“Of Childish Ire”
By Adrian Koltun
The Elderly Wood is a forest quite deserving of its name. The youngest grove of trees is hardly a century old at the most and the eldest tree in the entirety of the forest is well over a thousand years at the least. If any humans made claim to this forest, it was eons ago. Nowadays there was little sign of them throughout the forest but the sparse bit of ancient stone ruins that managed a long-standing vigil despite the roots that were slowly ensnaring them back down into the earth from whence they came. Just near the Elderly Wood’s heart, where the oldest of the trees resided, was one of the many mountains that speckled the forested landscape.
Though a mountain implies a stature great enough to pierce the underbelly of the sky this particular pile of stone and earth, like so many of its nearby brethren, was only just large enough that its peak was above the reach of the forest canopy, allowing for a perfect view of the expansive Elderly Wood. From the crest of the mountain, one could just see the light of a new day piercing the eastern horizon, chasing away the darkness of the night as early birds saw fit to begin their morning songs.
All in all, the Elderly Wood is a very peaceful place.
Most of the time…
A lady’s shriek loud enough to wake the undead scattered the early birds before the ground at the mountain’s base trembled from thundering stomps. Emerging forth from a cave at the foot of the mountain came a young woman who could easily be mistaken as human if not for her emerald-tinted skin and her stature that put her somewhere close to forty feet tall by human measurement. The titaness was dressed in her sleepwear, a brown tunic that fell to just above her knees and her long hair, usually braided, was wild and free like a lion’s mane atop her head as she glared up at the top of the mountain, her amber eyes cold and angry. In her right hand, she clutched a stuffed bag whose contents made a rattling sound like hollowed stones cracking against each other.
“Augold!” she yelled. “Get out ‘ere!”
“Blast it all, Gully!” A burst of fire flew from the cave at the mountain’s peak, preceding the expansive yawn that followed in its wake before Augold’s head peaked through the entrance to blearily glare down at Gully. A pair of horns not unlike those of a ram, one still whole while the other was broken cleanly in half, sat upon a saurian head that was connected to a generous length of serpentine neck. Scales gleamed like gold with speckles of finely polished brass decorated the hide of the dragon that was far from intimidated by the angry titan glaring up at him. He displayed his bravado with an eloquent snort of smoke.
“It’s too early for another one of your silly monkey tantrums.”
“I am not a—No, I’m not havin’ that argument with ye again! What were these doin’ in meh cave?” She called up to Augold, pulling open the bag and dumping some of the contents into her open hand. Animal bones, bleached white from countless days in the sun. Most of them were skulls though a few ribs and the occasional bit of antler littered the pile.
Augold tilted his head.
“Why Gully, don’t you like my gift? I thought your kind delighted in making bread out of such things? I admit the idea of such a thing wets my appetite.” He sniffed, sounding offended were it not for the devious smile upon his snout. A slit tongue wet fangs longer than a man’s arm and sharper than any sword of ordinary steel.
The splotches of moss green on Gully’s cheeks darkened even further with her rising ire at the dragon. “I’m a earth titan ye imbecile! I can’t even eat meat so why would ye even think I’d ever do somethin’ as barbaric as that!” She hurled the bones up at Augold and was gratified to see a skull of a deer hitting him flat in the nose, earning a yelp of surprise from the dragon. “Ha!”
“You…” Augold growled before he leapt out from his cave, wings spread wide as he landed on all fours in front of Gully with an earth trembling thud. He lowered his head down so that they were eye-to-eye, smoke starting to puff out from flared nostrils. “Are trying the last of my patience, titan.”
“Just the same as yer testing my own, dragon!” snapped Gully, her accented voice thick with her ire as she glared into the ruby eyes of the dragon. “I won’t have ye bully me out of meh own home! If ye want meh gone so badly ye’ll have to do far worse than smokin’ up meh cave or leavin’ yer leftovers scattered about!”
Though both monsters are quite large in size, neither of them are even full adults in the strictest sense of the word. Augold himself is only at the end of what dragons call drake-hood. An age range that most humans, and titans, would define as teenaged years, and though no less long-lived than Augold, Gully was a few years younger mentally if not physically than the golden-scaled dragon.
A dreadful state for a pair of feuding neighbors much less warring monsters.
“Worse? Oh you’ve yet to see what I am capable of, monkey!” snarled Augold, revealing his gleaming sharp fangs. He snapped at the air, mere inches away from Gully’s nose and was frustrated to see no reaction from the titaness besides her crossing her arms and smiling coyly.
“Go on then. Show meh.” Gully raised an eyebrow and tilted her head back, baring her throat to the dragon. “Unless said ye’re scared of me, lizard.”
Augold’s eyes widened before he unleashed a roar that sent the entire population of birds in the Elderly Wood flying for their lives. Fire glimmered deep in his throat and erupted from the dragon’s mouth in a twisting spiral that could have turned Gully’s head into a pile of ash. It certainly would have, if he had been aiming at her.
As Gully knew he would, Augold had turned his head at the last moment and was unleashing his fire up into the air where it just barely passed the mountain’s peak before he snapped his mouth shut and he took off into the cloudless sky, leaving a smirking Gully behind.
‘Stupid overgrown human of a monster… Stupid Code of Conduct… Stupid father who insisted on teaching stupid Code of Conduct in the first place…!’
Even several hours later, Augold was still raging from his latest spat with Gully. Nothing seemed capable of ridding him of his ire. Even the usual game of troll tossing did little to empty the aggression burning through his veins like the fires in his gut. Why, his breaking his record and tossing one unlucky troll clear to the other side of the Elderly Wood could not appease Augold’s tempering tantrum of a rampage. Finding this particular section of the forest cleared of trolls, and most likely anything with a wit of common sense, Augold took to the air once more in hopes of finding some better way of distracting himself and letting his temper cool down to more appropriate temperatures.
Magma would be nice though for the betterment of troll kind, dragon’s breath would be ideal.
“If that wretched titan wasn’t a female,” muttered Augold, smoke trailing from his nose as he flew, “I’d have my mountain all to myself as well I should have from the very start! I was there first, blast it all!”
Indeed Augold was and truly it very well would have been an easier affair if his neighbor were a male. For the very Code of Conduct that he had been cursing, amongst several other things, was the one thing keeping Augold from doing to Gully what he had done many countless times before when a senseless monster happened to trespass upon his mountain.
Namely, roast and devour though not necessarily in that order.
Of course, with Gully being a thinker, that meant that Augold would have to follow the rules of the Code. To rid himself of a sensible monster intruding upon his lands, Augold would have to challenge them to a duel with him being the challenging defender marking the spoils of victory. Most of these duels ended with two sensible monsters walking away, one slightly worse for wear but otherwise never again encroaching upon Augold’s territory lest they desire for a deathly end to an otherwise brutally clean fight.
Unfortunately for Augold, Gully happened to be female and as his father had insisted upon teaching his clutch of the Code, a good, proper dragon was to never ever try and fight a female. To do such would be a dishonor of the highest order second only to dying by way of not properly handling a good dozen barrels of mead.
There was nothing more demeaning than for a dragon to die by way of drunkenly flying into a mountainside.
Thus, Augold was stuck with an irritatingly stubborn, titanic-pain-in-the-wings that he couldn’t drive out of his territory let alone away from his mountain, nor could he deal with the proper way as the dragon’s version of the Code of Conduct forbade him from doing anything remotely considered as harmful to the titaness. Not that fighting females had anything at all to do with the fact that no one with any sense of self-preservation would dare to try and tick off a female dragon and hope to tell the tale.
Nope. Not at all…
Augold had honestly tried everything short of accidentally killing her. He tried plugging up the cave with a boulder of limestone while she was out but she not only shattered it like it was made of ice but she had eaten the remaining pieces like it was some form of rare delicacy!
Far from deterred, Augold had then tried to overheat her cave by blowing fire into one of the old dwarf tunnels from back when the tiny miners riddled the above grounds for precious minerals before turning to the deeper earth some century or three ago. Unfortunately, that effort nearly melted his hoard and he hadn’t dared to try a second time. He then tried smoking her out and that nearly did the trick up until Gully had used the smoke to her advantage and tossed a boulder at his head that broke one of his horns in half.
It didn’t help that Gully had situated herself in a cave that he had no honest means of getting through. Though she was just slightly shorter than he, minus his serpentine neck, Gully had been sensible when carving out the entryway into the mountain, making it just wide enough for herself but far too thin for anything of greater size like Augold. Thus, the draconic monster was now flying through the sky with a headache that could easily rival any hangover worth getting drunk for.
“Silver and gold, what I would give for a barrel of mead right about now…” Augold’s eyes narrowed as a particular scent caught in his nose. He snorted a bit of ash out of his nostrils before sniffing the air. “In fact…” He sniffed a bit more. “I think I smell some right now!”
Halting in midair with wings flapping just enough to keep him aloft, Augold looked about for some sign of where the scent of mead he caught upon the wind was coming from and saw much more than he had expected. He was close to the borders of the Elderly Wood but not so close as to actually see where the trees ended and the open plains began. So it came as quite the surprise to the dragon when he caught sight of the improbable.
A human caravan somewhere of about twenty large carriages and nearly twice as many horses, traversing on the Serpent’s Pass.
Another piece of whatever civilization that once made the Elderly Wood their domain but unlike most of their relics, the Serpent’s Pass is a roadway of gleaming stone that could not buried beneath forest growth and slithered its way from one side of the forest to the other. This would not have bothered Augold too much if the Serpent’s Pass didn’t just happen to coil near enough to his mountain that it’d be but a stone’s throw away for the humans.
While he had no qualms in dealing with humans as he would any other senseless monster, it was what often followed in the wake of their demise that made Augold hesitate from simply flying down and roasting the caravan to cinders despite the mead.
The humans call them Slayers.
Monsters such as Augold preferred them to their real title.
So he couldn’t charbroil them lest he join them soon afterwards and unlike they, Augold would not receive a quick and relatively painless death.
‘Guess there’s only one thing I can do then…’
With a terrible roar, Augold dove down through the forest canopy and landed at the head of the caravan. He spread his wings wide so that he blocked any chance of sneaking past him on the Serpent’s Pass and roared a second time with an accompaniment of smoke and embers. Horses and humans alike screamed their terror and set about a mad panic save for one man at the head of the parade, the leader most likely given the attire of both he and his horse. Augold had not seen such a spectacle even on the backs of human kings and yet this man had the audacity to dress in clothes of silk upon a horse whose harness was decorated with actual gems.
“Stop it all of you! If the dragon would have wanted us dead it would have killed us all by now!” The leader of the caravan tried to reign in the terrorized mob to no avail though some seemed to start sharing his sentiment.
‘Can’t have that.’ Augold thought before he unleashed a great stream of flames right over the man’s balding head. Any further protests he had were swiftly forgotten as he led the charge far and away from the clearly rampaging monster. Only when the last of the horses was but a faint clip-clop of sound down along the Serpent’s Pass did Augold fold his wings and laugh.
“And good riddance to the lot of you!” He called after the humans. Quite pleased with himself, the dragon turned to regard the spoils of victory. Licking his chops, his tail lashed out and ripped free the roof of the nearest wagon. Immediately, Augold came to realize that the encroaching humans had not just left their wagons of mead behind.
“Oh… blast it all…”
As a titan of the earth, Gully has a degree of patience that could at the best of times be described as being almost godly. Any true giant, as Augold would often mislabel her, would have tried to kill the dragon after the first attempt, but not a titan like Gully. Titans, as a race, took after whichever element of nature they were most attuned with and as temperamental as she might seem, Gully took after the earth more than she could of fire as evident by the emerald hue of her flesh and hair.
She had no desire, no true will, to come to blows with anyone, even Augold for all the trouble the dragon kept causing her on a daily basis for the last several months. She truly felt guilty whenever she let her temper get the best of her. Even now, weeks after the incident which cost Augold one of his horns, she still felt remorseful for having even done that much even if all that she had done was throw a little rock at his stupid head.
Still, guilt did not stop the titan from doing what she had set out to do since first making a home at the base of Augold’s mountain. Swinging her pickaxe in sync to a wordless song, Gully was digging into the heart of the mountain, making further ground than any dwarf could ever hope to achieve for this mountain was far from ordinary. Just as the forest that surrounded it, the mountain is ancient. So old that even several millennia since it first ruptured its way up into the sky, the mountain had only lost one-tenth of its stature to time and the elements.
The long stretch of cave that Gully called home had once been one of several mines excavated by dwarves and was no larger than her forearm. In the span of time it took for Augold to find a meal and return, she had managed to make it large enough to fit a titan comfortably inside with the entrance just small enough to bar any larger and unwanted company. The outer shell of the mountain is but ordinary, if not extremely hardy, stone and had easily crumbled beneath the gleaming spike of a titan’s pickaxe. The interior stone however could almost be mistaken for obsidian for its shade but no hunk of obsidian could repel the pickaxe of a titan so easily as it did now.
Imaging once more the frustrations of the morning, Gully swung her pickaxe hard in an overhead swing and nearly lost grip of the tool as it was jolted back with greater force. The mountain stone didn’t even tremble from the blow, which did little to appease Gully’s simmering temper.
“Ack, to the furnace wit’ ye!” She yelled as she hurled the pickaxe down and impaled it into the ground beneath her sandaled feet. She had changed out of her sleepwear of a simple tunic and was garbed now in a pair of leggings that ended just below her knees and a fresh shirt with long sleeves pulled into bunches above her elbows. Like most her previous attire, the clothes were of muted browns and grays, the colors of the earth element that all titans of her ilk felt befitting of them.
Wiping her brow clear of sweat, Gully headed for the outside world for a breath of fresh air and halted just short of the entrance of her cave.
Augold was sitting just outside with his back to her as he glared down at something he was holding in his forepaws.
“What do ye want now?” Gully grumbled to herself before she exited the cave fully to address him, “Oy!”
Augold turned to face her and was it her imagination or did the dragon actually looked relieved to see her. “Gully! Finally, here! Take this thing and do whatever it is you giant monkeys do with them!”
He shoved whatever it was in his paws into her hands and a blinking Gully looked down to see a pair of blue eyes shaded beneath golden locks looking up at her. An excited squeal as tiny hands reached up and tugged at a strand of green hair with strength that was barely felt by the titan.
“Augold…” she said slowly, her eyes never leaving the tiny cargo in her grasp.
“T’is a wee baby.”
Gully looked up at him with wide, incredulous eyes and said, “A wee human baby.”
“It certainly isn’t ugly enough to be considered a troll much as it tries to smell like one,” agreed Augold, snorting a puff of smoke from his nose as he rubbed his forepaws against the ground. Satisfied that he had managed to at least rub the stink off, he unfurled his wings. “If that’s all—”
“What in the name of the Earth Mother do ye expect meh to do wit’ it?!” Her eyes widened as she recalled his earlier crack about bones and bread. “Oh gods, ye disgustin’ wretch!”
“What?” exclaimed Augold, startled by her sudden shouting.
“Do ye truly take meh for some sort o’ ogre?! I’m not makin’ a meal out of this here child and I’m certainly not lettin’ yeh eat ‘er either!” Her shouting did exactly what Augold had surprisingly managed to avoid doing himself and set the baby in her hands wailing in distress. “Auch, now look what ye made meh do! Shush, wee one, it’s alright…”
“It’s a female? Wait, no, what do you mean eat her?” asked Augold, sneering in disgust at the very idea. “Do you have any idea how disgusting that thing smells right now? Why in blue blazes would I even consider the idea?”
“Well, don’t yer kin delight in makin’ off with damsels and the like?” Gully snapped, trying to shush the crying child with gentle strokes of her fingers.
“If any dragon was stupid enough to try and do something like that, I doubt it’d be for a meal as troublesome as that wailing thing!” Augold snapped right back.
“Well then, what were yeh doin’ wit’ her in the first place then?” she asked, finally managing to settle the child who took once more to her game of tugging a strand of titanic hair.
“Nothing! I found a caravan of those apes going down on Serpent’s Pass and rather than let them come waltzing on by my mountain, I scared them off! They were so eager to escape me that they left more than just their wagons of mead behind.”
“Mead? No, that does not matter any, ye’re goin’ to go and return this here child back to them!” ordered Gully.
“What?!” exclaimed Augold, “Why should I?”
“Because ye were stupid enough to not leave ‘er there where yeh found ‘er—”
“Hey!” Augold snarled, “I’m a lot of things but I’m not the type of dragon to leave a youngling in troll territory! Even if those humans got the courage to try and come back for her, they’d have found only her bones! I don’t know about you, but I’m not looking to have Killers stalking about in my territory!”
“Well they likely will be now more than if ye had left ‘er!” exclaimed Gully looking over the child and recognizing the smell for what it was. She wondered if one of her clean handkerchiefs would do the job. “To the humans, ye are the one who went and snatched up one o’ their own! The only way to dissuade them o’ that notion is to return the wee child before they send word out! Hopefully, ye can outfly any messenger bird they might send.”
Augold leaned back, eyes wide as he stared at the titan beneath him. “I don’t know which surprises me more, the sheer stupidity of that plan or the fact that you actually know what “dissuade” means.” He sighed and held out his forepaw, “Very well, give it here.”
“’Er! She’s a girl and no! Ye’re not goin’ to carry her wit’ one hand and not until she’s changed!” She exclaimed, tugging her hair free and setting the child to tears once more. “Auch!”
“We don’t have time to try and change her into something easier to carry,” said Augold, completely misunderstanding what Gully meant, holding out both forepaws. “Look, two paws. Happy?”
“I will as soon as she’s back among ‘er kin.” She said. She glanced down at the crying baby, feeling her heart go out for the little one. Though the child was not of her kin and as much as she denied and argued with Augold over the fact, even Gully could not deny the similarities between her race and the child’s own, especially in the young. “Ye sure ye don’t want me changin’ ‘er first?”
“Into what exactly?”
Gully sighed, realizing there was no point in trying to explain the concept of diapers to a dragon and handed the baby back to Augold. The child immediately quieted and Gully couldn’t help the stunned smile. “Well would ye look a’ that… I think she’s takin’ a fancy to ye.”
“Great. Just what I always wanted.” Augold flapped his wings and took to the air and headed for the south. Gully watched him go with one hand raised to her eyes to shadow the glare of the sun. She sighed with relief and entered her cave once more, reassured that Augold would see to the child’s safe return to her kind.
Too bad he was going a little too far to the left.
It was late in the afternoon by the time Augold returned to the entrance of Gully’s cave at the base of their shared mountain with the child still grasped in his claws. The titaness knew this not just by the dragon’s incessant bellowing that she come out right away but also by the all-too-familiar wailing trying to outdo the shouting.
“One thing, Augold! Ye had but one thing ta do so how could ye—”
“Look, just take this stinky little howler monkey would you?” Augold interrupted the earth titan, holding out the crying baby to her. “She hasn’t stopped since that debacle at the village! Ruby light, I didn’t know they could stink so badly!”
“She just needs a change is all, isn’t that right wee one?” murmured Gully, taking the child into her hands and sitting down to try and work the tiny child’s diaper off.
“Wait, what are you—Silver and gold!” Augold whirled around, “That reeks even worse now!”
“Well, ye should a let me change ‘er afore you flew off then!” said Gully, whipping out a clean handkerchief to try and use as a makeshift diaper. “So what happened? Did ye land in the middle o’ the town square?”
Augold looked up to his cave almost longingly and didn’t answer.
“Oh gods, ye didn’t—!”
“No, I’m not that stupid thank you.” Augold snapped and winced when scent of the baby’s soiled diaper reached his nose. He clutched tightly upon his snout with one paw before he continued, “I landed far outside of the town, and managed to sneak up to the closest building I could without drawing attention to myself. Not something easily done thank you very much! I was going to just leave the youngling outside the back entryway when she,” he jabbed his tail’s spade in the baby’s direction, refusing to turn around until Gully was finished, “started going ballistic!”
“Well, what did you think would happen? No wee one likes bein’ in dirty diapers.” Gully said, finishing tying the new diaper with a flourish. She picked up the now calmed child up and frowned when the diaper slipped right off. She placed the baby girl back down and tried once more, still leaving the soiled one out just to annoy Augold.
“She didn’t start smelling like that until the flight back,” said Augold, clutching at his nose with both paws now. “I set her down by the entryway and started to leave when she just started crying! I never thought something so small could be so loud! I picked her back up to try and calm her down and that’s when the whole bloody town guard decided to show up right out that blasted building!”
“Wait, ye mean ye…”
Augold snorted a puff of smoke through his claws. “I snuck up to the blasted guardhouse.”
“Oh gems… Don’t tell meh.” Gully sighed, shaking her head. “They saw ye wit the wee one and thought—”
“That I was making off with her for a meal.” Augold shivered in disgust. “Humans. Don’t they know how disgusting they taste to us sensible monsters?”
“So, why didn’t ye just drop ‘er down wit ‘er kin and take off?” asked Gully, managing to tie the diaper upon the squirming baby.
The dragon refused to answer, keeping his back to the green-skinned titaness.
“I panicked alright? I took off and was about halfway here before I realized I was still holding onto the youngling!” He glared over his shoulders at Gully, who was not bothering to hide her sniggering, “I’d like to see you do better when a small battalion’s worth of swords are pointed right at you! There were no Killers amongst them but I didn’t want to receive any more scars than I’ve already got.”
He reached up and touched the cracked remains of a horn and Gully immediately quieted. She looked up at the dragon’s damaged horn before glancing down at the child, now asleep in her hand. The titan rose to her feet and started into the Elderly Wood.
“What the blue blazes—Where do you think you’re going?” asked Augold.
“Well, I can’t trust ye ta get the job done so I’ll just see to it meh own self,” said Gully.
“Wait if the youngling wakes up and stars bawling again? She likes me more than you.” Augold smirked, recalling how the child had quieted before and was only so now because she had fallen asleep. Out of exhaustion from fending off the titan’s hand trying to change her clothing no doubt.
Gully twitched and looked back at the dragon with a fierce glare. “Unlike ye, I look like ‘er kin. She’ll find better comfort wit’ meh than she could with ye!”
“Fine then, if you need me, I’ll be in my cave. But first.” He glanced down and released a sudden burst of flame. Satisfied that the soiled diaper was nothing more than ash, the golden-scaled dragon flapped his way up to the mountain’s top and without so much as a backwards glance to the pair below, retired into his cave.
With nothing more to delay her, the titaness headed into the forest and upon sighting the Serpent’s Pass, followed its winding course to the south; the exact opposite direction from where the caravan had come from.
Augold was sitting at the mouth of his cave, delighting in his dinner of roasted deer when he felt he caught the sound of snapping trees. He glanced down towards the forest and saw a path of destruction making its way towards his mountain. He swallowed the remainder of his meal whole as per the rules of Conduct that a monster, sensible or not, should never fight on an empty stomach and opened his wings to glide down towards this new challenger when he caught a familiar crying just beneath the sound of trees being knocked aside like kindling.
“Oh for the love of precious metals…” muttered the dragon as he took off and landed on the earth below just as Gully emerged from the forest, drenched in sweat and breathing raggedly. The dragon took note of how she had her hands clasped to her bosom and the sound of wailing from within. “What happened?”
Gully collapsed to the ground with an earthshaking thud and carefully set the crying child down between her and Augold. The baby continued to cry but upon sighting Augold quieted to an insistent screaming with small arms reaching out to the dragon that readily ignored her as he repeated himself.
“I just—He shot at—It was a misunderstandin’!” Augold rolled his eyes and snapped at a nearby tree with his tail, startling the titan and getting her attention focused on him.
“She woke up and just started cryin’ wit’ ‘er tummy grumblin’ in hunger and… I found a barn and so I… went and got ‘er some cow’s milk…”
“Just the milk?” repeated Augold in wonder. He had no idea why a youngling, much less a human one, would delight only in the milk when the rest of the cow was far better. “Never mind. If you found her kind why didn’t you just leave her with them? They would have seen to it that she got fed I’m sure.”
“I was not goin’ to leave ‘er at some barn!” she snapped. “She deserves to be wit’ her actual kin and not some yokel I happen to come across!”
“The blue blazes is a yokel…?” muttered Augold to himself. He shook his head and asked, “So what happened then? The farmer come out and spotted you trying to nab one of his cows?”
Gully looked down, her face darkening further as she scratched at the ground.
Augold snorted, a smile tugging at his snout. “Oh that’s just fantastic. Here you were lecturing me about not being more careful! At least I looked like I was just abducting a child! Here you go and make yourself out to be a kidnapper and a cow stealer both!”
For a dragon, there was no greater sin than stealing another dragon’s cow, an ideal Augold suspected the humans shared given their ire whenever he was lucky enough to find and make off with one.
“So what did he do?” he asked, “Did the one lonely farmer try to jab at you with his pitchfork?”
“He shot at meh, Augold!” snapped Gully. She jabbed a finger into the dragon’s face. “He shot at meh wit one of their guns and nearly hit the wee one! I had to run afore he actually hurt ‘er!”
Augold glared at the finger that was close enough to warrant the attempt at biting off and glanced down at the baby. He wasn’t at all surprised to find that the little one had managed to crawl over to him and was trying to stand up using one of his paws to steady her precarious sense of balance. She looked up at him and smiled, little eyes shining brightly in the fading light of the sun.
“So he shot at you with some new kind of arrow launching device? Isn’t that like a bee sting to your kind?”
Gully opened her mouth to answer with a harsh retort but then closed her mouth with an audible clack. She glanced down at the baby and sighed morosely. “Doesn’t matter. There’s only one thin’ left to do now.”
Augold tilted his head in confusion at the titan’s words before suddenly widening with realization. “Have you lost your mind? We’re talking about humans here, Gully! They care more about their younglings than any race I’ve yet to encounter! I am not about to invite the Killers right into my territory by spilling the blood of a youngling and if you even think of doing the same—”
“I was thinkin’,” Gully interrupted the dragon’s tirade, “that we try again in the mornin’.”
Augold sheepishly closed his wings. “Oh… Well then, yes. I suppose that’s all that we can do.”
‘That…’ thought the dragon, ‘and pray that we still have time…’
The room is dark, the only light being that of a single candlewick burning lowly upon the table. A figure sits just outside the yearning reaches of the light, tall and broad shouldered with both hands clasped tightly in front of a grizzled face. Standing opposite of this figure is another, taller and thin like a reed. His clothing, what little of it that could be seen in the enshrouding darkness, was that of an expansive cloak several sizes too large even for a man who stood two heads above his fellows. When he spoke, it was with a voice not unlike the whispers of an autumn wind.
“That makes three different reports altogether. Strange that one of them tells of a giant though.”
The sitting man huffed and leaned forward with the sound of grinding steel. “Though uncommon, it’s not rare to find monsters sharing the same hunting grounds. Still… there’s no confirmation of the children’s deaths?”
“I have scribed several spells and each tell the same. No child within the kingdom’s borders has passed before their allotted time.” A bony hand, skin white as ivory and tight upon the bones, reached out and caressed the air. From the gesture came a sphere of light, showing first the town from whence a golden-scaled dragon flew before shifting to another where an emerald skinned titan ran from the roaring buckshot of a foolhardy farmer.
The view then changed once more, to the edge of the Elderly Wood where several abandoned carriages could be seen just out of sight. Time rewound to the morning and there in the heart of the Elderly Wood amidst its many peaks roared a spiral of flames that could only come from a dragon’s mouth.
“Can’t get a better view?” huffed the shorter man.
“Whatever enchantments were cast in the Olden Times linger still even in this age.” The mage whispered, cancelling the spell and withdrawing his hand back into ebony folds. “All I can confirm is that the children, however many there are, live still.”
“In the clutches of a dragon, not bloody likely. But that giant…” muttered the shadowed man.
“She may have tamed the beast to her will. It is not so uncommon as you may think.” The mage offered, his cloaked head bending low in thought.
The gruffer one huffed. “Hrmph. The bounty?”
“As of this hour… A hundred gold.” The mage whispered.
Even in the darkness, the lankier man could see his companion’s eyes roll. “Hardly a fair price for two monsters.”
“You misunderstand. A hundred gold for every child brought back alive.”
“Ah. Well then, that’s not too bad at all.” The man’s teeth gleamed in the candlelight, and it was no distortion of shadows or light that made them appear as fangs in the blackness.
“Not at all,” agreed the mage, “especially when you consider that Her Majesty’s placed a bounty of no less than a thousand for the monsters.”
“I see. Well then…” The shorter figure rose and stepped forth into the waning firelight. Clad entirely in armor, it was difficult to tell where steel began and bone ended for there was no shortage of such macabre decoration upon the man. On his shoulders sat a pair of skulls, trolls by the look of their tusks, and a necklace of vampire fangs, six in all, sat upon his breastplate. His belt glistened with tanned goblin hide and his helmet bore the pinions of a griffin. As for his armor, it was horribly stained. Where once it was a pristine and almost shining silver, it now glistened in muted red from the amount of blood spilled upon it.
“Let’s go kill some monsters.”