It’s definitely time for a new adventure! So without further ado, let’s dive in.
On the dark mahogany desk sits a globe of the world so detailed that it shows roads and landscapes, place names and times of day. In deep colors of green and brown, it displays crops and in glistening whites or muddied grays, the grip of winter or the swirling path of a storm.
You sit in the padded leather desk chair with your legs crossed and elbows on your knees, just watching the shifting temperament of the globe. At any moment a spot might light up with brief sparks, indicating an attack and, as a watcher, it is your duty to go help the locals deal with the dragon, ogre, troll or whatever else might be terrorizing them.
“Slow night?” asks a young voice from the office door.
You glare over the globe at Mark, the newest member of your ranks.
“Don’t ever say those words in this room,” you admonish.
“Why?” Mark sets a plate of eggs and hash browns on the desk beside the globe for you.
Before you can respond, sparks fly from the northern most spot on the globe. Then a dull glow suffuses the white, snow held land mass.
Before those initial sparks die, more flare from the islands in the southwestern sea and immediately behind those, more sparks from the mountains running the coast of the eastern continent.
All three locations glow with a dull, pulsing red light.
You glare at Mark again. “That’s why.”
He smiles sheepishly. “Oops. I’ll grab another hunter.”
“Yeah,” you agree.
While you’re waiting for him to return, you shovel down the eggs and hash browns. It might be your last warm meal for a while, so you savor the delicious mix of yolk and potato.
By the time Mark returns, your plate’s empty and you’ve shouldered your gear. He finds you staring intently at the globe with its three glowing spots.
“Lovely,” says the hunter Mark retrieved. The word drips with resignation as he runs a hand over his bald head.
“North’s going to be super cold,” Mark comments.
“Uhha,” you say, withholding a sarcastic reply.
“Island’s might be nice except for that storm.” He points to a swirling gray mass that’ll hit the islands within the next day.
“Yup,” you say.
“Then again, those mountains are rough terrain.”
“That’s true,” you agree, again the sarcasm hides behind your bland response.
“You’ve got first pick,” says the third hunter before Mark continues to state the obvious.
Do you pick the snow laden North, the storm expecting islands, or the rough mountains?
None of the choices will be easy. Your hand hovers over the globe while you mentally check your gear before you finalize your choice.
Extra change of cloths. Check.
Cup and bowl. Check
It’s a stalling tactic. You sigh and lay your palm over the glowing mountainous coast of the eastern continent. A small, cool breeze plays with the hair along your arm, pulling goose flesh in its wake. You shiver and close your eyes as the breeze brings with it the smell of salty water mixed with forest moss and leaves.
It grows stronger until you hear the air rustle in the branches above. Just before the study completely disappears, you hear a faint, “Safe journey, fellow hunter.”
You’re not sure if it’s Mark or the other hunter who spoke but when you open your eyes, tall oak trees and sharply edged rocks surround you.
From previous journeys here, you know just to the east sits a massive cliff that drops to the ocean below. The faint pounding of the waves carries on the wind even where you stand.
A small town lies to the north but you’re not sure how far you arrived from it.
The town’s the only inhabited place you know of in this region. You turn north to follow the cliff until you reach it.
Your hike remains uneventful through the morning and afternoon but, as the sun starts to disappear through the trees, a faint bellowing joins the pound of the waves from the ocean to your right. You pause to listen.
The deep, hollow bellow comes and goes as the wind shifts but you can’t place what creature might be causing it.
It’s not an ogre because ogres snort more when yelling. They snort more in general.
It’s not a troll. Although they bellow, they have more voice and less wind.
Your breath stills as the sound comes again and a chill not caused by the breeze clutches your spine.
The bellow this time contains a hissing on the very end like fire hitting water and turning it instantly to steam.
Of all the monsters you’ve hunted, you’ve only faced one dragon before. It was not a successful hunt, either.
You swallow down your apprehension and continue toward the town. As you draw closer, the smell of smoke grows heavy on the air. Mixed with it is a heavy, moist feeling like the humidity is sticking the ash to your skin. As you walk free of the forest, the town comes into view in a small, protected valley below.
It’s not the scene you expected.
There is indeed a dragon.
Wagons are burning and the small river that runs through the town has been evaporated from dragon’s fire. A trickle from upstream is just now starting to refill the riverbed.
All this looks like a dragon attack.
Except the townsfolk have the dragon grounded with cables running from its legs, neck and tail.
The burning wagons have been shoved up against the dragon’s sides like the people were trying to burn it alive.
Since that didn’t work—dragon scales being fire resistant and all—now several of the men have stacked ladders against the dragon’s massive sides and are trying to pry loose the scales around its rib cage.
The dragon, a silver beast with hints of blue running through its wings and scales, lets out another pain-ridden bellow. Now that you’re closer, the deep cry shudders the ground beneath your feet and brings pain to your ears.
All people, as far as you’ve encountered, know how to kill a dragon, but these people are not going for the one soft scale over the beast’s heart.
Something’s horribly wrong.
You leave the edge of the trees and walk toward the crowd.
At first they don’t notice you but then a few at the edge glance your way and do a double take.
“Hey now,” one calls out. “We’ve got our own dragon. Shove off.”
You keep walking. With the crowd’s agitation, you suspect any hesitation on your part might cause them to be violent.
“Got your own dragon?” you ask as you weave your way through the crowd until you reach the base of the ladders the men stand on.
One of the men glares at you and bares the knife he’s holding like he’s planning on fending you off from his ladder.
“What’re you planning to do with your own dragon?” you ask him directly.
“Why, we’re going to build ourselves a life fountain.” He sneers. “ And you’re not welcome to it.”
“A life fountain?” you ask.
At this a feverish grin breaks out on everyone’s face. It’s so uniform you start to wonder about mind control.
“Build a fountain from the inside of a dragon’s scales,” a woman starts to explain.
“Fill it with water from the ocean,” picks up another man.
“And drink from it daily,” the woman continues.
“For eternal life,” they finish together.
The dragon swivels its head around to reveal one deep purple eye. She stares at you as if to ask what kind of madness has overtaken everyone. You lay a palm against her massive side.
“Why’d you try to burn her first?” you ask.
“Loosens the scales,” says the man on the ladder. “Now get outta here. We’re not sharing.”
You nod, “that’s fine. I just need some provisions and I’ll be on my way.”
Finally, a bit of sanity seems to take over as they all realize they haven’t given the usual mountain hospitality to a traveler.
While they decide who’s going to help you with provisions, you debate your next move. Usually you’re trips are straightforward. Find the beast terrorizing the people and kill the beast.
Except here, the dragon’s not attacking anyone. As far as you can see, it evaporated the river by breathing fire, but considering its head is pointed at the river, the fire could have been from its bellows of pain and nothing more.
The burning wagons were from the people. And there’s your problem. There seems to be something wrong with the people.
You could ask for a place to sleep for the night and stay in town to further question the people. The sun’s last rays are quickly disappearing over the valley rim.
Or you could head out of town and investigate the surrounding countryside, maybe see if something seems out of place. The people are not making progress on the dragon’s scales yet, so there is some time.
Stay in Town?
Globe Hunters-Stay in Town
One of the farmers, a short, ultra-skinny man by the name of Evan, pulled the short straw and ended up taking you to his house for supplies.
As he hands you cheese and bread from his larder, you ask him, “May I stay for the night? It’s awfully unwelcoming in the woods at night and the sun’s about set.”
At first he stares at you like you grew a second head, but then your words seem to sink in and he nods.
“Of course,” he says. “I should have offered in the first place.” He scratches his head like he’s trying to figure out why he didn’t make the offer.
You help him set the small dining table with ham and bread and then sit down on the bench to enjoy the meal.
You’re trying to figure out how to question him further about the dragon and the life fountain when he sits back and folds his fingers across his nonexistent belly.
“You’re right about the woods, but it’s not just at night that they’re unwelcoming,” he says.
“How do you mean?”
“Well,” Evan says, “there’ve been some terrible fires in the woods this year. You get caught on the wrong side and you’re stuck between the cliffs and the fire. Lost a couple people that way. The whole north ridge is black as coal right now from the most recent burn.”
“Wow,” you say. “That’s terrible. Lightening strikes?”
Evan snorts and sneers out a, “Dragon fire.”
This causes you pause. Dragons can be mean tempered, vengeful even, but rarely will they set fire to their home ground. They’re smart enough to know that burning large swaths of land will drive away their food sources.
“Something happen to anger the dragons?” you ask.
“Not that we know of,” Evan says, “but we caught the worst culprit.” At this he points in the direction of the main square with the tethered dragon.
“That particular dragon’s been causing the fires?”
“Yup,” Evan nods. “That one’s gonna pay for its crimes.”
You’re torn between asking how they know it’s this particular dragon and asking if the rest of the town will be out there, working on her scales, all night. As he’s been talking, a feverish light has entered Evan’s eyes again. You judge the second question is the safest at this point.
“Naw,” he responds. “They’ll set a guard for the night and pick back up in the morning. Speaking of which, it’s time to turn in. There’s a bed in the lean-to on the back of the kitchen.” He points. “Sweet and safe dreams.” At this, he gives you a peculiar smile and then ambles up the stares to his own bed.
You watch his narrow back recede and then find your way to the bed in the lean-to. There’s just enough room for you to duck in and lay down but the bed itself is comfortable, so you stretch out.
You figure you’ll give it a half hour, maybe forty-five minutes, and then you’ll sneak out to investigate the town and the dragon.
The air in the lean-to is still, stuffy even, with the heat from the fire Evan has banked in the kitchen fireplace filling the room.
Before long, your eyelids droop and sleep disrupts your plans to look around.
The weightless felling you have tells you you’re dreaming but the sun’s out and the air’s filled with the perfume of mountain flowers. You’re standing in an open field, a glade surrounded by aspen trees. Directly in the middle of the swaying golden grass and splotches of vibrant color is a shimmering surface.
As you approach, you see water dripping from the edges of an iridescent bowl of silver laced with blue streaks. The urge to dip your hands into the water overtakes you and, before you can think about it, you submerge your cupped hands and bring the water to your lips.
It’s sweet and clean, and in the reflection of the fountain, you see yourself, young and flawless.
This holds you for awhile until something, Evan cooking breakfast in the kitchen, intrudes. You’re eyes snap open and, for a brief moment, you think you see something in the ceiling of the lean-to. Perhaps two deep brown eyes lined with green, but then you blink again and the illusion’s gone.
You rub your tongue on the top of your mouth in a vain hope that the fountain’s water still lingers but instead you find a dry, oaky flavor.
Your mind tries to capture this, knowing it means something to your hunter training, but then the desire for the fountain’s water returns.
You join Evan and help him finish cooking the bacon and eggs.
“This life fountain,” you begin, “do you have a location to build it?”
You expect some hostility from Evan but instead, he looks up with a radiant, childlike smile.
“There’s this glade just to the west of here,” he says, “with flowers and sun ripened grass…” the description he gives is so perfectly inline with your dream that your desire to taste the water returns again.
“Well,” you say, “can’t build it with out the dragon’s scales. Want help today?”
“Would love it!” he says.
With excitement, you follow him back outside to join the villagers in their task.
As you pass the dragon, her head swings around and you find one giant purple iris in your way.
There’s a tug at you. It’s a mental summons you know a dragon can exert on other creatures. That summons invites you to touch her, to open a mental connection so she can communicate. But such a move is extremely dangerous. The dragon can then control you for a short time if she wishes.
As you hesitate, the summons comes again and, this time, as you resist it, the dry, oaky flavor fills your mouth again. It means something but you can’t seem to place what.
Thin plumes of smoke trail from the dragon’s nostrils.
You want to build the fountain. If the town’s folk and your dream are correct, it can give you flawless life.
But her summons is insistent, desperate almost as more plumes of smoke escape her nostrils.
Touch the Dragon?
Ignore the Dragon?
Globe Hunters-Touch the Dragon
The taste from your dream, that sweet water from the life fountain, fills your mouth as you raise a hand toward the dragon’s brow.
You hesitate just above the beast’s scaled head. It’s such a refreshing flavor that you feel it invigorating your limbs, bringing clarity to your sight, and calming the ache your body harbors from your hike the day before. And that’s just from a dream. What would the real thing do?
The dragon summons you again, and the flavor on your tongue shifts from sweet water to tangy, almost bitter oak.
You lay your palm again the dragon’s heavy brow ridge. The world shifts. Relief, so poignant you feel tingles through your spine and legs, almost brings you to your knees. It’s not your relief, but the dragon’s, and it’s almost too intense for your comparably small body.
The dragon, Elmana by name, reigns the heady emotion in. An image fills your mind of two silver and blue dragons swimming in a lake. One’s the fully-grown dragon you’re now touching, the other is a much smaller creature.
You’re a mother.
The affirmative about knocks you over. The fear for her child is too much for Elmana to keep from bleeding through her control.
What about the fires?
You’re fairly certain Evan wasn’t lying about the forest fires but now that you’re in contact with Elmana, you’re struggling to see her start such a large fire intentionally.
A new image fills your mind. Mother and child are flying. Elmana gives a small burst of flame into the air and her child tries to copy her. It doesn’t work. The smaller dragon slumps and looses altitude in his disappointment. Then, in a burst of determination, he spurts a tiny gout. His timing proves terrible. With his loss of altitude, the flame hits the tree line on top of the cliffs instead of firing harmlessly into the air.
Elmana quickly douses the flame at the top of the tree by taking a mouthful of water from the ocean and spitting it onto the tree, but her implication is obvious. She hasn’t always been able to contain her child’s practicing.
The image doesn’t stop, however. Elmana continues to fly with her child.
You see movement below on a huge oak tree at the top of the cliff.
Within the tree’s bark you spot two familiar deep brown eyes rimmed with green. They glance about and then a leg emerges from the tree’s trunk. The leg’s skin is bark like. An arm emerges next and then the torso of a lithe creature with wild, leaf like hair.
The creature inspects its surroundings and is immediately drawn to the burned tree. It scales the tree to look closer and then casts a hate filled look at the dragons.
Your breath hitches. You’ve never encountered one of these but all of the pieces start fitting together.
“A tree nymph?” you guess.
Elmana crones her affirmative. You jerk back and lose contact with her forehead.
The villagers hesitate, startled by the dragon’s vocalization. Then they return to stacking ladders against her sides. Although her communication seemed to take minutes, you realize it’s only been a second or two since you touched her forehead.
Elmana’s deep purple eye watches as you put the pieces together. From what you know, usually tree nymphs are peaceful, but if they start on a vendetta, they’re ruthless. Your dream now makes sense. The oaky flavor when you woke is a clear sign of influence from the nymph.
It’s controlling the people. And it won’t stop at Elmana’s death. It’ll go for her child next. Plus, it won’t care if the villagers die in the process. They’re just pawns in its game now.
A sense of rightness fills you. You’re a monster hunter, and now you’ve found your monster.
Elmana snaps her teeth together. You jump back but then realize she’s no longer focused on you. She’s staring across the river at the tree line.
Laying a palm against her brow again, she shows you the nymph in the trees, watching the villagers carry out its bidding. She then shows you how far her flame would carry if she tried to kill it from where she’s tethered.
Her flame can’t reach that far.
You’ve never fought a nymph, but you know your only chance of killing it is very hot flame or chopping down its tree. You don’t even know which tree belongs to the nymph and you don’t have time to figure it out.
So instead, you need Elmana’s fire.
Don’t burn the village to the ground.
Elmana huffs, which you take as agreement.
You step away from her just as Evan pats your shoulder.
“Ready to help?” he asks, holding out a rusty knife for you to use on the dragon’s scales.
“Of course,” you say, and pull out your own hunting knife from its sheath on your belt. Unlike the rust covered thing he’s holding, your knife is sharpened to a fine edge. You’ll need that edge now.
You move as though you’re following him and ‘stumble.’ With a flick of your blade, you sever the thick cable holding Elmana’s neck.
She jerks upward at the same time and the cable snaps with a resounding crack.
You, Evan and the men on the ladders all fall backward. In the resulting chaos, you roll toward Elmana’s front paw and sever the tether there as well.
It’s enough for the dragon. She heaves against the remaining ropes and you hear the pop as they’re either pulled completely from the ground or snapped under the pressure.
The wind from her wings forces everyone to the ground. She beelines it for the tree line.
You lose sight of her as Evan shouts. “YOU!”
He must have seen you sever a cable. You roll away as he tries to grab you. The other villagers join in, and you’re trying to figure a way free when two distinct sounds bring everything to a stand still.
There’s a roaring with the crackle of very hot flame hitting the live wood of the forest. Heat washes through the air, dry and painful even at a distance.
Right behind the roar comes a shriek. You hear the high-pitched scream both audibly and in your head just like you saw Elmana’s communication. Pain paralyzes you until that shriek vanishes, leaving behind a deep, pounding headache.
Around you, the villagers slump to the ground. You shake the nearest one and check his pulse. He’s alive but definitely not conscious.
Elmana flies over and plucks you from the mass of unconscious villagers with her claws.
Terror seizes you as she flies away. The sight from her claws shows a circular patch of the forest completely burned out. There are no live flames, however.
None of the villagers are moving.
Your terror subsides as Elmana lowers you to the ground in a field not far away. She gives a crooning call and you see a small, silver and blue head peek up from the tall grass to greet her.
“A tree nymph!” Mike chortles. “Wish I’d been on that hunt.”
“No, you don’t,” the old, bald hunter says, “the nymph’s death cry leaves a lasting headache. You’re lucky,” he says to you, “that the dragon’s communication buffered you from the nymph’s control.”
“Still hurts,” you say as you rub your temple. After two days, you still sport a headache, but you learned when you returned that, the only reason you didn’t pass out from the nymph’s shriek like the villagers was because Elmana had broken its influence on you.
“Well,” Mike says, “maybe things will stay quiet for another day or two so you can recover.”
You and the old hunter glare at him and then glance at the globe sitting on the dark mahogany desk.
“Don’t say that word in here,” you both admonish at the same time.
Yay, you survived! Thank you for joining in this adventure =)
Until next time, blessings,