From the historical writings of Bostonius the Quillwielder, events having taken place one thousand years ago. Or so. Probably.
Strom Coalbeard, the Archmage of the Black Tower of Athar, and his partner in crime, Ash Brightspark, were retired baddies who’d been gone from home so long they could no longer find it. They never aged and were rarely impressed by much. They were the epitome of “been there, done that.” They’re following clues that hopefully will bring them back to the Black Tower of Athar. This was Strom’s own dwelling. Ash’s was a vast cavern beneath the tower with his entire treasure pile stacked into a ginormous bed beneath a sign that reads “Home is where the hoard is.”
The two are being hunted by a paladin named Sir Bertholomen (aka Sir Bert) and his trusty talking steed, Misker. Sir Bert intends to bring them to justice, fulfilling a quest his family has been on for generations. Once he completes this obligation, he’s free to follow his dreams of becoming a wealthy author.
In their first encounter with Sir Bert and Misker, Strom and Ash learned of a map maker in the Icecrystal Mountains who had a map fragment showing Athar. They found the map maker, who directed them onward to a minstrel, who had once gone adventuring with a pirate queen who might know the location of their tower. For a price…
Strom walked into the cave, staggering slightly from the stench. In front of him an immense serpentine body sprawled across a soft bed of old leaves and discarded elven underwear, its blood-red wings spread out wide and claws sticking straight up in the air. A long tail stretched lazily across the floor, twitching in response to whatever dream battle the dragon was participating in. Strom nearly slipped in a slimy puddle of drool as he ducked a sweep of the mighty rear appendage. Cursing, he whacked the ancient dragon across the muzzle with his staff.
“Get up, you withered pile of bones!”
Ash responded by snoring loudly, then giving a great belch. The resulting wind knocked the cranky old wizard’s hat clean off, and the scent of recently eaten sheep made him gag.
“Hey! My hat! Quit that,” Strom hollered. He picked up the hat, trying vainly to return it to the complete lack of shape it had previously possessed. “Get up, you dried out lizard,” he sputtered, delivering two more sound whacks with his staff. “Get up and look at what you’ve done to my hat.”
Lazily, Ash opened one eye. Unfortunately for Strom, the dragon was nearsighted, which resulted in Ash seeing only the cloudy vision of a shadowy figure wielding a mighty weapon and swinging that mighty weapon once again toward the old dragon’s tender nose.
Trumpeting his alarm, the old dragon scrambled hastily away, trying to flip himself off his back to protect his soft (and bulging) belly. He flexed his mighty wings, which resulted in a horrendous series of cracks as his old joints popped from one end of his spine to the other. Opening his mouth to breathe fire on the menacing enemy only brought forth a great cloud of dust, cinders and a few sparks. The sparks landed in the dragon’s bed of dry leaves. The leaves picked up the sparks and happily passed them from twig to twig like a hot potato, igniting an inferno that drove the dragon from his comfy bed toward the cave exit. He tripped over his massive tail, however, and proceeded to fall flat on his scaly face at the feet of the very surprised wizard, who had not moved a bit through the entire struggle.
Some hours later, after a great deal of arguing and not a few obscene gestures in each other’s direction, they were finally airborne. The stop over in the cave had been longer than intended, so the two were intent on reaching the coast and beginning their search for Gilda’s Glory, the ship that Selena the Minstrel had suggested to them. Ash glided along the coastline, enjoying the warm sun. Strom was blessedly quiet for the moment, a rare occurrence. Gilda herself was apparently a tough businesswoman in the region and the crew of the Glory were quite successful. The lands below them gradually shifted from forest to jungle and the temperature rose. On the horizon they could see the haze of a distant ocean.
“We really have no idea where to search for the ship,” Ash commented. Strom was peering diligently out to sea.
“Wait, what’s that?” Strom pointed to the east.
“What’s what?” Ash squinted.
“We really need to get you some glasses.”
Ash banked to the east, following Strom’s directions toward a plume of smoke rising into the sky. As they neared its source, they could see the remains of a ship, burned to the surface of the water, as well as a second ship just getting underway. Ash could hear the terrified shouts of men as he was spotted.
“Well, I’m guessing that’s a pirate ship,” said Strom.
“What gave it away? The burning merchant ship, the long plank hanging off the side or the fact that there’s a bunch of peg-legged guys stomping around down there?”
“Actually it was the big black flag flying off the mast…”
Ash hovered over the ship, watching in some amusement as the humans scrambled to gather weapons.
“We’re looking for Gilda!” shouted Strom.
He was answered with a volley of crossbow bolts.
Strom twitched his fingers, raising a blue magical shield around himself and Ash. The bolts bounced away.
Another twitch of his fingers and Strom’s voice was magically augmented. “Is this Gilda’s Glory?”
This time it was a ballista bolt that smacked Ash soundly on the rump.
“Hey!” the dragon roared. The people on the ship collapsed to the deck holding their ears. “That hurt! Drop your weapons, shut up and answer a couple of questions. Got it?”
“Temper, temper,” said Strom.
“Let’s see you hold your temper when you get hit in the ass with an arrow the size of a tree!”
One person on the deck finally stepped forward.
“I’m Gilda. What do you want, dragon?”
“Eh?” shouted back the hard of hearing mage.
“She said she’s Gilda,” said Ash. “Though I can’t see her.”
“Well we know you’re almost blind, but she must have a very weak voice if I can’t hear her.”
“Yeah, that’s the problem, I’m sure.”
“Gilda! We want to ask you some questions.” Strom’s spell was still augmenting his voice, but with a gesture he extended the spell to Gilda so everyone could hear each other.
“I don’t think I feel like being questioned, old man.”
“To be honest, you don’t have a lot of choice,” noted Ash. “But we’re nice guys – “
“No we’re not!” interjected the mage.
“Well. True. We’re willing to be nice guys today. Or at least for a little while.”
“Not making me feel any better there, gentlemen,” returned the pirate captain.
“Look, all this shouting is ridiculous and I’m getting tired of flying in place. It’s not as easy as it looks, and the wizard put on weight over the winter.”
“I did not!”
“Daraga’s cookies gave you a belly.”
“You know Daraga?” asked Gilda.
“We do. One of us better than the other!” Ash winked dramatically and gestured toward Strom.
“She always had a thing for older men,” Gilda sighed.
“Can we land?”
“My ship wasn’t exactly designed for dragon landings.”
“Don’t worry about it – I’ll change forms.” Without waiting for permission, Ash glided toward the ship. The sailors aimed their weapons, but Gilda ordered them to stand down. Most of them cautiously lowered their crossbows.
“Oh I hate this trick,” groaned Strom as they drifted closer.
“I’ve only dumped you in the water once,” said Ash.
“Once is enough.”
The moment the dragon’s huge body was over the deck, his immense form shimmered, shining brighter than the sun for a moment. Where the dragon had been stood an elderly elvish male. This guise made it easier when dealing with humans in more confined spaces.
Strom, unfortunately, hadn’t quite finished casting his own levitation spell, and ended up being dumped unceremoniously across the deck. His robes flew up over his head as he tumbled.
“Boxers? With hearts on them?” Ash had descended gracefully to the deck and was now shaking his head as the disheveled mage sprawled in front of him. “Really?”
“I think they’re kinda cute,” said Gilda. “Mmmm and so are you,” she said, looking the dragon-in-elvish-form up and down.
Strom struggled to his feet and tried to push his robes down over his underwear.
Gilda guided Strom and Ash toward the rear deck of the ship, where a wiry old man firmly gripped the wheel.
“So what kind of questions do you have for me?” Gilda seemed remarkably calm in the face of recent events. Apparently the sight of a red dragon with a mage riding on him didn’t upset her, nor did the same two arriving on her deck seem to bother her.
“We’re looking for home,” said Strom.
“Home? I guarantee you it’s not on this ship.”
“No, no, no. We lost our home and we were told you may be able to help us find it.”
“You lost your home? Seriously?”
“Why does everyone look at us like we’re such idiots when we say that?” Ash asked Strom.
“What makes you think I can help you find your home?” prompted Gilda.
“Selena said – .”
“Wait. You know Selena, too? And Daraga?”
“Yes. It’s a long story.”
“We’re in the middle of the ocean. Trust me, we have time.”
“It started when we got kicked out of town by some wanted posters placed by a paladin.”
“Please understand, the accusations were never proven,” put in Ash quickly.
“We ran into said paladin a few days later and it turns out his family had been hunting us for generations over a misunderstanding about a bar tab.”
“He and his talking horse Misker – .”
“Whoa. The paladin’s horse talks?”
“Er, yes. It takes some getting used to.”
“Anyway, Misker and Sir Bert slipped and informed us that a cartologist named Daraga in the Icecrystal Mountains might have a map to our ancient country of Athar.”
“We spent a winter with her. Well, Strom spent the winter with her. I usually had a cold lonely room to myself.” The elf-appearing dragon tried to look pathetic.
“In the spring, Daraga suggested that the bard Selena might know where our tower is located. We found her in a small village outside the mountains. We were savagely ambushed by the natives there and barely escaped with our lives. Before we retreated – honorably – Selena let us know that she’d once sailed with you and had seen a tall empty tower near the coast. The tower was in perfect condition, even though no one seemed to live there or ever visit it.”
“So we’re here to see if you remember where that tower is. We believe it may be the lost Black Tower of Athar – our home.”
“Well, now, that’s quite a tale.” Gilda looked thoughtful. “Well, I might remember… If properly motivated, that is.”
“Come on, I’m a business woman. Why should I give you such valuable information for free? What’s in it for me?”
“Another look at Strom’s undies?”
“Pfft I can get that stuff on my own just fine. You’re going to have to do better than that.” She snapped her fingers. “I’ve got it. There’s a megalodon shark prowling the waters of my best trade route. Clear the route and I’ll take you to the tower myself.”
“Fair enough,” replied Strom, shaking her hand.
“Oh, by the way I have a couple of passengers aboard you should be aware of… Though I admit I didn’t know the horse talked,” Gilda said, as Sir Bert and Misker stepped on deck from the forecastle.
It was a week later. Gilda had made it clear in no uncertain terms that her four passengers would get along or be dumped overboard. While she wasn’t likely to be able to enforce the threat, they agreed to follow her instructions. Now the Glory was nearing the island chain where the immense shark resided. Gilda said the beast regularly preyed on any ships in the area and jealously guarded its territory. She refused to take the ship any closer. It was decided that Strom, Bert and Misker would remain onboard guarding the Glory while Ash scouted the channel.
Ash had stepped to the edge of the ship, standing on the rail and beginning the gestures that would polymorph him back into his dragon form. Strom stood nearby, looking suspiciously bored. Misker and Bert were loitering nearby. Just as Ash stepped on the rail, one of the nearby ropes seemed to take a life of its own, weaving into a loop around the elf-about-to-turn-dragon’s ankle. Ash tripped and plunged over the edge, disappearing from sight. The dragon, startled out of his transformation spell, belly-flopped into the water in elf form. Moments later his enraged face emerged from the water, screaming obscenities at Strom, who was doubled over laughing. Suddenly the full sized dragon burst out of the water, hovering over the mage with water streaming from his wings. He spouted a column of water over Strom, soaking him to the bone.
Strom stalked away angrily. “Guy can’t take a joke,” he muttered.
Gilda and her first mate stood stunned on the deck, unsure of how close they might have just come to being completely destroyed by at least one of the two passengers in a magic fueled temper tantrum. Sir Bert and Misker were both rolling on the deck laughing as the dragon flew away to search for the great shark.
“Bait? We couldn’t come up with a better plan than bait?”
Strom and Misker were perched on a shoddily assembled raft, drifting in the hot tropical sun.
“Yeah, not too happy about it myself,” replied Misker. “How did Bert and Ash managed to finagle the easy jobs?”
Strom sighed and shrugged. Bert was on the Glory, awaiting the signal from Strom that the shark had been sighted. Ash drifted lazily in the sky high overhead, supposedly keeping watch. Strom had repeatedly pointed out that the dragon was nearsighted and could barely see the end of his own nose. No one listened to him, however, so the dragon was given the cushy assignment.
Strom and Misker had been put adrift on the raft with the idea of attracting the shark’s attention. Empty buckets of chum were scattered across the raft and bloody fish bits floated nearby in the water. If the shark came to investigate, Strom would cast a fireball into the sky, signaling the dragon to dive, and the Glory to rendezvous with raft. The group would then engage the shark. Ash’s job was to hold the shark on the surface while everyone else attacked it. Gilda estimated the megalodon was the same length as the ancient dragon.
At this stage all the mage and horse had to show for the plan was a bad sunburn and an empty rum cask.
“Wait, what’s that?” Misker nodded toward something breaking the water several hundred feet away.
Strom turned quickly, scanning the area. “Fin!” he cried. “Shark!”
The fin was huge and getting huger as the massive shark began to skim along the surface of the water, circling toward the raft.
“That’s a really big shark,” observed Misker. “Gilda didn’t say it was that big!”
“That crazy pirate woman lied to us!”
The fin disappeared as the shark dove out of sight. Strom and Misker stood shaking in the middle of the raft, anticipating the attack.
With a crash, the raft was hurled into the air from below, throwing both Misker and Strom into the sea. The shark burst out of the water, arcing gracefully before diving back into the ocean. Misker frantically swam toward the remains of the raft, while Strom yelled for help. Raising his staff out of the water, he launched a small fireball at Ash flying above them, nearly hitting the dragon in the belly. Ash saw the signal and tucked his wings back as he dived toward the surface.
As Strom treaded water, awaiting the dragon’s arrival, the shark’s tall fin again sliced the water and came directly at him, leaving a frothy wake.
“Hurry up, Ash!” screamed Strom, as the shark approached him.
Misker had pulled himself back onto the raft and watched the mage in horror as the shark bore down on him. Like a child fleeing an angry goose, the mage unexpectedly burst from the water and sprinted across the surface. Whether this was sheer terror or a waterwalking spell, the horse didn’t know. The sight of the ancient mage, robes pulled up to his waist and skinny legs flashing in the sun, was truly hilarious. The horse, terrified into hysteria, toppled onto his side, braying in laughter. Meanwhile Strom sprinted across the surface, chased by the shark.
The scene was suddenly shadowed by the diving dragon as Ash arrived. Unfortunately the nearsighted dragon had no clue where the shark was but could see the wake left by the old mage sprinting across the surface of the water, so that’s what he aimed for. Ash’s mouth was wide open, ready to take a deep bite out of the shark. At the last moment Strom noticed Ash about to collide with him and put his staff over his head. The open-mouthed dragon hit Strom at full speed, pushing both of them far under the water and apparently startling the enormous shark into diving away from the surface. A vast plume of water erupted into the air as all three beings disappeared below the surface.
Misker stood alone in the middle of the ocean, looking around uncertainly at the eerily calm water. He could see Gilda’s Glory approaching but they were still a mile or so away from the raft. Then Ash burst out of the water and back into the air. His mouth was wedged wide open by Strom’s staff. He awkwardly flew, shaking his head in an attempt to dislodge the staff. Strom’s head popped to the surface next, his pointy hat drooping off his head. He was yelling at the dragon.
“What the hell? The shark, you moron, you were supposed to attack the shark!”
“Mmmmhmmm!” mumbled the dragon with the magical staff wedged in his mouth.
“Give me that!” Strom stretched his hand toward the flying dragon and a golden glow arced to the staff. The staff flew back into his grasp.
Ash’s jaws cracked as his mouth was freed of the obstruction and snapped shut.
“Don’t blame me,” the dragon said. “Your hat looked like a shark fin.”
The dragon was hovering just over the surface of the water near the mage as the two continued to shout at each other. The shark abruptly leapt from the water at Ash, its maw gaping open and its rows of massive teeth exposed. The shark bit down on the dragon’s side, stretching to engulf about half the dragon’s body. Ash’s natural armor was far tougher than the shark’s teeth, however, and the shark didn’t manage to damage the dragon at all. Instead, its teeth were lodged in Ash’s scales. Its massive weight pulled the dragon out of the sky and into the water. Misker and Strom stared in disbelief as the dragon sank, his tail being the final part of him to disappear. A maelstrom of swirling water and frothy waves exploded across the surface where the two beasts fought. A massive steam cloud burst to the surface as the dragon apparently tried to breathe fire underwater. An entire school of fish popped to the surface, dead in the boiling water. Periodically some body part emerged from the water for a moment as the dragon and the shark fought.
Strom swam to the raft and climbed aboard next to Misker. His hands glowed blue and all his hair stood on end as he repeatedly cast lightning bolts into the water.
“Won’t you hit Ash?” asked Misker.
“I should be so lucky,” the mage replied with a grin. “But he’s virtually immune to lightning. I guarantee you a water-based critter like that shark won’t like it though!”
Gilda’s Glory drifted nearby and her sailors manned a ballista and several crossbows. The ship had launched a small boat and Misker could see Sir Bert in the bow. He’d removed his armor but still wore his white tunic. He firmly grasped his magical sword, however, as he scanned the water for signs of the shark.
The shark burst from the water right next to the boat, its mouth wide open as it lunged at the sailors. Bert swung his magical sword, slicing a deep cut along the shark’s side. The sailors stabbed at the shark with their harpoons, but their mundane attacks bounced off its tough skin. With another swing of his glowing sword, Bert cut a chunk from its tail. The megalodon dropped below the surface, leaving a trail of blood in the water as it disappeared again.
Meanwhile, Ash had also surfaced and then rose back into the air. He was circling the area, just above the surface of the water, trying to spot the shark. With a roar he dived back into the water, claws extended like a massive bird of prey. Ash disappeared and the ocean calmed again as the various humans and Misker scanned the area.
Then dragon burst out of the water near the raft, cursing like a sailor and rising into the air. Water streamed from him. Deep scratches marred his scales and one of his wings had a bite sized chunk missing, but he looked more angry than injured.
“I am done playing around!” he declared furiously. “That shark is going to die!” Concentrating, the dragon’s talons glowed red and the cold seawater boiled off his body as it magically heated up.
“Oh crap, hold on!” was all Strom had time to say before the dragon’s spell was cast.
Deep underwater a massive fireball exploded. While fire spells wouldn’t normally be effective attacks underwater, the powerful dragon’s fireball was immense. It displaced an huge amount of water, superheating it into a pocket of steam surrounding the megalodon. The beast was instantly cooked. The pressure wave also slammed into the shark. The steam-bubble rose to the surface, popping with an ear shattering bang as the water rushed in to fill the gap. The shark’s body disintegrated and the resulting explosion threw water in all directions, soaking everyone on the deck of the Glory and showering the crew of the small boat with shark bits and bloody water.
“Damn!” said Misker, looking at the dragon in awe.
“Yeah, not a good idea to make him really mad,” advised the mage.
“Well alrighty then,” said Gilda as Misker, Bert and Strom climbed out of the water and on to her deck. A moment later, Ash landed, glowing briefly as he took on his elf form just as he reached the deck. He still looked angry.
“I believe we had a deal, Captain,” grinned Strom. “One dead shark. Now take us home!”
In less than a week, Gilda’s Glory was anchored in a deep bay, just in sight of a tall black tower. Strom and Ash, believing they may have found their lost home at last, had taken flight after disembarking. Gilda said goodbye to Sir Bert and Misker as they prepared to pursue the two. The truce aboard the Glory had been voided as soon as the four returned to land. Now it was up to them to finally bring Strom and Ash to justice. Or be the first prisoners in the Tower’s dungeons in a thousand years.
Damon Garn lives in Colorado Springs, CO with his wife and two children. He enjoys hiking, writing and annoying his neighbors with mediocre guitar playing. He writes in the fantasy/sci-fi realm experimenting in flash fiction, short stories and a novel. Follow on Twitter: dmgwrites or at dmgwrites.wordpress.com