Nightmare had grown in the months past. The not-so-infantile-anymore dragon stood at half Forte’s height, and his regality had magnified with his size. Forte was surprised. At this rate, the dragon would outgrow him in a few months.
“Where have you been buddy?” Forte questioned.
Nightmare levitated in the air, disinterested. Forte climbed down from the tree and pet his old friend. Nightmare puffed out a billow of black smoke.
“Either way, I’m glad you’re here. I’m planning on going to the Bay of Mists, which is far south of here. And you’re not leaving me this time.” Forte demanded.
Nightmare nodded and purred. He nuzzled Forte on the cheek.
“Let’s go now. No reason to mess with the royal army here.” Forte said.
The duo departed from Sawen, and headed further south. The climate got warmer and more tropical as they proceeded. After a few weeks of unperturbed travel, they had reached the outskirts of the human domain. Forte stopped one last time at a miserable inn at an outskirt town. He would miss human interaction. They occasionally saw wild slogs roaming about, and the odd herd of kam, collectively prancing about while eating grass. Nightmare was big enough to hunt the kams, and the two of them teamed up on the slogs. They feasted on succulent slog meat and lean kam meat for days. Forte barely touched his rations.
“Ariz vasar.” Forte said, brow furrowed as he concentrated. He succeeded in levitating a small ball of water from a pond, but only for a mere second before the ball dissipated and crashed back down. Even that small incantation tired him immensely. Magic required both physical and mental strength. It was by no means easy. Forte could only imagine how difficult it must have been for Jorhan to cast combat magic onto him. He could still not figure out what kind of spell Fyrza was.
Ever since Forte and Nightmare ventured outside of human territory, they began sleeping in the tree tops to be cautious. And they were right to be cautious.
Forte had smothered his campfire, but the smell of roasted slog had attracted something big. A loud trumpeting roar reverberated through the plains, and a wingless wyvern emerged. Its gnarled head and emaciated body were typical of that of a wingless wyvern. Forte awoke from the sound and slowly drew his greatsword. The wyvern paced back and forth, eyeing the slog meat, before approaching. Forte jumped down.
“Infernus!” He shouted, casting the incantation at the campfire. The campfire roared into existence, and the wyvern shrieked in fear. Forte felt a sap to his stamina as he cast the spell. Nightmare circled above, ready to strike.
“Ariz infernus!” The campfire roared into the skies, unnaturally large. The wingless wyvern turned tail and ran away with another shriek. It was just as the old legends said—beasts were afraid of fire. Forte smirked. He was getting stronger. Phiillip Lockheed had tested Forte’s affinities with the elements, and discovered that Forte had a great affinity for fire, some affinity for wind, and little affinity for water and earth. They could not test affinity for gravity, because gravity spells were lethal in their stamina sap.
Forte and Nightmare had a good night’s sleep after the incident with the wingless wyvern. All was quiet on the southern plains. The next morning, the duo awoke and feasted on kam meat and salted vegetables. That was when they noticed a familiar sight, the sight of a merchant caravan, travelling with two guards. The guards were armed with leather armor and steel helmets. One was an archer, the other was an axeman. The archer was there to deter raptors or other beasts from a distance, and the axeman was for the heavy fighting if things went south. It was a small but effective crew for travelling the barren wilderness. Forte weighed the risks and rewards, and decided that it was time to strike, just as he and Nightmare had done so frequently in the past.
He strategized with Nightmare, which was mostly just Forte talking and Nightmare nodding in assent or shaking his head in dissent. The two agreed upon an evening approach where Nightmare would attack from the sky while cloaked by darkness, and Forte would join in once the guards were distracted. They would attack the archer first, and then the axeman. By attacking the archer first, they could hit and run without taking injury. Once they killed both guards, the merchant could not run far without being killed by beasts. It was a solid plan. But first they would have to wait until it was dark.
Night fell shortly. The merchant caravan had set up camp and a campfire for the night, and were eating dinner. Forte signaled to set the plan in motion. Nightmare circled the skies, and then swooped in and clawed the archer. His steel helmet stopped the brunt of the blow, and the two guards quickly scrambled for their weapons. The merchant drew out a dagger. Forte charged in with a battle cry, swinging at the archer and connecting. Gravitite hit leather, and the archer fell in a few blows. The axeman had retrieved his weapon, but Nightmare swooped in and breathed black fire over the axeman’s shield and face. As he grappled with the fire, he dropped his axe. Forte took the opportunity to smash in the axeman’s face with his gravitite greatsword. The axeman dropped dead. The hooded merchant lunged forward with his dagger, but Nightmare swooped in and parried the blow for Forte. Nightmare clawed and breathed fire at the merchant, and made quick work of him.
Forte checked the spoils of their victory. 786 silvers were in a small chest in the back. Some assorted foods and drinks were in the back, enough for a short but extravagant journey with spiced ales and delicious pastries. Nightmare dug his teeth into a cherry tart pastry, puffing out a satisfied wisp of smoke. The cargo consisted of what looked like various ores of iron and steel, a bit of mithril ore, and a real prize. A small nugget of orichalcum. Forte’s eyes lit up with greed. Orichalcum was one of the most prized metals in Varia. It was god’s metal, and could create some of the deadliest swords, or the sturdiest pieces of armor. An orichalcum blade could cut through iron as if it were hard leather. They had struck gold. Even a small nugget like this could fetch around six thousand silvers if sold to the right buyer.
Forte scratched his head. He wondered how the merchant got a hold of a nugget of orichalcum. It could possibly have been mined around here. An orichalcum vein would be a veritable gold mine. Forte and Nightmare commandeered the caravan, and adjusted it to fit their needs. It was a standard two horse caravan, with a cart and a wagon in the back. They travelled unperturbed for two weeks or so.
One morning, Forte heard a familiar scratching sound. He immediately drew his sword, as an agitated Nightmare peeked his head outside the caravan. There were seven raptors eyeing the horses. Nightmare managed to calm the horses with some sort of telepathic bond, and Forte readied himself for fire magic. He grabbed an arrow from the quiver of the dead archer, and muttered a word.
The arrow lit into a bright orange flame. Forte waved it in front of him. The raptors hissed and backed up cautiously. Forte grabbed a bow, notched the arrow, then fired it at a raptor. He missed, but quickly notched his bow and lit another arrow on fire with magic. Nightmare flew in circles above, and then swooped in to nip the raptors every so often. He clawed one raptor’s eyes so badly that it squawked in pain. Forte continued to launch fire tipped arrows at the raptors, hitting a few of them. The raptors eventually retreated, clearly deterred.
A month passed. Slogs and kams were no longer as plentiful, and Forte and Nightmare had to rely on their rations instead of hunted game. They ate small game such as rabbits and the occasional boar, anything Nightmare or Forte could hunt successfully.
After travelling for another week, the landscape had changed. The arid plains gave way to lush forestry and grassy savannahs, with lakes and rivers. The wildlife included small game such as hares and boars and the occasional bear. After another week, Forte began to notice something strange. There were grass huts in the plains, crudely built by what seemed like humans. But humans had never ventured this far away from their territory. This was something else. Forte decided to investigate. He and Nightmare crept up to a hut, and tried to examine its inhabitants. One of the draped entrances of the huts opened.
A brutish creature with two short horns and a stout jaw walked out and stared at them. The creature was seven feet tall and six feet wide, and was covered in inhuman muscularity. The color of its skin was a disgusting hue of greenish yellow, and it smelled of rancid meat. It had what looked like animal fat wiped over its face as a deterrant against the sun. It looked it was dragged straight out of the legends and placed in reality. Nightmare hissed.
It was an orc. A male orc. A big one.