"There is the village we seek, Eldrich," Sage said, swooping down to land in the village common. Eldritch slid from Sage's back and stretched. The flight has been long, but they had arrived. The villagers streamed from their homes to greet them, standing about in solemn groups, eyeing the huge dragon and the weapons festooned warrior with a mixture of awe and uneasiness.
A portly man emerged from a group, extending his hand and saying "I am Chief Alderman Pickens; I welcome you to the humble village of Meadowlands mighty Eldritch. You are a brave warrior indeed to have subjugated such a beast for your mount." "Sage is neither my mount, nor my vassal," Eldritch rumbled, "He is my partner in battle and my friend. Your note spoke of giant bats plaguing your village, is this true?" "Most assuredly mighty one," the flustered man said. "Our livestock have been ravaged, our homes and barns damaged; only two days ago a young maiden drawing water from a well was nearly carried off by one of the fiends. She struck the monster with her water bucket and it fled, leaving her with cuts and bruises." While the humans conversed, Sage emulated what he had seen Nightshade do; hunkering down to appear less formidable to the children gathered wide eyed around him, he lowered his head to the ground and waited.
A boy dressed in overalls and a checkered shirt approached first, petting Sage's nose. Sage blinked and snorted, the boy jumped, then laughed. That brought the other children on the run and soon they were climbing about on the scaly beast and sliding down his neck and tail.
"Do you know where these monsters may hide during the day?" Eldritch inquired.
"There are many large caves in the mountains to the north," was the reply. "Many have never been explored as we are afraid of what may be lurking inside. One of them may be their lair." "It is a start. Sage and I shall rest so we will be alert when night comes and tomorrow we shall explore these caves." The warrior and the dragon were led to the largest barn in the village where they could bed down and wait for nightfall. Sage stretched out, Eldritch lay back against one of his forepaws and they were soon asleep.
Sage awakened and saw dusk turning into night. Eldritch was snoring lustily, no doubt dreaming about one of his many battles. High pitched squeaks filled the darkness and something flitted across the crescent moon.
He nudged Eldritch with his nose and the warrior was instantly awake.
"Something is flying around out there making squeaking noises." "I can't hear anything." "My ears are more sensitive than yours. Let us see what it is." They emerged cautiously from the barns' open doors, seeing nothing. A shadowy shape flew at Sages' head and he snapped at it. The creature screeched and flew erratically away.
Sage spat out what was in his mouth and he and Eldritch examined it.
It appeared to be a fragment of black canvas, but it bled from where Sages' teeth had torn it from the creatures' body. Upon closer look it was in fact a scrap of tough membrane, not unlike that on the dragons' wings.
"So those were the night visitors," Eldritch growled. "They were silent in flight and nearly impossible to see. It is no wonder that the townsfolk are terrified." "They're strong as well," Sage replied. "That creature tore itself from my jaws with one pull, lost part of it's wing and was still able to fly away. They will be formidable opponents." "So much the better," Eldritch chuckled, "I love a good fight." They went back in the barn and fell asleep once more.
After breakfasting on eggs, ham, potatoes and two fat pigs, respectively, Eldritch and Sage took off to search for the cave where the bats could be hiding. Alderman Pickens was right, the mountains were riddled with caves; some entrances quite small, some large enough to accommodate a small army. After a while Sage stopped to rest on a truncated mountain top, gobbling an unwary mountain sheep while Eldritch consumed bread and cheese washed down with a skin of wine.
Resuming their search, they happened upon a large cave high on a peak where there was no denying the bats had made their home. Piles of whitened skeletons littered the guano spattered rocks below the opening, the smell making them both sneeze.
"How shall we make them come out and fight?" Sage said.
"I have an idea," Eldritch replied. "We'll need some wood and twigs for kindling." Flying down to the forests below, Eldritch cut down several small trees with his battle axe which Sage gathered up and deposited at the caves' mouth. After three trips, Eldritch decided they had enough wood, so he struck flint until the twigs smoldered and the pile burst into flame.
Soon it was burning merrily as Sage hovered fanning the blaze with his wings and driving the smoke into the cave. Eldritch waited outside behind a boulder, axe and sword ready to strike.
Squeaks and squeals emanated from deep inside as the smoke became thicker until the first bat emerged. Eldritch struck savagely with his axe, almost severing the creatures' wing. It screeched and spiraled down to smash on the rocks below. The next one out Sage seized in his jaws, crushing it and then dropping it to join it's comrade.
They dealt with a dozen or more of the creatures in this fashion, sending their broken bodies sprawling on the rocks until no more appeared despite the clouds of smoke blown into their den.
Sage landed beside Eldritch and said "Do you suppose that's the last of them?" Eldritch shook his shaggy head, "I'm not sure. They may have another entrance somewhere and others have escaped. Let us return to the village and plan our next move."
Great was the jubilation in the village of Meadowlands upon hearing of their champion's triumphant battle with the bats. Eldritchs' cautionary advice that they were not sure if they had killed all the creatures mattered to them not a whit. The Alderman proclaimed a celebratory day of feasting and merriment and the citizenry responded with gusto.
Eldritch ate and drank prodigiously as befitting a warrior of his stature. Sage ate the platters of food and sweets the adults and children brought to him and enjoyed it thoroughly. Night passed without incident and the pair began to wonder if they had indeed destroyed all the bats.
The answer was not long in coming.
Eldritch awakened, stretched and yawned, the sun was peeping over the mountain peaks and a new day had begun. His stomach rumbled and he set out to find some breakfast. It would be a long flight home and he needed sustenance.
Sage dozed, opening one eye to see his partner depart. Thoughts of a fat mountain sheep or two made him drool so he arose, walked outside and stretched each leg, then his wings, then his tail. He was about to take flight when a strange noise reached his ears. It sounded as if a million mosquitoes were swarming and it was coming closer by the second.
Then he saw the source of the sound. A cloud of giant bats darkened the sky, the buzzing drone produced by hundreds of their wings beating in unison as they neared the village. They had come to avenge their fallen comrades.
Sage raced through the village, bellowing, trying to warn the people. Eldritch emerged from a tavern and roared, "What is wrong, my friend?" "The bats," Sage replied, "Hundreds of them, heading for us. We must warn the people." He began shouting and running as Sage continued to bellow.
A bell began to toll a warning as the women and children fled into basements and root cellars and the men assembled in the town square carrying their farm implements as weapons; bills, pitchforks, pikes, halberds and axes. They had no chance to prepare a plan of defense as the first bats appeared and dove screeching with fangs agape.
It became a wild melee' of flashing blades and slavering jaws. Eldritch and the villagers ducked, stabbed and slashed at the diving creatures, their powerful wings knocking men sprawling while their fangs sought flesh to ravage.
Sage sat back on his haunches, rending and tearing at the creatures with his clawed forepaws, his sinuous neck and head striking out to crush the bats in his fanged jaws. The bats bit and clawed at him but could not penetrate his tough scales.