Broken, deeply wounded and suffering, Cora Sleet leads her companions to the lair of the Ancient Dragon Hydius Dreadmaw to help make sure her greatest enemy, Son of Krash steals the ‘right’ object, that would possibly cause the destruction of her beloved village; Ironfrost.
This story is the continuation of
Secrets of the Raven Queen.
Careful!”, hissed the lithe barbarian girl as she grabbed the little hobbit. “That’s the second time you slipped.”
“I can’t even feel my feet anymore, and that’s a neat trick for a hobbit.”, mumbled Brom. “Wish Seressa were here..”
“You just want her here because she falls great!”, scowled the barbarian girl, Cora Sleet, her face showing signs of shame.
Seressa wasn’t here because of her, after all. And neither was Tonic because Seressa wasn’t here.
“That, and she makes an even greater scene AFTER she falls!”, smirked the hobbit with mirthful enthusiasm.
“BROM BUMBLEBRIM!“, said Cora sternly. “Have you been staring at that girl’s butt?”
“Hey. I am a guy, right? And she’s got a great butt.. An unavoidably great butt, in fact!”, smirked Brom, some more..
“I am very much put out with you, hobbit! Very much put out..”, scolded Cora.
“What? Why? She said it herself, ‘Every part of me likes their freedom individually!’.. Her words, not mine. And I have always believed in individual freedoms.. Which do require an audience of appreciation, don’t you think?”, he replied loftily.
“And you think that justifies you taking advantage of that poor girl?”, berated the barbarian.
“There’s nothing poor about that girl, my dear Cora.. And I am not taking advantage of her. What I am doing is, taking advantage of the scenery..“, smiled Brom a bit evilly.
“No wonder Tonic patronizes you. You deserve her!”
“Bite your tongue, elf!”, said Brom with distaste.
“I think we should change our moving order by placing Tonic behind her pair and putting you at the very back!”, sniffed Cora.
“Well.. Tonic’s butt is nice too, I suppose.. But it’s a bit too small for my taste, as in, she has none!”, said the hobbit dubiously.
“I can’t believe I am hearing all this from you!”, exclaimed the elf girl in total shock. “Have you been checking us all out, all this time? Have you checked me out as well?”
“I am NOT answering THAT question. It’s not only a trick catechism that will hurt me at the end no matter what I say, it’s also clearly a loaded one.. I refuse to entertain it!”, replied the hobbit glibly.
“How cunning of you..”, snorted Cora..
“But since you asked, yes, I did. When we first met, back at Shakehands. You had a very pretty pout and a very pretty.. well.. then we became friends.. so I quit.”
“You have a very distorted sense of friendship and what it entails.. It seems no matter their size, race or origin, men are pigs!”, scolded Cora.
“And pretty much the same could be said about women.. Accept the pig part. That would be just rude.. You all want to be admired, one way or another, but get pissy when you are. Sounds like a cliché to you?”, asked Brom, then paused for a moment.
“Look.. I am a mere halfling, Cora. One of many.. You, on the other hand, are unique.. in more sense now than most.. Please don’t be ‘that’ cliché. It would be such as waste on your part. We are, who we are..”, he said quietly.
They both fell silent and snuck down the glacial tunnel that led deeper and deeper into the dragon’s lair.
After a long, long time, however, Brom’s smirking whisper was heard..
“But I must say; as sure as there is a dragon at the end of this maw, Seressa Wraiven has a great ass!”
✱ ✱ ✱
Cora took off her pack and handed it over to Brom. The halfling wordlessly took it then looked up at his barbaric friend. Damn, he thought, she was pretty when she pouted and she was pouting now. Cora pouted all the time. Not because she was a moper or anything. Moody at times, yes, but not a moper. It was the shape of her lips that gave the impression that she was pouting and Brom wondered if he should tell her how adorable it made her took. Then he saw her raging on that comment and breaking him in two, awakening the possibly slumbering dragon, who came and gulped them both down with a single snap of his awesome maw..
Brom’s imagination got carried away sometimes..
“Well..”, she said silently. “This is as far as you come, hobbit.”
“Yes. I suppose so.. Though I could put some of your clothes on to cover my scent!”
Cora stared down at the halfling with a steady gaze.
“First you stare at girls’ butts. Then you shamelessly admit it. And now you want to put girl’s clothes on.. You are not making a good, last impression Brom Bumblebrim..”, she said.
“Anything to help my friend.”
“Keep these and be ready to run. Whatever happens, don’t get et!”, Cora said seriously.
“I hate getting et. It totally destroys the rest of the day!”, nodded the halfling.
“Keep your head down and make sure Son of Krash doesn’t see you, either.”, she warned her friend, turned around, and dashed into the darkness.
“Cora..”, whispered Brom, after her.
“What?”, hissed Cora back.
“You have an adorable pout!”
There was a moment of bewildered silence..
“Really?”, came the girl’s surprised but happy voice.
“Really..”, said Brom.
“Just for that, Master Hobbit, I shall give extra effort to make sure you don’t get et!”
Then the voice was gone.
✱ ✱ ✱
Something was nagging at Cora. It started when Seressa had told her about Dreadmaw, The Raven Queen, what She’d done with the Sword of Light, ‘Shal ah Galad’, the mysterious disappearance of Priceptine, and the possibility of the arrival of the time for the reemergence of the sword..
It seemed unimportant before. But even while she and Brom bantered down into Dreadmaw’s lair, the nag grew, and became ‘bothersome’, or perhaps ‘worrisome’.
To be honest with herself, she’d enjoyed her banter with the hobbit. Of all the things she’d missed from her days back at Ironfrost, other than the loss of her loved ones, it was the candor chats and silly banters she’d have with her friends they’d have when there was nothing much to do. True, Cora never had many friends, but the ones she’d had, had been good ones.
Cora had always been a believer in quality over quantity. Which was sort of convenient for her anyway!
Just when she thought she’d lost everyone and everything, she’d met the two, unlikely dwarf sisters, Lillas and her overprotective sister Jeina. And she’d met Brom.
Then Lillas and Jeina’s family.. or more like their extended family had come and taken them away, leaving her alone once more. She’d thought Brom would leave too. What was a hobbit to do in the wilds of The Great Northern Tundras anyway? To her great surprise, the hobbit had stayed.
Yes. Brom had stayed.
Brom always stayed.
In time, they’d met the silly girl in pinks, Seressa, and the catatonic Arcantonic.
She didn’t know if they would stay or leave.. Cora hoped they would stay. Seressa was unlike anyone, or rather, anything she’d met. She was well educated, knowledgeable, always offered comfort, and always sincere. Frightfully sincere at times, even. As for Tonic.. Tonic had issues.. Tonic had a foul mouth.. Tonic disagreed with everything. Tonic scowled at everything. Tonic fought everything. Tonic raged at everything..
“Damn.”, muttered Cora silently. “Sans the foul mouth, she’s is practically me.. Accept she is much cuter!”
What had started as a nag, was now a full-blown worry!
Why would the celestials give, or let have, something as important as the Sword of Light, ‘Shal ah Galad’, to fall into the hands of a butcher? The man was practically responsible for the cause of her people’s genocide..
Shal ah Galad..
The Sword of Light..
Shal ah Galad..
The Sword of Light..
Cora froze and she gasped as an incredible and unbelievable sense of comprehension washed over her.
✱ ✱ ✱
Bir koku alıyorum.”, der hırıltılı, derin bir ses ve içinde bulunduğu devasa mağarayı titretir.
“Nice zamandır uyuyordum.. Uykumda güzel Raven Queen’i ve bana verdiği ‘Priceptine’in Işığını’ düşlüyordum.. Aaaah, Raven! Yanıma sadece bir kere geldin ve bir daha da uğramadın. Sanırım tundraları çok da ilgi çekici bulmadın. Bu da senin gerçekte ne kadar kör olduğunu gösteriyor..”, diye iç titreten bir kahkaha yankılanır uçsuz mağarada.
Neden sonra, kahkahanın sahibi gözünü açar. Üç ayrı göz kapağının altında, dik, daha çok buzuldan yapılmış bir kılıcı andıran, insan boyunda bir göz bebeği belirir..
Muazzam gözün sahibi kendisini mağaranın karanlığında gizlemeyi tercih edermişcesine uzandığı yerde derin bir nefes alır..
“Eveeet.. Bir koku alıyorum..”, diye tekrarlar. Ama bu sefer devasa yaratık tamamen ayıktır ve “Çok uzun zamandır duymadığım bir koku.. ELF KOKUSU!”, diye düşünceli bir sesle söylenirken koca mağara tekrar sallanır.
“Küçük kar elfleri.. İnimde ne işiniz var? Irkınızla dile getirilmemiş bir anlaşmamız vardı. Sizler topraklarımdan uzak duracak, ben de sizlere dokunmayacaktım.. Fikrinizi mi değiştirdiniz yoksa? Hem de bana sormadan..”, diye içinde pek de gizli olmayan bir tehditle kıkırdar ses, ve mağaranın tavanından kayalar dökülür.
Dev yaratık, parıldayan buzlu mavi gözünü mağaranın karanlığında gezdirir. Parıldayan gözden silik, mavi bir ışık halesi, yığma altın sikkelerin olduğu tepecikleri aydınlatır. Hale ile altınların arasına serpilmiş gibi duran sayısız, rengarenk mücevher ve değerli taşlar da canlanır. Ve altınların içinde gömülü duran antika zırhlar, kalkanlar, miğferler, mızrak, balta ve kılıçla—
Göz, kılıçlarda durur zira bir tanesi eksiktir.. Göz, andırdığı, ancak bulamadığı kılıcın kendisi gibi incelir.. Sessiz, kati bir ölümün haberciliğini yapan bir tıslamayla, “Sadece buraya gelmediniz.. Benden çaldınız. Benden Priceptine’in Işığını mı çaldınız?!”
Muazzam yaratığın sesi, ‘ışığa’ geldiğinde artık bir tıslama değil, yer sarsan, intikamcı bir kükreyişe dönüşmüştür.
✱ ✱ ✱
Cora ran as she’d never run before.
“Wha.. what’s going on?”, stuttered Brom as the barbarian girl grabbed him by the scuff of his coat and ran.. up the glacial tunnel and out the maw of the cave.
“We have to get out of here.. Like, YESTERDAY!”, gasped Cora. The hobbit seemed small enough, and she hadn’t expected him to weigh any more than a quarter of what she did. And Cora was a lithe sort of girl, tall, lean, all flesh and muscle.
Apparently, small didn’t always equivocate to lightweight.
“Just saw your boy run out!”, said Brom as he half skipped, half hoped as Cora dragged him on.
“Just.. compact! Nothing to worry!”, grunted Cora!
“Just— What?”, Brom baffled.
“What?”, Cora skid to a halt as they dashed out of the maw and slid to one side.
“The bastard snuck right past me and I didn’t even notice him! Lucky I was hiding too. Can’t believe a brute like him could be that quiet!”
“Size has little to do with it. Otherwise, all tundra bears or saber-tooth tigers would have long died of hunger! Saw him enter the layer and search the hoard. Good thing, some helpful elf had already put the sword at the top of a pile of gold. He went in, saw the sword, grabbed it, and ran back out..”, panted Cora. Then she picked Brom up again and started down the mountainside.
“That was very conveniently helpful of the elf. She must be a dear!”, smirked Brom. “Ow, by the way, if you just toss me down this side, I am sure I can tumble down much faster than you can carry me.”
“No, Brom. You do NOT want to tumble down this mountain. You will end up all the way at the Glacial Wall. And I don’t want to have to fish you out of the sea!”
“Ahh, yes. That would be inconvenient.”
The ground rumbled under them.
The snow all around them jumped, then settled.
“Wha.. what was that?”, Brom asked, his eyes a bit wild.
“That.. is Dreadmaw..”, Cora replied under heavy breaths.
“You saw him?”
“No. He was under all his piles of gold and tons and tons of ice and snow. I could live without ever having to see him..”
✱ ✱ ✱
You did it!”, Seressa nearly whooped. Tossing Brom into the snow, Cora had just slid down next to the storm pit and hastily dug open the pits entrance.
“Yes. And no.. Later. This side of the mountain is about to avalanche down.”
“What do you mean ‘No..’?”, gasped the tall, dark girl laying on the stretcher.
“I mean ‘No’ AND ‘Later’.. as in, much, much later. Tonic, grab my hand. We better get going, NOW!”
Cora pulled the little gnomic girl out and nearly didn’t feel her at all.
‘So only Brom is compact, then?’, wondered some weird voice in her head, and in all of this!
Then Cora leaned down, grabbed the two poles of the stretcher, and pulled it out with a distinct snarl.
“Stick close to me. Step where I step.. If I jump, you jump. If I curve, you curve.. Anything I do, you do same!”, she barked orders and without waiting for any response, she started down the mountain..
The mountain shook this time and the hollow roar of something big.. something very, very big belched out of the entrance of the cave..
..and Hydius Dreamdaw exploded out with thunder, sleet, and lightning!
Dragons were huge creatures and they filled legends of all lands and times.
Dreadmaw was.. a legend that deserved an epic to describe.
An epic that would have words like horizon, dreadful, ginormous, deadly, cunning, savage, evil, bloodthirsty, avenging, destruction, devastation, desolation, fear, hopelessness, pain, bone-cracking, and flesh burning cold.
With a massive shriek that started several avalanches down the great mountain, Dreadmaw beat its wings once, twice, thrice and was off south.. and west!
Seressa, her face reflecting both physical and emotional agony, had leaned over the stretcher, Brom, his face drawn and pale, and Tonic, mute, shivering in fear, stood by a sharp cliffside, and watched Dreadmaw as he disappeared in the distance.
Only Cora did not shiver.
Sure, her face was drawn and paler than usual, but she did not shiver.
There was only a barely hidden satisfaction in her eyes.
Satisfaction about something only she knew.
Far, far to the south, and west. She could imagine seeing a lone, elf girl running, her snowy braids and locks chasing her.. A young and beautiful girl, yet unmarred by the devastation of Dreadmaw, running towards her village in hopes of warning them in time, albeit in vain;
✱ ✱ ✱
I am so, so sorry Cora..”, whispered Seressa with pain, from behind her. There was the cry of gasping as the very tall, very dark girl tried to rise.
“Seressa, please!”, Cora heard Tonic’s pleading voice.
Cora felt a small hand reach up to hers.
“I am sorry.. Now, more than ever. One could only imagine a pain as you have felt, but never truly see, nor feel it. I dare say, I share yours now..”, he whispered.
“It’s alright my friend. What’s done is done. ‘We are who we are..’, remember?”, she smiled down at the halfling.
“We are who we choose to be..”, replied the hobbit softly.
“Do you.. do you wish to go down and see if there are any survivors?”, Tonic asked kindly, coming up to her.
“No.”, said Cora with a determined voice. “I did that already. Months ago. The lone survivor is me down there. And she’s in a lot of rage right now.. It wouldn’t be wise if my former self saw any of you..”
She paused for a moment.
“I think we are done here..”, she said softly, as if she was talking to someone not quite there.
“Cora, luv..”, pleaded Seressa from the stretcher. “You did something. Please. It is important that you tell me.. The prophecies are not to be meddled with..”
“The prophecy said we must give a thief what he MUST steal. We surmised it be the Sword of Light. So I gave the thief a sword of light!”, said Cora, with a vengeful satisfaction in her cold, glacial eyes..
“Ow. My. Heavens!”, gasped Seressa. “WHAT DID YOU DO?“
Cora Sleet turned around and faced her companions.
There was something breathtaking in her face just that moment.
Something beautiful.. and savage..
“I give you, Shal ah Galad..“, she said and pulled out something long, and sharp, wrapped in one of her unadorned shirts.
“I do not know why, but it appears The Raven Queen fooled everyone; mortals and demons alike, that Shal ah Galad was The Sword of Light. Galad, means ‘Light’ in old elvish, I suspect. We don’t use it anymore. We use ‘Galit’, now.. But ‘Shal’ does not mean ‘Sword’. It means, ‘long, pointy thing’ with more style and poetry, true, but that’s what it essentially means, though the conventional use of it is ‘Shali‘, now.
Shal ah Galad; literally means, The Long, Pointy Thing of Light! —also known as a Spear!
Yes, I suppose one can argue that a sword is a long, pointy thing, as well. But the word ‘Shal’ has never been used for a sword.
Found it seemingly tossed among a pile of broken, rusty old swords and shields. Wasn’t hard to find when I figured out what I was really there for.
The other sword was indeed, exactly as you described it, and was pretty much in plain sight. All it needed was a sign over it saying; “Here, please steal me. I look important!”
Incase the murdering bastard was a thick twit, I picked it up, and stuck it on top of a pile of gold, the closest to the maw..
It did not burn me. I even swung it a few times. I must say, it was the prettiest sword I ever saw. It was also, a bait!
This, on the other hand, is a weapon and I can clearly feel it chewing at my hand, even through the shirt!
It appears, your Mistress fooled even you, dear Seressa!”, smiled Cora.
A long, pregnant silence settled down among the rest of the group.
Brom was the first to respond.
“I.. can’t believe this!”, exclaimed Tonic. “Seressa? Can this be true?”
“Dunno, luv. I am very much in pain and more now than I was a few minutes ago.”, said Seressa clearly put out.
“Well, done..”, a silent, seething voice said in Cora’s mind and she shuddered. “Time to return Shal ah Galad to someone who will make good use of it..”
“Mistress..”, whispered Seressa, and tried to rise again.
“Stay, my beloved maiden. This journey has been trying for you and your companions. Do not be dismayed for failing to see the obvious. But remember; you are not in the academy anymore, and we are not playing for credits..
Success and failure are for keeps and defined by the totals at the end: if the mortal world still thrives, we have won. Return now, and receive further instructions, for you are my voice. You are the Chosen Voice of Prophecies and your companions have all been chosen with pain and with care..”, said the seething voice and then, it was gone..
✱ ✱ ✱
Some sixteen to seventeen years later..
My Liege.. Themalsar has finally made use of his existence!”, said a thick, sultry, comely woman’s voice as she dared to approach her master’s rather bland looking throne.
“Ow? I find that unlikely..”, replied an uncanny, beautiful and masculine voice.
“Indeed, my Liege. Though he still can not escape the wards set by the mortals and their allies placed upon his chamber, he has, by his agents, heard of some disturbing news. He sent more agents to verify these rumors and they have returned with good news..”
The master of the uncanny, beautiful voice didn’t say anything to nudge nor indulge the comely demoness to continue.
He sat silently on his throne and waited..
The comely demoness shivered in fear-induced ecstasy and continued.
“He has discovered the location of the Sword of Light, My Liege. Priceptine’s Sword!”
The master was sitting lazily on his throne one moment, and holding up the comely demoness by the throat where she’d been, in the next!
The demoness never saw her master coming!
“This is not a matter I take lightly, dear Irine.. Should these rumors be false, I would be very displeased to lose my favored concubine.”, he said calmly.
“No.. No, My Liege. With your leave, I would personally attend to this excursion. I have enough mortal blood in me to enter their precious world.”, she croaked through her master’s vise-like grasp.
“Indeed you do, my dear Irine.. Indeed you do..”, he said, and let go of the comely demoness.
The demoness rubbed at her sore neck for a moment as she secretly marveled at her master’s awesome strength.
“My, Liege, I shall depart immediately with a battalion of my personal Orken..”
“Where is the sword now?”, said the uncanny voice, as he returned back to his throne.
“At the hands of some barbarians who pompously call themselves ‘The Wyrm Horde’, My Liege. They live some distance north of the Ruins of Themalsar, at the Great Northern Tundras. We are not sure how the sword got there, but there were quite a number of those barbarian tribesmen back at the first Themalsar War. It is possible one of their warriors picked it during the final hours of the Alliance assault and took it back home, to be passed from generation to generation as an heirloom. Such practices are common among the more primitive mortal cultures.”, said the comely demoness in her thick, sultry voice.
“Hmm..”, the masculine voice said. “I had plans for those hordes. Pity they got in our way thus prematurely..”
“My Liege..”, the demoness hesitated, not with fear of retribution, but limitation. “How far shall I go?”
The beautiful, masculine voice smiled.
“Indulge yourself, my beautiful Irine, indulge yourself..”
“Thank you, My Liege.”, Irine said and an evil, smoldering fire lit deep behind her eyes.
“Ow, before you gore yourself in mortal blood, how is my future bride to be, coming along?”
“She.. She has completed all her current trainings and has acquired not only top grades, but excelled in them. She will make an excellent bride for My Liege.”
“Very good, Irine. What has she chosen for her specialty?”
“Necromancy, My Liege, which did come as a surprise for us all.. Seeing as how extraordinarily beautiful your bride to be is, one would think she would have played to her strengths and gone for enchantments and charms.. Yet, for some bewildering reasons, she has garnered great curiosity and interest in death.. The things she can do with mortals, corpses, and their souls is.. fascinating..”
“Interesting.. But no matter. Veracity is always a sign of high intellect and more important; of foresight; she is playing against the expected! I am sure her foes will be prepared for enchantments and charms, seeing as how extraordinarily beautiful my bride to be is.. She will destroy them with what they will least expect of her.”, said her master thoughtfully. “Where’s she? Perhaps it is time she and I started having dinners together..”
“She’s in the field at the moment, My Liege, to gain real experience, as part of all our S.I.T. — Seeds In Training program.. Heading for the ruins of Themalsar, of all places. She should be there soon..”, replied the comely Irine.
“She would do me great service if she debased that old fool, even if she did it by mistake.. Alright. Go now, my dear. Grind down this ‘Wyrm Horde’ into the ground. I want them clipped, branch and limp, trunk and root. Leave no one and nothing alive. Bring me Shal ah Galad!“