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Short Story: "A Friend of the Wind"

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PostPosted: Wed May 20, 2015 8:14 am GMT    Post subject: Short Story: "A Friend of the Wind" Reply with quote

Hi everybody,
although this is my first post, I have been reading the boards here for a number of months. I am an old-time fan of Dragon Dice™, and have finally found the time to start writing my own fiction set in the world of Esfah.
This is, of course, fanfiction. I obviously do not own any rights to the game and its setting, nor do I wish to challenge SFR`s copyrights or intellectual property. On the contrary, I'd like to give a big "Thank You" to the people at SFR for keeping Dragon Dice™ alive over the years. So, this is a not-for-profit work of fiction. I just want to share this with the people on this board, who are presumably also fans of a game that has given me hours of enjoyable time.

A FRIEND OF THE WIND (Part 1 of 4)

The huge black dog snarled fiercely, and then it jumped at him. Soombrash had not expected this; he had just taken a step forward to slash at the hound with the flintstone knife in his right hand. As the dog crashed into him with its full weight, it threw Soombrash off balance, and he fell onto his back, damp earth splashing into the air where his massive body struck the ground. Lying on his back, he saw the dog’s head above his own, its greenish eyes glowing with an evil inner light as it opened its jaws, ready to thrust its sharp teeth into Soombrash’s neck.
But it was not quite fast enough. Despite his bulk, Soombrash was used to moving quickly. He thrust his head upward, straight towards those shining teeth inside the black snout. The horn at the end of his nose collided with the hound’s jaws, and the four-legged beast let out a pain-filled howl. The power of Soombrash’s thrust was enough to throw the dog off of his body, and only a second later, both the Rhino-Folk and his opponent were back on their feet, facing each other as they had before the dog’s jump.
Behind him, a few steps down the hill, Soombrash heard the clanging sound of flintstone on metal. He knew that Zella, Preenze and Vauwwn were doing their best to fight the other being they had come across near this old temple that was lying half-forgotten in the swamp. But he also knew that they probably needed his help. He had to dispatch the dog, and quickly.
A war cry erupted from Soombrash’s mouth as he took two steps forward and tried to crush the black beast under his huge grey feet. But he hadn’t had sufficient room to build up enough momentum for his trampling attack; the dog easily evaded him by taking a few steps to its right. To Soombrash’s surprise, it did not use this chance to jump at him again. Instead, it threw back its head and let out a howl so terrifying that it seemed to pierce the very soul of anyone who heard it. But it was not just the sound which made this howl so terrible. There was something else which travelled with the sound, something that could not be seen or heard, something dark and evil carried by the sound from the dog’s vocal cords. Soombrash felt this dark power on the air and realized that he himself was not the target of it. Instead, it was aimed at something behind him. Less than a heartbeat later, the power had raced down the hill to where the other fight was taking place, and it found its mark. Soombrash felt the power of Eldurim’s protection break. Just before the dog and its companion had jumped at them, he had sung the song to the Lord of the Earth to guard his three companions. Now that the spell was broken, they were in even greater danger than before.
As if to confirm his thoughts, another sound was carried uphill to Soombrash’s ears – the shrill sound of an animal crying out in mortal pain. And although he was used to the sounds of the battlefield, that cry pierced his soul even more than the dog’s unearthly howl. One of the Antelope-Folk had been badly wounded, perhaps even killed, by the second assailer.
Soombrash decided that he had no more time to waste. He swung his bulky body around to the left, his right arm describing a curved motion to give it even more power, and finally, his flintstone knife struck home, sinking deeply into the black fur on the dog’s flank. The hound howled again, but it was no longer a supernatural sound, it was just the sound of a dog in pain and anger. Soombrash’s arm now moved upward, his hand still holding on to the knife which was stuck between the beast’s ribs, and the animal’s side was torn open. Blood poured out of the wound, but it was not the hot red blood of a healthy animal. This liquid looked and smelled more like fluid tar oozing slowly out of the open wound, of a colour much too dark to be red. But still, it seemed to fulfill the same purpose as blood. The hound collapsed at Soombrash’s feet, its paws still twitching for a moment, until the body lay completely still. As Soombrash bellowed a shout of triumph into the swamp air around him, he heard a thudding sound behind him. Turning towards that sound and the scene of the fight on the slope of the hill, he saw that Zella and Preenze were no longer in need of help. Between their slender forms, the short body of their opponent had fallen to the ground. The hilts of two flintstone knives were sticking out of his chest. Again, and louder this time, the damp air of the swamp reverberated with Soombrash’s shout of triumph. The sounds of battle had ceased and could no longer drown it out.
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PostPosted: Wed May 27, 2015 4:38 am GMT    Post subject: Reply with quote

A FRIEND OF THE WIND (part 2 of 4)

“By Eldurim’s hands, what is that thing?” Soombrash had joined his companions and was now staring at the unmoving body. In life, it had walked on two legs. It was bigger than a Trog™ but smaller than a human, and the skin was the colour of old ashes. A grey beard covered the lower part of its face, and the head was encased by a helmet which bore a striking similarity to one of the highland lizards which the Vagha™ had domesticated.
Zella suggested an answer to Soombrash’s question: “It looks like a Vagha™, doesn’t it?”
Soombrash shook his head. “Yes, it does, but something must be very wrong with it. The Vagha™ skin has a golden hue, the mark of Eldurim, and the beard should be red like Firiel’s flames. This one has a beard, all right, but it is almost as grey as the skin.”
“Maybe it was ill?” Preenze took up Soombrash’s thoughts.
“It must have been very ill indeed to ally with one of the accursed Fen-Hounds and attack us without provocation. Is there an illness which causes Vagha™ to become insane and betray Mother Nature herself?” Soombrash looked at the two Antelope-Folk, who did not have an answer. None of them had ever heard of any such illness. Preenze shook her antlered head.
Soombrash brought up another mystery: “And what about that sword he was using?” He pointed at the ground where a slender blade had fallen from the lifeless hands of the attacker, and continued: “The weapon of choice for the Vagha™ is a battle-axe. But this is not an axe, it is a sword. And it has the smell of corruption all over it.” Indeed, the sword was still flickering slightly with black arches of energy which were playing along the straight line of the blade. “No, there is something else going on here,” Soombrash concluded. “Mother Nature, who gave us our forms and our minds, brought us into being after Death spawned the Undead to fight the living. The Oracle at Rhialôt sent us to this swamp and said that we would only find the servants of the Corruptor. Even if the Vagha™ had for some reason allied with the Undead, they would still be Vagha™ and not servants of Death.”
“Maybe the Oracle was wrong?” Zella threw in.
Soombrash thought about this possibility for a moment. The Oracle was one of the leading officers of the Amazons, who formed an important group among the warriors of their monastery. Rhialôt was a temple which the stewards of Nature had established on the plains of Nustryxis, six days east of this swampland which they knew by the name Pauthynit, to watch over this region of Esfah and see that it was not tainted by the hands of the Corruptor or those serving him. Soombrash and his companions were part the armed forces of Rhialôt, and they were used to following the orders given by their trusted superiors. With this in mind, he finally replied: “She has never been wrong before.”
Then another thought occurred to him. “Whatever that thing is, we cannot be sure it was alone. There may be others of its kind. I shall return to the Watchtower and inform the guards. You will stay here and watch this place to see if there is any more trouble.”
The thought obviously made the Antelope-Folk uneasy. She danced around on the spot, her graceful legs carrying her first to the left, and then to the right. Vauwwn’s dead body was lying nearby; the mysterious figure’s black sword had pierced her chest. Zella’s small hooves clawed nervously at the ground as she asked: “But, Great One, there are only two of us. What shall we do if the Corruptor’s servants attack us?”
“Where there’s life, there’s hope.” Soombrash’s answer was a statement used often by the beastmen of Rhialôt, but for some reason he managed to make it not sound like a platitude. He removed a ring from a finger of his right hand. It glittered with a golden colour. He extended his huge hand towards Zella, who took the ring from his palm into her small hand. The ring immediately shrank to fit onto her much smaller finger. Soombrash explained: “This is a Ring of Stars. The Oracle gave it to me for this mission. Use it to call up the Two-legged Dragonfriends from Eldurim’s realm, so that you two will not be alone to guard this place. And, if the enemy does come on in force, sing the Song of Passage-through-Eldurim’s-Realm through this ring, and I will come to your aid.” With these words, he marched off towards the east.
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 03, 2015 4:48 am GMT    Post subject: Reply with quote

A FRIEND OF THE WIND (part 3 of 4)

Even though he felt the need to hurry, Soombrash did not run, but merely walked as fast as he could. There were two reasons for this: For one thing, he wanted to preserve his strength. He was afraid he might need it at the Watchtower at the eastern edge of the swamp. In addition, he knew that his large body was making quite a noise when it was running, and he didn’t want to alert any other unknown or unseen enemies to his presence.
Wet mud splashed around his pachydermic feet. The Rhino-Folk suppressed the urge to curse under his breath. He didn’t like this place. He was a child of the open plains, where the earth meets the wind and where he could roam freely at whatever pace he chose. But here, in this swamp, the earth was not hard and firm but soft and soggy; it made his going a lot slower than he would have liked. And instead of the wind which so often whispered to him in his native environment, all the water in this place fouled the gentle touch of the earth.
As he was plodding onwards, the wind suddenly spoke to him. It carried the sounds of other feet in the wet soil to his ears, and they were many feet which were also walking as swiftly as was possible on this moist earth. Soombrash stopped and listened closely. He didn’t hear anything apart from the swift footsteps, but he knew that this alone was a bad sign. His brothers at the watchtower were stalkers and fliers, and both would not make sounds like these, so he knew that whoever was coming here, they were probably not his allies. And they clearly outnumbered him.
The Rhino-Folk stepped behind a tree on his left side. Normally, it would be difficult to conceal a body as huge as his in this swamp, but Soombrash had little choice. He could only hope that the trick he had up his sleeve would work. Standing there absolutely motionless, he quietly sang the song of Hiding-in-Eldurim’s-Embrace. If the Lord of the Earth heard his song, even a giant like himself could remain unseen be enemy eyes.
Only moments later, Soombrash saw a group of six figures very similar to the one he and his Antelope-Folk companions had fought near the abandoned temple. They were short and stocky, and the wet ground splashed around their booted feet as they walked in disciplined formation. Four of them wore round helmets, and the lower parts of all six faces were covered with beards. Soombrash saw that the two figures who walked in the middle of the ordered formation even had the ornately braided beards which were the typical mark of what the Vagha™ called spellcasters. The Rhino-Folk knew that like the shamans of his own people, these individuals could easily control and manipulate the elemental powers that flowed through the land to perform miracles. The magic they used was frighteningly effective, even though they did not use the songs which the Feral had developed to call on the powers of Eldurim or Ailuril, as Soombrash had just tried to do in his own less than elegant way.
Still watching the group from behind what he hoped would be his hiding place, Soombrash noticed that each member of this group carried a shield and an axe of dwarven design. All aspects of their appearance implied that these beings should be Vagha™, who in their love for Eldurim were natural allies of his people, but the abnormal pallor of their skin and the greyness of their hair spoke of a different and much darker allegiance.
Without any of their number speaking even a single word, the group strode through the swampland at brisk speed, and soon reached the tree behind which Soombrash had found cover. But they didn’t stop there. They walked on, not diminishing their speed in the least. The Rhino-Folk breathed slowly and thanked Eldurim for His mercy. Even though his chances of working the magic had been slim since he was not a shaman, the elemental power of the Lord of the Earth had carried even through all the foul swamp water. The mysterious enemy soldiers had never known that they were passing him by at little more than an arm’s length.
For some moments longer, though, Soombrash did not move. He waited behind the tree, watching the group of not-quite-Vagha™ move further towards the west. They, too, did not make a sound other than the wet sloshing of their booted feet in the soggy ground. Soombrash was briefly tempted to follow them – he was worried that they were on the way to the place Zella and Preenze were guarding. But as he watched them receding into the distance, it was obvious that they were taking a more northerly route through the Pauthynit. Soombrash decided that at least for the moment, he didn’t need to find out where they were going. They had come from the direction of the Watchtower, and that meant that something had happened there. This group had not looked as if they were beating a hasty retreat; they had been marching in orderly fashion, like people who had accomplished a mission and were now on their way to a new destination. With a bad feeling in his stomach, Soombrash finally resumed his march towards the eastern edge of the swamp.
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 09, 2015 2:49 am GMT    Post subject: Reply with quote

A FRIEND OF THE WIND (part 4 of 4)

As the ground beneath his feet began to grow firmer, Soombrash suppressed his urge to go faster. Even though he wanted to be with his brethren as soon as possible – or to help them if they were in need of his help – the wind spoke to him again and cautioned his zeal. Slowly, he again stopped in the shadow of one of the many trees here on the edge of the swamp, and turned his head towards the Watchtower.
Soombrash’s eyes had never been terribly sharp. He could make out the tower in the distance, but he could see no movement on the plain that separated it from the swamp’s edge. That made him uneasy – even without the keen eyesight of an Eagle-Folk, he should have been able to see the small spots in the air where his flier friends would circle the tower, and there should be movement in the area in front of the tower where the stalkers would be watching over the entrance. From his guarded position, he tried to listen to the wind to see what it could tell him.
And indeed, the wind was his friend, as it had always been. It carried no sounds to his ears – if a battle were taking place near or in the tower, the sounds would have been in the air that now reached his ears, but everything was quiet. However, it was not the peaceful calm of a serene summer morning. Instead, there was a distinct menace in the silence that hung over the flatland like a shroud, and the wind carried the scent of blood and death to his nose. There had been a battle here all right, but it was now over, and considering the way that group of not-quite-Vagha™, who had come from this direction, had moved through the swamp, Soombrash had very little doubt about the outcome.
Upon this realization, his patience ended, and the animal fury which he carried in his veins took over. This was no time for subtlety, which had never been his strong point anyway. Soombrash bellowed a war cry that the wind carried across the plain towards the tower, and then he began to storm forwards.
His cry had obviously been heard. As his feet carried him towards his aim with huge strides, a crossbow bolt hurtled through the air above his head. Soombrash ignored it and kept running. Only moments later, the Rhino-Folk saw movement near the base of the tower – something was slowly moving towards him. Still, he only accelerated his pace. Another crossbow bolt grazed his shoulder, but it did not even slow him down – a single crossbow would certainly not stop his revenge!
Racing towards the tower, he felt his fears confirmed: His legs carried him past the dead bodies of several stalkers and some of his feathered friends who would never soar through the skies again. Then he could make out clearly what kind of beings were moving there in front of the tower – it was a group of three humanoid figures. They moved very slowly, as if directed by a will not their own, and their faces showed clearly that life had left them long ago. A mere moment later, Soombrash crashed into the Zombies, crushing two of them beneath his trampling feet and shoving the third one aside like an insignificant insect. The crossbow bolts had stopped flying, and in a flash, Soombrash was inside the Watchtower, racing up the steps towards the platform at the top.
Stepping out onto the platform, another crossbow bolt, fired from a very short distance, struck his left shoulder. Soombrash howled in pain, but he knew that he was not hurt too badly – the crossbowman’s aim had probably been off, otherwise the bolt would have hit his head. Still, the pain slowed him down for an instant, but then the platform was not big enough for any opponent to escape his massive form. Soombrash saw the enemy who was just trying to load another quarrel into his crossbow. This figure, too, looked like a Vagha™, even including the feather-adorned hat that was a mark of the Vaghan missile troops. But again, its skin was pallid, almost as greyish-white as the skin of the Undead outside, and the beard was the colour of cold ashes.
Soombrash took only two steps, then his hand grabbed the neck of his assailant and lifted his body into the air. Filled with anger and fury, Soombrash’s voice clearly betrayed his feral heritage as he bellowed into the opponent’s face: “Why?”
The short figure’s legs kicked at the air which had replaced the secure ground of the Tower’s platform beneath his legs. Then, gasping for breath and still with a sound that sounded almost like choked laughter, it said, “Go on. Kill me. You will only prove that I’m right.”
Surprised and puzzled by this unexpected answer, Soombrash fought the urge to crush the life out of the Dwarf. His anger was still so great that he flung the short figure away from him. The crossbowman cried out in pain as he collided with the floor of the platform, slid a few feet along the wooden ground and then crashed into the low wall that served the missile-shooters on the tower as a defensive structure.
With a single step, Soombrash stood above the Dwarf, blocking any way of escape. His voice was an angry growl when he spoke, “By all your appearance, you are a Vagha™. What brings you from your mountain home to this wet swamp which is a place more suitable to filthy Trogs™ than to civilized servants of Nature? And why in the name of all the plains and highlands blessed by Mother Nature would the proud children of Eldurim and Firiel join forces with the foul Undead? Speak!”
Lying against the wooden railing of the tower, the crossbowman groaned in pain and spat out. “There must be very little brain in that thick horned head of yours, beast-man. My appearance should have told you that I am not a Vagha™. Not anymore, anyway. But I will answer your questions.”
The short figure tried to rise to his feet, but Soombrash’s menacing growl made it stop. Slowly and carefully, the no-longer-Vagha™ moved his aching body into a half-lying, half-sitting position against the railing of the tower. He groaned in pain before he continued. “My name is Valloaree, and I was born in Khoryvaght, a Vagha™ mining settlement in the mountains of Raenshaudoore, far to the north and east of here. Have you heard of that place, by any chance?”
“I have not,” Soombrash replied, still towering above his captive. “What happened to you?”
“Khoryvaght was always under siege,” Valloaree said with something like sadness mixed with elation, even pride, in his voice. “For decades, the Morehl™ were watching our place, sending out raiding parties every now and then. Many of our people fell to their flintlock pistols and poniards. But still, the Vagha™ of Khoryvaght resisted. We gave all our life and blood for Mother Nature, as was expected from us. Then, the others came.
The Morehl™ had been bad enough, but at least they spoke in a language we could comprehend; they had a civilization we could understand, even if we didn’t like it. The others were different. They came from further up the mountains, with blue fur and black wings, and they brought death from above to Khoryvaght. They could not be reasoned with. Still, we resisted. More life and more blood of the Vagha™ were spent to defend the Highlands blessed by Mother Nature. We paid a heavy toll, but we drove the attackers back into their icy caves on the highest slopes.”
Soombrash began to lose his patience. This dwarf who claimed to be something different from a Vagha™ was taking his time in telling his story.
“When the third group of attackers came, they brought fire and steam and death. They were small beings which swarmed into our home from the wooded valleys below. Most of our Warlords had already fallen by that time, and we found that the creatures even had a way of evading our crossbow bolts. We drove them back into the valleys, but when we returned, only a very small group of our warriors remained. We considered the situation and decided that Khoryvaght was lost. There was no chance for our small group to successfully defend our home yet again; we had already paid too high a toll. In the end we realized that the battle for Mother Nature was futile. Defending Khoryvaght had taught us that no matter how hard you try, Death always wins in the end. Death had taken our brothers and sisters, our families, our loved ones and our children, while we tried to bring even more death to the groups of attackers. So we decided to serve a new master. Abandoning Eldurim and Firiel, we became Acolytes of Death. We would continue fighting as we always had – after all, there was no other way of life we knew of. But we would now fight for a new purpose: to bring Death to the people of Esfah. We would just be speeding things along anyway – for after all, Death will always win in the end. So you see, even if you kill me now, you can’t win. You will only prove my point.”
The final assertion came with such calm that Soombrash almost erupted in an equal amount of anger. But he held his fury in check. “You are wrong, Valloaree of Khoryvaght, and you have made a terrible mistake.” Soombrash leaned forward towards the dwarf who was still half sitting, half lying against the low wall of the tower’s platform. He continued in a low voice, but with all the gravity he could put into it: “You gave up your home to serve the very power that destroyed your life, and so many others. You abandoned the very forces that gave you life in order to bring more corruption into the world. In so doing, you took away all meaning from the many sacrifices you and your people had to make in defence of your home.” Soombrash put out his arm and grabbed the front of Valloaree’s shirt. The Acolyte did not even blink, he expected the beastman to kill him now and thus fulfill his preordained fate.
But even though Soombrash’s touch was far from gentle, it did not speak of deadly intentions. He rose, pulling Valloaree up with him, and then set the crossbowman down on the floor of the platform. “Where there’s life, there’s hope,” Soombraash again voiced the common credo of his people, and continued, “your home Khoryvaght has suffered badly, but giving up is never the right decision. You could have asked for help from the servants of Nature. You could have tried to defend a place that has been sacred to the Vagha™ for centuries. But you took the easy way out. Instead of fighting death and corruption, you embraced it, and now you will pay the price.”
Soombrash put his huge hand against the back of the Acolyte and shoved him roughly towards the stairs that led to the bottom of the tower. Uncertain, but resigned to a fate he knew he could not alter, Valloaree began to descend the steps. Soombrash followed closely behind him, and the stairs groaned under the weight of the Rhino-Folk, as if they wanted to protest against his actions.
When they emerged from the tower onto the plains, Soombrash spoke again. “If you thought that an alliance with the Undead and the battle for this putrid swamp was the right way, you have no idea of what it means to serve Nature. In that case, you are lost anyway, but it is not my hand that will strike you down.”
The Acolyte looked up at the beastman’s face. There were questions in his eyes, as well as a number of emotions that struggled for supremacy in his confused mind: surprise and mistrust, defeat and even disappointment. But his voice, used to boasting words of pride, failed to pronounce any of them.
“Go!” Soombrash roared at him. “Get out of my sight! Try to find your friends from Khoryvaght, if the swamp does not kill you or them first. And tell them that it is never futile to resist the touch of the corruptor!”
His mouth open, Valloaree stared at the Rhino-Folk. He felt cheated. He had been fighting all his life, and for the last few months had thought about very little but death and dying. He had brought death to many beings, and he had fully expected to be called into his master’s cold embrace in the course of his actions. Yet, here was this enemy, hardly better than an animal but of an order of strength he could never hope to match, that refused to fulfill his dream, denying him the merciful touch he had expected for so long. Then, Soombrash bellowed at him again, “Go away!”, and Valloaree turned to run towards the swamp. It was probably a trick, the dwarf thought. His brethren will be waiting in the bogs and waters, ready to strike me down.
Soombrash could not read the Acolyte’s wary thoughts, nor could a friendly wind carry them to his ears. And even if he had known, he wouldn’t have cared. He knew that he had allowed a menace to escape into the world, that Valloaree of Khoryvaght would probably continue in his mad quest to spread corruption and death. But he still felt in the heart that was beating in his massive chest that he had taken the right decision. Killing the Acolyte would only have given him the satisfaction that his master would indeed triumph in the end.
The Rhino-Folk stared towards the few stunted trees at the edge of the swamp between which the Acolyte of Death had disappeared. Then he turned his head upwards towards the sun and enjoyed the warmth, and the gentle touch of a friendly wind, on his face. Letting the Acolyte escape meant that there was still a chance for Valloaree to see the error of his ways. It was a slim chance, yes – but where there’s life, there’s hope. Death, on the other hand, is final.


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