Yes, you're not seeing things – I've finally managed to complete this chapter. Better late then never, but I just couldn't bare the thought of not finishing "Ballad of the Full Moon" before the year ends... this would've been up sooner, if not for the fact that I was trying to figure out what title page to put in for the past, two months... kidding ;P My schedule has been extremely busy and I barely had time to write.
Hopefully, with the coming of 2013, I'll get more free time so, dependable on the response this chapter gets, I'll either try to update more frequently or even slower ;P So it's totally up to you guys ;) I can only say that the upcoming arc is my personal favorite out of those you already read, so it should turn out quite entertaining.
With that said, lets not waste more space:
Chapter #30: Lonely Howl
Title Page: Deedlith is sitting on a bench, while behind her a small dragon is laying down, licking a piece of meat the elf girl is giving it
"Shit, I seriously can't move" Ren thought to himself as he watched the ceiling crumble, laying flat on his back. "Kara would really get a kick out of my recklessness" he forced a smirk as a pebble bounced off his forehead. The rumbling echoed through the tunnels as the rocks came crushing down from above, shattering upon contact with the ground. "This is my end..." he concluded, closing his eyes.
"What the hell did you idiots do?" a new voice suddenly rang through the noise, making the blond shift his head towards the eastern entrance, with no small effort. To his surprise, he noticed Haft standing in among the falling stones, even holding a sword that looked suspiciously similar to Ajoz's in his grip. "Don't tell me you pinheads actually broke the central wall!" he growl as he rushed towards the dragonchild, placing his weapon to the back.
"Yeah, sorry bout that" the young mercenary gave an apologizing smile, making the dwarf sweat drop.
"Dumbass" the miner scolded as he picked the fire master up, throwing him over the shoulder. His gaze then traveled to Fangrin, who was laying on the opposite end of the cavern, the sight instantly widening his eyes as they caught a glimpse of the shining, emerald surface, uncovered by the shattered rock.
It's there his father's words echoed in his mind again as he stared blankly at the massive crystal. I know I'm right! I can bet anything on that! The voice added as the dwarf let out a frown, slowly marching towards the finding. He stopped just beside the fallen form of the werewolf, a feeling of great loss taking over:
"After all those years, I finally found it, father" the thought to himself, mesmerized by the green glow. Then a small pebble that dropped onto his head quickly brought him back to reality. "I found it... just to let it slip through my grasp" he let out a sigh as his gaze lowered, settling on a tiny piece of the emerald, laying on the ground. With slight hesitation, the miner snatched it and picked up Fangrin, heading straight towards the tunnel, which would get them out to the open...
-Few days later, local tavern-
Zarko wiped the glass – an activity that, over the years, has became as natural as breathing to him. True, the sun has yet to rise and thus there was still time before the usual customers would arrive, but he found it somewhat suing to prepare everything in advance. It did prepare you for hardships ahead. But it's that very knowledge that made him confused as he heard the doors to his tavern open at this hour.
Curiously he glanced up, noticing Haft slowly walking forward between empty tables, straight to the place the bartender stood. The scar-faced man raised his eyebrow as the dwarf settled before the counter, resting his arms on it. Ever since that fated day Gorn died, the young miner haven's appeared in the bar once. This was... well, unusual would probably be an understatement.
"What can I get you?" Zarko asked with a straight face, deciding to not show any of his bewilderment to the guest.
"Something strong" Haft replied in a somewhat harsh manner. "I don't care what" he added.
Without a word the bartender spun on his foot and grabbed a flask with dark-yellow liquid that stood on the side. Placing a glass he just cleaned before the dwarf, he poured the substance into it, only now speaking, yet still avoided eye-contact: "It's very rare for you to show up here. You sure you should be moving around this soon? I heard that berserker boy and the elf are still in bed..."
"You got worse then me and yet you're up an about" the miner noted simply, taking a sip of his drink.
"Point taken" the former adventure hunter nodded at the statement, corking the bottle. The two remained in silence for a few, more minutes with Haft concentrating on the liquid and Zarko returning to his daily chores. Every now and then the man would glance at the youth, noting a pathetic look on the latter's face; one he did not see in many years: "Could it be that with your mine closed, you have nothing to do with yourself throughout the day?"
"Well, you shouldn't flatter yourself" the dwarf barked at the comment. "Even if that was the case, I wouldn't be wasting my time on this place" he assured him, his expression fallen quickly. The miner took in a deep breath as he settled his eyes on the former adventure hunter, now speaking in the most unusual, almost submissive, tone: "I have something to finish... it's many years too late, but..." he began, yet found that he couldn't finish. In stead he reached to his pocket and placed the small, green shard on the counter.
Zarko glanced at the gem confused and then back at Haft, who kept his head lowered.
"What's this?" he finally asked the dwarf, resuming his activities.
"It's... compensation" the miner responded after a brief silence, confusing the bartender even further. Realizing the elder have not replied, he rose his gaze, the expression growing firm, like it should be: "It's... it's from my father actually. Something that was delayed for far too many years..."
"What the hell are you talking about?" the scar-faced man questioned, still completely clueless.
"You might say that's the reason why my father kept coming back to that mine" Haft explained slowly, staring at the emerald stone. "Why I continued the circle as well, despite my mother's pleas... I learned of it only after my dad died, through his last will. He and I never talked much, so I can't be certain of the details, but from the letter, as I understand, this is his way of saying 'thanks for your patience'..."
At those words realization struck the former adventure hunter like lighting as he recalled the words Gorn spoke on the very day the two, along with Kivan and Lisana, first arrived to this town. His mouth twisted in dismal, even as the dwarf continued: "According to the will, my father wanted you to have the first piece of the treasure found in that damn mine. He wrote it was to compensate for your sacrifice. He explained that by staying in this town, you gave up the most, while gaining little. This was supposed to make up for that. I don't fully understand the value of those words, so I can't be sure this, tiny piece is enough, but rest assured that, once I get the mine running again, there'll be more... I'll dig out the whole, blasted crystal, now that I know where it is! And you'll get your, fair share, mister Zarko!"
"I don't want it" the bartender responded instantly, making the miner freeze in his tracks. Giving the man a shocked looked, he realized the former adventure hunter has already turned his back towards him, never stopping to clean the glass: "And now I can be sure that Gorn was a fool from the start! That stinking asswipe... for something so meaningless..."
"Watch what you're saying, Zarko" Haft warned the man, his eyes narrowing at the insult. "I won't allow anyone to badmouth my father's decisions. Not even you!"
"It's not badmouthing if you speak the truth, is it?" the bartender asked, glancing at the youth again. "First and foremost I cannot forgive Gorn for acting like he did for something this trivial! Don't you understand what this is about? Your father believed that all members of the Ironfist... your parents... Jazon's, Mirka's... all of them have build a life here... all besides me... that I had nothing to stay here for... that's a load of bull... ever since the beginning, I had them... and then, you guys..." he proclaimed, allowing a smile to appear on his face.
This took the dwarf completely off-guard, to the point he nearly fallen from the chair. Giving him a few moments for the statement to sink in, Zarko furthered his explanation: "Did you ever wondered why I became an adventure hunter? Or why I gave it up?" he asked rhetorically, putting the clean glass on the shelve, just before grabbing another. "Part of it was thrill" he admitted, gazing at the ceiling. "But there was an even greater reason... it was them. Only by arriving here, have I truly understood that..."
"Well, they're gone now" Haft responded sadly, glancing to the side as painful memories flooded in. But, surprising him again, the bartender disagreed: "No, they're not... they will within you guys" he announced, pointing at the miner's chest.
"You may not see it, but you resemble them in more ways then you could ever imagine" he went on, smiling warmly towards the youth. "You have Gorn's stubbornness... Jazon inherited Kivan's sense of duty... and Mirka is just a spitting image of her mother" he noted with a chuckle at the vision of the girl. Nostalgia swept over him for the briefest of moments, but the former adventure hunter managed to push it back as he settled his attention back on the dwarf: "Whenever I see either of you, if feels like they're still alive... when we formed Ironfist, I was just a stupid brat, who knew nothing of the world... and yet, they took me in and protected, despite I was certainly more trouble then I was worth... that is why, now, I want to return the favor" he proclaimed, pushing the gem back towards the lycanthrop: "I heard it all from Jazon. As I understand, this thing will help you control that werewolf-state or whatever you wish to call it. To that end, if you want to compensate for my trouble... you will use it for yourself."
Haft's mouth opened, yet no words escaped his throat. He remained stiff for a few seconds and then grabbed the emerald as he spun around and headed towards the door. As he was about to exit though, he stopped and looked over the shoulder, his words quietly echoing through the empty tavern: "There's one thing I didn't mentioned about my father's last will" he informed, yet Zarko didn't reply, waiting patiently for his next words. After a short break, the dwarf finished, also allowing a smirk to appear on his face: "At the very end, he wrote you'll never accept the prize" he concluded, walking out.
-That time, elsewhere-
Ren released a powerful flame from his functioning hand, making the fire climb to the ceiling, stopping only inches away from it. As the scorching light filled the room, Sadun cracked his fingers and flipping them a few times, he brought them together, forming a shape that cast a huge shadow on the wall: "Bunny!"
In a flash Kara smacked them both on the heads hard, making lumps grow in a matter of seconds: "Act like serious patients, dammit!" she snapped as the duo rubbed their aching spots. "Do you idiots even realize both of you were this close from dying by wasting too much energy?"
"Oh, chill out already" the blond waved her off lazily. "We're alive, so it's fine..."
"It's not fine, hothead!" the Rashma priestess shoot back annoyed. "You're in this predicament, because you two can't control yourselves! You should learn from Deedlith and Ajoz, who are actually taking their recovery seriously!" she announced, pointing to the other corner of the infirmary, when the mentioned two sat. To her dismal though, the 'model patients' were engaged in an activity labeled unsuitable, as the elf summoned a tiny orb of fire, to allow the berserker a show of skill: "Duck!"
"I am so NOT healing any of you again!" the necromancer proclaimed, steaming for the ears, but a sudden realization smacked her right in the face as she glanced around the room, noticing the absence of her final patient: "Where's that dwarf guy? This... Haft person?"
"He left this morning" Deedlith responded, shifting her attention to the other girl.
"What the...?" Kara was on the verge of snapping... again. "Sure, why listen to the medics, dammit! Next time someone breaks an arm, we can just cut it off! That'd be less problematic!" she yelled, making Ren instinctually press his left arm, tied with a triangular sling, against his chest. The Rashma priestess threw him a death glare, asking in an accusing tone: "Why didn't you stop him?"
"He said there was something he had to do" the dragonchild replied with slight guilt, while Ajoz looked out the window, into the clear, blue skies: "I suppose we all have things we need to face at some point..."
Meanwhile Haft walked through the streets, holding the gem in his hand. The dwarf kept staring at the stone, his mind drifting from one place to another; he didn't expect a different outcome, but that still left him with a question he feared to answer. Ironically, he knew the answer, but taking that, particular step was beyond his capabilities. Or so he believed...
"A piece of gold for your thoughts" he heard a familiar voice coming from above and ripped out of his dilemma, he gazed to the roof, where Jazon sat on the edge, smiling towards his childhood companion.
"Nothing in particular" the miner assured him as the town's guard jumped down. "Just... contemplating..."
"Yeah, I bet you are" the half-elf teased with a smirk, elbowing the dwarf in the rib lightly. Seeing no reaction to the maneuver, the dragonchild's expression grew serious as he spoke again: "Ever since I knew you, you were never the one to hesitate. Did recent events changed you this much?"
"Not at all" Haft responded calmly, gazing up to face his friend. "But, at some point, you gotta consider your options" he added, quickly looking away. It annoyed the hell out of him to realize he could be so easily cracked by a boy, he once found so childish.
"I'd say they're pretty clear" Jazon proclaimed with a shrug. "The real question is – what do you wanna do?" to that, the miner looked at the gem again, letting out a sigh. Annoying indeed...
-The next day-
"So, you guys are all set to go?" Zarko asked as he, Jazon and Mirka stood at the exit to the town, ready to bid their, new friends farewell. Kara nodded to the question: "Yeah... we gotta make haste, if we wanna get to Sinabar in time for the Festival of Three Moons... actually, going in normal speed, we should easily reach our destination, but knowing those idiots, we'll get in trouble at least three more times before we get to the coast" she announced, pointing at Sadun and Ren.
"Funny you should say that, since it was mostly you that involved us in the whole mess in Greenburn" the orc noted, sweat dropping. The young mercenary quickly aided the blademaster: "Yeah, and weren't you the one who insisted we help out here as well?"
"Hey, in both cases Deelith's just as guilty as I am" the Rashma priestess defended herself, pointing at the elf.
"True, but she's cute, so she can get away with it" the flame master teased, making the necromancer's eye twitch, while the blonde sorceress gave out an apologizing smile. Feeling the tension, the pointy-eared princess was fast to change the subject, turning towards the bartender: "Thank you for supplies, mister Zarko" she bowed slightly, showing her gratitude.
"Think nothing of it" the former adventure hunter waved his hand at the motion. "It's the least we can do to repay you brats" he assured her as Mirka energetically bid them farewell: "Have a safe journey Kara-sis... Deedlith-sis... Ren-bro... Ajoz-bro... scary orc-bro" she finished, making Sadun's face smack the ground at the mention.
"I'm somewhat disappointed" Ren announced, looking around. "I was sure pipsqueak will come set us off too..."
"There's not point in doing that" they all heard a harsh voice coming from behind. As they turned, they saw Haft standing in the middle of the road with a backpack and an axe tied to his back, while a thin rope was wrapped around his neck, holding an all too-familiar, green shard. "Since I'm coming with you anyway..."
"Huh?" the blond mercenary's eyes widen, while his jaw dropped at the statement. "Now hold on a minute – I like the guy alright, but this is pushing it!"
"You say you don't approve?" Ajoz asked curiously, rising an eyebrow. To that the dragonchild looked to the side. For most part, the dwarf ignored the scene and walked closer to the wounded warrior, sending him a stern look: "Think what you will, but there's really nothing you can do about it; I've already decided. If you decline, I'll just keep following you around, which might end badly, should I turn into the wolf again... keep in mind last time that happened, I kicked all your butts" he reminded him with an annoying smirk.
"Preciously" Ren nodded at the memory. "So why do you wanna bother with us?"
At this the miner hesitated for a moment and then diverted his attention to the emerald around his neck: "This gem is supposed to help me control my zoanthropy... but I really have no guarantee that it works. Besides, it's not a cure – just a counter measure. I'm positive the cure is out there, in the world, but not knowing were, I'll be traveling aimlessly trying to find it... so I might as well travel with people I know. Also, this guy" at this he pointed at the berserker, his expression serious: "Shown that he can make me take control even without the shard. In a way, he'll be my insurance I won't hurt anybody on my journey. And with your hand like this" now he gazed at Ren's left arm, that was still in bandages. "You could use some, extra power in case of trouble, which you seem to be prone for..."
"This actually does make a lot of sense" Kara stated with a shrug. "Why are you so down on the idea anyway?" she inquired the blond, to which Sadun chuckled: "Well, what do you expect; this guy ain't a sexy elfish girl" he teased, making the dragonchild's face turn red, but be it from embarrassment or anger, the orc couldn't tell.
"You are so dead!" the young mercenary snapped, chasing the blademaster in fury... so anger it was...
Meanwhile, none actually noticed Deedlith herself had her head lowered, face as red as a beetroot as she stared at her feet. Observing the two warriors running around in circles around the gathering, Haft sweat dropped, realizing what he has gotten himself into. Nevertheless, he turned to the Rashma priestess, his voice as serious as he could muster: "Should I take it he agrees?"
"Actually, he never disapproved" the necromancer responded with a smile, confusing the miner, yet the latter decided to shake that off, in stead shifting his attention to the farewell committee: "I'm leaving then..."
"So you are" Zarko replied with a nod, grinning widely at the announcement.
"We'll miss you, mister Haft!" Mirka assured the dwarf, barely holding back her tears, that just seem to travel to her eyes for reasons she did not comprehend. A weak smile slowly shown on her face, as her body shivered. Who knew saying 'goodbye' could be this hard?
Finally Haft's gaze stopped on Jazon; the two had the longest history and there was little doubt in the dwarf's mind that the half-breed will be the one he'll miss the most. In a weird way, the dragonchild grew on him, probably in more ways then the miner cared to accept. He somehow knew that if he were to have his resolve broken, it'd be by this, pointy-eared bastard.
"I'll see you around then" the light master announced with a smirk, narrowing his eyes slightly. To this Haft widen his. It certainly took him a moment to realize what just happened, but with that knowledge, he spun around and began his march: "Yeah, I guess you will" he replied, wiping the tear that sudden appeared in the corner of his left eye.
Kara only smiled as she saw the gesture and noted Jazon looked away as well. Sensing the overall confusion among her companions, she took action immediately, dragging both Ren and Sadun by the arms: "No point in standing around then... Sinabar awaits!" she announced, making Ajoz and Deedlith follow, with the latter waving her hand as goodbye.
And so the group set out to resume their journey, their next stop a small village in the mountains... where new challenge awaited...
Follow the path of your own choosing
Omake: Nomac's Journey (Part II):
"Unthinkable!" the green-bandana bandit announced as his gang entered the cave. "This is unacceptable! For Dragon Fangs to be beaten by a single, old fart! Do you even realize what this means? Soon others will attempt to fight back! We'll lose control of this place!"
"But that weirdo was a dragonchild" one of the goons announced, somewhat shyly, making their leader turn towards him with a thundering glare. The bandit instantly shrunk at the sensation, seeing his boss turning red on the face.
"That doesn't matter!" the bandana-wearing thug responded with a growl. "Do you idiots realize why we're capable of holding the surrounding area with a small number that we have? It's fear! Everyone around think they cannot fight us, coz they can't win! If they see we can be beaten, our rule is over!"
"Then why don't you release the dragon, Jamal?" asked another goon.
"Yeah, our dragon will fry that bastard!" a third one accompanied him.
The leader hesitated for a moment, but soon nodded at the notion as he turned down the passageway, blowing a tiny whistle. In a flash the cave got filled with a booming roar, while massive steps echoed through the walls. A tremendous figure emerged from the darkness, towering over the entire gathering, it's head nearly scratching the high ceiling as a gigantic lizard snapped its jaws at the call.
"What is the meaning of this, Jamal?" the creature demanded in a deep voice, visibly displeased. It's body was fully covered by thick, violet scales, while a pair of huge, bat-like wings with bone spikes growing from the center and going down the membrane of the wing extended to the sides. The beast's head gave an impression of being hidden under a helmet with heavy scales forming a shell on its upper muzzle and circling around its golden eyes, with three, long horns growing to the back, curving upwards at the end. "You should know better then to call me without a sacrifice!"
"I apologize, Bron" the bandit immediately bowed down before the beast, feeling sweat covering his skin. "We were just gathering your meal, when a strange guy appeared and chased us out! We couldn't do anything! He... he was a dragonchild!"
"Dragonchild?" the lizard repeated, apparently getting interested. "In these parts? What type?"
"Well..." Jamal began, getting even more nervous. "Yours, actually..."
"Mine, eh?" the beast, Bron repeated, narrowing his eyes. A moment later he shifted them towards the entrance of the cave as a lone figure, wrapped in ab lack cloak, stood in the frame. Without a word, the arrival took off his hood, revealing silver hair and eyes. "So it is you..."
"I heard you hid in these parts" Nomac announced, almost as if he ignored all the attention. "But I never expected to find you this quickly. For a dragon, you're not really good at keeping a low profile. What would your Council say to that? Especially with the Summit drawing near?"
"What the hell is he talking about?" Jamal demanded, yet instantly shut his mouth as the beast's foot stomp just before him with the dragon walking forward, lowering its head to make its eyes meet with the former Royal Guard's.
"Do not get cocky with me, insect" Bron warned, smoke rising from his nostrils, while a cracking sound echoed in the back of his throat. "I could incinerate you with a blink of an eye and you know it."
"Yes, I do" Nomac admitted simply. "Kinda why I've been looking for you..."
"Master Bron, what is going on here? Who is this guy?" Jamal begged, but the lizard still ignored him.
"Don't tell me you wish to ask me a favor" the beast snarled at the thought. "Because, if you are, then this is an even greater insult then last time, when you betrayed me..."
"Technically, you can't determine that I turned on you yet..."
"Do not patronize me!" the creature roared as sparks erupted from its mouth, blasting the walls, in a blink of an eye making electric currents spread through the cave, making it as light as day. "I specifically agreed to share my blood with you because you promised to deliver me the Prize of the Dragon King! If you think I'll make you any, other favor, you're gravely mistaken."
"Fine, the truth is I did bail on you" Nomac stated, keeping his calm exterior. "But I've found an interesting brat... I'm quite positive he's getting stronger even as we speak. And he's a dragonchikld too... a fire type... which means he must've gotten his abilities from a red dragon. I recall what you told me at the beginning... and so, you should realize that, chances are, that brat..."
"Draco" the beast gave a nod as its head rose. "So this is what you're counting on..."
"Indeed" the former Royal Guard confirmed. "I know you'd have no reason to believe my promises, so I'm giving you a simple insurance – I wish to get stronger specifically to defeat that brat. And him being who he is, there's no doubt he'll join the Summit. You don't have to trust me; rest assured, our goals overlap."
"Seems that way" Bron agreed, finally turning towards the bandits. "Out" he ordered.
"But..." Jamal attempted to argue, yet before he could say more, the dragon released a blast of electricity from its mouth, immediately turning all the goons to ash. Nomac watched the display without a trace of emotion. The Call will soon sound, but by then he'll be ready... and with that, he'll get to kill that brat... that... Ren.
-volume #05 end-
And this concludes my last update of the year. Hope you found this chappie worth waiting for. Now there's just one, last thing I'd like to do before signing off and that is to wish you MERRY CHRISTMAS and A HAPPY NEW YEAR!