A light drizzle coated the arid western plains. Three days had passed since Forte ambushed the Merchant’s Guild caravan headed towards Adith. Dark storm clouds gathered above the western forested wilderness, looming ever closer to the dry western plains that marked the edge of human territory of the Rottheim Kingdom.
Forte and his dragon were making steady progress by foot eastwards towards the center of the Kingdom. Despite their efforts, the storm was slowly overtaking them. He decided to make a stop at Adith to pick up some supplies before venturing onwards.
Nightmare, the infant black dragon, was now a foot and a half tall. Its once leathery skin was now growing rigid black armored plates. Despite its size, it was a natural hunter, easily taking down small prey with its tiny but vicious bite.
Due to the rain and wind, Forte couldn’t get a regular fire going to cook the wild boars, kams, and rabbits the duo caught. He relied on Nightmare’s black flames, flames that flickered on despite the increasingly turbulent winds and rain. While a normal expedition force would have to rely on preserved meats and foods given the adverse weather conditions, the duo could enjoy freshly cooked meat.
Forte observed ominous signs that raptors had extended their territory in response to the great approaching storm. The cunning reptiles started to poke out of their domain, which was previously limited by the forest and wilderness, venturing into the now damp western flatlands.
Nightmare swooped down to Forte and nudged his cheek. The foot and a half long dragon had learned how to flap its wings! It could fly for extended periods of time without the aid of magic now. A heavy gust blew the dragon into the sky. Nightmare swooped down again and began nudging Forte more frantically, and pointing at something in the distance.
The boy had sharp eyesight, and immediately spotted what his dragon had seen. A squad of game hunters were tracking a herd of slog in the distance. Forte squinted his eyes as he concentrated on the distant figures.
The sky darkened. Rainfall steadily increased, limiting the boy’s vision. A swirling gust of wind swept rain across the plains, flattening grass as it brushed by.
Thunder in the distance. The rain turned into a downpour. Water trickled down Forte’s face. The boy draped his coat over his head—a torrent of rain pounded down on the coat as he crept forwards. Nightmare ducked in under the coat.
The stampeding gargantuan slogs were having trouble keeping their footing as they dashed about in the tumultuous weather. An entourage of well armored game hunters chased after the slogs. Forte stooped lower and blended in with the tall grass, as he approached the hunters.
“Get the buck! The spotted one!” shouted a man, drenched by the rain, dressed in chain mail and a soaking wet cloak with the sigil of the Hunter’s Guild. A heavy axe laid flat on his back.
Two men in leather armor charged forwards and slashed down with their swords at a hefty slog. Steel met the tough flesh of the slog’s flank.
“Urrrrrrrrrhhh” the slog groaned in pain, as it attempted to run off but slipped on the wet ground.
Deafening thunder shook the sky above. More men surrounded the slog, slashing at the giant fat beast with their swords. The slog began staggering from its wounds as it groaned. After a few more cuts, the slog toppled over and fell to the ground with a resounding thud.
“Bring ‘im in!” the man in chainmail shouted, brandishing his axe. He walked over to the rest of them men, who were chatting loudly with excitement as they worked on the slog.
“He’s a big ‘un!”
“Fine slog if I’ve ever seen one eh?”
“Ha. Drinks on me tonight in Adith!”
“Drinks? Ha! I’ll hold you to your word for a bottle of brandy.”
The men hoisted up the massive slog and marched over to their caravan. With effort, the hunters heaved the slog into the caravan and boarded. They were leaving.
Forte decided to tail the slow moving caravan, weighed down by its precious cargo, since they were headed in the same direction anyway—the town of Adith. They would reach the town in roughly three hours, and it would save him some map work. Nightmare padded along, staying dry underneath the coat.
There was a fast moving caravan approaching, from behind. Forte crouched lower and waited. An unmarked caravan—that was definitely something he hadn’t seen before. Strange, he thought. After a few minutes, the caravan passed by Forte. He reasoned that it was also headed for Adith, albeit in a rush.
Forte ran forwards, eager to catch back up with the game hunter caravan. He didn’t wish to consult his maps in such terrible weather.
As they proceeded, Nightmare’s ears perked up. The distant din of clashing swords could be heard from ahead. Forte rushed closer to assess the situation.
It looked as if the unmarked caravan from earlier had collided with the game hunter’s caravan, which had been tipped over onto its side. A contingent of ten men armed with swords, decorated shields, and heavy armor was fighting with the ragtag group of six game hunters Forte had observed from before.
The fighting was fierce. The axe wielding leader of the game hunters swung with tremendous force and broke through the shield of a man from the unmarked caravan. His second blow glanced off the man’s heavy armor, leaving a bloody dent.
After a few minutes of clashing, it was clear that the game hunter caravan was outmatched and outclassed. The six men were strong and capable of holding their own, but they were outnumbered ten-to-six and ill equipped to fight other humans. Their leather armor fared poorly against the swords, shields and heavy armor of the ten men from the unmarked caravan.
Realization dawned on Forte’s face. The armor the men from the unmarked caravan wore was expensive and rare in the Rottheim Kingdom. They were no doubt mercenaries or affiliates of the powerful Grauschild & Sons Merchant Bank… meaning this ambush must be the ‘little accident’ mentioned in the letter—interception and slaughter of slog suppliers. Forte hardly suspected the Grauschilds to move so quickly and decisively target slog game hunters, who were all experienced fighters.
Unrelenting rainfall and wind accompanied the thunderous weather.
With a flash of a sword, a man struck aside the axe of the leader of the game hunter caravan, and thrust forwards—slightly piercing the leader’s chainmail. As the leader gasped for air, the man raised his sword again and swung down, this time digging deep into the leader’s shoulder. He reeled from the damage, and toppled to the ground.
Nightmare floated a few feet in the air, levitating carefully under the shelter of Forte’s coat, and watched the carnage with keen eyes. The dragon appeared amused.
The desperate game hunter crew hacked and slashed at their well armored enemies, and blow after blow glanced off the armor. Some heavy blows managed to land, damaging through the decorative plate armor as two men from the unmasked caravan crumpled to the ground from the force of the blows, lifeless.
Forte watched as the game hunters were overwhelmed and struck down one by one. At the end of the fighting, all six men of the game hunter caravan were killed. The unmarked caravan suffered three casualties.
The boy and his dragon continued to creep forward under the cover of his coat.
“Good job lads.”
“Let’s burn this thing!” one of the armored man shouted, pointing at the game hunter caravan.
The men tried to set the caravan ablaze, but the heavy wind and rain stifled the smoldering flames.
Suddenly, a trumpeting roar resonated throughout the fields. A wyvern was charging down the fields from behind, tilting its gnarled head. With every step, the ground shook. Forte immediately ditched his crouched position and began sprinting.
All of the armored men immediately ditched trying to set fire to the caravan and drew their swords, as the wyvern charged directly at them. It stopped a few feet away from the men, and roared, baring its ugly teeth.
All hell had broken loose in the sky, and rain came hammering down like never before. Flashes of lightning lit up the sky as bellowing thunder reverberated through the atmosphere.
The seven plate armored men shouted and raised their swords and shields, rushing at the wyvern. They swung at the wyvern as it bit down and tore off one of the men’s arms, knocking back another man in the process. The men regrouped and retreated momentarily, as the wyvern raised its head and let loose a chilling roar.
Forte picked up his pace, running past the battle without being noticed by either party as Nightmare glided haphazardly alongside him. He dared not look back, and continued running until the noises of sword clings and roars behind him became inaudible.
He continued running for what seemed like hours, stopping only to catch his breath, until the town of Adith came into sight. It seemed like he had finally outrun the storm. The weather was clear, and the ground was dry.
Forte breathed a sigh of relief as he neared the town. He should be safe here, since monsters rarely got as far as the mid-ranged checkpoint towns such as Adith. Any stray monsters were dealt with by Adith’s modest patrol of guards.
The guards signaled at him.
“Halt! Have you any goods for sale to declare? The town of Adith takes a 10% tax on any sales made by nonresidents of Adith within this city, and there will be an additional surcharge if you require the services of the Merchant’s Guild.”
“Cut him a break, will you? He’s just a boy. You can come through. Just don’t cause any trouble alright? ” a second guard stated as he winked at Forte.
The first guard grumbled and let him through.
“Thank you, sirs!” Forte chimed as he walked by, with Nightmare perched on his shoulder, cooing.
“Wait a moment! What is that animal you have with you? If it is dangerous you will need to check it in with Adith’s Beast control. If it causes trouble and it’s not registered, then you’re liable. And frankly, I haven’t seen any beast like that before,” the first guard said.
“Oh, this is Nightmare. I’m not sure what kinda animal he is, but my uncle got him for me for my birthday. He’s really really sweet, and let me tell you a secret,” Forte happily said as he leaned in a little and lowered his voice, “actually, I think he’s a black dragon!”
The first guard sneered, “Black dragon, eh? What an imagination. Kids these days…”
“Alright, alright. I think I’ve seen one of those… it’s called a Zera or sumthin. Cute little things those are. Now let the boy through…” the second guard yawned.
Nightmare softly chuckled and puffed out some smoke as Forte passed the guards and walked into town.
Adith was a mid sized town—it couldn’t hold a candle to the massive cities near the center of Rottheim Kingdom, but it was much larger than the typical outskirt town.
Forte walked down the paved streets and marveled at all the different kinds of shops lining the streets. There were various armories, restaurants, magic shops, inns, banks, guilds, potion shops, sex shops, and small stores of any kind. In the middle of the town was a slave market which was open twice a week.
The boy would do some shopping before he lodged at an inn for the night. It had been far too long since he slept with a real roof over his head.
He walked into an armory. Various types of weapons and armor were on display in the tidy shop. The shopkeeper was chatting with a man by the counter. The man was showing the shopkeeper his ruby encrusted sword, as the shopkeeper traced the blade and took measurements. Nightmare, still perched on Forte’s right shoulder, let out a low growl and bared his teeth.
Forte froze. He recognized that sword, and he recognized the man at the counter, who was absorbed in idle chat with the shopkeeper. It was the leader of the slavers he had encountered all the way in the outskirts of the western plains. The leader who got away as his men were eaten by raptors.
The boy hastily turned around and left the shop. He would have to be careful in this town. The lead slaver he just avoided worked for Count Florien, and the western plains were Count Florien’s home territory. That sickening noble with a penchant for boy slaves. Forte resolved that if he ever encountered the man, he'd torture the man to death. Maybe let Nightmare loose on him. He smiled.
A strange little magic shop caught Forte’s eye. The boy walked in, and was immediately bombarded by a strong smell of tea. Various potions and oddities lined the walls. The shopkeeper was a wrinkled old man with spectacles, grooming his cat.
“Welcome! Welcome. Oh dear I haven’t had a visitor in quite a while,” the old mage muttered, without looking up from his cat, “Why don’t you let me read your palm, son? I can tell if you will become a famous adventurer, or a knight, or a lord, or maybe even a hunter! Who knows, you might even marry the princess some day. Ha!”
“Thank you sir, but I’m just having a look around,” Forte replied. Nightmare cooed.
The bespectacled man looked up.
“Oh! My word… a dragon!”
Nightmare puffed out his chest and let loose a wisp of black smoke from his mouth.
“No sir, it’s a Zera. I got it for my birthday from my u—“
The elderly shopkeeper peered at Forte as he interrupted, “And a BLACK dragon, no less! Come here boy, I have something for you. Come, come!”
The shopkeeper grabbed Forte’s arm and lead him deeper into the tiny shop, dodging under baubles and charms. Forte was about to draw his sword and kill the old man, but Nightmare continued to coo and snooze on his shoulder. Forte relaxed a little. The boy trusted his dragon’s judgment of the shopkeeper’s character.
In a hushed tone, the shopkeeper chided, “You can’t be too careful around here. There’s bandits everywhere! Why, just yesterday the scheduled Merchant’s Guild caravan didn’t arrive. Didn’t arrive! Those bastards are never late lest it deprive them of a profit.”
“Mister—” Forte started.
Still rambling, the eccentric shopkeeper continued, “The Guild just sent out a convoy to investigate. Those slavers, those… those half witted idiots, wouldn’t dare attack a merchant caravan. I tell you, it’s the work of bandits! Or assassins! Or… maybe even the Grauschild family. They’ve been moving around these days, I tell you. So has the Order of Assassins. Even that old fart Count Florien is getting restless! By the gods, you best be careful these days, boy. You don’t know who you can trust!”
Forte grimaced. Bandit. He and Nightmare were the bandits that raided the merchant caravan. At least they didn’t cross paths with the merchant’s armed convoy on the way to Adith… they wouldn’t have lived.
The shopkeeper rummaged through a messy pile of assorted parchments, items, bottles, and other miscellaneous items. Finally, he found what he was looking for. It was a iridescent grey sword, with faded runic letters carved into the guard, and a large white sphere embedded in the pommel.
“Ah. Here,” the old man exclaimed, twirling the iridescent grey sword with one hand.
Nightmare belched a plume of black flames into the air.
“You won’t be needing that any longer!”, the old man shouted, as the he grabbed the grip of Forte’s iron longsword, drew it out of its scabbard, and tossed it away with force in one smooth motion. Forte was startled as the sword pierced the wooden floor from the force of the old shopkeeper’s throw.
“This sword,” the old man lowered his voice as he whispered, “this sword is made from ancient gravitite ore. Old dwarven make. It’s a beauty, and it’s one of a kind… it doesn’t bend, it doesn’t burn, and most importantly, it doesn’t chip no matter what you do to it.”
He handed the iridescent grey sword to Forte. Forte staggered; the sword was much heavier than he expected! And the edges were rounded instead of sharp. The boy realized that this sword was more meant for pummeling foes with great force, than any kind of graceful swordsmanship.
“This is so heavy!” Forte cried, exasperated.
“Ah, but you see why this sword is so great? It can withstand any force! Any blow! This is a sword made for titans! For giants amongst men. Only the strongest can truly appreciate its grace. I only bestow it to you because you were chosen as master by a dragon—a black dragon, no less! Do you even know how few dragons are left in this world? Some people think that they’re extinct! And to think I would see another one in my lifetime… Tell me boy, what is your dragon’s name?”
“His name is Nightmare,” Forte hissed. The dragon raised its head proudly and stared at the old shopkeeper. It blew out a steady trickle of black flames.
“HA! What a name. And so be it. Nightmare. I will remember that name,” the old man mumbled with a darkened voice. A solemn expression hung on his face.
“The dragon chooses its master…” the old man mumbled.
Forte’s mind was racing. Gravitite ore was a stuff of myths and legends, and existed only a long, long time ago. He blurted out, “Where did you get this sword? How is that possible, gravitite ore has been gone for more than a thousand years!”
The shopkeeper’s eyes flashed bright as he spoke merrily, “because, I, my dear boy, am not just any shopkeeper. Always remember, boy, appearances are deceiving. Always remember!”
“How much is the sword? I know it’s not much, but I have some silver, and if—“ Forte stammered as he looked down at the priceless iridescent grey sword.
“Enough! The sword is yours. You have much potential. Much potential. For both magic and sword. Take the sword! Take it, and do great things. All I ask for you is to return here one day. I will introduce you to the Academy. I will teach you the ways of magic and might. I will make you GREAT,” the shopkeeper said.
With those words, the shopkeeper lead Forte to the entrance of his store, and pushed the boy out the door.
“Good luck to you, if that is you believe in Lady Luck, which I certainly hope you do not because the greatest folly of all is blind faith, but oh... Boy, you have much potential, so as when we may we meet again, may we meet again, when we meet again, I will introduce you to the Academy! The Academy, that’s right! And you will be my student. And may you weather this Great Storm!” the bespectacled old man shouted.
Forte was sitting on the ground, dazed at the shopkeeper’s longwinded rambling. Clutched in his hands was a priceless ancient sword, perched on his shoulders was a black dragon that should be extinct… and all he could think about was how tired he was.
“Nightmare…” the old shopkeeper mumbled, before slamming the front door shut.
Forte picked himself up and walked down the street. The boy looked up. The sky had darkened. It was nearing night time. Oil lamps lit up the streets. He eventually found a cheap inn, and paid the seventeen silver fee for one night. The boy had amassed nearly two thousand silvers from his raids on slavers and merchants.
The room was small but tidy. There was no bed, only a futon on the floor. Forte crept into the futon and closed his eyes, weary. Nightmare snuggled under the covers and sank down. They would shower tomorrow. Tonight, he would sleep. And so he slept, dreaming of monsters and men, of dragons and magic.
The loud alarm bells of the town woke him up. Nightmare also awoke from his slumber, and peeked around lazily.
Thunder in the distance. Rain began falling. A woman shrieked on the streets. Forte rubbed his eyes and walked to his window. The rain had intensified, and pounded away at the window. He couldn’t see anything outside through the pouring rain.
The noise came from the streets.
The sound of raptors in Adith.