By Jerry Leonard
The thing that was Dargon stood in
the middle of the clearing looking over those who had joined
him, two packs of normal wolves that had been drawn instinctively
to the great beast in their midst. Cautiously, but with a
few scattered snarls and bristled backs, they milled about
with their attention fully focused on Dargon and his companion.
He could sense they had already accepted him as the leader
and thought that this was good as he didn't want to waste
any time destroying the pack leaders. Pausing to concentrate
he held out one clawed hand as if in supplication to the moon,
and in seconds a short scepter appeared in his grasp.
The beast looked at what it held and
let out a bark of laughter. Made out of what appeared to be
black iron, it was wrapped with seven bands of hammered gold
and topped with a large piece of obsidian just smaller than
a fist and made to look like a torch flame. A shimmering silvery
claw gripped the obsidian flame. The rod literally radiated
with darkness and a feeling of corruption that set the wolves
on edge. Dargon grasped the scepter with both hands and began
concentrating again, moving it in a circular motion. Almost
instantly a sound, like a thousand barely audible whispers,
began emanating from the scepter washing over the nervous
animals. As the susurration continued they calmed and stood
motionless, listening in rapt attention. As soon as Dargon
finished the wolves erupted into one long chorus of howling
simultaneously. Once the noise subsided, Dargon moved quickly
from the clearing heading in the direction of Dunst, his companion
and the wolves following in death-like silence.
Adolphius was quickly pacing back
and forth in the Great Room of the inn mumbling to himself,
"This isn't what I signed on for.... this isn't what I signed
on for..... we have to leave.... now." Dunk and Monk watched
him with wide eyes, his obvious panic beginning to infect
them as well. Glancing apprehensively at Mengar, Monk said
quietly, "Ya know Meng, if there's more than two of them then
Adolph here has a point..... I think. We were willing to give
it a go against two, but more than that and we're gonna be
Reaching across his body to touch
the mourning band on his arm, Mengar was silent for a moment.
Then with a look of firm resolve he replied, "My brother,
I'll not hold you or Dunk here." Looking at everyone else
in the room he continued, "In fact, anyone here who feels
that the best move now is to flee is free to do so. I'll not
think less of you.... As for me, I'm staying." With that,
he turned and walked to the window that faced out into the
Monk walked over to his twin and they
began whispering quietly to each other. They were speaking
so low that no one could tell what was being said until Dunk
raised his voice slightly and said, "But I'm scared brother....
Hold me." He grinned and tried wrapping his arms around Monk,
but Monk fended him off with a laugh saying, "Yer a boob."
Joining Mengar at the window, Monk said simply, "Your father
raised us better than that, brother. We don't desert family."
Sitting at the bar Mayla spoke up,
her high-pitched voice carrying across the room, "You know
where I stand. If you three are going to stay, then someone
has to keep you out of trouble." Dunk looked down at the kobold's
diminutive form and, with a wide grin, said, "Thanks momma."
Mayla frowned and quickly replied, "Hush, young boob, and
finish getting dressed..."
"Yes ma'am," Dunk said with a giggle.
Reaching over to the bar, he grabbed two wide and stiff leather
collars that were setting next to a pile of shackles and threw
one over to Monk who caught it easily. He took the remaining
collar and wrapped it around his neck, hooking the two ends
together to keep it in place. He then reached down to the
shackles, one set obviously newly forged and the other looking
old but made of some strange silvery, and almost translucent
metal, and grabbed the strange looking set, hanging it around
his neck so that it was instantly available.
"Ahem," Drekel cleared his throat
and asked, "What's da collar for?" Dunk glanced over his shoulder
and nonchalantly replied, "So they don't rip our throats out."
Paling slightly, Drekel asked, "You gots any more?" Dunk paused
and turned slowly to face Drekel. "Nope. Don't worry though,
you got so many chins that they'll never be able to find yer
neck." At this Mayla laughed so hard she fell off the stool
she was sitting on, causing Dunk to laugh as well.
Mengar was watching everything impassively
and looked over as Lord Tarn approached him. "Mengar, you
know my reasons for being here are not yours, but I don't
desert friends either." Placing his hand on Garon's shoulder,
Mengar gave a slight squeeze saying solemnly, "I know. My
Adolphius watched them all in exasperation.
Finally he sighed and said, "You're all mad, you know." Another
chorus of howls outside in the distance caused him to frown
and add, "I believe that if there was a time to go... it is
behind us now."
Lord Tarn looked over to Adolphius
and smiled. "If it makes you feel any better there's still
only two. The others are just wolves..."
Startled, Mengar said, "Are you sure
of this?" Garon just stared at him, causing Mengar to smile
sheepishly. "Oh. Suppose I should have asked that the first
Unconvinced of Lord Tarn's ability
to know, Adolphius asked, "But what if you're wrong, Justiciar?"
The reply was quick in coming, "Well, then I'm wrong and our
troubles will soon be over."
Mengar looked back out the window
and said, "Indeed. Everyone keep your arms near."
Wraith-like and silent, the beasts
moved out of the darkened forest and into the outskirts of
town, nothing but black shapes skulking about within the moon-wrought
shadows thrown by the buildings. Pausing to sniff at the air
and look about, Dargon noticed that the town was absolutely
silent. From his vantage point he could see that a large bonfire
was lit within the walls of the church courtyard and he had
no doubt that the church was probably filled with all of the
villagers and that those useless town militia soldiers surrounded
it as well.
The beast spared a quick glance at
all the wolves milling about him and sent his thoughts out
to them. As one, they froze in their tracks and perked their
ears up as if listening. A moment later they all began moving
in the direction of the church, staying within the shadows
of the buildings along the way. Dargon watched them in silence.
Once they were out of sight, he huffed with satisfaction then
turned to look at his companion who kept switching between
the whines of a beast with hunger pangs and the low throated
growls of one anticipating a kill. After a short moment of
staring at the she-wolf, he spun around and began heading
deeper into town towards his quarry, listening to her heavy
breathing as she followed closely behind.
They moved quickly and crossed over
several streets until they came within sight of his target,
The Twisted Beak Inn. Looking closely at the building, Dargon
the beast could see and smell the tell-tale signs of habitation,
light leaking through the shuttered windows of the main floor
and smoke pouring from the chimney of the main fireplace.
He stayed in the shadows watching... waiting.... until he
heard the loud and coarse laughter of someone from within.
His companion, the she-wolf Ilea, became very agitated at
the sound and began growling and salivating uncontrollably.
With a quick smack to the head to get her attention, Dargon
pointed up at the windows encircled by a balcony on the second
floor, then gestured for her to go. Without a seconds hesitation
she bounded across the street, her muscles rippling with power
as she leaped effortlessly from the ground to the top of a
wagon next to the inn, and from the wagon to the nearest balcony,
landing with a solid thud before one of the shuttered windows.
Standing to her full height, the she-wolf lifted her head
to the sky and let loose with a long and angry howl, then
started smashing and rending her way in.
As soon as she attacked the windows
Dargon raced to the side of the inn, hoping to get a look
through the slats of the single shuttered window on that side
of the building.
"Don't you got a place to hide Drek?"
Drekel looked over at Dunk and began
to shoot back a heated reply over the misuse of his name,
but paused in seeming mid-thought instead. Struggling to get
his anger with the towering oaf under control, he took a deep
breath and said through clenched teeth, "I can take care of
myself, tank you very much. I tink it be better if you worried
about yerself. After all, you guys are da ones dat gonna fight
dem, not me."
Dunk rolled his eyes and replied,
"DUH! S'what I was talkin' about. We're gonna have enough
to worry about and it would be nice if you were outta the
way, so ... Do ... you ... have ... a ... place ... ta ...
Drekel eyes narrowed as he noticed
that Dunks' glance kept drifting over to the ale kegs in the
corner as he spoke. Steeling his resolve, he shot back, "Yes,
I do. An I'll go dere when sumpin happens... not before."
Dunk sighed and looked over at Monk
shrugging his shoulders. Monk smiled back at his brother and
said to Drekel, "Be sure ya do Drek. Yer so big that if we
miss the beasts, we'll surely get you instead. I can't afford
to have my spear get stuck in yer fat..."
As Drekel's mouth dropped open in
surprised shock and indignation at the words, Dunk couldn't
help himself and started laughing loudly. He was laughing
so hard he had to hold on to his silver-headed boar spear
to keep from sagging to his knees. After a moment Mayla jumped
from her stool and shouted for everyone to hear, "QUIET! Everyone
listen!" All the people in the room froze in place and strained
to hear what Mayla was hearing, even Dunk quieted down in
mid-laugh trying to get himself back under control. Somewhere
above them, they heard the distinct sound of claws scrabbling
on wood just as the semi-silence was shattered by an unnaturally
In an instant, the companions all
fell into place in the middle of the Great Room like a well-trained
squad of soldiers with Mengar, Dunk, and Monk on the outside,
forming a three-sided box and holding their boar spears at
the ready. Lord Tarn, with a calm unfocused gaze and one hand
resting on his scimitar, and Adolphius, both hands clasped
together with his fingers entwined in an unnatural position,
stood in the middle of the other three, both seemingly lost
in concentration. Dunk looked quickly around the room just
in time to catch sight of Drekel's immense bulk as it slowly
dropped below the bar. Shaking his head sadly he took another
look around and saw that Mayla was nowhere in sight. Calling
out seriously he said, "Stay out from under foot Mother Mayla.
I don't want to step on you again..."
On the second floor the howling was
quickly replaced with the sounds of the heavy wooden shutters
giving way, splintered wood and debris falling to the floor
of one of the upstairs rooms. The ceiling boomed with every
step the wolf-beast made and, following the thud of footfalls,
they all heard what sounded like a bed or dresser being dragged
and then tossed across the room. Looking up at the ceiling
and musing aloud Monk said, "Hey Meng, sounds like it's in
your room..." When the beast found that the door of the room
had been bolted from the outside it began smashing into it,
the echoes of the battering making its way down the hall and
stairs into the Great Room. Knowing that an attack was imminent
the group began backing their way to the other side of the
room, putting as much distance between themselves and the
stairs as they could. The two oafs, with Mengar in the middle,
formed a line with about three paces between each other and
continued backing up until Adolphius bumped into the wall
and said grimly, "We can't go back any farther folks."
Just then everybody jumped, scattered,
and whirled around as, with a loud crash, pieces of wood and
dust showered them all from behind. Their blood ran cold when
they saw the pair of heavily muscled and hairy arms trying
to drag the thrashing form of Adolphius headfirst through
the shattered window. His screams of terror and pain seemed
to finally jolt the others into action, and Lord Tarn ran
over and latched onto his torso trying to pull him back inside.
"Come on now! I need a hand here!"
At that, Dunk threw down his spear and rushed over to help
Garon, grabbing on to Adolphius' legs and pulling with all
his strength. Adolphius let out a long gurgling shriek and
his struggling body went limp. Suddenly Garon, Dunk, and Adolphius
came flying away from the window to crash in a heap on the
floor. Monk dashed past them and thrust his spear into the
ragged opening hoping to catch the beast on the other side,
but the lack of resistance signaled a clean miss. Withdrawing
his spear he backed away from the ruined opening and turned
his attention to his friends.
Dunk and Lord Tarn, rising quickly
to their feet, moved even faster when they both looked down
and saw Adolphius' body.... minus his head. Blood slowly oozed
from the stump of his neck and spread across the floor. Reaching
down to retrieve his spear Dunk mumbled in a panic, "This
isn't good... Not good at all...."
Watching the others fall back to the
floor with the headless body, Mengar stood frozen in numb
shock. Mentally he thrashed himself as the words of his father
bubbled up from the recesses of his memory.... 'Remember
boy, the oldest trick, and the first trick any good warrior
learns, is to make your opponent expect an attack from one
direction and then to take them unawares from another....
Wars have been won and lost with that one.' As the words
echoed in the back of his mind, he felt the hairs on his arms
rise when Mayla shouted from the other side of the room, "LOOK
OUT!" Whirling around, Mengar tightened the grip on his spear
and raised it in reflex... just in time to catch a hurtling
mass of hair, claws and teeth on the end of it, the impact
driving him back several steps.
With a savage snarl of bloodlust and
pain the beast dug its feet into the floor and kept pushing
on the spear trying to reach Mengar, but the crossbar held
it neatly on the end. It twisted and took a swipe at him,
its razor sharp claws narrowly missing his face. As Mengar
tried pushing it back, he could hear Mayla to one side of
the room practically screaming out an unintelligible incantation,
while Garon, behind and to his right, was doing the same,
although he seemed much more in control of his voice. From
the crashing that came behind him he guessed that the oafs
had tripped and fallen into the tables and chairs in surprise
at the attack and were quickly trying to recover.
Just when the beast tensed to take
another swipe and Mengar felt his grip beginning to slip,
Mayla's voice raised in an almost climactic screech and ceased.
Instantly the shadows on one wall cast by the flickering light
of the fireplace detached themselves and took on a life of
their own. In a swirl of blackness the shadows twisted through
the air to wrap around the wolf-beast's head. With a yelp
of surprise the beast reached up to its head and tried tearing
the shadowstuff off, only to find its claws passing harmlessly,
and ineffectually, through it.
While it was distracted with this
new threat to itself, Mengar tightened his grip and gained
a few steps as he began pushing it backwards. In the space
of a breath Dunk and Monk had recovered themselves and rushed
in to plunge their own spears into the creature, the force
of their attacks throwing it back several paces and pulling
it off of Mengar's spear. Still muttering his own ritual incantation
Lord Tarn calmly walked past Mengar holding a golden symbol,
representing his deity Torisat, thrust out before him in one
hand and pointing at the wolf-beast with the other.
Realizing that they would soon have
that creature under control, Mengar spun back around to cover
the shattered window and front door farther to the left. He
knew that if the other was going to attack, now would be the
time, when everyone else was occupied with the first.
As Mengar was watching everyone's
back Lord Tarn finished his spell. A small but intensely bright
burst of energy shot from his pointing hand and impacted the
wildly thrashing creature. The golden ray of mystical energy
quickly surrounded the beast, spreading out in a brilliant
web-like display of raw power. Almost instantly, the creature
tensed and howled in surprise and shock as it was transformed
back to its human form. With hoots of excitement Dunk and
Monk pounced onto it even as Mayla rushed over with a hood
in her hands.
When Ilea came to her senses she
saw nothing but darkness. Tossed about and feeling crushed
by the rough handling of the people around her, she thought
for sure that she was going to die right then. Suddenly, the
darkness faded and she could see her accosters. Her eyes widened
to see the menacing figures of the oafs and kobold as they
trussed her up. Unsure of what was happening and in a panic,
Listening to the chaos erupting behind
him, Mengar was caught unprepared as something came flying
through the broken window towards him. In a spasm of reflex
he dropped to one knee and batted at the object with his spear
sending it bouncing and rolling into the far corner of the
Great Room. He followed it with his eyes in sickened fascination
barely recognizing it for what it was..... Adolphius' head.
Unable to look away he saw that the eyes had been ripped out,
leaving nothing but two empty and bloodstained holes.
In his mind he could still hear the
others as they struggled with their prize. Monk was yelling
at Dunk, "The shackles, the shackles! Get 'em on! Hurry up!"
Dunk yelled back, "I'm hurryin'! I got ta... uh oh." A scream,
a womans scream. A very short silence until Mayla shouted,
"Pay attention idiot!" accompanied by the sound of her soundly
whacking him. "Hold her still so I can get the hood on!"
Thinking that Mayla may have been
injured Mengar started to turn towards them, but the sound
of the front door being smashed in caused him to twist back
in surprise. Crawling through the ruined doorway was the other
Loup Garou. In the firelit room the spark of malevolent intelligence
made its eyes fairly glow a sickly yellow. Six and a half
feet of hairy muscles, claws and teeth, the new arrival crouched
and, with a snarl, leapt at Mengar. Again Mengar dropped to
one knee putting the butt of the silver-headed spear firmly
against the edge of his trailing foot and lifting the tip
to meet the oncoming attack. The creature impaled itself in
mid-flight and he used its momentum to lift the spear up and
over sending the thing sailing over his head. Careening uncontrollably
it flew off the spear and landed in a tangled heap, crashing
into some chairs and overturning a table.
Rising to his feet Mengar turned to
his foe and began quickly advancing, spear raised menacingly
before him ready to stab it again. The beast rose unsteadily,
but beat aside the spear and grabbed Mengar by the front of
his chainmail shirt. Effortlessly it picked him up over its
head and threw him back across the room to crash against the
bar. As Mengar hit the bar, his mind exploded in a flash of
pain. Head spinning as he lay dazed on the floor, he could
just make out the form of the beast as it rushed at him. Knowing
that the jaws of death were soon to close on him, he reached
behind him and drew his sword in a last act of defiance. As
it pulled free from its scabbard, the blade threw off a bright
crimson light and began humming, its low tones reverberating
across them room. Arcane energy arced and crackled up and
down the edge of the blade like small crimson lightning bolts.
The sight made the beast pause, but only for a heartbeat,
then it continued to its approach.
Somewhere in the room he could hear
Garon reciting the ritual again, but he knew it would come
too late. The beast closed in and Mengar raised his sword,
but the end never came as the large form of Monk came into
view and plowed into the creature, lifting it off of its feet
and smashing it into the wall. Somewhere in the background
Dunk yelled, "Mayla, I need a hand!" As the Loup Garou recovered
it grabbed Monk's immense bulk and tossed him aside like a
rag doll, then turned back to Mengar who was on his knees
trying to get up. It crouched once again and sprang at him
growling in vicious anger. Vision blurred and head still spinning
Mengar lifted his sword and swung, its deadly arc catching
nothing but air until it smashed into the bar. He flinched,
waiting for the impact....
That never came.
After what seemed like an eternity
of waiting, but was really only the space of a heartbeat or
two, Mengar looked up to see what happened. The room was in
silence, except for the sounds of Garon's chanting and the
growls of the two wolf-beasts in the room. The one was still
before him, only it appeared to be stuck to the ceiling unable
to move. To one side Mayla stood perfectly still, both hands
above her head and clasped together as if she was holding
something tight. The look of concentration on her face explained
the Loup Garou's predicament.
Mengar stood unsteadily and shook
his head trying to clear it. Once again Garon finished his
incantation, the mystical energy sprang forth and enveloped
the beast in its golden radiance turning it back to human
form. The Loup Garou known as Dargon shuddered from the shock
and hung stunned for a second, then regained his wits and
looked about him with an evil smile. Monk, still lying on
the floor where he landed among the tables, saw him and moaned
quietly, "Here we go again." Mengar looked up at Dargon and
shouted, "YOU! But I thought...."
Interrupting, Dargon laughed and said,
"I told you I would see you destroyed fool! But for now it
seems we are at a draw..." With that he closed his eyes as
if he were about to sleep. Mayla recognized him as well and
began lowering him so that he was within reach.
"So you said," Mengar answered in
shocked anger, "but that was right before I threw you off
Dargon's relaxed behavior confused
Mengar for a second, and then the possibilities dawned on
him. He shouted, "NO!", then reached back down to pull his
sword from where it had imbedded itself. Wrenching it free
he staggered over to Dargon's hanging form and, with all his
might, swung the sword down to lop off his head. The swords
glow became brighter, leaving a crimson trail of arcane flame
and sparks while the low hum raised in volume as it sliced
through the air. Just before the blade could touch skin Dargon
vanished and, encountering no resistance, the force of Mengar's
swing buried the sword almost to its winged hilt in the floor.
Mengar dropped to his knees in mental exhaustion, this recent
revelation almost too much as emotions long buried came boiling
to the surface.
By the fireplace, Dunk sat on the
floor next to the struggling and growling form of the she-wolf
they had captured and shackled hand and foot, the effects
of Lord Tarn's spell of transformation expended. Talking to
no one in particular, he stared at the spot where Dargon had
hung and said, "Shades... So just what does it take to do
this guy?" Looking over at Mayla he continued, "And while
we're on the subject, are these shackles gonna hold?"
Mayla looked at the creature, its
head covered with the hood she put on it, and then over to
Adolphius' still form. Sighing, she walked over to Dunk and
said, "Adolphius said those shackles would hold a dragon if
you could get them on one..." At the mention of his name Dunk
looked over at the body and mumbled, "Poor shmuck. I knew
we shouldn't have paid him everything up front." Overhearing,
Mayla reached over and slapped him on the back of the head,
Garon wandered through the debris
of tables and chairs to where Monk was laying and moaning
and helped him struggle back to his feet. Speaking loud enough
for everyone to hear he said, "Since I seem to be the only
one who has never been formally introduced, would you all
mind telling me just who that was?"
Mengar looked up wearily and replied,
"I'll try to make proper introductions when he returns. He
hasn't eaten yet..."
Dargon opened his eyes and saw that
he was back inside the tent at camp lying on the pentagram
he had inscribed into the ground for just this purpose. Quickly
he got up and laughed as he walked out into the night. While
things didn't go quite as planned he knew the night was still
young. He looked up at the moon and exclaimed, "Gods, but
I'm starved," then laughed again. Heading back to Dunst the
effects of the spell wore off and, once again, he was Dargon