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Disjecta Membra

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    Fantasy
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  1. Disjecta Membra

    The Pendant

    There is a very specific reason Birten was brought where he was. It’ll definitely come into play within the next few chapters. And Daegon, well, he’s in a predicament of his own. Elsior is certainly mixing things up. Don’t expect that to change anytime soon. 😇
  2. Disjecta Membra

    The Pendant

    😇😇😇
  3. Disjecta Membra

    The Pendant

    That got a legit lol out of me. It sure is convenient that everyone is getting captured!
  4. Disjecta Membra

    The Pendant

    Broadswords Chapter Twenty The Pendant With a weakly-burning torch and a rusty dagger, Birten set through the darkness toward Elsior's cabin on foot. None of the villagers had horses, which explained the horribly makeshift stable and lack of attendant. They were, however, generous enough to provide him with the two items he did have. While they weren't as sufficient of tools as he would prefer, he was grateful toward the villagers. Especially considering everything that had happened thus far, they didn't need to help him with anything. Though they recommended he not depart at such a late hour, he didn't feel that he had a choice. He'd left Daegon alone with this man, this summoner, and there was no telling if he was in danger. Up to this point, Elsior had portrayed himself as meek and rather mild-mannered. However, if he was capable of bringing forth a dragon from the depths of a swamp, there was no telling what he might have in store for Daegon. Birten resisted the urge to run. Though the landscape was relatively flat, he didn't know the terrain like he did with areas closer to Jhirdyr, and he could easily find a stray boulder or tree and knock himself out in an instant. Plus, with his experience so far with the marshes, he could also find himself waist deep in the gunky water before he knew what was happening. Thus, he walked, but kept a brisk pace. He kept the dagger firmly grasped in his right hand, in case he had to use it at a moment's notice. The age and improper care of the thing made it next to useless, but it was better than showing up unequipped. He knew it still wouldn't matter much if Elsior truly was capable of magic. Thinking back to his days of schooling, he tried to remember the different types of magic and which Elsior might possess to allow him to summon a dragon. Thankfully, magic had always been a strong subject for Birten as the concept fascinated him. There was only a small number of magicians per capita in Jhirdyr, and it made it seem more exotic. Because of that, he had retained a lot of information over the years. His mind immediately went to the vials in the cabin. Elsior could easily be an apothecary, as that seemed a very viable option. However, apothecaries simply made potions, medicines, and the like. As far as he was aware, they weren't capable of summoning. Even persons born of non-magical heritage were capable of becoming apothecaries, as it was the art of mixing of magical ingredients rather than the possession of preexisting magical abilities. It was more of a science than anything, and it was clear that Elsior didn't fit into that category. The next logical assumption would be a general sorcerer, but that also didn't fit in with the summoning. Sorcerers were able to cast spells, create items, make things disappear. More or less, they could do almost anything that could be imagined as far as magic was concerned. But sorcerers were not able to create sentient beings via magic. They could create the illusion of a ghostly incarnation, sure, or an inanimate version of a real, living creature. However, it was clear that this dragon was capable of operating on its own and was very real. Therefore, Elsior couldn't be just a sorcerer. He ran through every type of magician he could think of. Alchemist, though that was essentially an apothecary that actually did possess magical abilities, and used strictly natural elements in their magic. Enchanter, except enchanters brought temporary life to non-living things. He even briefly considered the inane idea that it could be non-human magic, such as merfolk or sprite. And for a split second he had almost convinced himself that Elsior was a conjuror, until he remembered that a conjuror simply evoked the spirit of a creature into existence but not a physical being. Even fortunetelling crossed his mind, even though that was one of the furthest types of magic from what he was dealing. But once he had thought of fortunetelling, he couldn't help but think of divination. While fortunetelling was a more common type of magic, more cut-and-dry, divination was more of an ancient type of power. Fortunetellers could see the future by being in the midst of the person they were reading, or suddenly get a vision. Divination went deeper than that. Initially, divination was very similar to fortunetelling. Diviners were broken up into what they referred to as mancies. A mancy was nothing more than a branch of divination specific to how the diviner was able to channel their prophetic abilities. There were the elemental mancies, like Hyrdomancy, Pyromancy, Terramancy, and Austromancy. There were more obscure mancies, such as Stichomancy which required a book or Macharomancy which required a weapon. No matter the type of mancy, however, the ability was largely the same. The mancer was able to use their specific mancy to obtain insights on future events. Eventually, many of the mancies were able to evolve their powers for more than prophecies. They were able to use their mancy to connect with its divining power. Where once a Pyromancer had been able to look into the embers of a fire and make a prediction, they were now able to take control of the flames themselves. In a situation where a Floromancer had once utilized a flower's petals to determine a future event, they could now create a lush floral upsurge across a patch of land with the wave of an arm. There were some mancies that evolved with rather useless abilities, and there were some mancies that hadn't evolved at all. While all mancers were still able to utilize their abilities for their original diving powers, only some types had advanced to the stage of being able to go beyond that. While Birten hadn't kept completely up to date with magical studies since his school days, one thing that he remembered very clearly was the Dark Collective. The Dark Collective was an ancient association of mancies that had fully evolved and predominately used their powers for the black arts. As different forms evolved and developed, the Dark Collective would potentially extend an invitation to join them. Because the Collective was a secretive group and focused on darker types of magic, there were many unknowns. Aside from those within the Collective, nobody knew if there was a supreme power, a panel of elders, a handful of electors, or some other form of selection committee. There were no details on the dark inner workings of the association. One thing he had believed until this point, however, is that Dracomancers had not bypassed the divination stage. Different Dracomancers were able to use various different dragon-related materials or observations to make predictions. Some used claws, some used the wings after the beast had died, and some used the spacing between the eyes. The thing about Dracomancy was that there were several ways to utilize the power for divination purposes, as was true for most mancies that involved living creatures. In fact, some Dracomancers even used overly-spoiled dragon's tongue and fed it to apprentices and used the gibberish they spoke while under the influence as a way to determine future events. The art itself was complicated, and it was also a very uncommon ability. There were few Dracomancers in existence. Despite their scarcity, if Dracomancers developed the ability to control dragons, it could cause a major devastation to the world. If Elsior was indeed a Dracomancer, he might be the first of his kind to develop such powers. But Birten focused on the footprints he had discovered as well as the details of Brev's tale. If the prints were genuine and the waiter's story was indeed accurate, Elsior hadn't necessarily taken over the motor functions of an existing dragon. It almost seemed like he had actually created the dragon out of the swampwaters. No dragon that Birten was aware of could have created the prints he'd seen, nor resemble the beast that Brev described to him. While he was a bit rusty in his magic knowledge, he was damn near an expert when it came to dragonlore. Though the prints had initially perplexed him, he was coming to grips with what he had been presented with. There was too much information at play to assume that it was something as simple as an unknown breed like he had initially presumed. It was unknown alright, but he expected that Elsior had something to do with that. The thoughts running through his head angered him, and he felt himself involuntarily squeeze harder on the dagger. His index finger had apparently slipped off the hilt and onto the blade. When his grip tightened, the metal cut into his skin and a blossom of blood appeared. He didn't seem to notice. He was too preoccupied thinking about what he would do to Elsior if anything happened to Daegon. When he reached the cabin, the smoldering of a fire was just visible through the darkness. It was low enough that it didn't shed much light on its surroundings, but Birten could tell that there was nobody outside. By the time he got close enough to the cabin to discern its outline in the darkness, he could tell that the door was closed. He stood still, listening for sounds from within. He heard nothing but crickets, a distant owl's call, and the occasional pop from the dying fire. Certain that the cabin was empty, he entered. He didn't like the feeling that there was nobody there at that time. It was nighttime; Daegon and Elsior should have been back by that point. It was concerning, but he tried to maintain his composure. He had to assess the situation. If something had happened, it was only he that could do anything about it. Their nearest allies were a week's travel away. It was him, now. Or nothing. The torch had burnt down to a concerning level, and he knew he had to explore the place quickly. Thankfully, Elsior's cabin was relatively barren. Almost immediately, he noticed the bowl on the table, still full of food. The chair was on its side on the floor. He leaned in close to the contents of the bowl and inhaled. It smelled off. Not rotten or like it had been prepared incorrectly. He couldn't explain it, but he knew that Elsior had done something to it. He was sure Elsior had drugged Daegon. The bastard. Continuing to make out what he could in the room, he didn't find anything else that seemed out of the ordinary. He wasn't sure what to do. He had limited information to go off, a shoddy weapon, the darkness of the night, and a rapidly dying torch. Even if he knew where Elsior had taken Daegon, he likely wouldn't have enough time to make it there before he was completely helpless. A sudden creak behind him made him swivel rapidly to face the sound, and he was met by Elsior's face in the glow of the torch's flame. The abrupt appearance of the mancer surprised him and he gasped reflexively. As he did so, Elsior tossed the contents of a vial into the air. Due to the rapid intake of breath, Birten inhaled a good amount of the powder. Whether or not it was the same substance used to undermine Daegon, he wasn't sure. But he knew within that it would have a similar effect. He felt his body getting weak, and he knew he was falling but he didn't feel the impact of hitting the floor. When Birten came to, he was unsurprised to find himself restrained. His wrists were bound in metal cuffs, and similar devices held his ankles. His surroundings, however, were far from what he had been expecting. He was in a small room, completely empty aside from himself. The floor was made of deep white opal, cut into small tiles that went corner to corner. The ceiling was covered in the same material, but a few shades darker. The walls appeared to be made of alabaster. There was a single door in the room. It didn't open, but a visitor appeared before him nonetheless. He was a middle-aged man, balding with a long grey-tipped mustache. He wore an ensemble of dull brown, with numerous pockets on each article of clothing. It was clear that many of the pockets were quite full. In his hand he twirled a necklace with a vibrant orange gem at its center. "Who are you?" Birten forced, trying to sound courageous. "A simple peddler," the man said with a shrug of his shoulders. "What am I doing here?" Birten said through his teeth. The man shrugged again. "I couldn't tell you. I do as I'm told, I get my paycheck. That's all I'm concerned with." "How did we get here?" Birten's voice was beginning to alter from faux-courage to true agitation. The peddler's short answers were irritating him, and the tightness of the cuffs wasn't helping his mood. Not to mention that he had clearly been abducted, and had no idea where he was. The peddler held up the medallion and smirked an unsettling smirk. "Tetradite. Ya never hear of it? Insanely rare gemstone straight out of the Tetrad Desert. Bewitched with teleportational abilities. Takes me to and from wherever I gotta go in seconds. This is one thing I'll never sell." Birten grunted. He'd asked who, he'd asked what, he'd asked how, but he mentally kicked himself. He still hadn't asked where. "Where are we?" "Oestra," the man answered breezily. He had never heard of a place called Oestra. "Oestra? Where is Oestra?" The man shoved the gem in his pocket and stared at Birten knowingly. It seemed this had been the question the man had been waiting for. "Oestra is a town near the kingdom." Birten's brow furrowed, and the man's smirk broadened. "Oh, I'm sorry. The kingdom of Jaffe." Birten choked and coughed; he had been caught unaware by the man's revelation. Not only was Jaffe the furthest kingdom from Jhirdyr, it was also on a completely different continent.
  5. Disjecta Membra

    The Dreams

    Thank you! Yes, I was happy with the way the storylines began to progress from character development into thicker storylines. There's much more that will happen before it's over. More to come very soon!
  6. Disjecta Membra

    The Dreams

    I think that while we’ve seen the more human side of Elan in other chapters, those have usually been his narratives. What he portrays outwardly to others is that full-of-himself persona that we see here. He even drops the subject of Daegon/Birten being off on an unofficial quest when the subject comes back to himself. I think you’ll come to see more growth from Elan in upcoming chapters, but as of right now I think you’re pretty spot on.
  7. Disjecta Membra

    The Dreams

    Broadswords Chapter Nineteen The Dreams Kep dreamt. He dreamt of Birten, shirtless, sitting cross-legged with him on the floor before the fire. They each had a glass of wine and were staring into each other's eyes. Kep was scared to make the first move so he was delighted when Birten leaned in. He slowly met him halfway until they made contact. Kep dreamt. He dreamt that Birten vanished as soon as their lips met. He turned into Jeno, his old friend. Jeno held a key in one hand and a treasure chest in the other. He held them out to Kep. Kep hesitantly lifted the key from Jeno's palm and inserted it into the keyhole on the chest. The lid began lifting on its own, emitting a soft bronze glow. Kep dreamt. He dreamt that the lid of the treasure chest was all the way open. When he leaned in to take a look at its contents, he fell forward into the chest and tumbled down a dark chasm where unseen dragons chomped and clawed at him. He kept falling until he landed on a patch of mushrooms. Kep dreamt. He dreamt that his childhood friend Alanna was picking the hollowshrooms with a dagger that pierced her palm, using the sharp blade to dig the shafts out of the dirt. He grabbed the handle, tried to tug it from her grip, but was unable. She turned to face him. Kep dreamt. He dreamt that Alanna's face became the face of his mother. His mother, who had disappeared years ago. She opened her mouth. An eruption of fire burst forth, and he could feel the heat as the flames licked his face. Kep sat up in a sweaty panic. He gasped, trying to catch his breath. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had such a detailed, graphic dream. His breathing calmed as he found his way back into reality. His eyes adjusted to the dark, and he could just see the lump that was Sal's body in his bed from across the attic. A barely audible snore played through the darkness, and he knew that he hadn't woken his brother. Quietly, he swung his feet over the edge of the bed and stood up. There was no way he could fall back asleep after the nightmare that had just woken him. He was wide awake. Even if he was still tired, he was sure he wouldn't want to close his eyes again just quite yet. Padding toward the staircase, he was careful to avoid the beams he knew creaked. Considering this was now the second traumatizing experience Sal had been involved with in that cave, the last thing he wanted to do was disturb his sleep. If his brother had a similar experience as him, it had taken him quite a while to fall asleep too. Once he'd reached the bottom of the stairs, he made his way through the kitchen and into the dining room. He reached under the bar and found himself a bottle of strong mead. He wasn't an exceptionally big drinker, but he found the occasion appropriate. He needed to take a little of the edge off. He poured a small amount into a goblet and recorked the bottle. He made his way to one of the tables and sat in silence, in the darkness. Crickets chirruped just outside of the walls and he heard the scurry of what he assumed were rats. He looked up at the chandeliers. They were in desperate need of a wax-scraping. He was trying to distract himself, but it wasn't working. Downing the contents of the goblet, he pushed it away from him on the surface of the table. One was enough. After the events of the day, he was hardly surprised that he was having issues sleeping. After Elan had made the revelation that he believed there were a dozen dragons within the cave, he almost fainted. And when Elan had advised him that there was nothing yet that could be done about the dragons, he once again felt dizzy. "What do you mean?" Kep had asked. Elan barely winced as he had pulled the dagger from his palm with an unsettling squelch. He tucked it back into its holster and wrapped his hand in a fresh bit of gauze. "Until we know what kind of dragons they are, we can't take further action." "Why not?" By that point, Elan had vaguely explained the abilities of the dagger to Kep. He'd been tentative in explaining it, Kep noticed, as if he didn't want to reveal its secrets. He wasn't sure he fully believed him, but the roundabout way he explained it made him think that there was definitely something to the powers it held. "Can't that dagger tell you the breed, too?" "It wouldn't appear so, no," Elan said, biting off the end of the gauze with ease and sealing it with a dot of resin. He tucked the remaining roll of gauze into his pocket. "And if we don't know the breed, we can't formulate a plan of attack. While one breed might be susceptible to a rockslide for example, several other breeds would just be angered by being pelted with rocks and would be all the more dangerous when they emerged from the depths." Kep just stared. He hadn't read anything like this in any of the texts he'd found at the library. Elan continued. "Or sorcery. If we brought a wizard out here, or a sorcerer – which is hard to do, let me add – but if we convinced anyone with magical abilities to come out here, depending on the type of dragon, some of the creatuers would be killed immediately by any number of spells, while others would actually absorb the magic and intensify their strength." "Can't you just throw a torch down there and get a glimpse of what kind they are?" Elan had eyed Kep warily at that part, and did as suggested without looking. Kep watched as the torch fell, fell, fell, until it was so far down that the flame could no longer be seen. Clearly the chasm was far deeper than he'd expected. "And, the depth is also the reason I can't just go down there and slay them. I might be able to make it down there alive, but there's definitely no coming back. The dragons are barely hatchlings, though. No matter what breed, they still aren't going to have the wing strength to lift them up out of that pit. Even if they were breed that develops flight abilities the fastest, we have at least a month before we have anything to worry about." Kep was aware that Elan undoubtedly knew much more about the subject, but he found him slightly arrogant and wanted to try to shut him down if at all possible. "What about arrows? A bow and arrow would allow a ranged attack. No rocks, no magic. Wouldn't that work?" The slayer had likely been expecting a suggestion of that sort, as he answered it as nonchalantly as everything else up to that point. "Arrows aren't usually a very safe bet against dragons, even infants. They don't generally puncture deep enough to hit a vital organ. Plus, based on the depth of this hole, they'd lose the majority of their momentum by the time they made contact. We'd be lucky if they even pierced their scales." At that point Kep had decided to give up. It was clear that Elan was number one for a reason. He knew his stuff. "So we're just going to wait until they're strong enough to fly themselves up here and what? Slay each one as it appears?" "This is going to take all of the slayers," Elan said. "I'm not so arrogant to think that I could take on twelve dragons on my own. Even if they flew up one at a time, it wouldn't be possible. And especially if all of them were to appear simultaneously, we've only got nine of us to combat a dozen. We might need to bring in slayers from another kingdom." He stopped and scratched his chin at that point, seeming to be lost in his own thoughts. "Then again, the closest kingdom is Diir and they aren't heavy on slayers. Any of the other kingdoms on this side of the continent would be cutting it close to get here in time. Plus, this is all still dependent on the breed. If it's a complicated type, we might need more than one slayer per dragon. I'm going to have to call a meeting of the slayers immediately." "Well, you'll be short Daegon until he and Birten return," Kep pointed out. But it was clear that Elan wasn't aware that they were gone, for he turned to face Kep with a rapid spin of his heel. One of his eyebrows was raised quizzically. "What do you mean, return?" "Well they're on that two-week slay. It'll probably be a few days before they get back," Kep said simply. Elan continued staring. "What slay? There hasn't been an official slaying assignment since Daegon's trip to Baronne. Even if there was, it would be Feodoro's turn on assignment." "Turn?" Kep asked. This was another thing he hadn't come across in any of the texts he'd read. Clearly there was a lot more to dragonslaying than he'd studied yet. Elan sighed, but it seemed like a part of him enjoyed explaining it. "Yes, yes. When a neighboring city, village, or whatever other dwelling place calls upon Jhirdyr for assistance with vanquishing a dragon, the king has a rotation to keep things fair. For example, if he sent me on every single slay, nobody else could ever even fathom coming close to number one as they wouldn't garner any experience. So I get an assignment, then Tayrick gets the next one, Von gets the next, Daegon, Feodoro, and so on. There may be exceptions depending on if the town requests a specific slayer, or if the king determines that a certain slayer is better equipped to handle that specific task than the one whose turn it is. There are probably a lot of other exceptions to that, too, but that's all on the king's side. I just know that there haven't been any slayer requests since Baronne." "I'm just going off what Birten told me," Kep said. He was starting to regret bringing it up, however, because it seemed like something was amiss. The last thing he wanted to do was get Birten in trouble in any capacity. "How do you know this?" Elan asked, his eyes narrowing. His eyebrow somehow seemed to lift even further on his forehead. "How do you even know Daegon?" "I know Birten," Kep said, though he was beginning to feel annoyed. He didn't think he needed to explain himself to Elan. "I haven't met Daegon, yet." This seemed to change Elan's status from inquisitive to prideful. His eyebrow returned to its normal position and a smile began to spread across his face. "So am I the first slayer you've ever met?" Kep confirmed the answer with a nod, and he could tell the response pleased Elan. He wasn't sure why, but he assumed it was probably the competitive nature he clearly possessed. After that, Elan's ego had been boosted and he returned to narrating what would need to be done about the dragons, all the while with the smile plastered on his face. He didn't make reference to Daegon again, but Kep was sure he hadn't forgotten about it. Now, in the Street Inn dining room, Kep recounted all of the events of the day though he hadn't particularly wanted to. He found himself intrigued by Elan, though he hated to admit it. It was probably the fact that he had finally seen a dragonslayer in action, even if it wasn't the actual action-packed part of the job. It would give him something to discuss with Birten anyway, something he could relate to. Thinking of Birten made him rehash his dreams in his head. Especially all of the guest appearances. He hadn't seen Jeno, Alanna, or his mother in quite some time, so he found it unusual that they all appeared in his dreams that night. He couldn't shake the feeling that there were something more to the dreams than he realized.
  8. Disjecta Membra

    The Symbol

    At least we know now that Harmon wasn’t aware previously of Elsior’s motives! But yes, there’s going to be more that he begins to uncover as he delves deeper in the mystery.
  9. Disjecta Membra

    The Symbol

    Broadswords Chapter Eighteen The Symbol Feeling nostalgic, Harmon decided to do something he hadn't done since Elsior had been exiled. He was going to visit Elsior's old room. He knew it would be occupied by some other member of the castle staff, but he felt like it was something he needed to do. Especially knowing that Daegon and Birten had undoubtedly encountered him by now, while he hadn't seen him in years. He felt a smidgen of jealousy. As he made his way down the corridors, he wondered how time had changed his former lover. He tried visualizing what he might look like now. Would he still be slim and pale, with that same unkempt hair? How would his demeanor have differed from when they were younger? Would he still be laid back and aloof? He had gathered as much as he could from the letters, but there was only so much that could be absorbed from written word. He slipped down the maze of hallways toward the staff quarters as smoothly as he had always done. He felt a sense of exhilaration, sneaking around as he used to do, and a touch of accomplishment in reaching Elsior's old room without being noticed. Though he was now 25 years old, he still had it. Thankfully, the door was ajar. He listened for a few moments to make sure that he didn't hear anyone inside. Once he was satisfied it was silent, he stepped softly into the room in case it was occupied by someone sleeping or involved in a similarly quiet activity. Once he made it all the way inside, he was pleased to find it empty. Not much had changed. It was still as barren as it had been when Elsior had occupied it. Whoever lived there now seemed to have as few material possessions as Elsior, considering there were only a handful of trinkets in the room. He stood in the center and closed his eyes. He tried to bring forth the memories the two of them had shared in this very room when they were boys. Indeed, he could almost smell the muskiness that had often clung to Elsior's skin, could almost hear his candid laughter. Before he could get lost in his remembrances, he heard footsteps approaching. While he could make any number of excuses for why he was there, he didn't feel like the information making its way back to his father. The last thing he needed was for the king to be informed that he was caught in the old bedroom of the boy that had been exiled years ago. Though it was small and wouldn't do much in the means of disguising him, the only thing he could think to do was squeeze under the cot. If someone did come into the room, they would spot him straightaway. But he didn't have much other choice. He pressed himself firmly against the floor and slid under the bed. He knew his clothes had become immediately dirty on impact, and that would be something else he'd have to make up a lie for if someone noticed. The footsteps continued past the door, and he realized that whomever they belonged to was not coming into the room. He breathed a sigh of relief, and decided that he'd be smart to get back to his own quarters. He was being foolish, and he could have easily been spotted. As he slid himself back out from under the wooden frame, he noticed a carving in the leg of the bed. It was one simple word, a name, flanked on either side by an unusual symbol. ƾ Elsior ƾ He stopped where he was, face down on the floor, and stared at it. Somehow seeing it there, written in front of him, made his emotions swell. He hadn't seen the name written down in a long, long time. Considering Elsior had signed his letters with a drawing of a potato, he hadn't really had the opportunity to see it actually spelled out. Reaching out to the carving, he ran his thumb across the grooves. The symbol was what really caught his eye. He had never seen it before. It could have just been a random doodle, or an accidental character etched by Elsior. But since it was there twice, carefully constructed, he knew that there must be a deeper meaning to it. Yet Elsior had never mentioned anything about it before. Knowing he had to get out of the servant's quarters, he pushed himself back to his feet. He glanced back at the wooden post where the signature was, but he couldn't see it from a standing position. Curiosity was getting the best of him, and he had to know what it meant. He brushed the dirt from the front of his tunic and pants to the best of his ability. It wasn't as noticeable on the dyed parts, but it stood out on the areas of white. He'd have to switch into clean clothes the moment he made it back to his room. After he'd bathed and changed into a fresh set of clothes, Harmon sat at his desk and rifled through all of the letters he'd received from Elsior over the past year. He was curious if the symbol had ever appeared in any of his writings. He still had no clue what it was, of course, but maybe Elsior had hinted at it in something he'd said that would give him an idea. The first few letters were brief, and included the potato. The longer the letters got, the more the potato started to phase out and there was no signature at all. By that point, there was no need to explain who was writing him. There was a random doodle or drawing here and there, generally associated with a wry joke he had made. Most of the time, though, the letters were serious, and there was no added flair. There was one point where he thought he'd found something, but it turned out just to be a bit of spilled ink. Out of all the letters, there was no reference to the symbol whatsoever. He hadn't really expected to find anything, but it didn't mean he wasn't disappointed. It could be anything. A symbol Elsior had chosen to represent his name. Something that was part of his genealogy. Hell, it could just be something he liked to draw. There was absolutely the chance that he was making something out of nothing. Still, he rarely had much to do with his time and something like this was at least something to do. The dragonslayers, the knights, the squires, the travelers; they all had journeys to go on and tales to tell. Even something as small as a mysterious symbol was as much of an adventure as he could hope for. Then it hit him. The castle library! While he wasn't much of a reader and rarely spent any time in that room, he knew that the royal library was one of the vastest on the continent. There were certainly more books in the city library, but the books held within the castle were rarer. There were old tomes passed down from generation to generation, books gifted to the royal family from far-off visitors, and others retrieved from knights after pillaging enemy army camps after a victory. There were fiction novels from every storyteller imaginable, resource indexes about almost any trade or skill one could think of, and biographies of some of the biggest names there had ever been. And so he made his way to the library, which was one of the bigger rooms in the castle. When he arrived, he found it occupied by his youngest sister, Lessa. She was sprawled out on the floor in a mess of pillows with a large book spread open in front of her. A half dozen others lay scattered about on the rug. As the door opened, she looked up and made eye contact with Harmon. "What are you doing here?" she asked. "I've got some research to do," he said simply. She was quite astute for a 14-year-old, and he didn't want to give her any ammunition that she didn't need. He wouldn't be surprised if she would haul off and tell their father, so the less she knew, the better. "Now scram." She clambered to her feet with the book in tow, and kicked one of the pillows at him as she walked out of the room, sticking out her tongue. Sometimes being an older sibling in a royal lineage had its perks, as she had to obey an order such as the one he had just issued. As soon as the door was firmly closed, he looked around the room. It was overwhelming, the amount of books that were housed there. The shelves went up high enough to require ladders, and they lined every wall of the room. He knew the books were categorized by subject, but he wasn't sure where to begin. He supposed language would be the smartest choice. He browsed through a few selections dedicated to runic languages, but had no luck there. Considering some of the older Cascadian languages were heavy on unusual symbols, he tried books on any he could remember from his schooling. Nothing. He flipped through pages on everything from Archaicka, a long-since forgotten nomadic tongue, to Yarba, a still-untranslated scripture of the ancient tribes of the Tetrad Desert. He was getting nowhere closer to finding an answer, but he was getting a number of papercuts. Perhaps he was barking up the wrong tree. Maybe the symbol wasn't like a letter in an alphabet. Maybe it was indicative of something else besides a structured language. He perused literature documenting the history of the flags of each kingdom, but that didn't prove fruitful. He tried records on creatures that had left unusual markings in fields, towns, or mountainsides – that, too, was a dead end. He even went so far as to reference some cookbooks; after all, Elsior had always desired to become a chef. Maybe it was some obscure cooking symbol. But, of course, that too led him nowhere. After deciding that it was time to call it a night, he glanced at the large floor clock that took up the wallspace opposite the door. He was shocked to see the time. He'd spent more time in the library in that one sitting than he probably had spent there any other time, combined. It was well past midnight. While he didn't have an exhausting day ahead of him, he knew he should get to bed soon so he could wake up at a decent hour. He needed to keep up appearances, after all. Just as he was about to make for the door, he realized that the books Lessa had left on the floor were still there. He tossed the pillows onto the nearest seating area, and gathered the books. He wasn't going to take the time to put them all in their correct places, but he could at least pick them up off the floor. As he carried them over to the large desk in the middle of the room, he rifled through them. The Mermaids of Emory Island. Dressmaking: A Fine Art. Gems and Jewels Across Centralis. He had to admit, the girl had varied tastes. Mysteries of the Amellian Ridge. Silvercrest Butterflies and Other Dangerous Insects. She really didn't have one specific type of book she liked to read. However, it was the final book that really caught his eye. It was titled Ancient Magic and Those Who Use It. Setting the other books down on the desk, he fanned through it. There were no sketches or images in the book, but he scanned the pages once more to be sure he hadn't missed anything. It didn't seem like this one would help him, but it did give him a nudge in the right direction. Magic. Why he hadn't considered magic before, he didn't know. Perhaps it was because there were few citizens in Jhirdyr that had the ability to perform it. Elsior certainly never had made any indication that magical blood ran through his veins. Then again, it didn't mean he didn't have a curiosity for it, as clearly Lessa did despite her lack of magical abilities. He stepped over to the section of the library dedicated to magic, which was quite sizable. He glanced back at the clock, knowing that he wouldn't be making it to bed anytime soon after all. Curiosity was getting the best of him, and he felt like he was finally on the right track. Light had begun creeping through the stained glass in the windows that lined the highest reaches of the ceiling, and Harmon couldn't believe he had spent the entire night in the library. And a large chunk of the previous day, too. He had gone through countless books within the magic section, though nothing had yet to stand out to him. His fingers were beginning to hurt from flipping through so many dusty pages that he was certain he would never want to open another book as long as he lived. At last, his fingers fell upon a book with The Dark Collective: An Abridged History of the Assemblages Dedicated to the Black Arts emblazoned across the spine. While the thickness of it indicated that it was indeed condensed, the title was a bit of a mouthful. He pulled it down from the shelf and cracked it open to the middle. There on the page before him was a symbol. It wasn't the symbol he had seen carved into the bedpost, but it was similar. It resembled an O with an arrow through it. Beneath read: Necromancy. He flipped the page. Another odd symbol, this one like a triangle with horns. The caption underneath: Haematomancy. Page after page of the same: a symbol he didn't recognize, a word he didn't know, and a brief description. Finally, he found it. A page illustrated with the same symbol carved into Elsior's old bed. Just like the one he'd seen before, this one looked like an upside down question mark with a T-like cross though it. The word underneath it was Terramancy. With frantic eyes, he read the remainder of the page. Like most mancies, Terramancy originated as a form of divination. The earliest Terramancers used minerals within the dirt and soil to make predictions, obtain answers, and fulfill ritualistic practices. As was true of other types of mancers, once the Terramancers began mastering their art, they too began to channel their powers beyond prophetic abilities. Powers of the Terramancers evolved to include the ability to manipulate the earth, the ability to create small land masses, and for those powerful enough, the ability to shift the tides. As their manipulation powers progressed and Terramancers became something beyond diviners, Terramancy was provided its own symbol as its acceptance into the Dark Collective. Harmon felt his hands shaking as he closed the cover of the book. He didn't know why the symbol of a black art was etched around his former lover's name, and he certainly didn't know what the Dark Collective was. But one thing he did know was that Elsior had a secret of which Harmon had never been made aware.
  10. Disjecta Membra

    The Sanguistis

    It’s definitely more than Elan could take on alone, even with the blood dagger. Something is absolutely going on with the number of dragons, it definitely didn’t just happen by chance.
  11. Disjecta Membra

    The Truth

    So many things are finally coming to fruition! We all knew Elsior wasn’t who he said he was, but this is indeed something the boys would never have expected.
  12. Disjecta Membra

    The Truth

    Broadswords Chapter Seventeen The Truth Birten rode away from Elsior's cabin, glad to be getting away from the gatherer for a while. He hoped Daegon would be alright alone with him. Of all people, Daegon could take care of himself. But there was still the odd feeling about their new acquaintance that made him feel uneasy. He circled around the village, heading toward the area furthest away from the mountains. If the dragon had been circling the skies overhead, this would have been the direction it would have expanded into to find additional sources of food. There were several swampy areas that he had to quickly avoid. Some were small while others were vast, but all of them happened in random places. The ground would suddenly change from dirt and grass into marshes, and the last thing he needed was to get too far into it while on horseback. He couldn't imagine getting a horse out of a deep swamp would be an easy task. His mind wandered back to the vials on the wall in the cabin. Some looked innocent enough, but many of them didn't look like any spices that Birten was familiar with. While he was no chef, he'd been to market enough times to know what common herbs and other additives looked like. There was the possibility that many of them were from distant lands, but it didn't seem likely. Elsior didn't seem to have the means to travel far to obtain them. It was also peculiar that the cabin was devoid of much, aside from the few pieces of furniture and baskets, yet there was an extensive collection of spices. For a man who was preparing food for one, how many different seasonings could he really utilize in his dishes? Birten was sure Kep would be able to assess the situation with more knowledge than he could. While he knew it was actually Kep's brother that did the majority of the cooking, Kep would still know if everything on those shelves was legitimately used in food preparation. Birten hoped he was just being paranoid. He didn't have a whole lot of information to go off, after all. It could just be his imagination running wild. He had often been warned by others that he overanalyzed things to a point of toeing irrationality. Then again, he was usually pretty astute with his instincts. He actually prided himself on his cautiousness, and was sure it had helped on slays in more than a handful of occasions. But at this point, since he wasn't with Daegon and Elsior, there wasn't much that debating it in his head would really solve. So he turned back to the task at hand. He was a decent way out from the village before he found a spot that was a clear indication of a dragon landing. It was a relatively lush area; a significantly larger quantity of bushes and saplings were located there. However, several of them had been stamped down, broken limbs and torn leaves abundant. He slowed his horse and surveyed the area. Sure enough, he was able to decipher large, reptilian footprints in the soil. They appeared to be bigger than he was used to, so he slid off the horse to get a better look. Upon closer inspection, his assumptions proved to be correct. The prints were far grander than any he had ever seen. One print alone was nearly the length of his wingspan. In his time as a squire, the longest footprint he'd seen was maybe half that length. He knew there were bigger dragons out there, but none that he was aware of that could leave prints so great. Something with this massive of feet would be larger in overall mass than he could even fathom. The other thing that stood out was the number of toes in the print. There were seven per foot. He made sure to check all the prints he could find, just to ensure that it wasn't one footprint laid overtop of another. But indeed, each had the same seven-toed impression. Most dragon breeds had three or four toes per foot; there were even a few rare breeds that had two or five each. But seven was unheard of. Before he'd left the cabin, Elsior had described the dragon to them. He'd made it seem pretty clear that it was a Dark Colossus, but based on these prints he was far from correct. While a Dark Colossus was an extremely large breed, it didn't compare to this. Nor did a Colossus have seven toes. Either Elsior was severely mistaken about what he'd seen, he was awful at dragon identification, or he was lying. No matter which of those was true, Birten knew that he and Daegon were in for something much more intense than they'd ever expected. He knew he was supposed to continue on to see how far the dragon had travelled, but he wasn't sure that it would do much good anymore. They were dealing with an unknown breed, and so they wouldn't have as much insight on its habits based on its flight path. It could be a temperamental type that didn't fit into the feeding patterns they were used to. The discovery of the prints was more integral, at this point. He needed to relay the information to Daegon. Concerned, he turned back to mount his horse. But it wasn't where he'd left it. In fact, it was nowhere to be seen. The dirt where it had stood was scuffed up. It looked like something had spooked it and it had darted off. How he didn't hear it take off, he wasn't sure. He must have been so engrossed in inspecting the footprints that he'd somehow tuned it out. But now he was without transportation, and he was a sufficient distance from the village, and even further from the cabin. He'd be lucky if he could make it to the heart of town by nightfall. He cursed aloud, under his breath. He knew there wasn't much point in dwelling on the situation at hand, though, as there was nothing he could do about it. He had to get somewhere before it was too dark to travel. All of his belongings, including his weapons and torch, were on the horse. He didn't even have water. If he didn't get a move on, he'd face more serious issues. And so he began walking back in the direction from which he'd come. As he'd expected, the sun was an oily orange as it hung tentatively above the mountains by the time Birten approached the main strip of Dorre. He had arrived a little sooner than he'd initially thought, but without his horse he still wouldn't make it to Elsior's before it was too dark to see. He'd have to hope that he could bargain with the villagers to stay overnight. Based on the previous interaction they'd had, however, he didn't find it likely. But he didn't have too many options. As he rounded the buildings, he was hesitant. He didn't know where else to go besides the inn. He stood before the door, debating on entering. The sky wasn't getting any lighter, though, and he took a deep breath as he entered. It was this or nothing. Almost immediately upon stepping inside, the waiter, Brev, was in front of him. "You! We told you already, cohorts of Elsior aren't welcomed here!" Several men in the room stood, staring daggers at Birten. He was well aware that their eyes weren't the only danger at hand, as many of them clearly had weapons at the ready. He held his hands up in a defensive pose. "Please, I need your help," he uttered, fear and nerves tugging at the steadiness of his voice. While most of the onlookers didn't seem to be impacted by his statement, Brev appeared to relax slightly. "You're working with our enemy. How and why would we help you?" Birten could sense the lessening of the tension in the room, and took a deep breath. "My compatriot and I, we are in fact from the kingdom of Jhirdyr, and—" "Aha, you did lie!" Brev bellowed, and the tenseness in the room swelled. The spectators looked furious. "Wait, please! We did, yes, we did lie. But we were unaware of the situation at hand. Please let me explain. We're a dragonslayer and squire from Jhirdyr, and we were called here by Elsior under the impression that a dragon had the town under siege. He asked us to help." The crowd seemed to lose their cool at that comment, and Birten had to hold his hands up again and raise his voice to continue his explanation. "We have no prior experience with Elsior. We were told he was the one to bring the dragon's existence to light." An uproar of chatter bellowed throughout the room, but Brev waved his arms to quell it. He seemed to be somewhat accepting of what Birten was saying, and kept the conversation going. "So you were beckoned here under the impression that Elsior wanted to save the village from the dragon's destruction?" "Yes," Birten said simply and honestly. Brev seemed uncertain if he believed Birten's answer, but continued nonetheless. "In a way, Elsior is the one that brought the dragon's existence to light. But not in the way you may think." Birten didn't know how to respond to that. He had expected that the gatherer was not who he said he was, and he had expected that there was more to the story than was being told, but he had no idea where Brev was going with his statement. So he remained silent, and Brev explained the truth about the man that had been exiled to their village. "Elsior arrived in our village some years ago. We were tentative, because it isn't often that anyone relocates to Dorre. We're a village of ancestry. Those who live here have always lived here. Outsiders are rare. He found his cabin, it was empty, and he chose to reside there. It had been empty for years and it was off the beaten path, so we didn't mind. He came into town occasionally to exchange goods, and for a while it was fine. We dealt with it. Not a huge bother. But it wasn't long before things began to change. "He became darker. Angrier. Demanding, and aggressive. As you've certainly gathered, we don't take well to that kind of attitude. Especially from outsiders. He started asking about odd things around town. Dark magic, and spells. We're a simple village. We don't know about that kind of thing. And we don't want to. So we began to shut him out. But he found a way to get his answers. Peddlers come through occasionally, of course. Traveling merchants. Purveyors of the black arts. Sometimes they sell dark artifacts. "We assume that's where it started, but of course we don't know for sure. It seemed like the dealers that came through town gravitated toward his cabin. Straight into town and directly to his place. It was like that for months, maybe even a year. At that point, his visits into town had become incredibly uncommon. We were glad. It was starting to feel like everything was back to normal. "Until the dragon came. We've never had a dragon in Dorre. Not once. But this beast suddenly rose from the swamp, birthed from the marshes like a corpse rising from its grave. It was gargantuan. Demonic. A terrifying, horrific monster like we've never experienced. And when it fully lifted itself into the air, we saw Elsior standing there, arms raised, chanting." Birten was floored. He was scared to ask his next question, but he managed to get it out. "What are you saying?" "Elsior summoned the dragon. He brought this thing into our village, and he's been keeping it here."
  13. Disjecta Membra

    The Sanguistis

    Broadswords Chapter Sixteen The Sanguistis "You're Elan?" Elan looked at the man before him. He was shorter, slightly pudgy, and rather handsome. His skin was a soft shade of brown, and utterly flawless. He still seemed panicked. "Yes. And you are?" "My name is Kep," he said. He ran his fingers through his beard absentmindedly. "I run an inn with my brother several streets over." Several streets over meant in the less luxurious part of town, and Elan was well aware of it. And based on the state of his clothes, the dirt under his nails, and the bottom-of-the-barrel horse that looked like it was about to keel over, there was no doubt about it. "Fine, Kep. Take me to this dragon you've found. But let's take my horse," he said, eyeing the one Kep had ridden up on. Given that the horse didn't look like it had much more energy left in it, the two men walked it to the stables. Once there, Elan had his personal steed fetched from the private stables and tipped the attendant. "Let's double up," he said. "I'd rather not pay to rent you a better horse than your previous one. In case you're wrong about the dragon, I'm not about to lose money over it. And I'm assuming you're not particularly prepared to spend that kind of money on a rental." Kep remained silent, looking sheepishly at the ground. They mounted the horse, a solid white mare, with Elan in front. He took the reins and led them toward the kingdom gates. "Don't you need your squire? And a weapon?" Kep asked. "I don't need my squire until I've assessed the situation. And I have a weapon, here," he said, gently tapping the blood dagger which was carefully attached to his side. He had yet to use it, but had been carrying it with him since he'd purchased it. "A dagger? Isn't a sword a more adequate weapon for dragonslaying?" Kep asked. "When I go on slays, I bring an assortment of weapons. Don't concern yourself over it. This is just a consultation. I'll likely not need a weapon at all," he responded. He could feel Kep behind him, jostling as if he were about to fall off the horse. He assumed that he was trying to hold onto the saddle for support. "Hold onto my waist. If you fall off once we pick up speed, you won't be much good to me. Unless you're afraid to touch a man in such a way." He felt Kep's hands tentatively wrap themselves around his waist. As the horse broke into a run, his fingers gripped harder. They were strong hands. He could tell that Kep was the type of man who had put in an honest life's work. Through his tunic, he could feel an almost calloused texture to them. He was turned on by it, and decided that he might try to bed him once they were done with the cave. Though he wasn't in the same caste as those Elan usually slept with, there was something about going to town on this working class fellow that intrigued the slayer. "It's just a bit into the woods," Kep said as soon as a cluster of trees was visible in the distance. He adjusted his hands as he said this, and his fingertips grazed Elan's leg. He decided he would definitely try to bed him. "What did the dragon look like?" Elan asked. He'd like to be at least somewhat prepared in order to begin formulating a plan. "I didn't see it," Kep responded. Elan almost stopped the horse. He would go no further if this wasn't a sure thing. "What do you mean, you didn't see it? If you've just found a footprint or some droppings, that's not enough to confirm a dragon is out here. It could be from ages ago." "I didn't see the dragon itself, but I saw its flame." That brought his confidence back up. Sure, if he saw fire in the woods, it could have been a traveler who'd lost control of their bonfire. But chances were more likely that Kep was correct. Based on the location of the woods, though, it would be the closest dragon to the kingdom in a very long time. A slay like this would ensure that his lead in the rankings would be even more maintainable. The others would have a hard time catching up to him if he had a slay that prevented a direct attack on the kingdom. "How did the flame look? Was it structured or more erratic?" "It was pretty inconsistent. There was a lot of steam that came up with it, too." The type of breath was important in determining what type of dragon it might be. Based on Kep's description, he could narrow down the possibilities. The addition of the steam didn't really help much; it could indicate an infant or an elderly dragon, as their firepouches were in different stages of fire control and capacity than an average adult. It could also just mean that the depths of this cave were extremely cold and the heat of the flame caused the vapor. As they neared the treeline, he slowed his horse to a walking pace. Kep revealed to him where he had a place to light torches, and they got off the horse in order to do so. Thankfully, Elan always kept a few supplies in his saddlebags, torches included. He lit two, one for each of them, and waited as Kep stamped out the fire and hid the pit. He wasn't quite sure why it was necessary, but he let him do his thing. Kep led them into the woods on foot, and soon they'd located the cave. After tying the horse where Kep suggested, they made their way inside. Elan could sense Kep's nerves heightening as they stepped further into the cave. The flames of their torches burned brightly, casting shadows around them. Once they'd gotten a certain distance in, Kep cautioned him that they were nearing the chasm in which he'd seen the dragon's breath. He also warned that it was a steep fall if they got too close. Taking his word for it, Elan proceeded with caution. He could hear noises from within, and it certainly sounded like there was a dragon in their midst. A low hiss began to form, and he held out his arm to stop Kep from going any further. "Hold on." Seconds after they stopped, a pillar of fire rose from the chasm. It was a beautiful eruption of oranges and reds, the heat of which could be felt against his skin. The steam that Kep had described surrounded the fire in a shroud, and Elan was able to officially narrow it down. The heat, instability, and type of steam meant that they were dealing with a young dragon. He was about to say something to Kep, to explain his find, when something he didn't expect happened. A second flame shot up from the darkness. "Shit…." Kep muttered, his torch hand beginning to visibly tremble. His reaction was very much appropriate, whether or not he knew it. One infant dragon was a complicated feat, but two was a whole new test. Even in his well-rounded career, Elan had never taken on two at once. Infants or otherwise. It was unusual, too. If these dragons were borne from the same mother, it would be a first. Never had Elan heard of a dragon laying more than one egg at a time. Once a dragon did lay an egg, they were generally unable to lay another for around four months, depending on the breed. Once laid, the eggs usually took two months to hatch. But based on the way both streams of fire appeared, these dragons were around the same age. Elan was knowledgeable enough in dragon anatomy to know that they were closer in age than a full egg cycle. The more logical explanation would of course be that the dragons were not in fact siblings, but had been hatched of eggs laid by different dragons altogether. That, too, was still a stretch. Dragons were generally very territorial and would not conjugate in the same area like that. While more probable than the first option, it still wasn't making sense to Elan. Either they'd located the offspring of a one-of-a-kind dragon, they'd located a nest somehow utilized by more than one mother, or there was something else at play. "I think something is amiss, here," he verbalized. "Hold this." He handed Kep his torch. He unlatched the holster at his hip and pulled out the blood dagger. He knew he wouldn't be able to use it on the dragons quite yet, but he had a feeling it would still prove useful in the current situation. As he inspected the weapon, Kep began nervously babbling and spouting off questions. "So… there are two? That has to be pretty uncommon, right? Or do you see that sometimes? What are you thinking? Woodland Reds? Stoutnecks? Baileyvales? Carpenter Dragons?" "Kep, take a breath. I don't know yet." While his knowledge of dragon breeds was clearly impressive, the incessant questions were beginning to annoy Elan. Kep stopped talking, but his hands were still shaking. Elan's own hands were steady, despite the fact that he was about to use the Sanguistis for the first time. He held it in his left hand and with a deep breath, thrust the spike through his right palm. It hurt, but not as bad as he'd expected. He could feel the radiation spreading into his hand, his arm. Perhaps that helped quell the pain. He wrapped his fingers around the hilt and held it firmly. He could hear Kep gagging beside him, likely trying not to be sick. He ignored him. A warmth unlike any other began coursing through his body. He felt different. He couldn't really explain it in any other way than that he felt more aware. No blood ran from the wound; it was as if the dagger was imbibing it, using it to become more powerful. The promise of being more aware of his surroundings was kept. He could sense Kep's nervous energy more strongly. He could feel a kind of innocence about him. Though the peddler had indicated that it would help him with his foes, it was now proven that the weapon could pick up on the emotions of everything in the vicinity. However, it was the dragons that he sensed most. He felt in tune with them. Split seconds before another burst shot into the air, he knew it was going to happen. He could sense their confusion, their naiveté. These dragons were freshly hatched. They couldn't be more than a week old. The biggest thing he had been made aware of, however, was that there were not two dragons. There were twelve.
  14. Disjecta Membra

    The Nest

    They sure do! It’s definitely established now that he isn’t who he seems to be, so now we’re just waiting to get a little more clarification on what exactly he’s up to. Chapter 17 will give us a little more insight on that, when we get there. 😉
  15. Disjecta Membra

    The Nest

    Broadswords Chapter Fifteen The Nest After obtaining details on the dragon, Daegon's fears were confirmed. He'd hoped that the beast they'd be dealing with was a simple Great Grey or even a Mountainous Majestic, but from Elsior's description, it seemed like they would actually be combatting a Dark Colossus. The Dark Colossus was one of the more vicious types of dragon, and Daegon had yet to face one. They were larger than most breeds, typically twice the size of a Grey. Their scales were spaced close together, causing an almost chainmail-like effect. From his studies, Daegon knew that the scales alone made the Dark Colossus one of the most complicated to slay. Add their unusual speed and spiked tails and they became a formidable foe. Daegon was up to the challenge, though. Between the quest being issued from Harmon and a new type of dragon being added to his repertoire, this would be one of his most epic slays. Unfortunately, as he hadn't put much time into learning the facts before setting forth on the journey, he wasn't quite as prepared as he should be. He spent the day discussing the Colossus with Elsior, determining some of its habits that the gatherer had noticed thus far. He sent Birten to scope out the surrounding area. Any traces of where else the dragon had been might be helpful, especially in piecing together information that Elsior hadn't been able to provide. If they could learn how much of a radius it had traveled from its nest, it would indicate how restless it was becoming. The more ground it had begun to cover, the sooner it could mean a bigger attack was coming. As the squire departed on horseback, Elsior led Daegon toward the nest. They wouldn't travel all the way there, of course, until the preparations had been made to execute the slay. But it would give Daegon a feel for the battlegrounds he would have to work with. They walked side by side, relatively quietly as Daegon took in his surroundings. He'd already gotten the majority of the specifics regarding the dragon itself, and Elsior had explained his relationship with the villagers and with Harmon earlier that morning. Though he wouldn't admit it out loud, the connection between the prince and the gatherer was slightly surprising to him. While there had always been the hope in the back of his mind that Harmon was attracted to men, he'd never though it would turn out to be true. But there he was, walking alongside a man who claimed to have been once involved with the royal son. Elsior was plain – not ugly, but not someone Daegon would have assumed Harmon would be interested in. Though he seemed kind enough, there didn't seem to be much depth to him. Regardless of the situation that had brought Elsior to this village, his character seemed too dull to pique the interest of someone in such a high-profile position as prince. Daegon tried to visualize Harmon and Elsior in bed together. No matter how hard he tried to figure out how it would look, he couldn't. Daegon and Birten made sense. A dragonslayer and his squire, a brawny man and his smaller counterpart. Their lovemaking sessions were like piecing together a puzzle; it was rhythmic and everything fit into place. And Daegon and Elan, that also made sense. Two intense and ferocious men, hot and ravenous sex. He could even picture Birten and Harmon together, a likely sensuous combination. That thought of his squire and the prince lost in a sweaty tussle beneath the sheets began to arouse him, and he tried to stop thinking about it before Elsior noticed the bulging in his trousers. Again trying to imagine Harmon and Elsior together seemed to do the trick; as he struggled to make sense of the combination, his excitement diminished. Based on the story he'd heard, he knew the men had been younger when they were intimate, and their pubescence could very well have been the primary motivation in their joint activities. "We probably shouldn't go too much farther," Elsior said suddenly, bringing Daegon back into reality. He looked around, noting that they were still a fair distance from the base of the mountain. "The nest is there?" Daegon pointed, his gesture indicating a nook near the bottom of the rock. Even after a quick scan, he knew it was the most likely place a dragon would settle given the layout of the mountain. There didn't appear to be any caverns or other large crevasses. Being the only apparent naturally occurring orifice, the dragon would be most comfortable there as it provided protection from three sides. Elsior nodded in confirmation. They stared, but the dragon must have been deep within as there was no sight of it. Not that it would have spotted them from the distance, as one of the weaknesses of the Dark Colossus was its eyesight, but there was no point in lingering longer than they had to. Daegon nudged Elsior, and they turned back toward his house. As they walked, Daegon filled Elsior in on the plan. "Considering that it has only attacked livestock thus far and not people, we still have time. Cattle is typically a first choice, as they have sufficient meat and they can't fight back. Dragons like Dark Colossi don't often attack humans unprovoked, due to their size and the fact that we don't have much to offer them as far as nourishment. However, depending on how far out the beast has traveled… that'll tell us if we need to fear an attack anytime soon." "How does that tell us anything?" Elsior asked. "A dragon tends to circle overhead to see what it has to prey on. It'll keep expanding the area it covers. Once it's gone out a sufficient distance without locating anything better, that's when you need to worry. At that point, it'll settle for the smaller game." Elsior seemed to pale at the notion. "And in a dragon's case, smaller game means us." "Precisely," Daegon said, eyeballing Elsior. He was starting to get a weird vibe from him. He wondered if Birten felt the same way. Considering the way the villagers had responded, he assumed Birten had been on edge since they'd arrived. He couldn't worry about that now, though. "Since there isn't much in this area besides Dorre, it's not going to find anything as filling as the livestock. Once it's gotten through that, humans are next on the menu. What other animals are ranched here, besides the cows?" "Not much else. The livestock population was predominately cattle. One fellow has a few pigs, and another has a single goat. That's it." Daegon knew that the lack of animals remaining in the area was not a good sign. Depending on what Birten found in his surveillance of the area, he wouldn't be surprised if the dragon had the village already set in its sights. By the time they'd arrived back at Elsior's house, the sun was setting. Birten had not yet returned, which was odd, considering he'd traveled out on horseback while they had gone on foot. He really only needed to travel out enough to see where the dragon had landed on its flights, which would be quite obvious given its assumed size. At the same time, Birten was more than capable. He didn't have to worry that he wasn't doing an adequate job; if anything, he was being extra thorough. Birten had always been one to ensure everything was how it should be before proceeding. As they waited, Elsior began preparing dinner. "I'm predominately vegetarian, considering I don't have a fair enough relationship with the villagers to obtain meat. Not that there's probably much left," he joked grimly. "So I do hope vegetable soup will suffice." Daegon, not one to complain about food regardless of its contents, nodded. He watched as Elsior filled a pot with items he had chosen from the baskets against the wall. He brought it to the table and laid out each vegetable, dicing them before returning them back to the pot. He added water and a smattering of various spices from the shelves. "I'll have to go outside to cook this," he said once his preparations had been completed. He hoisted the pot off the table and carried it to the door. "Go ahead and relax. You've had a hectic couple of days." He trudged outside to heat their meal, leaving Daegon to his thoughts. As he sat in the wobbly wooden chair, he found himself missing Birten. It was a rather unusual feeling for him, but he imagined part of it was that he was a much better companion than Elsior. He knew he was rather tough on his squire, too, and maybe some of what he was feeling was due to guilt. There was also the guilt of his tryst with Elan. He wondered if Birten had done anything similar since they had been together. He couldn't fathom it happening. Birten was trustworthy and dedicated. Still, it didn't mean that the thoughts weren't there. He felt annoyed with himself for thinking that way. He knew he was trying to justify his actions once again, this time by envisioning that Birten could be capable of doing the same thing. Really, they just needed to sit and talk. He wasn't sure he wanted to completely come clean, but they could do with a serious conversation. Daegon had never been one for opening up about things like that, but they'd been together for quite some time without ever truly discussing their relationship. Elsior returned before Daegon could put too much more thought into it, and it seemed like the gatherer was good at interrupting thought processes. In this case, he wasn't overly upset about it. He needed to stop thinking about it until they were back in Jhirdyr, anyway. He had too many other pressing things to worry about while they were in Dorre. "Done already? That was fast," Daegon said. Placing the pot on a stone trivet on the table, Elsior furrowed his brow. "Not particularly. It was around a half hour. You must have been really lost in your thoughts." He produced a bowl and spoon from somewhere in the practically empty room, and served Daegon. "Aren't you going to have any?" Daegon asked, picking up the spoon. "Well," Elsior responded, scratching his head. "I, uh… only have the one bowl. And the one spoon. I'm not used to visitors. I will eat after you. And Birten can use it when he returns." While some people might have offered to let Elsior eat first, Daegon didn't give it a second thought. He was hungry. Plus, he wasn't the pussyfoot type. He wouldn't play a back and forth until one of them caved. He dug the spoon into the somewhat mush of a soup, the bland colors dripping over the edges. He shoved the spoon in his mouth, almost insatiably, but immediately regretted it. The food was bitter; the earthy taste of the vegetables he expected was masked by whatever blend of spices Elsior had used. He had to refrain from spitting it out. He thought this guy was supposed to be a chef of sorts. "You know, maybe we should wait for Birten," Daegon said. He replaced the spoon in the bowl. Elsior stared at him, but said nothing. A large grin was stuck on his face as if molded there permanently. It was unnecessary, and was pissing Daegon off. What was so damn entertaining? He went to lift his hand up to point in his face and demand an explanation, but he could barely move his arm. He was suddenly feeling immensely sluggish. "What's going…?" He felt himself begin slumping to the side; the rickety chair wasn't sturdy enough to maintain the uneven weight and he toppled to the floor. His eyes began to flutter shut, and the last thing he saw was that infuriating smirk. Groggily, Daegon rubbed his face. It didn't take him long to remember what happened, and he sat up. He was glad to have his motor functions back, but he needed to figure out exactly what was going on. Elsior had done something to the food, and there was no longer a doubt that he was up to something sinister. It was pitch black. He couldn't make out moonlight anywhere, so it was clear he was no longer in the cabin. The surface below him was cold and hard. It was stone. He heard a deep grumble from somewhere, and he knew exactly where he was. He was in the dragon's nest.
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