Crocarius, in the lead, came bounding up the corridor to find the two thieves and a corpse laying face down. His friends joined him, moments later.
“What happened here, thief?” Croc asked, picking him up by the cloak.
“Nothing. And I don’t answer to you,” then from below his elbows, a gas rose and started choking Croc. He dropped Gauge, as the thief collected Cuttice quickly, making for the door. He opened it and they both ran inside, but seconds later, the other four had joined them. There they saw the limp body of Darius on the ground. Croc and Gert went to it.
“The young lad had too much heart, and not enough brains,” Gert said.
“Who did this, thief?” Croc demanded, looking up at a trace of who was once there. He saw a door close quietly way far down on the right side of the hallway. Croc was now seeing this whole hallway filled with doors, on both sides.
“Come, we’re following them,” then slightly looking down on Darius, he said, “we’ll retrieve the bodies later.”
The four of them started down the hallway, but Croc once again heard a familiar voice in his head.
“Croc, please, I need help! Ahhhhhh! I ran in the door with the sand. Hurry!” then the message was gone.
As they started looking, left and right, at all the different entryways, Croc saw something that looked nothing like a door. It was a doorway with a curtain of falling sand, like an hourglass. Croc walked straight into it, but hit his face on something solid. He looked down and saw a large iron ring. He pushed on it, and started in, then looked back at his friends.
“Aphrodite’s in there. I’m going to save her.”
“Then I’m going with you,” said Luther, sword already drawn.
“Very well, then. I found the door the thief entered. It says, ‘Beware’ on it. Make sure to come back,” Gramis informed them.
Gert took Croc’s hand in a shake, and said, “You better come back. I’ll need you in there.”
“I always come back. Good luck, my brother in arms.”
Gert shook his hand more solidly, and replied, “Good luck, my brother.”
With that, Croc and Luther entered the sandy portal, and Gert and Gramis stepped into the twenty-sixth door on the right side of the Lost Hallway of Everen.
“With foul stench comes foul beast
of your troubles, the crown is the least.
Through fire and fear, your have claimed,
The honor and privilege to be maimed,
Beware dark corners, for there lurks
A creature of evil, the dreaded Dernock!”
Hawkeye and Sashrala, after traveling through miles of rough, rock terrain came to an overlooking ledge. There was a short side path leading down it, but as they peered over the side, they could see a deep, green molten pit with scattered boulders laid into it, like a soup with pieces of bread. The smell was the worst in here. It was like a live crypt full of rotting, diseased cadavers, drenched in all of the stink and filth they had encountered before it. Splink cowered into Hawk’s pouch, squealing in quick intervals. Hawk calmed the animal by caressing the fur around its horn. Sash’s ankle was still in horrible shape and he had to be helped by the native warrior as they started down the steep, treacherous path. The air in this cavern was stale and thick, and it made breathing quite a task. They were having a hard time catching air to continue their journey in this sweltering heat, not bearing the pungent and sickly odor. At the bottom of the path, a large wooden plaque was mounted in the cave wall. Sash turned his eyes upward to read it to himself. When he was finished, he said aloud, “Who or what is Dernock?”
Surprisingly, an answer came from behind them.
“The oldest, cruelest beast I’ve ever known,” said the small creature.
“Who or what are you, then?” Sash again asked.
“I am Damien Nefaria. I am the one who had led Titan to the Tamer of the Ancient Beings. I am the one who cursed those creatures all those thousands of years ago. And I’m the one who put the crown in this cursed cave!” He seemed pleased with himself and the revealing of this information.
“Why are you here now? For the crown? For Titan’s legacy or your own?”
“That’s inconsequential. As are your lives.”
And from his back, he pulled out a blue, crafted box with strange markings all over it. He held the box high in the air and screamed, “Death to all who stand in my way!”
The box lid burst open and out of the top came an enormously fat serpent, with fangs as long as a human’s leg. It hit the ground with a solid thud and hissed at the two men standing in front of it. Sash then threw himself up at full stance and from under his cloak; he threw a number of chains, seemingly connected, all with blades attached to the ends. The chains seemed to reach out for the beast, and they made several deep lacerations across its face. At this, it lunged forward and rammed its head into both men, driving them into the wooden plaque with great force. Quickly, it reared its head back and hissed, then lunged in again but Hawkeye pulled Sash over to the side, avoiding its venomous bite.
Back on the ledge, Titan and Siphon and what was left of their force were overlooking the battle scene. Titan screamed down at Nefaria, “Don’t kill the tracker. We still haven’t found the crown!”
The demon priest looked up at his once business partner and snarled.
“I know where it is. I don’t need your tracker, or you, for that matter.”
Then, from his hands sprouted forth dark waves of energy-like mass that were headed up to the ledge. All the men retreated back behind the wall of the cave path to hide from it. When it reached up to the top of the ledge, it blasted a huge part of it away, which fell into the smelly abyss below them. Titan then ordered his men to go down and seize the little imp, so they tried to maneuver back down the pathway.
Demagauge and Cuttice had now made their way into the path of the engaging battle. They spotted Titan and something came over Cuttice. She charged the giant, as he stood solemnly, completely distracted by something below them, and completely vulnerable. But when she got in reaching distance, he turned slightly and grabbed her by the throat. He glared at her, teeth showing, then looked at Gauge, in his eyes, and started visibly seething.
“You’re supposed to be dead! That little crumb Windeggan was to kill you.” He screamed, now looking down at his helpless prey.
“He tried, and he failed.”
“Not you, you insignificant little speck. You’ve grown to be very bothersome. No, this little pretty,” and he shoved her forward to show Gauge, still clutching her neck, very lightly as not to snap it accidentally.
“Why her if I’m such a bother for you?”
“Because she was the traitor, and it would hurt you, something that pleases me very much.”
“The traitor was obviously me, Titan. You’ve known all along.”
“That’s not what I’ll tell the Guild, elf. How unhappy they’ll be to find out you’ve been deceiving them all this time.”
“You forget. I’m a thief. Deceiving is what I do.”
Then, he gave Cuttice a smile, and she turned suddenly, as a knife popped out of her sleeve cuff and she stabbed in and jerked out of Titan’s stomach. He let go of her and gave her a back hand that sent her flying, right over the cliff. Gauge reacted quickly, running past his enemy and dove off the edge, free falling down towards the stinky, smelly, liquid down below. He got right on top of her and held her body as tightly as he could, then punched a knob on his belt and suddenly, he sprouted wings! They were actually a cloak, magically gifted, that he had stolen many years ago, but it acted as if a pair of large bat wings. Keeping a hold of her, they drifted way up a dark corridor, and finally they hit the ground and rolled and skidded until coming upon a large mound of coins. Gauge sat up and retracted his wings, then picked up a handful of them to make sure he wasn’t dreaming. He wasn’t. This was too good to be true. Cuttice also started picking up large handfuls and letting them slide through her fingers, then repeating the process. They both stood up and started walking through the coins, and as they went, they were finding even more than coins. They were finding antiques, plates, chests, armor, weapons, and jewelry. Gauge stopped suddenly in his tracks, then turned to face Cuttice, even though they were in complete darkness.
“Why would there be a huge treasure mound deep inside a cave?”
“Because, I don’t know….oh no!”
Then, they felt a rush of air move past them, over head and a huge stomp echoed in the hollow space. They both knew it was over.
This room was domed shape and the room was filled with sand. The roof was fortressed in with glass that they could never seem to reach. Croc and Luther walked through the loose ground, filling up their boots as they continued forward. A large staircase was built in the middle of this desert, with no supports holding it up.
“This has to be some kind of magic,” Croc said to Luther, with his sword also in his hands.
They could hear sudden muffled screams, always above their ears. They needed to move up. They made it to the bottom of the odd ascent, and Croc stepped up onto it, but the stair disappeared, and reformed itself lower than it had been before. The stairs also looked like sand, and the particles would disintegrate and reassemble a mere second later.
“Okay, this is definitely magic.”
Now, they could hear other screams, that of a woman.
“Come on, Luther, we just have to go for it,” Croc said.
So, as quickly as their traveled legs could carry them, they stormed up the disappearing stairs, which seemed to be increasing the speed with which they evaporated. So, they had to be one step quicker, but these stairs never seemed to end. They felt they were getting towards the top because the stairs seemed to be curving around and around, and they could see an ivory platform in the center, again held by no supports. There was an ominous black cloud hanging in the sky, as if it would storm, but down in the desert, the weather was quite stagnant. Croc and Luther kept pushing the extent of their legs’ energy. They had to because they were also spotting those bony bird creatures in the air, now flying. Croc let out a roar and sped up and around the circular stairs up to the platform, with Luther closely in tow. On the platform, Dite was chained to it, one her back looking eye to eye with the black billowing cloud. Croc raised his mighty weapon above his head and struck down onto her binds, cutting them off with vigor. He did it for all four, and helped the young priestess up. She hugged him tightly, and began sobbing a little.
“Thank you, Croc. I owe you. Bless you in the name of Aphrodite and in the name of love!” and she kissed his dry lips.
“Love? Hey, come on now, we’re all happy you’re okay. Now, we have to get out of here,” and as soon as he said that, two of those creatures came soaring towards them. Luther sprang from the stairs and thrusted his blade into the one of the creature’s neck and threw him down. The other one swerved his angle of descent and headed back into the dark sky.
“Aphrodite! You are okay. Bless you goddess!” as Luther hugged her and kissed her neck sweetly.
“We can do this later. Now, we need to go!”
As they started making their way back down the stairs, a furious wind picked up and whipped sand all over the place. As soon as they hit the first step, it gave out and the three of them fell straight down, but never hit the ground. Instead, they were caught in a swirling vortex of sand and air. They were being slung from one side of the glass room to the next, hitting the sides with solidity, harder and harder each time. Croc looked at his companions. Both of them looked to be knocked out. He knew he had to do something. He forced his sword in front of them and when he was whipped back into the side of the room, the sword’s tip hit the glass firmly, then pushing with all his might, it pushed right through the surface, cracking the entire area, then shattering, making a noise that pierced their ears. As soon as the infrastructure broke apart, the sandstorm dissipated, and they fell from another high height. They fell into a black hole at the bottom of the room, sliding for miles it seemed, in complete darkness and silence; then, emerging into a horrific smell and green-tinged light. Below them, Croc could see the large snake they had encountered fighting two men, and Titan and his men marching down. But, right below them, where they were headed, a pit of green ooze, and three large rocks, where they landed perfectly and painfully. Croc just wanted to shut his eyes and rest for a moment, but as soon as that thought crossed his mind, he was already holding Dite and Luther’s limp bodies in his arms.
Gert and Gramis were nowhere to be seen.
Titan’s last six remaining giants huddled down the steep path with Siphon and his twelve men, down towards their turncoat, the mongrel priest, Damien Nefaria. He was watching as his pet snake was trying to swallow Hawkeye whole. Sashrala, in a weakened state, had wrapped the great serpent in a snare of vines, and was now crawling towards Nefaria, and more importantly, his little blue box. Hawkeye was kicking the beast as stiff as he could in the jaws, trying to get him away. He kicked one of it’s fangs, feeling it slightly loosen. So, he kept wailing away on it. The snake finally got his jaws around Hawk, but as he did, the Tiantan warrior chipped off the toot with one final, mighty kick. He jumped inside it’s mouth with the shard in hand, and with all the strength he could muster, he jammed it up through the snake’s head and kept pushing until he could see light again. The snake whipped around viciously hissing and when Hawkeye saw his chance, he leapt from the creature’s mouth. Sash had now grabbed Nefaria by the cloak, who had blocked Titan’s men with some kind of force field. Sash rammed the tip of his elbow into the priest’s mouth and he saw him spit out a mouthful of blood. Sash grabbed the box and started reading the runes.
“Caza mauflon touroses!”
Nefaria spit out, and the snake turned around, gunning right for the box and Sash, by reaction only, tossed the box back to its owner, and his pet came down and swallowed him in his jaws. Hawkeye now got up and fully charged the beast, hitting him as forcefully as he could and pushing the beast into the deep, sickening abyss of filth next to them. The snake screamed and shrieked during its final moments of life as Hawkeye helped Sashrala to his back against a rock wall. Nefaria’s force field had dropped as Siphon and his men made their way to the native. Titan now joined his death squad and locked eyes with the famous tracker for the first time.
“So, you’re the tracker that will lead me to the treasure!” and he smiled to himself, not knowing what was behind him.
Inside the dark cave, a slumbering beast had awoken and Demagauge and Cuttice were now face to face with him. From what they could tell, he was long, and muscular, and there was a smugness about him.
“Who dare wake me in my own cave? Who could have such presumption? Surely, you are a brave knight or a powerful wizard. Speak to me quickly and intelligently, or stand where you are and accept your fate.”
The creature spoke as if he controlled all around him, and probably did. Gauge was weary, but tried not to be scared. He heard dragons can smell it on you.
“We come for the crown of Rulon. We are the messengers of Titan, King of the Giants.”
Cuttice was holding Gauge’s arm tightly, preparing herself for a terrible death. It was a grave possibility.
“No giant would send a messenger to me!” he boomed, and moved around closer to them, but also leaving an open path way out. He was now sniffing them, and trying to show his dominance.
“You are an elf, are you not?” he asked.
“Your senses prove indeed legendary, as I’ve heard.”
“Why would an elf and a scared woman be in my cave, working for a greedy giant. I believe you are both smarter than him. Or is it my gold you want? I saw you playing in it. If that is it, take what you can carry and leave me. But, do not look back.” He now brushed right by them, walking to their backs.
“We can’t do that Dernock. We came to take the crown. My life depends on it,” Gauge said.
“By who? Your master? Hehehe! Tell me you’re not more afraid of a giant than me?” the beast seemed amused.
“No, believe me; I am sure you have power well beyond any creature on this realm. But Titan has a black heart, and will stop at nothing to get what he wants.”
“Black heart? Mine’s the blackest! Call him to me. Tell him you have the crown. I will judge how black his heart is.”
Gauge did as he was told, and luckily for the King Giant, it saved his life.
“Titan! I have the crown!”
The giant turned around in time to see the large brute from the gates, charging him with his sword ready.
“Titan! You’ll pay for taking her!”
He barely had enough time to unsheathe his long blade, longer than Croc’s body. And their weapons clashed, making an ear-splitting sound. And they clashed again. And again. And again. Croc and Titan took turns dealing out their heaviest blows.
“I don’t know your vendetta, but this was the wrong time to settle it, human.”
“My vendetta is with your choice of obvious distaste for peace and the way of life. You’ve murdered many families to get to power, and now I’m returning the favor.”
They matched stroke for stroke, hit for hit. Titan had size and an awesome strength, but Croc matched it with his sheer determination and rage, not to mention his incredible power.
“Siphon, claim my prize from the thief, while I finish this.”
So, the mercenaries made their way over to the dark cave housing the dreaded Dernock and his guests. Hawkeye kept Splink locked in his pouch, and ushered Sash over to Luther and Aphrodite.
“He-lp,” he managed to mutter to the priests.
“I can’t. My power has been waning for months. I’m sorry. But, I will watch over him.”
He left his friend in the care of the beautiful maiden. Luther stood up, sword in hand, and grabbed Hawkeye by the shoulder.
“Come, let’s retrieve the crown.”
Siphon led his and Titan’s men down the dark cave, with torches lit. When they reached the gold, his face lit up like a star.
“Alright, men, we loot this place after we find the crown.” He then heard a voice in the shadows respond to him.
“No one takes my gold!” and then an enormous burst of green flame roared from the pitch area in front of them. Siphon clung to the edge of the wall, as all but two of his men and one giant were caught in the path of the flame. He saw the flesh of the men peel off their bodies, and melt them to the ground, like a pile of ashes.
“Where are you, thief? Where’s the crown?”
Siphon asked the darkness in front of him. His question was answered by two bodies being flung from the dark out onto the pile of gold coins. It was Demagauge, and his lady companion.
“What in all hell is back there, thief?”
“Don’t you know…who…the dreaded Dernock is? Well…let me introduce him.”
And almost as if on cue, the towering beast lumbered out of it’s hiding place and stared into the eyes of Siphon, as he stared at the empty sockets of what was before him.
“You are no giant. I requested the King of the Giants in my presence and you are not him. So, you are no more!” And the dragon reared back his head to breathe deathly fire out, but as this happened, they heard a loud, shrill scream.
And a massive ball of flame, almost bigger than the mouth of the cave and it headed right for the face of the dreaded Dernock. It hit and wrapped itself around his head like a wet blanket, corroding off some of its tough hide and black scales. The mighty beast let out a frightening roar and started rearing back. Then, right after, Siphon released his spiked whip into the dragon’s chest area, followed by the three remaining soldier’s weapons. Siphon pulled back his whip for another shot, so he didn’t have time to notice Gauge slit his two last men’s necks with his dagger. Cuttice had now run behind Dernock into the darkest of dark where the ancient beast would reside, and Gauge knew what she was up to. He pulled over his cloak and followed suit, as Dernock now stomped his way out of the cave. Hawkeye and Luther now made their way in, but both stopped when they saw the colossal black dragon exiting.
“Who made the fatal error of burning my face?” the angry beast screamed.
And from the top of the ledge, the ashy wizard Gramis stepped out the edge.
“Is it cold in here?” he asked.
The dragon gave him a peculiar look, then his eyes got wide and he opened his mouth to breathe again, but as he released his tongue from flame, an icy wind blew against it, creating a frozen pathway to Dernock’s face, which someone noticed. Gert came sailing off the ledge, axe in hand, and landed roughly on his feet, then slipping to his back, sliding right into the mouth of the beast. As he waited, Gert stuck his axe into the ice, sending shavings into the dragon’s eyes, then when he was close enough, he struck. The axe cleft right in the dragon’s hard scales and the wound began oozing immediately. Gert was now on top of Dernock’s head, trying to pull his weapon from it’s skull.
Down below, Croc and Titan were still attacking each other. They were so enveloped in battle, that they hadn’t even noticed a dragon above their heads. Each time their swords connected, a chill as sent through the blades, and a subsequent shock wave registered throughout the combatant’s bodies. Neither man was going to give an inch.
“You are no match for me, human. Giants are made to fight, and to win.”
“So was I!”
At that moment, Croc managed to move Titan back an inch. An inch that was enough to win a foothold in this battle, and an inch enough to sway things in his favor. He reversed his direction and swept his blade below Titan’s knee cap, severing skin from bone and dropping the gargantuan closer to eye level with Croc. He stumbled back, enough to grab a hostage. Titan held Aphrodite with his sword to her throat, his only way of surviving a few extra moments. He could barely stand, and his near-nub was bleeding all over the ground.
“No, please,” she screamed.
“Give up, warrior, or I’ll use her head as a bedpost,” Titan said desperately.
“Titan, unhand her. I’m dropping my weapon. Let her go!” Croc screamed, as he slowly dropped to one knee.
From behind them, Luther heard the scream and turned around, then ran to Dite’s aid.
“Good boy. That’s it. Lay your weapon down…” and he began letting loose his grip, as he heard Luther charging him from behind. In one fluid motion, maybe the fastest a giant has ever moved, he flung Dite down to the ground and shoved his sword into Luther’s stomach. But, Croc had not un-handed his sword completely. No, he had thrown it, fast and accurately, into Titan’s upper right side of his chest. The giant fell to both knees, holding his own blood in the palms of his hands.
Cuttice and Demagauge were now in the bowels of the dragon’s chamber. There was gold strewn everywhere, he probably slept on it. Looking around, neither of them could see where a probable place of hiding would be for the crown. An ancient powerful weapon that could destroy or aid all of the people on this plane; Where do you keep such a thing? They heard movement coming into the cave and then saw the wild red hair of Siphon entering, obviously looking for it as well.
“So, how do we do this? Split all the treasure, wait for the all the blood to stop flowing; or do we spill some our own?” he asked cleverly, moving around the room, looking but trying not to be noticeable.
“You’re not fooling anyone. You can’t split this treasure. There’s no half and half to sharing the ultimate tool of our time. Believe me, if there was a way, I’d try to swindle you into it, then rip you off later. But, there’s not. So, what do you see?” Gauge finished, as he, unnoticed, slipped his hand into his daggers’ sheath.
“Don’t you mean, ‘say?’” Siphon asked.
“No, see!” and Gauge hurled the blade at the man, sticking him in the left eye. He yelled in pain, holding his head, as the thieves began scouring the place. Siphon, gritting his brown teeth, yanked the blade out, along with his eyeball. He dropped the knife and put his hand on his hip holster.
“You’ve done it now, thief.”
He jerked the handle of his barbed whip and flung it across the room, nearly whipping Cuttice in the face. They ran around, but Siphon came closer to their inside, whip in hand. Gauge tripped into a small hole behind him, and his leg became stuck. He kept pulling, and so did Cuttice, but it was no use. Siphon now stalked his way forward, grinning ear to ear.
Dernock shook his head violently, trying to send the pest on it sailing. The dragon, in a fit of anger, pointed his head vertically to the ceiling, and gasped, releasing a green vapor from his jowls. Gert got a whiff of it, and it made him light-headed. He tumbled down the dragon’s neck, headed for the pit, when a large hand reached out and snatched him like a lightning bug. It was a big, blue magical hand, from Gramis’ wand. Dernock now whipped his tail and wings into the cliff, trying to bring it down.
Hawkeye, on the ground, had now started shooting arrows from his bow at the beast. He had paid it no mind, but got irritated and whipped his tail down at the native, smashing his bow and driving him back against a cave wall. Gramis sat Gert on the ground, then jumped in the hand himself, as Dernock brought the cliff down. Huge rocks and sediment was raining down all over the flat area where everyone else was. Pieces were hitting everywhere, bruising the ground below. Croc was attending to Aphrodite, paying no mind to anybody else. It proved to be his mistake, as from behind him, with his own sword, he was stabbed in the square of his shoulder blades. Titan drove the long, hard blade deep within Croc, piercing all of his inner organs, as if he was roasting a pig on a spic. Dite shrieked and began sobbing uncontrollably, as she watched the last moments of life drain from his eyes. The giant now stood, as best he could, and faced the mighty dragon in front of him.
“Oh, wise and majestic Dernock, where have you hidden the crown? I would so like to wear it,” he said, in a hearty voice.
“Mere pathetic giant, don’ be so insolent with me! I could crush your bones like a flower. And all your friends, as well.
Hawkeye was now moving, as Gramis was trying to revive Gert.
“These are not my friends. I’ll kill them all after I get the crown. Tell me, friend, where is it?” he screamed.
“Fine. I will tell you. It’ll do you no good anyways. It’s in the one place it’s safe. Inside me.”
Gert was now rising to his feet, trying to shake off the cobwebs, as Dernock was still gloating.
“Ah, wizard, ready to match up with me again, are you?” and he swiped Gramis with his large claw, knocking him back to the ground. Hawkeye now advanced towards the dragon with contempt in his eyes.
“You are no match for me, either , native.” And he clawed Hawk’s scarred body, putting him down again.
Gert, now to his horror, saw his brother-in-arms impaled to the ground, as Aphrodite was clutching him, screaming and crying. Gert also saw Titan, hunched over, bloodied, but alive, and a rage fueled inside him. He pulled his heavy hammer from his side, and leapt in the air towards his enemy.
“Titaaaaaaaan!” and he came down on his already cut knee and obliterated it with his mallet. Titan turned and fell, with no control. Gert stood over his body, drooling and bloodthirsty. He looked at his friend again.
“Priestess!” he screamed. Dite looked in his direction, empty-eyed.
“Can you bring him back?” he asked. She was sobbing so hard, she couldn’t respond.
Dernock was almost laughing, waiting for someone to challenge him.
“Wizard? Native? Giant? Dwarf? Does anyone dare to challenge me?”
Gramis used his staff to pick himself back up, as did Hawkeye recover, and come to the old wizard.
“Native, please help out all the injured. Take them as far back into that cave as possible. Do it now.”
Hawkeye did not question the statement or disagree.
“Gert, get Croc and Dite out of here now! I’m ending this!”
“No, Gramis, I am! Dite, can you help him?”
“My powers… are not at full strength. Maybe if they were…”
Gramis looked at Hawkeye, who had carried Sash out and left Splink with him.
“Get her and Croc out of her. Leave the dwarf. He can die with the rest of us.”
From inside the cave, the lone giant soldier walked out but was not un-noticed by the dragon’s eye.
“Where have you been hiding? I love to burn big giants who think they are the dominant species!” and with that, he let out a massive spray of gas, which missed him. He had made his way over to Titan’s limp body, and was dragging it back inside the cave. Gert was helping Hawk pull Dite and Croc out of harm’s way. Dernock then began dining on human flesh that was laying near him, as Gramis pulled out a small sphere from a huge sack. The dragon now looked over and smiled at the weary mage.
“So, is this it? Are you the only one with the courage to stand up to me? You’ll regret that.”
“No, I won’t. I hope you’ve enjoyed life because it ends now!”
Gramis threw the sphere at the dragon’s feet. Dernock also was sucking back extremely hard, with a spray of fire that could consume an army. It filled every molecule of the open cave they were in. But, when it hit Gramis, there was no effect. There seemed to be a bubble around him, like a protective coating. Dernock did not deter. He breathed again, this time with even more malice and hate. But, the bubble just got bigger. Gramis now held his wand high in the air and the humidity inside the cave started boiling. Dernock knew his powers were greater, so he mustered every last bit of strength and energy he had and blew another death-tolling ball of flame, but again, it only seemed to build the sphere, which had been growing, and had now almost grown as high as Dernock. Gramis looked as if he was holding something back, but he couldn’t anymore. He let go. He let forth all the energy the dragon had let loose ten fold back on him. It was his secret weapon. An ancient artifact that Tauster had slipped him on the way out the door. It magnified and reflected an enormous amount of power, and the great thing was, that Gramis would not be affected. But Dernock was. The massive blast of fire and heat exploded like a meteor shower from the finger of Zeus himself. Dernock completely burned away, even with his thick exterior. He was merely bone and scales. All his flesh burnt away, but his scales were unbreakable by magic, even his own. The cave roof rattled and chunks of it blew apart, with huge boulders falling from the sky. It had sent a massive shock wave through the cave that used to be Dernocks’ home. It knocked Siphon clear to his back, and loosened enough rock for Gauge to escape. It was the biggest detonation the Dunan lands had seen in a millennia. And in the middle of it all was a feisty, gray-haired wizard, who again, was completely laying in soot and ash. And he did it all for the crown to control the ancients, which was inside Dernock, as he said. Now, it lies directly in front of the one man who would give anything for it: Titan!
He opened his eyes and saw a battered, sticky crown with two high points and three jewels embedded in it: a blue, a white, and crimson. Titan reached his hand out and grasped the pieced with his hand. Sitting up, he placed it on his head, and with the help of his last giant servant, stood up on one leg. He groaned in pain as his loyal soldier helped him back out of the cave. He saw the lowly wizard, down on his knees, not moving. Demagauge and Cuttice ran out behind him first, and they were shocked at what they saw.
“I knew I would get the chance to kill you myself, Demaguage. And believe me, I will enjoy every moment of it.”
“Titan, you won. You have the crown. The sight of it alone will be enough to rule this land. The Parliament at the Citadel will secede to you. You don’t need to use it’s power,” Gauge said, sweating and exhausted.
“How can you have the ultimate power in your hands and not use it? This is my destiny. I am the only creature on this world that can shape his own.”
“There’s a reason for that. You’re not supposed to.”
From out of the cave came Gert, axe in hand, running full speed at Titan. Even the pain of Siphon’s whip in his shoulder wasn’t slowing him. Titan’s soldier picked up his huge club and bashed him over the head as he tried to cut free from the grip of Siphon’s weapon. Gert collapsed back to the ground.
“Now, Gauge, wizard, witness my power! I summon the leviathan of the seas, Abizlodia!”
Titan screamed, raising his hand in the air in a fist. The ground then began to slightly rumble, as Siphon from behind him detached his whip from the dwarf’s injured shoulder. Then, the ground began to shake. No one could stand. The ground around them began cracking, and they saw the pool of filth begin leaking away underground, as blue liquid began seeping in and bubbling up. In a few moments, where the pit was, a massive hole was uncovered and filled with clear, light water. Then, elongated red arms began shooting out of the water, like they were stretching and then the massive body of the squid bobbed up in the water and lay on the surface looking at the crown.
Hawkeye began to get on his feet and saw Aphrodite holding the fallen warrior. For the sake of peaceful deaths, he got to his feet and clutched the massive sword, and with all his might, pulled and tugged on the handle. His muscles were straining and his wounds from the dragon began bleeding. He felt it dislodge from something and then he yanked it high in the air, red pouring from the blade onto the body. Croc’s corpse slumped over and lay on the ground on his side. Hawkeye did not know these people, but sensed a connection between them. He touched his chest, where his heart would be, then took the woman’s hand and placed it on the dead man’s heart. She began to cry, then speaking. She was praying. She started speaking quickly and powerfully, and her body was getting very warm.
“Come to me, protector of the skies, come to me, Grace of Heart!”
Instantly, a long crack separated the cave ceiling into two separate divisions and from the water, a rainbow appeared and grew like a plant towards the crack. It went right through, and again the entire cave shook and boulders and rocks began falling from the ceiling. The roof began parting and through the crack shone a brilliant light, illuminating the rainbow, and displaying it’s beautiful colors even brighter.
Outside the cave of Foul Stench, a wagon sat waiting for news from the inside. When the shaking and rumbling of the cave roof started, it was quite loud. Loud enough to wake four slumbering people inside the wagon. They awoke from their nap, and all wrapped in linens and quilts around their naked bodies, they exited the wagon. They could see the rainbow, and the whole top of the cave, destructing.
“Well, there’s something you don’t see everyday,” said Permion, looking at the other three, all covering themselves.
“Yeah, look at us. I’m sure you see that everyday!” Lentern pointed out.
Then, inside, they heard the flap of huge wings, and they swore they heard soft music playing as they flapped. Then, stepping onto the rainbow, was a beautiful white Pegasus with a slender, spiraling horn jutting from her head. Sashrala was unconscious now, holding Splink, who seemed to be going crazy with excitement.
“Now, I summon the greatest hunter of the world, the grey wolf, Mako!”
And they heard loud howls from deep within the cave that were growing louder as the pack seemed to be getting nearer and nearer. They arrived from where the cliff used to be, running down the side path. The large, dark wolf growled at Titan, as did the other wolves. But, he paid it no mind. Siphon approached his employer.
“Now, make them collect all the gold and treasures in this cave, and we’ll be richer than anyone in the history of the world.”
“No, Siphon. When you control this kind of power, money is of no importance.”
And suddenly, a tentacle from the pool shot out and wrapped around Siphon’s throat. He grasped the slimy arm and tried to pull it off, but he couldn’t. He dropped down to a knee, visibly choking. From behind them, a voice spoke.
“Baco wit desala.”
Titan turned to see the famous tracker standing six feet from him, edging closer.
“Baco wit desala.”
His voice getting louder and angrier, as he approached the giant. He seemed not to care, just smiled.
“Baco wit desala!”
Hawkeye leaped at Titan and now stood underneath him, looking high into the air to see him.
Then, another tentacle shot forward around his neck, but Hawk got his hands around it first. It’s squeeze was too strong, but before his breath was cut off, he uttered one word: “Shardic!”
The tracker instantly got taller, over twelve feet and hunched over on all fours. Brown fur grew from every piece of flesh and his head shaped itself into that of a great bear. He roared and bit into the meaty tentacle, pawing and roaring, ripping the arm in half. Abizlodia retracted it into the water, and began regrowing it.
“Mako, I order your pack to kill that bear! Now!”
He looked into the wolf’s eyes, but saw no enjoyment; yet his pack charged the single animal. Shardic stood on his hind two feet and batted away jumping wolves until Mako leapt right for the throat and knocked him over. The other wolves began piling on, but Gert was back up again, bashing them with his mighty mallet. He eyed Titan, and the giant screamed in frustration.
“Kill the dwarf!”
But, Gert knew it was coming. So, he did the only thing he could. He reared back and tossed the hammer, fast and swift and it sailed high into the air, right towards Titan. He ducked so it would not hit him in the face. Just like Gert wanted. It hit the crown, solid, and knocked it off Titan’s head, down into the watery domain of the leviathan. Gert had won, but was being mauled by the wolves. Shardic then tossed Mako out of the way and started clawing any wolf in his way. He cleared them for Gert, only momentarily, but enough for the dwarf to escape. Shardic dove in the water, and dove only a few feet, until in his teeth, he held the ancient crown.