke.
    Diego politely tried to ignore the smell.
    "Uh...Hi, Joe." Diego responded uncertainly.
    "You know," the older man began, resting heavily on his cane, a distinct look of mischief in his eyes, "I was thinking about what your mother said and figured she's right."
    "About what?"
    "About the fact I should take someone with me to go investigate those tracks you found."
    Diego found himself staring blankly at him. To start, he was already baffled about why the man was here in the first place and now this? What did any of this have to do with him?
    "I think that's a pretty good idea," Johanas continued. "Don't you?"
    "I...guess?"
    "So. Wanna come check them out with me?"
    Realization dawned on him and excitement began to build in Diego's chest, but something inside told him to stay his hand.
    "Yea!" he said with more joy than he meant to let out. Quickly doubling back, he asked, "But I don't think that's what mom meant. I think she meant someone older and more experienced."
    "Naaaah!" Johanas said with a long exhalation of smoke. "She didn't say who I should take with. Just that she wanted someone. And who better than a strapping young lad like yourself?"
    To punctuate the point, the older man laughed and patted Diego on the shoulder.
    He felt his compunctions drain away and a smile grew across his face that could easily rival the ever-present grin that Johanas wore. The excitement that had been welling up in his chest burst and he could stop himself from practically jumping up and down.
    "Ok!" he nearly shouted. "Let's go!"
    Diego nearly bowled the older man over as he shot past him and into the sand beyond. Johanas chuckled hard and, slowly and carefully, hobbled about-face to follow after the overeager boy.

    "What do you think?"
    "I think it looks like the trail is starting to get a little cold." Johanas responded to Diego's inquiry.
    He wasn't wrong either. At this point, any tracks that had existed on the lower beach were completely gone; washed away with the tide and the rolling waves. The ones that still existed in the rich, white sands of the upper beach were also starting to fade as the gentle noon-time breeze whittled them away to little more than divots among the dunes.
    "They were heading to the mountain!" Diego declared excitedly as he ran alongside the faded tracks, his eyes locked on the large, singular peak that dominated the island's horizon. "I got a good look at em earlier! Remember?"
    "I remember." Johanas said with a laugh.
    "Then come on! Let's go!"
    The older man nodded in agreement and followed after him. He moved even slower in the beach sand, the cripple's cane having trouble finding any real purchase and making it difficult to move in a straight line, but Diego was willing to slow down. Luckily, despite Johanas' pain, his smile never faltered and he didn't seem to get tired.
    Walking past the village, they soon found themselves rounding the bend to the little box canyon where their home was hidden from the elements. Sand soon changed to dirt and dirt gave way to a host of palm and coconut trees that sprouted here and there. After an hour's combined walking and hobbling, their trail had reappeared in the wet mud and the landscape had begun to incline.
    "Now those are pretty interesting." Johanas commented as he stared at the first, intact boot print they'd found on their walk.
    Diego had to agree.
    Unlike before on the beach where the track was either in soft sand or where the ocean had begun to wash away the details, Diego could plainly see every intricate detail of the boot mark. The mark was surprisingly large, easily rivaling most of the biggest warriors in the village, but that wasn't the odd part. The mark was filled with ridges cutting deep cuts into the wet dirt, running the length of the print, forming strange shapes and patterns. While he'd seen a hint of them earlier, here they were plain as day.
    "What are those?" Diego asked, indicating the deep ridges.
    "Don't know." Johanas replied with a shrug as he fished a fresh cigarette from his pocket and let it with one of the tinder-sticks the man always carried. "Some sort of fancy cobbling, I guess."
    "Why?"
    Again, a shrug.
    They were both resting on the remains of a fallen tree, staring at the thing. The tracks continued on deeper through up the mountain and into the thick groves and woods. Into the greenery and the darkness.
    "I'll tell you what, though..." Johanas began. "Whoever made these probably didn't run into any demons."
    Diego spare a quizzical look as if to ask "Why?", his mind drifting back to the massive aka-akua tracks he'd seen around the first set of prints.
    "He's moving too slow." the older man continued. "He wasn't running. The tracks aren't cutting deep or nothing like that. Just smooth and steady."
    "So he didn't come through at night?"
    Johanas, yet again spared a shrug.
    "Guess so. On top of that, there aren't any tracks following after it. See? All smooth except for our mystery man. And it's not like a demon moves quiet like."
    Diego, his attention now drawn to it, regarded the near perfect mud with new understanding. He'd seen the beach enough to know the aka-akua tore up everything they touched. Unless they could fly, there was no way they wouldn't notice that it had been there.
    Hell, if one had followed the boot tracks, there probably wouldn't be much to follow to begin with.
    And so, they sat a while longer in silence.
    The edges of the forest were beginning to heat up with the midday sun, the air thickening as it always did near the trees; a wet, heavy feeling that clung to your skin and made you thirsty despite your clothes being soaked. As excited as Diego was to find something new, he was starting to get a little tired from the walk and had just opened his mouth to ask when they might go back when they heard it.
    PoppopopopPOP!
    Diego jumped up in surprise and Johanas glanced around in confusion.
    "What was-"
    Popopopopopopopopop!
    The sound came from higher on the mountain, deeper into the forest, and reverberated off every rock and tree trunk.
    Diego spared a glance at Johanas who was pulling himself to his feet, his confusion drying up some of the man's permanent grin.
    "What was that?" Diego tried to ask again.
    "That?" Johanas said, regaining his smiling once again splitting his face. "That was a clue."

 ===

(Back by popular demand, we return to the world of Little Island Tales! I'm actually amazed by the number of requests I got both randomly in the comments sections and DM's/Emails. With that said, while there may be an interjection of a short story here or there, I intend to continue Little Island Tales for a while. So strap in and, as always, I hope you enjoy. See you again soon, Lovelies.)

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Dragon's Maw (Final) - The Chronicle's of Braum Stormforge

http://dragon.images3.org/picture/913-scary-dragon-breathing-with-fire-by-oustins/

    The last kobold hit the ground with a resounding thud.
    For half a moment, Braum just stood there, his breath coming in short ragged gasps. His head was spinning and his fingers were numb. Despite this, he could easily feel the liquid collecting in extremities of his armor; the combined blood and sweat from the fight pooling and sloshing about in the metal gauntlet's fingertips and at the base of his boots.
    Some of it was theirs. More of it was his.
    With a crackle and sizzle of electricity, the eidolon settled next to him as Ember made his way down the stairs, stepping gingerly over the corpses.
    "Well that was fun." the summoner commented.
    Braum could do little more than scoff as he brought his hand to his chest, the palm growing a distinct golden hue. A warmth spread through his body as his god's divine blessing touched him and, while he would need actual rest to properly heal, he felt the blood from his wounds stop flowing as the flesh began to knit itself back together.
    He let out a sigh as the burn of battle began to be replaced by a wash of relief.
    "Yea." Braum agreed with a half-hearted nod before turning his attention upwards towards the orb. "But at least we found the o-"
    The entire room shuddered with the force of a small earthquake.
    "-rb." he finished and quickly added. "What was that?"
    Boooooom.
    Another shake and shudder, the echoing explosion could be felt in their bones and Braum could actually see the shockwave run through the walls; sending dust and bits of loose debris skittering about.
    Ember's eyes narrowed and Braum, his body still burning from the battle moments before, wearily lifted his hammer again, ready for a fight.
    Unfortunately, they weren't ready for what came.
    A jet of flame, blazing blue with tinges of red and orange, exploded through the wall on the far end of the room. The solid stone didn't fragment as much as it did turn instantly to molten rock and splatter like liquid wax from the sheer force and heat of the blast.
    Half a second later, what wall hadn't been liquefied by the flames collapsed as the head and neck of dragon came crashing through. The beast was larger than any creature Braum had even dreamed about; a mountain turned monster. It's bright red scales shone brilliantly in the firelight and the gargantuan creature, quite literally large enough that it could likely use the entirety of Wyrmshorde as a nest, was quickly followed by a bolt of lightning that struck it across its face from somewhere beyond the wall's precipice.
    "GRAB THE ORB AND RUN YOU FOOLS!" the magically enhanced voice reverberated off the walls, echoing from the room the beast had just broken through from.
    While the speaker was unseen, both men knew instantly who it was. It was the priest of Bahumut. They very man who had sent them on the quest.
    And so they ran.
    Sparing an extra few seconds to climb the small pillar in the center of the room, Braum snatched the orb and tucked it away in his bag before sprinting for all he was worth. In that time, several more blasts of flame had turned the walls, ceiling, and a number of nearby treasure piles to boiling slag and at least a dozen bolts of lightning had ricocheted off the beasts glittering hide.
    "Just remember the old Elvish proverb!" Ember called back as they barreled up the stairs and away from the chaos. "One does not need to outrun the dragon. They just need to outrun the dwarf!"
    Braum could do little more than growl as the summoner laughed at him. The taller, lither man quickly picked up speed but, to his credit, used the headway to open the magical armoire at the far end of the hall instead of simply leaving him behind.
    With Ember at the front, Braum behind, and the mage's Eidolon taking up the rear, they quickly navigated the twisting stone tunnels and didn't stop running until they were a half mile out the cave's entrance and down the road.
    Once there, they both collapsed in exhaustion; their faces and bodies drenched in sweat as they openly wheezed.
    "Th-That was..." Ember started.
    "Yea...
    "And the priest..."
    "Yea..."
    "Why?"
    "Don't know."
    Nothing else needed to be said. The two sat there for a minute, trying desperately to catch their breath while watching hesitantly up the mountain road at the cave's entrance. Nothing followed them out, although Braum doubted that such a beast as they'd seen would use the cave. Based on its sheer size, it very well might take the mountain with it if it decided to pursue them.
    Weakly, he stood up.
    "Let's get back to town." Ember said, his words barely a whisper through his hoarse throat. "I'm not sure what we're supposed to do with this damned orb if our payday is in their with a dragon, but I'd rather not wait around here."
    "Agreed." Braum said with a nod.
    And so, after another minute of collecting themselves, the pair began their trek back down the mountain. He noted that the necromancer seemed to be missing but thought little of it at the time. There were other things on his mind.
    Braum was thinking about the glowing orb in his pocket. He was thinking about how strangely heavy it was and how it felt in his palm, a slight sensation of energy tingling through his nerves at every slight touch.
    He was also wondering. He was wondering what he was supposed to do with this thing now that they had acquired it and whether the priest, who very likely saved their life, would be able to collect it from him.
    What he was not doing was thinking about the future.
    He wasn't thinking about some sociopathic mage with a love of dead bodies. He wasn't thinking about the implications that such a man, with an entire troop of dead goblins, was no where to be seen. As he was not a fortune teller, he wasn't thinking about how this one act, this one little quest they had just performed, would change the world forever. And finally, he certainly was not thinking, wondering, or really had any way of knowing that this orb and its quest would not only lead to his death, but his rebirth, and how the wheels that were now turning would strip him of his title in the eyes of his god and his position as a paladin.
    Instead, his mind was on the orb and no where else.

===

(Hello Lovelies. I hope you enjoyed 'The Dragon's Maw'. While I'm going to be stopping here for a little bit, worry not, Braum will be returning later. More of his story exists and hopefully the ending gives you a hint at some of what is to come. For now though, I'm going to be returning to Little Island Tales as well as a few other new pieces. Some of them will be a return to the classics and heavily horror oriented while a few others will be attempts at branching out my talents. Check in soon for more and I hope you have a wonderful day.)

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Dragon's Maw (Part 7) - Chronicles of Braum Stormforge

Artist Unknown - If Identified, please let me know - http://www.misucell.com/WDF-158230.html

    CRACK~
    The sound of the kobold being crushed under the weight of Magna was sickening. Worse yet, it came down cleanly on top of his head and split it like an overripe melon, spraying its contents across Braum and the other kobolds. In a heartbeat, the creature was snuffed out of existence only to be replaced by two more of the little dragon-kin, their blades flashing and searching for purchase beneath his steel hide.
    Fortunately, he didn't have the time to think about the implications.
    With his shield in his left hand, he knocked away a spear that was aimed for the slot in his helmet, bashing the beast backwards. A half moment later, a sword came from his right, seeking to cut out his knees from below him. That monster met the still gooey head of his hammer and was sent sprawling, its ribs shattering beneath the blow.
    But for each one blown away, more seemed to seethe from all around.
    And for each one that appeared, a blow landed on his armor. A blade slipped beneath a plate. A wound was cut into his flesh. And he fell back, bellowing in rage as much as pain.
    "ANYTIME NOW!" Braum roared and spared a half second to glance back at the summoner at the top of the stairs.
    None of the kobolds had been able to surge past him. Those few that had were brought down with utmost ferocity and their broken bodies now littered the way, blocking others from making the journey easily.
    But they still needed more time.
    The eidolon could clearly be seen in the runic circle now. The summoner's eyes were open but where irises would normally have been, Braum could make out nothing but a hollow, iridescent glow.
    And so he fought on.
    One kobold was kicked square in the chest only to be trampled by its compatriots.
    Another was sent sprawling by a well place shield blow.
    He had just taken out several of the little blighters in a great swing of his hammer when two things happened. First, he felt the bite of pain and the warm outpouring of blood as a spear slipped into a crack in his armor. The hard ridge of the blade bit into his flesh and rested just between two of his ribs, lighting his chest ablaze with pain and causing him to let out another bellowing roar.
    Second, a group of kobolds uncovered a very functional, very deadly-looking ballista some hundred yards away.
    For half a moment, Braum just stared. Through the haze of the pain and the shock of the massive bow-and-arrow like machine, he felt himself just go numb. Had it not been for his steel, he likely would have been killed in that moment of surprise.
    It was only when the ballista started being aimed towards Ember, the still unfinished summoner, that he was brought to his senses.
    "HEY!" he bellowed, trying to get their attention.
    But they weren't looking at him. They were getting ready to fire.
    And he had to do something.
    Using his considerable bulk and his massive tower shield, Braum plowed through the kobolds that were still in front of him. He moved through them like a bulldozer and ran as hard and fast as he could. He still had one problem...they were too far away and he had no ranged weapons.
    Think, Braum, Think. I just need a moment. Just need...
    He laughed out loud as the idea hit him.
    While he might have simply used some of the debris lying around him, Braum didn't want to slow down and possibly be caught by the horde that was now following on his heels. Instead, he quickly sheathed his hammer and reach back into his bag.
    A moment later, in a single, seamless motion, Braum drew out the cast iron pot that he'd taken from the priest's room and threw it for all he was worth.
    The great, black cauldron soared with an elegance and grace that no cookware should ever really see, particularly when thrown at another person. It struck true. The lead kobold, a little monster slightly larger and more scarred than the others who was just settling in at the controls of the war-weapon, didn't even see it coming. The pot hit dead on, slammed him to the ground, and lodged itself to the little dragon-kin's head with a resounding KLONG!
    It struggled and screeched and clawed at the pot, trying desperately to get it off, but by the time he and three others had managed to pry it from his crooked skull, it was already too late.
    A wall of steel and blood and fury descended upon them, hammer first, bellowing in a rage that even the Dwarf had not known up to this point.
    He roared and screamed and swung his weapons, decimating everything in front of him. While many still fought on, some began to back away in fear of the ferocious display that Braum was putting on. Bodies were broken, the ballista was crushed, and, just as more of them decided to back away in favor of their lives, a new threat emerged.
    It started low; a soft grumbling that quickly built up to a rushing boom. But half a moment later, the entire far end of the room lit up with arcs and bolts of blue and white electricity that shot this way and that, shattering stone and violently tearing a crater out of the platform where the now complete eidolon hovered; its deep blue eyes narrowed and sparking with energy.
    With Braum in front and the Eidolon behind, the kobolds turned tail and began to run, but it was already too late. The sound of lightning and thunder from the magical beast coupled with Braum's screams of defiance and rage drowned out their cries; the only thing louder being the sound of Ember's laughter as he watched the destruction from his perch above the stairs.

===

(Alright, so I misjudged the length of Part 7. There's only one more entry into Dragon's Maw before we switch back to a few other pieces. Promise. ;P )