Chapter 12: Calamity
Eldrin was sitting on his bank on the porch, carving a piece of wood. Slowly shaving the edges away, he progressively revealed the the form he was projecting on it. Even though he had enough talent to take up woodworking as a profession, he didn’t have the need to, and only enjoyed making small sculptures from time to time. In the past he used to give them as souvenirs to friends and people close to him. But ever since he had started living alone he had thrown the only objects he had ever carved in the blazing flames of the hearth.
In spite of that, he had thought of a new design this day, something that had entered his mind while he was stuck together with the little black and red dragon during the long rainstorm.
No clouds were obstructing the delectable sunlight anymore, so the elf had decided to pick up his old carving knife as well as a small piece of [Black Ironwood] out of the storage, visualized the final form of his creation and started his work.
As Eldrin was enjoying the warmth of the sunshine and engaging in handicrafts, he thought about the little animal that had went off to hunt after being showed the painting in the lobby. The elf chuckled upon remembering the shining eyes the creature had made after it had been told that the map could be used to locate strong prey.
The talk about ranks was somewhat too much for the beast and therefore he didn’t want to go through all the details, but the perspective of a fight against a monster of similar strength greatly excited the flying lizard and it had left to chase some [Mad Yellow Spiders] in the morning, which should keep it busy for some time.
Eldrin continued to work on the figurine until the wood took the form of small dragon with mesmerizing eyes. Satisfied with the general outline, he paused for a moment before moving on to the delicate details like the scales and limbs.
At this moment a thunderous roar shook the entire clearing.
Under the assault of the deafening howl, which contained berserk flame aura, Eldrin’s control over the [Water Screen] was slowly reducing to nothingness , as his mana was also used up defending against the sudden assault. Alarmed by the abrupt development, the elf swiftly folded the knife and put it back into his pocket together with the statuette.
He then picked up the staff leaning besides the bench he was resting on. Circulating his mana around his body to the wand, Eldrin realized with a bitter smile that the occasions to fight with magical means had drastically increased ever since his meeting with the inspiration source of the figurine resting in his pocket.
The enemy revealed itself shortly afterwards in the appearance of the young noble who had already tried to seize Little Flame. The knight that had kept watch on the cottage should have belonged to this team too, and Eldrin was not naive enough to believe that they had good intentions regarding a beast rare enough to be worth a kingdom.
However, seeing the new addition to their party , he couldn’t help but frown. He had expected the noble to report the events back to his house, and the news of a wild dragon emerging was so important that it would make every Family Head in all of Leandar’s houses investigate personally.
Eldrin was sure that his words as a royal court mage were carrying enough weight to dissuade any of those leaders from pursuing a dragon under his protection.
Contrary to his predictions, this juvenile mage that he had personally chased away had managed to obtain a monster strong enough to fight him evenly for the scaled beast’s ownership.
Based on his experience, the being’s aura was that of an A class monster, probably around the seventh rank.
Walking on four legs the animal had long black fur covering most of his body, and a tail wrapped in dirty grey scales with a burning flame on its tip. The head was crowned by that same kind of scales, and two horns, the overall frightening feeling completed by red eyes and a maw filled with bloody canines.
According to the elf’s memory, this kind of demon was part of the hellhound race and quite vicious at that.
While the elf was examining the biggest threat, the noble youth had walked half the distance between himself and Eldrin.
“You didn’t think I’d be back, did you old man? I don’t care who you are, you actually dared to disrespect me and even insulted me. Today I’m going to take that dragon from you and make him my slave!”
Without giving Eldrin a chance to answer, the arrogant youngster continued his speech.
“You called me a brat and a disgrace to all nobles ! So what if I sacrifice a few commoners, they should be honored to be of use to me ! You only insulted me and threatened me to keep the dragon for yourself, you’re not one bit better than me!
Even worse, you were born a peasant too, you had to marry into nobility. Filthy elven scum, no one will ever know what had happened to you on this day!”
The boy was talking himself into a rage, and came to accusingly point a finger at Eldrin while shouting accusations with a scarlet face, disregarding all logic and basic caution. Though it was true that Eldrin had married to a noblewoman, he had been the son of a prestigious family, albeit not noble or in this kingdom. Yet, through a life of hardships and trials he had been able to acknowledge the harsh life commoners led, and understand the importance of protecting them from danger in respect of their efforts, instead of further exploiting them. Regarding Little Flame, how could he ever enslave and imprison such a beautiful creature?
None of the charges the young man was vomiting in his face were making any sense to the elf, but the infuriated youth would most likely be unable to change his mind, or even understand any word, as he was already completely frenzied and had started to mumble the incantation of a spell.
His two knights positioned themselves at his side. One took out the black longsword Eldrin had already seen, and the other was wearing a dark leather armor instead of the plate armor from the last time.
Although they didn’t pose a large menace to Eldrin, he was still thankful that they did not attack him all at once, and instead relied on the monster and the mage to inflict him damage. Protecting the mages who couldn’t keep up with the aura cultivation of monsters, while they were wearing down the opponents with long-ranged attacks wasn’t an uncommon strategy in adventurer’s team.
Luckily Little Flame was out on a hunt and thus not here to get caught up in the mess. Gradually storing his pitiful amount of aura in his limbs relieved Eldrin from the pain in his bones, and strengthened them sufficiently to withstand the violent battle about to begin. He didn’t have much confidence in his ability to come out unscathed against the combo of a strong rank seven monster and a mage providing fire from a cover, but he couldn’t afford to just give up.
Pouring more mana into the enchantment of his robe activated a set of [Water Rings], coiling around his figure, deemed to shield him from physical attacks. While his defenses were building up, Eldrin walked a short distance away from the cottage.
As for the enemy mage, he didn’t idle around.
With that single short command, the hellhound burst into motion and sprinted in the elf’s direction, cladding his back and his paws in a layer of murky grey flames.
The seven small rings circling around Eldrin probably didn’t appear as an obstacle to the monster as he continued running as fast as he could in his designated target’s direction.
Unwilling to get hit even a single time, the elf dodged to the side by relying on his earth aura to shift just slightly away from the giant maw that was trying to rip out a chunk of his flesh. Stumbling a little from the sudden acceleration, he casted a set of [Water Arrows] locked on the monster, a rather weak spell of the third rank, to test the defenses of the hellhound against water magic.
To his dismay the enemy mage finished his incantation, summoning a [Fire Torrent] targeting him. Already in motion, Eldrin was unable to avoid the spell. He had to trust the magical protection he had summoned from the enchantment in his clothing to deflect the incoming attack as it was of a higher rank, yet he still frowned after seeing one of the water ring floating around him diminishing significantly due to the absorption of the offensive spell of an opposite element, as he was blasting his own arrows.
In a one on one confrontation, the noble of the third rank would have had no chance of injuring a person 4 ranks higher than him ; but with the assistance of the hellhound, Eldrin would have a long and arduous fight before bringing down the monster, and then take care of the remaining enemies, potentially sustaining a few wounds.
At least his burden was soothed when he witnessed his own spell hit its target and threw the monster back, dousing the dirty grey flames with water and extinguishing them, eliciting a pained moan from the hurt fiend.
Unfortunately the monstrosity turned out to be stronger than Eldrin initially thought : the inferno ignited back straight away, and its intensity increased, expanding towards other parts of his fur. Turning around, the hellhound uttered an angry growl and rushed to the elven mage again, with an even greater speed, a mad gleam glinting in its eyes.
Cold sweat broke out on Eldrin’s forehead as he realized that the fierce dog was retaining an innate ability within its monster core, most likely the [Berserk] ability. The skill worked through the abandon of one’s sanity, and granted great strength and speed to the user, increasing steadily over the course of the battle.
Of course there was a backlash to the powerful technique, the caster would incur injuries proportionally to the duration of the activation time and from the strain put on the body. If the maximum span was exceeded, the accumulated strain would be potent to the point of leaving permanent injuries, a truly double edged sword.
Eldrin easily assumed the flames on the hellhound’s body to represent the duration of the innate abilities use, and it would seemingly reach its limits as soon as his whole body would be wrapped in flames.
This second charge broke through the already weakened outermost [Water Ring], shielding the elf from the monster’s piercing bites, but reducing Eldrin’s defenses to six charges. He swiftly retaliated with the highest ranked attack magic he could cast, [Ice Dragon Barrage] and smaller [Ice Tridents] of the same rank, which consumed less mana.
A slight worry began to creep into the old elf’s mind : he was keeping on restoring the seventh ring of his defensive spell while dodging the hellhound’s incoming assaults, but his reserves of mana and aura weren’t infinite. He had have never guessed that the situation would turn this dire when he had ushered the young noble to scram, but the middle of a fight wasn’t a place to have regrets.
His body had trouble keeping up with the assailant team after barely a few exchanges, and that made Eldrin want to laugh at himself. Ten years before he would have been able to carry on fighting for days, yet a short battle today had him struggling for his life.
The whole reason behind his departure from the city and his choice to live on his own was to peacefully pass away, yet when he was close to fulfill his wish, he exerted himself as hard as he could to survive.
Under the irony of this situation a laugh must have escaped his lips, as the monster stopped for a moment to glare and him and growl, unsure on how to take the amusement the elf was displaying, and the young enemy mage skeptically stared at him too.
“What’s so funny old man? You’re about to die!”
The childish outburst of someone so naive didn’t help to stifle the feeling of hilarity the elf was experiencing, and he had to use the short ceasefire to draw a deep breath.
“Don’t worry I wasn’t laughing at you. Just at myself and my old age.
Well, let’s get serious now.”
The young noble flinched at the implication that his foe could have been laughing at him, but sneered again upon hearing the last declaration, implying that the old mage had a trump card in his hand. That reaction was understandable to the elf, since they had fought for what felt like an eternity and he had yet to show his special ability, although not more than a candle’s time to burn could have passed.
“Well, what am I going to do about this dog now ? I guess it can’t be helped.”
In the woods on the opposite side of the clearing, a small scaled creature was hiding under the cover of various undergrowth, quietly observing the confrontation between its friend and the hated human, along with the two elves, that had hunted the flame-breathing wyvern before, and their newly-acquired monster.
After the little dragon had asked Eldrin why they had pursued itself so desperately, he had at first refused to talk about it, but after the storm, he had finally gave in and told stories of wild dragons and their rarity, having the scared creature promise to never reveal its race or unleash a [Dragon Breath] in front of others, as they would try to enslave it.
Horrified by the prospect of being ruled over by someone like the shortear, Little Flame had taken the warning extremely seriously, and currently despised the shorthairs for their greed.
Prowling along the edge of the forest, the small dragon was watching the clash between Eldrin and the monster who was radiating a shocking amount of flaring vitality in its eyes, almost overpowering the elf’s mana, but Little Flame trusted Eldrin to come out victorious.
Unable to move as fast as it liked, the sneaking beast had no choice but to slowly slink through the brushes. Any loud noise would direct attention on itself, and the stealth effect would be ruined.
The aim of this game was to take down the hateful shortear first, and the strong flaming dog would be taken care of together with the elf afterwards. Unbeknownst to Little Flame, the plan formed was similar to that of the mage Ashton: borrow another force against a more powerful enemy.
After having made a slight progress on its way to the shortear, the scaled creature would marvel at the fight every now and then, and admire the display of abilities beyond its own. Comparing Eldrin to the other power wielder would be an insult to him, the blue colored spells he was conjuring held a form of beauty in their aesthetic form and efficiency, the ice dragons and the delicate spears used on the tail-wagger fascinated the curious dragon, they seemed to have a mind of their own as they were flying.
The stupid shortear, on the other hand, was just throwing balls and clumps of a fiery red power, without finesse or thought, a performance Little Flame was confident to exceed solely with the [Dark Flame Breath].
The concept of moving power throughout its limbs wasn’t foreign to the lurking lizard as it had already used its own dark smooth power and fiery red vitality to clad its talons, limbs and fangs, but the notion of expelling these energies to form them into attacks was new to the dragon and the fight definitely helped it understand this approach.
Driven by the wish to surpass the heinous shortear, the black and red dragon summoned the power Eldrin called aura and robed itself in a layer of night and darkness, enjoying the rush of speed and strength coursing its body. Blending in the shadows of the forest, Little Flame safely crossed the woods without being spotted by the enemy.
Arriving at the trees behind the fight, the veiled dragon decided to wait for a perfect chance to launch a sneak attack, which would put an end to the conflict with the foolish shorthairs who had dared attack Eldrin. Despite the obvious disadvantage he was at, the elf was handling the battle well so far, dodging most of the powers flung at him as well as the charges of the dog, who seemed far more powerful than the dragon, which was intimidating Little Flame somewhat. Nonetheless it had faith in the eventual victory of its friend when things changed. The already burning vitality around the burning monster suddenly started expanding, eclipsing Eldrin who had been even with him, and gaining strength every additional second of the combat.
Startled by this modification in the fight’s balance of powers, the concealed dragon crept in direction of the three shorthairs, ready to strike them and help its friend out.
Unexpectedly, the elf chuckled in the face of an opponent whose abilities were exceeding his own, and all parties, including Little Flame, who was still hidden among large patches of grass, seemed astounded.
After a short verbal exchange, the gem on top of Eldrin’s staff suddenly lit up in the dragon’s eyes, turning from a dull glow into a fiery beacon of light, shining brighter than any energy the little creature had seen so far. Colored streaks were gathering around the staff, snaking their way into the gem, and a grand magic formation revealed itself deep inside the mysterious item. With each strand of light, another portion of the design was ignited, rapidly completing the pattern.
The shorthairs had to retreat a bit because of the brightness, while the hound was scared and refused to charge at the elf in spite of the repeated orders to attack of the other power wielder. With the spell entirely built, a white radiance spread over the clearing, repelling all fireballs the shorthair threw at Eldrin and dispelling the power wrapped around Little Flame.
As it had been stripped of its crepuscular mantle, one of the shorthairs noticed the black and red scales and screamed at his companions.
“Behind us! The dragon is here!”
One of the longears faced Little Flame, while the other nervously kept an eye on the growing radiance around Eldrin. The power wielder shoved a fire lance at the dragon, who relied on its sturdy scales to shield itself from the weak mana. Using the remaining momentum of the sneak attack to pin them between itself and the bright light wall, Little Flame blew a [Black Flame Breath] against the party, drowning them in a sea of pure black flames eroding their protections, screams of agony escaping the hellfire. To make sure the enemy would die, the dragon dove right into the inferno, slashing and biting away at any limb coming in its range.
Unfortunately the raging scaled creature could not see Eldrin’s frightened expression. The [Radiant Fury of Light] that had been sealed in his staff would annihilate anything in its path with the might of a tier 9 spell, it was the last gift that his teacher had left him before dying, and the hellhound was currently standing in front of the scuffle between the dragon and the human mage’s party. Unable to execute the spell in their direction as it would potentially harm the faithful beast, he redirected the massive attack to the forest, obliterating enough trees to create a straight path cutting deep into the woods. His mana reserves exhausted from executing a spell well above his capacities, his magical defenses collapsed, the water rings vanishing, and the mad hellhound immediately pounced at him. Sharp fangs penetrated his shoulder, ripping out a chunk of flesh as sharp claws were drilling into his waist, ripping his lower body apart from the rest, making him scream in pain.
Little Flame only saw the end of this scene. The cry of agony from its dear friend filled its world. A second before, it had been satisfied to defeat an enemy it had despised, but compared to the burning hatred the dragon felt now, that previous loathing had been nothing but a firefly in front of the sun. Seeing the elf who had first offered shelter to an unknown beast then a home and human warmth to the dragon, bleeding on the ground, ignited a bottomless pit of rage and insanity in the fragile mind of the young creature.
Without any hesitation Little Flame rushed at the hellhound and threw it off Eldrin, using every weapon at its disposal to tear him apart.
Rip him in a thousand pieces.
Make him suffer.
Little Flame could only feel a burning feeling, even as the monster retaliated; the beast didn’t care and surrendered its whole being to the overwhelming frenzy, yearning for greater strength to make him pay for what he had done to Eldrin, disregarding the pain and wounds it got in return.
Something broke inside its mind and a new feeling arose, slowly changing the body to allow more of the pure energy to flow through its frail frame, enhancing its ability to destroy its archenemy. The dragon welcomed the change, drawing out even more from the last bits of energy it had stored away, accelerating the abnormal metamorphosis.
Bones were creaking and breaking, the whole structure of its anatomy was modified, yet the dragon sensed nothing but the blazing hot pressure.
After the end of the changes to its build, the inferno moved to Little Flame’s claws and scales. Rippling like water, the features that had been defining the majestic dragon slowly reformed, shaping themselves to fit its evolving body.
Finally, the raging heat invaded the innermost core of the furious beast, setting its soul and blood on fire, and the dog slowly stopped resisting, agonizingly dying.
Blood pouring out of his deathly wounds, Eldrin could barely see the small dragon mangle the skin of the large hellhound out of anger. A blackish gray hue of aura and mana was shrouding its scales and claws, obscuring his sight a little. The loud cries of wrath and the wails of pain from both animals combined into a single deafening noise, yet he himself only heard the infuriated sadness coming from the little dragon.
The hound was fighting back, and had clawed at the painful assailant in his flank over and over again, yet the black and red fury’s attacks continued regardless of the wounds it was incurring. With each passing second, the dark swirl of raw power was intensifying and even started glowing slightly.
With a painful cough the elf realized that the cloud of energy and force was slowly changing the beast’s form, contracting its length and expanding its height, allowing it to dig deeper and deeper in the side of the now whimpering canine, ripping out more and more of his flesh, muscles and innards.
Falling to the ground after a final clash, the hellhound’s last breath escaped his lips and he died, resentfully glaring at his opponent.
The potent energy swirling around Little Flame was dissipating as the former dragon was taking one shaky step after the other towards the remains of its companion, and the elf got a closer view of the injuries running through the torn powerless body making its way over.
Tears and gashes were spilling crimson blood, broken scales were falling from the different body and its left eye was nothing more than a gaping hole, while the other was spending a lifetime’s worth of tears over its friend’s fatal wounds.
Ignoring the pain Eldrin hauled his upper half in an upright position and smiled at the victor of the battle, even though he was surprised by its new form, a constant trickle of blood flowing from his lips.
“Is that you Little Flame ? You’ve done enough now.”
The short sentence was all he managed to say before collapsing back onto the ground. In front of his eyes appeared the deep blue sky, as his ability to see and the feelings left in his arms started to fade. Suddenly the unfamiliar new face of Little Flame blocked out his sight, and even more tears dropped from the remaining golden eye onto its face, the little dragon weeping even more desperately, small beads of water falling onto the dying elf’s face.
Seeing someone so desolate over his end gave him a tinge of regret, as well as a feeling of gratitude; the short time they spent together was the best time he had since his better half had passed away, and leaving now to meet her again wasn’t half bad, he only hated leaving Little Flame behind with this last sight of himself.
“Don’t cry! You’re a good girl.”
Then, with a last smile, his vision went black.