Rise of the Thrall Lord
Knights of the Couch - Part IX – The Fall of the Couch – Section 2
It was close to midnight. The moon had risen and the forest was bathed in the soft glow of moonlight. The fire had died down in the Knights of the Rose camp. The night was still as Martan stood watch.
The camp was on the east side of the clearing. That was the side of the monolith that the wizard Glorfindel had opened a doorway in the previous day. The companions had then vanished into the obelisk. A few hours later, some suits of armor had come tumbling down the sides of the structure from somewhere up above. One of them in fact had hit the archer in the head. Luckily it was just a glancing blow or it would have knocked him out cold. Martan had looked up and thought he heard Donatello’s voice yell from above. “Sorry!” the swashbuckler had cried.
That had happened late in the day yesterday. Since then there had been no sign of the companions. The Knights had spent the day guarding the area. Martan had been out using his tracking skills to search for signs of the Serpent Cult or any other potential threats. He had found none and neither had any of the other patrols. The forest remained quiet. It would almost be idyllic in fact if it wasn’t such a dark and oppressive wood. Hence the name the Darkwoods Martan thought to himself.
The archer was now standing watch near the forest, where the path through the forest from east entered the clearing. There was a second sentry, one of the Knights, standing guard on the opposite side of the camp, nearer to the monolith. There were about a half dozen tents set up around the single central campfire. Then there was one larger tent which belonged to Sir Craven. There was a makeshift pen on the south side of camp where the horses had been corralled.
There was also one smaller tent outside the main circle and right next to where Martan was currently stationed. This tent belonged to the squires, Syndir and Lamorn, who the archer had befriended over the last two days. The lads were bright and full of zeal. But they were young and less aloof than the Knights of the Rose. Martan found them far more down to earth and easy to talk to. The boys seemed to like the archer as well. They were very impressed with his wood tracking skills and his expertise with a bow.
But everyone was now bedded down for the night. And the forest was quiet. Too quiet, Martan suddenly realized. Something was wrong. There were no animal sounds. Even the crickets had stopped chirping.
Then a low whooshing noise reached the archer’s ears. It was as if a wind had stirred up in the forest, but no breeze could be felt. The noise got progressively louder as Martan searched for the source of the sound. It was coming from the east, through the trees. It was as if a great body of air were moving towards them at an incredible speed, the archer thought.
Then it dawned on him. He had heard of something similar before when he was in the dungeons of Kai-Arborous. He had overheard a group of elves in the next cell talking about how they had ended up in the dungeons. They had been guards in the elven army and had been stationed at an outpost southeast of the city in the mountains. The guards had deserted their post during a dragon raid on their garrison. They had fled for their lives as the entire outpost was destroyed. There had been no warning of the dragon attack except for a mysterious whooshing sound as the dragon plummeted out of the sky towards the garrison. That was the same kind of noise that Martan was hearing now.
All this flashed through the archers head in a couple of seconds. He turned and yelled towards the camp, “Dragon!” at the top of his lungs. The camp came alive as the Knights of the Rose popped out of their tents. They were fully dressed in battle armor as they had been trained to do when sleeping on the road.
Martan saw the two squires pop out of their shared tent when the fear struck him. It was overwhelming at first. He wanted nothing more than to throw down his bow and turn fleeing into the woods. But then he saw the look of panic on the two boy’s faces and forced his fear down. He looked around the camp and saw that everyone else was panicking as well. Some Knights had dropped their weapons and were headed for the monolith and some were headed for the horses. Only a few stood their ground; those standing right next to Sir Craven.
The big man stood like a rock in the storm. He yelled, “Stand fast men! You are Knights of the Rose!” But it had little effect on the knights that were already scrambling out of the way.
Martan had run forward and grabbed the two squires leading them back towards the forest as the first spray of acid hit the tents. It started at the tent the squires had just been in and spread in a line about fifty feet wide across the entire camp. The acid burned everything it touched as it made a swath across the encampment. Tents, equipment, men and horses were not left unscathed.
Martan put himself between the boys and the camp and pushed them into the forest. He felt a huge dark shape pass over him and turned back for one last look at the doomed encampment. All the knights were down now except for Sir Craven. Even the ones who had made it to the horses and the others who had tried to reach the monolith were on the ground unmoving.
Sir Craven stood his ground, sword and shield in hand, as a huge dark shape descended from the sky cutting him off from Martan’s view. The archer turned and continued to push the two squires into the woods.
Cyclone Zephyr had just breached the edge of the clearing as the adult green dragon landed in front of the armored knight. He had heard the dragon flying overhead and had tracked it here to the monolith.
It was exactly as he had seen in the mysterious vision he had had a fortnight ago. There was the large green dragon and behind it Cyclone could see the outline of the dark monolith rising towards the nighttime sky. The vision had prompted him to search out the structure and had led him to the Darkwoods. He had been close when he heard the telltale whoosh of the dragon over the forest.
He could tell it was a large beast. He had been trained to know. After all, Cyclone was a dragoon. And dragoons were taught from birth in everything there was to know about dragons. But they were especially trained how to kill them.
This wasn’t just some fledgling young dragon, however, like those that they hunted in the countryside around Lukescros. This was a full grown adult green dragon. It was fully thirty feet tall on its hind paws as it stood towering over the knight below. It could crush a normal man with one sweep of its front paw. Or chomp him to bits in its huge maw. Let alone what it could do with its acid breath as it had just demonstrated. One volley of that would incinerate an average man.
But Cyclone was not an ordinary man. And he was not about to let this brave knight stand alone against that awful creature. He could hear his father’s admonitions now. “Never go up against a dragon alone son!” his father would say. And he would know. After all, dragoon blood ran in the Zephyr family. They had a long line of dragoon warriors dating back more than a hundred years. In fact, some of Cyclone’s ancestors found in the Thrall wars. But Cyclone also knew that if his father was in this situation, he would not have let the knight face the dragon alone.
He was just about to leap into action when he heard something crashing through the bushes to his left. Then he heard a hushed voice cry “Grab him!” The dragoon turned and saw a young boy in squire’s garb dash in front of him. He had a crazed panicky look on his face. Cyclone had seen that look before on other folks in the presence of dragons. Those who had not been trained as he was, and did not have strong wills were easy prey for the aura of fear an adult dragon naturally radiated.
Cyclone dropped his lance and grabbed the youth as he passed in front of him, clamping his hand down over the young boy’s mouth to suppress any screams. Then a woodsman appeared out of the woods from the same direction the boy had come. He held another boy dressed in squire’s garb in his arms. He also had a hand clamped over the other boy’s mouth.
“They are overcome with fright!” the woodsman said as quietly as possible. “Quick, help me haul them back into the woods. If they get free and the dragon spots them, then that will be the end of their young lives.”
Cyclone was torn. Every instinct screamed for him to run out and help the knight in the clearing facing the dragon. But these squires were young boys, barely twelve from what he could guess. They did not deserve to have their lives cut short by the foul monster in front of them.
As he deliberated, he suddenly felt a second presence approaching from the same direction the first dragon had come. The others must have felt it too. Both boys grew wide eyed and fainted in their arms. The woodsman turned as white as a sheet. “Are you ok?” Cyclone asked him quietly.
“I…I…think…so,” the woodsman replied. He looked like he was having trouble standing, then he pitched forward dropping the boy and passing out as well. Damn, Cyclone thought, now I have no choice. I have to drag them all off into the woods. He began with the two boys. He dragged them deep into the underbrush a few yards off the path. Then he returned for the woodsman. As he went to pick him up, he saw two green dragons standing in the clearing. But the second one was even larger than the first.
An old dragon, or even an ancient! Cyclone thought to himself. What is one of those doing here?
Sir Craven was no longer standing. He lay on the ground between the two dragons, either dying or dead. Once again Cyclone had the urge to charge forward and bury his lance in one of the two great beasts. But then reason took hold. He could probably not do much for Sir Craven at this point, and the woodsman would be dragon food for sure if he left him lying out here so close to the clearing.
Then a strange thing happened. The giant green dragon lowered its head to the ground. Cyclone could now clearly see a dark armored figure seated on its back, just above the wings. The black figure leapt to the ground and walked over to where Sir Craven now lay prone.
With a negligent wave of his hand the dark armored man dismissed the first dragon. Tail between its legs the great beast sidled away from the much smaller figure. The sinister black form approached the fallen knight and stared upon the still form for a few seconds before leaning down and casting a quick spell on the dying man. A few quiet words with the larger dragon, and the dark rider vaulted on its back as it scooped up the unconscious man carefully in its claws and spread its wings.
As the huge dragon prepared to leap in the air, Cyclone could clearly hear the dark rider admonish the other dragon in draconic.
“Guard this monolith. Let no one in or out until I return! And I want live prisoners.”
Cyclone did not know what to make of this. He had never seen anyone order a dragon around so; especially an adult green. His mind continued to race as he dragged the body of the woodsman off the path and into the underbrush. He was just in time. With the black figure gone, the remaining green dragon began to search around for survivors. The dragoon slowly and carefully made his way back to where the two boys were still passed out. He knew the dragon would have very keen hearing and would find them if they made any noise whatsoever. What he needed to do was get them all farther away from this spot. He would have to wait and hope the dragon would move farther away from where they were hiding.
The creature rummaged through what was left of the camp, picking through equipment and bodies. It found a couple of horse carcasses that still had some meat on them and dragged them over in front of the monolith. It turned to face the opening in the side and then began feeding.
This was Cyclone’s chance. One by one he carried the passed out squires and woodsman back into the woods. He progressively moved them farther and farther away until he was a good two hundred yards back from the clearing. This was well out of range of the dragon’s fear aura and its hearing as well.
Eventually, the woodsman woke up. “What happened?” he asked the dragoon. Cyclone told him about the second dragon and what he had seen transpire.
“Why would that black knight save Sir Craven,” the woodsman asked. “It doesn’t sound right to me.”
“I don’t think he has the knight’s best interests at heart,” Cyclone asked. “By the way, my name’s Cyclone.”
“I’m Martan,” the woodsman replied. “Thank you. You saved our lives.”
“No problem,” the dragoon replied. “But I wish I knew why that black night had the dragon park itself in front of the monolith.”
“It must be waiting for the KOTC,” Martan replied.
“The Kot-See? What’s that?” Cyclone asked.
“The Knights of the Couch,” Martan explained.
“The Knights of the Couch?” the dragoon exclaimed, “Why would anyone call themselves that?”
Martan shook his head. “I never really understood that myself. I only work for them.”
“So who are these Knights of the Couch?” Cyclone asked.
“They’re a group of heroes from Restenford,” Martan began, “They came here in search of some ancient weapon of some kind. They are trying to keep it out of the hands of this evil group called the Serpent Cult”.
“The Serpent Cult?” the dragoon said. “Cool name. But as you say, they don’t exactly sound like the good guys.”
“Umm, yeah,” Martan agreed beginning to wonder about this strange young man in blue armor who had save their lives. He went on to describe the Serpent Cult and how they had crossed paths with the KOTC before. He also detailed their trip from Garrotten up river and their encounters along the way. He finished with how the KOTC and their companions had entered the monolith the previous day.
“Sounds like this order of yours has made some powerful enemies,” Cyclone observed. “Anyone who can send a green dragon after them has some serious mojo.”
“Yes,” Martan agreed. “We need to get in there and warn them.”
“Then that’s what we’ll do,” Cyclone replied. “Once these kids wake up and we’re sure they’re ok, I’ll make my way past big baddie out there and into the monolith.”
“How are you going to do that?” Martan asked incredulously.
“Oh, I’ll figure something out,” Cyclone said leaning back and placing his hands behind his head.
Glorfindel woke up with a start. He tried to shake the cobwebs out of his head and get his bearings. Then he remembered. He was in the bedroom below the monolith; the Golem Thrall Master Lareth’s bedroom to be exact.
Elvisda had graciously relinquished the room to him and Elistra. Much as the bard wanted to use the room again, he wouldn’t hear of the seeress sleeping on the floor when a bed was available. The bard had quite an interesting set of ethics Glo thought to himself.
“What’s wrong?” Elistra said stirring. “You look like you just saw a ghost. Bad dream?”
“Yes,” the wizard replied. “But it was more like a dragon. A huge green dragon.”
The seeress sat up and grabbed his hands. “Tell me about it,” she said seriously.
“As a said, there was a large green dragon. And there were knights. They were fighting. There was a lot of blood. The knights were not winning.” He shuddered.
“Was there anyone you know in the dream?” Elistra asked.
“I don’t think so. Maybe. I can’t be sure,” he paused.
She reached up and put her hands on his temples. “Try to remember,” she said as she closed her eyes and concentrated.
“Yes,” Glo said after a minute, “It’s clearer now. Some of the knights did look familiar. Wait…there was someone else. A man in blue armor. He carried off some of the survivors. I saw his face.”
“Was it the face of someone you know?” the seeress asked.
“No,” the wizard shook his head. He got up and put on his robes. Then he began to pace around the room. Then he stopped suddenly.
“I can’t contact Raven!” Glo suddenly said. “Come to think of it, I haven’t talked to her since we entered the Colossus room.”
“Well wouldn’t an anti-magic field block that?” Elistra asked.
“Yes,” the wizard replied. “But there’s no anti-magic field down here. Otherwise that statue outside would never work.”
He paused again as if listening. “Wait. I hear her. Raven. But she is extremely faint. No wonder I had a hard time connecting.”
“Oh no,” he said the color draining from his face, “something is wrong. She’s scared. Something about an…attack!”
He paused another moment, then said, “She’s alright. She’s hiding. But she’s not sure about the others.”
Glo went to his pack and pulled out his crystal ball. He began scrying.
“Who are you looking for?” Elistra asked.
“Martan,” the wizard replied concentrating.
The crystal was cloudy at first, then an image formed. It cleared and they were looking at Martan. The woodsman was hiding in some bushes. Around him were two squires from the Knights of the Rose. They were also in hiding. The boys looked singed and ragged. There was no sign of anyone else.
Glo got up and grabbed his staff. “You better get dressed. I’m going to go and wake the others.
Everyone was gathered in the main living chamber when Elistra came out of the bedroom. Glorfindel was relating to him his conversation with Raven and what he had seen in the crystal ball.
Donatello, Alana and Ruka were still on the couch. Aksel and Elvisda sat on chairs. Lloyd stood over by the steps.
“Did you tell them about your dream?” the seeress asked.
“No,” the wizard replied, “I didn’t think it was important.”
“All dreams are important,” Elistra replied, “but this one especially. Don’t you see the connection?”
Glo looked at her quizzically.
The seeress sighed and shook her head. “You dreamt about a green dragon attacking some knights. Then you wake up and find that Raven and the knights outside the monolith were attacked. Now Martan and some squires are hiding in the woods.”
“Did you say a green dragon?” Ruka asked.
“Yes,” Glorfindel said to the young girl.”
“Describe it to me,” she said.
“Very well, but I think we’re wasting valuable time.” Glo proceeded to describe the green dragon and then his entire dream. When he was done, everyone sat in silence.
Finally Aksel said, “Elistra. Do you think that what Glorfindel dreamt might have actually happened?”
“Maybe not exactly, but something similar might have occurred,” the seeress said.
“That green dragon you just described sounded pretty real to me,” Ruka added. “And I should know!”
“Well then,” Aksel replied, “someone needs to go take a look outside. I still need to pray this morning.”
“And I need to memorize my spells,” Glo added.
“I’ll go,” Lloyd offered.
“So will I,” Elvisda added.
“I’m staying with Ruka,” Donnie said, “but maybe you should take Seth too.”
They all looked around.
“Say, where is he?” Donatello asked after looking over the entire room.
“He woke me up a few hours ago to stand guard,” Lloyd replied. “I thought he went to sleep. Wasn’t he with you Aksel?”
“Yeah…ummm, about that,” Aksel began, “Seth left.”
“He what!” Elvisda and Glorfindel said at the same time.
Lloyd, Alana, and Donnie looked shocked.
“He left in the middle of the night,” Aksel replied. “He…had some pressing personal business to attend to.”
“Well he picked a fine time to up and go!” Elvisda said sounding offended.
“I’m sure he wouldn’t have left you all if he didn’t think Donatello could fill in for him,” Elistra said from where she stood next to Glorfindel.
“You’re probably right,” the wizard replied, “but I’m going to miss the little halfling.”
“Me too,” Lloyd agreed.
“As will I,” Aksel concurred.
“And I,” Elvisda added.
“What about you Donnie?” Ruka said nudging the elf.
“Oh yeah,” he said obviously lost in thought, “Sorry. I’ll miss him too.”
“You look worried there Donnie,” Alana noted.
“Well…,” the swashbuckler replied, “I was just thinking that with Seth gone, now all the sneaking and trap disabling and lock picking now rests on me.”
“Heaven help us!” Elvisda said with a wide grin on his face.
Donnie picked up a pillow and threw it at the bard.