A squirrel quietly munched an acorn. It looked up, and noticed a translucent figure approaching.
"Boo" the ghost tried. The squirrel seemed unimpressed and casually moved on to another acorn.
The ghost drifted lightly over the ground, back and forth, searching, blending with the early morning fog. Ahead loomed a building; perhaps this was the place it seeks.
It was the Chapel. No help there for a ghost.
"Nooooooo!" the ghost cried, hauntingly. "Why will no one help me?"
"Perhaps," a voice came from beneath a nearby rose bush, "because it is much too early for anyone to be awake."
Slowly the ghost drifted towards the bush. Mostly hidden by its canes and profuse vegetation was a large man with long black hair. Dressed in pale blue armor, he rested half on top of a pile of empty wine bottles. It must have been terribly uncomfortable.
"Heellllp meee!" the ghost droned, hovering above the ground at the man's feet. The man clasped his hands over his ears.
"If you stop that howling and moaning," he said quietly, "I will try."
The ghost promptly got quiet.
"That's better." The man took his hands off his ears and with a clink of bottles, struggled to a sitting position. "Now... what is wrong?"
"I'm a ghost!" The foggy figure moved agitated side to side.
"Please, whisper," the man groaned. "In case you haven't noticed... I have a very good excuse for a headache this morning." The man picked up a red bottle with some small hope of finding another drink, then tossed it with a clink onto the pile. "What did you say was wrong?" he asked again, blurry eyes seeking to focus on the wispy figure.
"I'm dead," the ghost whispered.
"And... ?" the man prompted.
"That's not enough?" the ghost seemed confused.
"Let me guess... you are new to this realm and even though Ironheart warned you, you tried hunting something other than squirrels and rabbits?"
"Who is Ironheart?" the ghost asked, bewildered.
"Guess that answers that," the man rolled into a crouch and smoothly rose to his feet.
"You are very graceful..." the ghost began.
"For someone so fat?" the man finished. "I am no Rogue, but I do pretty well for a Warrior."
"You are a Warrior?"
"Yes, but I have been considering a change in career."
"You can do that? What will you become?" the ghost asked.
"I was thinking about getting a job as a wine bottle." The man kicked a few wayward bottles back onto the pile.
"Why do you drink so much?"
"It's a long story, kid."
Before the warrior could explain further, a pop of displaced air announced the arrival of someone dressed in brown robes. The ghost felt a rush of hope. This was a Poet. And from his robes, he must be a strong one.
"Gareth! Thank the Gods you are here!" the youthful Poet rushed forward to clasp the Warrior's arm. Then backed away, wrinkling his nose. "You're drunk, again! I can't believe it! You know what Pteri would say..."
"I am NOT drunk," the warrior interrupted, "though I was until recently. A distinction in tenses which I plan on rendering moot."
"Not now! We've got troubles!" The Poet hopped about waving his arms. "There's a dragon at the gate! You have to help me!"
Gareth struggled to focus on the quickly moving healer.
"Dragon? Impossible, they never leave their cave. Almost never."
"Well, this one didn't have any choice in the matter. I summoned it." The Poet managed to look embarrassed and proud at once.
"What kind of dragon?" Gareth asked, digging an earthen brown helm out of his pack.
"It is full grown and at least a Mage."
The warrior groaned and found some armored gloves, too.
"It's just outside the East gate, shooting balls of Hellfire up and down the Dae Shore."
Drawing a gleaming violet sword from his pack, the Warrior turned to the Poet. "Let's go."
After the Poet disappeared, the Warrior noticed the misty wraith still hovering next to him.
"I'm sorry, I will not be able to lead you to the Shaman; you can make it on your own. Nothing will hurt you now, right?" The Warrior chuckled and disappeared.
"Well, Blaster, you have exceeded my expectations," the Warrior Gareth said, after they materialized outside the gate. "How did you summon a dragon? I thought that was impossible."
"It should be," the Poet began, as he led Gareth through the trees on the edge of Dae Shore. "It requires more Mana to summon a large animal like a Gorilla than a small animal like a caterpillar. Summoning a Dragon should require more Mana than anyone can hold."
"But you got around that somehow."
"Yes... I started to have some luck after I found the Dragon-staff." Blaster looked over his shoulder at the huge warrior. "That is the main reason I came to you, Gareth. I know, sober or not, I can always count on your discretion."
"I take it this staff is something you aren't supposed to be using?"
"As a new Muse initiate, I have to do SOMETHING to impress my masters!" the Healer shrugged. "I only wanted to summon a little one, honest."
The dragon's location wasn't exactly hidden. Wide swathes of field grass were burned and several trees were still smoking. The two adventurers peeked cautiously over a hill.
"Good Grin!" Gareth gasped. Sitting in the middle of a small burnt out valley was an enormous dragon. Twice the size of a Dragon Mage, his head snaked up near the tops of the smoking trees surrounding him. His scales were a brilliant golden sheen and his eyes glowed red, pulsing in time with his breathing. "If that thing heads towards town, what's left of Kugnae will be wiped out!" Gareth observed, sliding back down behind the hill. "Can't you just summon it away?"
"I believe I could," Blaster replied, sitting next to the visibly astounded warrior. "The problem is... I dropped the staff."
Gareth cocked an eye at the thin Poet.
"Where else?" the Muse replied grimly. "You can just see the end of it peeking out under its right forepaw."
Gareth crawled back to the top of the knoll and peaked again.
"I can't see it."
"Sure you can," the Muse joined him. "It is black and shiny, with its top carved in the shape of a dragonhead."
"Black and shiny you say?" Gareth scratched his head. "That sounds familiar... what did you say it was made of?"
"I didn't say, because I don't know." Blaster took cover behind the hilltop again. "It is harder than steel, yet as light weight as wood. No material I have ever seen before."
Gareth slid down and joined his young friend. He removed his helm and held his graying head in his hands. A low moan escaped from the warrior.
"Gareth! What's wrong?" Blaster tried a small healing spell, but the warrior seemed perfectly healthy. "Are you still hung over?"
"No... I mean, yes, a little," Gareth lifted his head a little, for the first time in Blaster's memory, the old warrior looked every bit as old as he really was.
"I think I recognize that staff," he mumbled, "or at least the material it's made of."
"What is it? I just figured it was treated wood, black oak or ironwood..."
"It's Dragon bone! Not wood." Gareth interrupted, glaring at the young Muse. "That Dragon certainly knows what it is. Who knows... that Dragon may even RECOGNIZE who the bone came from. Dragons are like that. We will never get that staff back!"
Now it was Blaster's turn to slump down with his head in his hands and groan. "Perhaps..." Gareth squinted in the direction of the dragon. Blaster perked up. "I KNEW you would think of something!" The young Muse initiate smiled at his older friend. "You are the best tactician in the Kingdom!"
"Then why does General Rowann still beat me at GOH?"
The warrior turned his attention back to the dragon, examining the layout of the valley. Suddenly, the Dragon seemed to swell and its eyes glowed like furnaces.
"Uh oh, it's gathering power..." the Muse observed unnecessarily, as the dragon let loose a huge ball of Hellfire, large enough to roast a battalion of warriors. Blaster stole a look at Gareth, to see his reaction at the Dragon's display of power. The warrior seemed unworried though his eyes narrowed.
"Let's do it," he said, and then set his Helm back on his head.
Blaster worked his way quietly around the valley, getting behind the huge beast, as Gareth instructed. There wasn't much cover, but his dark brown robes blended well with the heavily burnt vegetation. His face and hands were coated with ash, making him look like he had been fighting a forest fire. Gareth had chuckled while applying the charcoal to the usually pristine Poet, but Blaster didn't mind. He figured a little dirt wasn't much of a price to pay if he can get his hands on that staff again.
"Why did I drop it?" he asked himself, for the hundredth time, then realized something, looking at the imposing bulk of dragon ahead of him, "I guess it was a natural reaction." He ran when he summoned the beast.
"Who wouldn't?" he questioned.
He caught sight of Gareth slipping over the hilltop, directly in front of the Dragon. Oddly, the reptile wasn't paying much attention to his surroundings and seemed instead to be sniffing at the ground under his paws.
"Friend of yours?" Gareth asked, casually, not more than two paces in front of the dragon, which roared and drew itself up to its full height. It had obviously been taken by surprise. The warrior made no move towards the beast. To Blaster's surprise, the dragon answered the question.
"Wifffe," it breathed, speaking remarkably clearly.
"I'm sorry," the warrior said, and seemed genuinely sympathetic. "I know how you must feel. My wife is dead, too."
The dragon seemed ready to strike at the warrior, but instead, his eyes flared and some sort of spell was cast.
"Noooo," it said, clearly, "Not dead. Spirit lives."
For a brief moment, Gareth saw his wife's face surrounded by mist. She seemed to see him, too, and opened her mouth to say something. Then the vision faded.
The Warrior's expression lost its sympathy. He drew his gleaming sword.
"That was unkind," he said, taking a defensive stance, looking pitifully small, hardly larger than the huge dragon's head. "We both know how this will end. Prepare to join your wife."
"Fool!" the dragon roared and swatted at Gareth with a taloned forepaw. The warrior deflected most of the blow and returned a tremendous blow with a Berserker's rage. From hiding, Blaster saw the Berserk spell, and healed Gareth of the weakness following the tremendous attack. The dragon sensed the Poet's spells and with turn of his sinuous neck, faced Blaster, eyes glowing.
Gareth saw his opening: an exposed throat, and hit it with a Whirlwind of blows, tearing a wicked gash and spraying himself and the surrounding foliage with black dragon's blood. Again Blaster healed Gareth's drained vitality, but cautiously threw up a barrier spell around himself. None too soon. Even though he was bleeding barrels of blood from two horrendous wounds, the Dragon Adept drew power and cast a ball of Hellfire at the poet. The glowing fire tore at the Muse's barrier spell like a wild animal, but for a few precious seconds, Blaster was safe.
"Looks like one more Whirlwind and you join your wife," Gareth said, mostly to fill the time before the magic aethers settled enough to allow another spell casting. "Last chance to hand over the staff and go quietly."