Sorry I’ve been so quiet lately, getting lots of stuff done, including getting ready for the A to Z Blog challenge. During the month of April there will be one post a day, every day accept Sundays, (after the 1st) with themes running down the letters of the alphabet. First post will be an A post on April 1st, on the 2nd will be a B post and so on. Come on out and join in the fun.
Gavin claimed Buck’s sword from Grizzelhand’s lifeless fingers. The blade was still intact, still sharp. Loosing the scabbard from around the troll’s chest was a bigger struggle. The creature was huge, and nearly more than the elf could roll over on his own, but Gavin wasn’t about to leave any part of Buck’s legacy behind. With a herculean effort, he managed to get the troll on its side so he could reach the buckle and free the sheath. He remembered the last time he’d handed Buck the sheathed weapon, the morning before their trek into the jungle. Sliding the blade home, he turned and walked from the room.
The first wisps of smoke curled up from the shaft the moving platform traveled in. The warrior knew the fire below must be spreading. He wondered where Alchemy and Doctor Gnome had disappeared to. Before retrieving the sword, he’d looked at the chute they’d slid down, there was no way his broad shoulders were going to fit. If the fire was spreading he’d have to get out of the complex and onto the hillside. But he should try and find the elf woman Alchemy had brought in with him.
Gavin stepped onto the platform and pulled on the rope like he’d seen Alchemy do. Nothing happened. He yanked harder. Still nothing. He wondered if the fire was somehow affecting the thing. The right side of the platform was open to two ropes running up and down. Alchemy had said that he and the woman had been taken down several floors.
Checking both his sword and Buck’s to make sure they were secure, Gavin grabbed hold of a rope and began working his way down the shaft. As he went down, the smoke grew thicker. There at each opening in the shaft he saw more people ran down the metal hallways carrying various items to safety.
When the smoke was almost more than he could deal with, Gavin spotted the hallway he and Alchemy had first entered the platform from. The pile of dead trolls still lay nearby. He swung a bit to get some momentum for his jump. Letting go of the rope, he deftly cleared the distance from the rope to the hallway.
Gavin stared down the hallway. Through the thick smoke, he spotted a small figure moving. The warrior dashed for the figure. He caught her as she turned the corner down the next hall.
The little woman screamed and kicked at him. He realized it was a gnome. She was small enough that he could hold her out at arm’s length so her kicking legs couldn’t connect with anything delicate.
“I don’t want to hurt you!” he shouted at her.
“Then put me down,” she screeched back. “We have to get out of here.”
“I know. You have an elf woman prisoner. Where is she?”
“Mister Pond’s mistress?” the gnome woman asked with a sneer.
“That’s her,” Gavin replied.
“She’s down this way,” said the gnome woman, pointing down the hall.
“Take me to her,” he growled. He set her back down. The little woman looked up at him as if trying to judge his demeanor. She paled.
“This way,” she said, scurrying off down the hall.
They passed the pile of dead goblins. The gnome stopped at a door. “She’s in here.”
“Then open the door,” replied Gavin, glaring at the woman.
She fumbled for something in her pocket, then pulled out a key ring. It took her several tried to find the right key before she opened the door. A young violet haired elf charged the door, then stopped to stare.
“Are you Dolce?” Gavin asked.
She nodded. “Who are you?”
“I’m Alchemy’s friend Gavin, we need to get out of here,” he replied.
“Where’s Alchemy?” the elf woman asked.
“He went after Doctor Gnome,” said Gavin fighting back a cough that threatened to come out as the smoke thickened.
“We need to get out of here,” the gnome woman complained.
“Can you get us out?” Gavin asked.
“We have to go up,” she replied. “Too much smoke to go down. Someone said the dragon pens are ablaze.”
Gavin nodded. “That’s right. How do we go up?”
“The stairs are this way, or we can take the lift.”
“The lift’s not working,” said Gavin with a shake of his head. “I had to climb down the rope to get to this level.”
“Come on then,” the gnome woman said starting back down the hall the way they’d come.
Gavin grabbed Dolce’s arm. “Come on, if I don’t get you out Alchemy will come looking for you.”
The elf woman paled at the sight of the dead goblins. “Oh my Gods!”
“Don’t worry, we did more damage to them than they did to us,” Gavin replied, not needing to breaking stride to keep up with the hurrying little gnome.
“You did that?” Dolce asked, clinging to Gavin’s arm.
“Alchemy and I did a little while ago,” the warrior replied.
“Then you were the racket I heard earlier.” Her voice took on a distance, as if she were trying to find a way to understand.
“Here,” the gnome woman stopped at another door. Something behind them crashed, the whole complex shook and a thick cloud of black smoke billowed over them.
“Come on!” Gavin shouted, scooping up the gnome under his arm to carry her up the stairs. The little woman didn’t squirm as the elf ran. Dolce’s longer legs kept up easily as they raced upwards. As they passed other doorways on the stairs, more people crowded around them trying to reach safety. Moving upwards helped get them out of the smoke, but the complex continued to shake.
Darkness of the hillside night greeted them as they emerged from the top of the stairs onto the peak of Manticore Hill. Gavin set the gnome woman down and bent over with his hands on his knees to catch his breath. His chest heaved with the effort to get them up the stairs and free of the complex. Under his feet, the ground shook and an explosion rocked the hillside.
“Hey, it’s an elf!” a troll voice shouted.
Around Gavin, swords slid noisily out of their scabbards. He sighed and drew his sword as Dolce screamed.
Fire blazed from the passage the dragons used to get out of the complex. Alchemy circled the dragon around the hill, trying to find safe passage in. He had to find Gavin and Dolce. With any luck Gavin had managed to find a way out. But the wizard just knew that Dolce was still locked in a cell somewhere in the burning complex.
Down below a troll shouted, “Hey, it’s an elf!”
Alchemy scanned the dark hillside as the dragon soared over. He spotted naked swords glistening in the moonlight of the three moons high overhead. A flash of purple hair in the circle of trolls gave him a target as Dolce screamed. With a tight mental rein, he angled the dragon low over the hilltop. Hoping he had enough control for the situation, the wizard aimed his mount as his friends.
Dolce’s screams carried on the wind as the dragon snatched her and Gavin off the top of the hill.
“Don’t struggle, it’s me, Alchemy!” the wizard shouted as the dragon gained altitude. He pointed them toward the tiny lights in the jungle he presumed were Beautimore.
Minutes later, Alchemy angled the dragon down toward a large clearing in the jungle just outside town. He jumped down from the beast’s back and landed next to his friends. Gavin swept him up in a huge hug.
“You made it!” the warrior whooped.
“And so did you!” Alchemy replied, returning the hug. “And you got Dolce out.”
When Gavin set him down, the wizard scooped the woman up in his arms. It felt good to hold her. As their lips met, her kiss was as sweet as it had been earlier, it seemed much longer than just a few hours since he kissed her lips.
“I so glad you’re safe,” he said softly into her long hair that now smelled of smoke.
“Me too,” she smiled at him.
“So what happened to Doctor Gnome?” Gavin asked, looking from his friend to the dragon that stood calmly nearby.
“Eaten by a dragon,” Alchemy replied. “Problem solved.”
“So what do we do with this one?” the warrior wondered.
“Set him free,” the wizard said. “Give me a hand and we’ll be done with it.” He jumped back up to the control saddle. Even in the light of three moons, he had trouble finding all the straps and buckles holding the saddle. Alchemy pulled out his wand, “Flash.” A small ball of lightning floated near the tip of the wand, using the light Alchemy got the saddle loose. He tossed it down to Gavin. Strange cords ran from the saddle up to the reins and the metal piece near the dragon’s ear.
“Keep your hand on the cantle until I’m done,” Alchemy instructed his friend. “We don’t need him deciding to eat me this close to setting him free.”
“What do I do?” Gavin asked.
“Just think calming thoughts to him,” the wizard replied. “That should do the trick.” Using the ridges along the dragon’s spine for hand and foot holds, he worked his way up the dragon’s powerful neck to reach its head. He pulled the leather bridle free, letting it fall to the ground, then he grabbed the metal piece and pulled.
At first it didn’t budge. Then, it popped free. Little bits of scale and flesh came with it from where the dragon’s skin had grown over the piece that was much larger than the little bit extending above the dark scaly hide. The dragon roared in pain and threw its head back. Alchemy grabbed hold of the creature’s horns and hung on for all his might. Without looking around, the dragon launched itself into the night sky. The powerful wings beat to escape the pull of gravity.
“Alchemy!” Dolce screamed below them.
Letting go with his right hand, Alchemy reached for his wand. Once it was firmly in his grasp, he pointed it toward the ground. “Cushion!” he screamed as he let go with his left hand. The last of his magic flowed out of him as he fell. His head spun, and everything went black before he landed.
Soft delicate humming filled his ears as Alchemy’s head cleared. Something soft cushioned his head, and a warm cloth rested on his forehead. He opened his eyes to soft candle light reflecting off the purple highlights of Dolce’s hair as she leaned over him.
“You are awake,” she said with a smile.
“So did I die and you are the Goddess come to lead me onto my next life?” he asked, reaching for her delicate hand.
She laughed softly. “You did fall fairly far, but no. You’ll survive.”
“Where are we?”
“Gavin brought you back to your room at The Lady’s Pleasure.”
He caught her hand and kissed it. “So then, perhaps I should ask what is the lady’s pleasure tonight?”
She laughed at him as he pulled her down to his lips. “Alchemy are you really up for filling my pleasure?”
His head cleared further as their lips touched. “My dear, I’m always up to filling my lady’s pleasure.” He rolled her over on the bed with all thoughts of evil gnomes and firebirds out of his mind as he worked his hands across her body, ready to lose himself for a while in her gifts, hoping that K wouldn’t be calling him anytime soon.
Chaos reigned after Alchemy flicked his wand and the dragon enclosures all burst into flames. He knew the dragons wouldn’t be harmed before they could escape, and it made for a great diversion. Still using the chameleon spell, the elf slipped through the smoke and roars back up the stairs in search of Doctor Gnome. He’d cast the same spell on Gavin to give his friend some cover too. Only a sharp eye would be able to catch their movement as they moved up the stairs.
“Fire in the dragon pens!” a troll shouted looking down the stairs at the smoke now rolling toward the dining room.
The elves rushed above the landing so they’d be beyond the stampede of trolls and goblins that flooded down toward the chaos below. After the last one ran past, they slipped into the dining room, through the kitchen and out into the massive complex beyond. All around them, Doctor Gnomes minions ran about in a more frantic state than the normal calm efficiency Alchemy observed earlier.
“Where do we find Doctor Gnome?” Gavin asked from behind Alchemy.
“We have to go through a few halls and up some kind of moving platform/room to get to his private suite,” the wizard replied. “Not sure if that’s where he’s going to be. We’ll have to keep our eyes open for him.”
“I don’t suppose you’ve met a Grisselhand while you’ve been here?” the warrior questioned.
“Nope, but Gnome isn’t real friendly with his people, I still don’t even know the name of the gnome woman who kept escorting us around,” Alchemy said as they paused at the first intersection, the one that led back to the metal cell he’d been put in.
A screeching noise came down the corridor toward them. Alchemy flattened himself against the wall and pushed Gavin back too. Two trolls pushed a large rolling table down the hallway. The wheels screamed loudly against the passageway’s metal floor. Two large gadgets, they looked a lot like the weapons the goblins had been used in Beautamore, rested on the tables. They were much larger than the ones he’d previously seen.
“I want those,” Alchemy whispered to Gavin before the trolls rounded the corner.
They waited until the trolls ran past them, then stepped away from the wall and struck. Alchemy flicked his wand at the far one. “Burn!” The fireball struck the troll in the back of the head melting its way through the man’s skull even as Gavin’s sword swing took off the other one’s head. The rolling table kept moving a few more feet before it came to a stop with the two dead trolls laying on the floor just inches behind it.
Alchemy went over and after slipping his wand in his belt, picked up one of the large exploding tubes. It was longer and heavier than the ones the goblins used. The design was similar, but there was some kind of spinning chamber attached to the tube just above the trigger mechanism. Most of the weight of the thing was around that chamber.
“The other exploding tubes had to be reloaded,” he said handing the other one to Gavin once the warrior sheathed his sword. “I wonder if this design doesn’t”
Gavin carefully looked it over, his hands taking on the color of the metal tube. “Could be. Let’s try these out on the next folks we see.”
Alchemy smiled at his friend. “For the civilized world and all that?”
The warrior had a strange nearly crazed look in his eyes. “For all that and Buck.”
More feet ran toward them. Alchemy turned, saw several goblins dashing their direction. He raised the tube and pulled the trigger. A deafening noise reverberated off the metal corridor as the tube jerked repeatedly in the wizard’s hands. Harsh smoke filled the passage way by the time Alchemy released the trigger. His whole body shook from the thing releasing its deadly projectiles. Down the hallway, the goblins lay on the floor, their dark green blood pooling beneath them.
“Wow, that was loud and messy, a bit like Buck during sex,” Gavin said staring at the carnage. “I think I like it.”
Alchemy shook his head, Gavin sounded far away. His ears were still ringing from the weapon’s noise. A commotion was coming their way down the hall.
“You know we may have wanted to get a bit further along before we made so much noise,” he shouted trying to hear himself over his ringing ears. Then a mass of trolls rounded the corner down where he knew the strange moving room was.
“Naw, let’s just take them on,” Gavin said pointing his tube toward the charging mass of leather-and-steel-armor-covered trolls. Firing the tube didn’t look so difficult when Gavin did it, but his body still shook with the effort by the time he released the trigger and silence fell over the hallway. A few trolls still moved in the mass of flesh that now covered the metal passage, blood splattered over the shiny metal walls giving them a unique coppery color.
The end of the exploding tube drop nearly to the ground as Gavin walked over the pile of trolls almost blocking the hallway.
“You said that strange moving room was this way?” he asked as his foot covered the face of the first dead troll.
“Yeah, we’ll turn right then it’ll be on our left,” Alchemy replied falling into step beside his friend.
One of the trolls near the back of the pile moaned as Gavin walked across him. The elf stopped, bent down and grabbed a huge gray ear.
“Where is Grisselhand?” he screamed at the troll. Alchemy tried to remember when he’d heard that particular edgy tone in the warrior’s voice before.
“Guarding Doctor Gnome,” came the hoarse reply.
“Good,” Gavin snarled then snapped the troll’s massive neck. He turned to Alchemy. “Lead on.”
This was now war, Alchemy realized. Thanks to Doctor Gnome, they had to stop an army of trolls, goblins and other creatures to save the world. The wizard squared his shoulders. It wasn’t the first time he’d been in nasty bloody situations, but it never got easy. He’d never seen Gavin this set on destruction. His friend was taking his lover’s death hard. The two had only known each other a short while, but the bond had formed. It was hard to see the warrior like this, but then, war was hard. To keep the civilized world running, they would have to get their hands dirty.
They didn’t encounter any more resistance between the dead trolls and the moving room. As they stepped on the platform, Alchemy tried to remember how the gnome woman had made it move before. She’d closed the door, then pulled on the cord three times to go from the room where he and Dolce had first been held to the Doctor’s quarters, then when they were carried down to their cells she’d pulled the cord four times.
“This feels strange,” Alchemy warned as he pulled the cord four times. A couple of seconds later the platform slowly rose up.
Gavin looked disoriented. “No shit, it feels strange.”
As they glided past the complex’s other floors, Alchemy caught glimpses of the occupants frantically scurrying about. He wondered how the noises from their attacks on the goblins and trolls carried to the other floors. What would be waiting on them when they reached Doctor Gnome’s floor?
The platform jerked to a halt.
“Get ready,” Alchemy said as he reached for the metal door separating them from the hallway.
Four massive trolls, standing at least ten feet tall stood at the far end of the hallway. They looked up as the door opened. Alchemy ducked out of the way as Gavin swung his exploding tube their direction and fired. Smoke poured out of the tube as its deafening racket started again. Then it stopped.
One of the trolls slumped to the floor, but the other three roared and charged.
“Shit,” Gavin said. “Hand me yours.” He dropped his tube to the floor as he stepped out onto the metal hallway and reached back for Alchemy’s tube. The wizard stepped off the platform and handed his weapon to the warrior, then pulled his wand from his belt.
The tube roared to life as Gavin leveled it at the trolls. Two more fell before Alchemy’s first fire ball caught the last one in the chest, sending it hurling backwards to crash into the doors of Doctor Gnome’s suite. Stepping over the bodies, the elves hurried toward the cracked door. Gavin didn’t even slow down as he ran at the door, he just turned his shoulder into it and slammed his way through.
As they charged through the door, the sound of an exploding tube being fired erupted before them. Alchemy flicked his wand and shouted “Brickus!” The invisible wall formed between them and the giant troll standing over Doctor Gnome with an even larger exploding tube in its hands. They were far enough away from the wall, that Alchemy knew the chameleon spell wouldn’t be helping them now. He wished he’d had something more filling for diner. The running and the magic were beginning to take their toll on him.
The troll continued to fire the exploding rod. Sticking out above his massive gray shoulder, was the hilt of Buck’s sword. This had to be Grisselhand.
“Can you take him if I take out his exploding rod?” Alchemy asked Gavin.
A murderous grin split the warrior’s face. “Sure, he’s just a troll.”
Making sure he had a good mental aim on the troll’s rod, Alchemy leaned around the edge of his invisible wall and flicked his wand. “Burn!” The fireball shot out and caught the end of the metal tube. The intense heat melted the tube causing it to droop. The troll roared at them and threw the now useless tube. It clanged off the barrier as Gavin stepped around Alchemy and fired his own tube. One round went off before it stopped working. Gavin threw the device at the troll as he drew his sword. With matching roars the two clashed in the center of the room. The troll’s strength pushed Gavin back, but the elf relied on speed and agility to dance a deadly dance around his opponent.
Alchemy watched the two combatants for a moment before movement caught his eye. Doctor Gnome was running toward something on the far side of the room. The wizard flicked his wand at the Gnome. “Clank” Chains appeared above the Gnome and fell just short of snaring the little man. The elf ran for the villain.
Before he got there Doctor Gnome hit a small panel in the wall. The panel fell away and the gnome disappeared. There in the wall, a small chute, just larger than the gnome disappeared down into darkness.
Alchemy glanced over his shoulder. Gavin didn’t appear to be injured, yet, and the troll already had several long gashes running down its arms. He hated leaving his friend, but he couldn’t cast a spell without fear of hitting the warrior, and he couldn’t let the villain escape without trying harder to catch him. With a deep sigh, the wizard pointed his wand at himself. “Smaller” The magic engulfed him and he felt himself shrink down to the size of a small child. He hoped the chameleon spell held as he slid onto the chute and out of Doctor Gnome’s suite.
Out of the corner of his eye, Gavin saw Alchemy disappear near the spot where Doctor Gnome had, but the fight with Grisselhand was his first concern. The troll was big, but he was also older than most of the other trolls in Doctor Gnome’s regiment. The elf could tell from the droopy skin and exaggerated pale patches on the troll’s face. The creature used a lot of force in his blows, like he was used to just overpowering anyone who challenged him.
“You’re going to have to do better than that,” Gavin taunted as he easily dodged a heavy blow, but he winced as Buck’s sword struck the floor with a heavy crack. He’d never forgive himself if something happened to that sword before he could return it to his lover’s family.
The troll’s rage roared so strongly in his blood he was beyond words. All he could do at this point was groan, scream and roar at Gavin. The elf fought back his own rage, knowing that if he gave into his need to utterly destroy the troll in vengeance for Buck, he’d lose the edge his clear mind brought him in the fight. Swinging his sword in a sharp upward blow, he sliced through the troll’s elbow joint. The arm flopped uselessly, held on only by a little connective tissue. Grisselhand roared in pain and fury as he swung his remaining arm hard at the elf. Blood gushed out of the troll, and Gavin slipped as he ducked under the swing. He landed hard on his ass, but he rolled up and around so he could come up behind the behemoth. Before the troll could turn, the elf swung his sword hard up between the troll’s tree-like legs. The sword caught on something and Gavin had to yank it back out in tune with the roars that turned to screams of pain as Grisselhand collapsed on the floor. Without pausing, Gavin cleaved down on the bullish neck, it took three blows before the sword severed the spinal cord. The troll thrashed thrice then lay still. Gavin, chest heaving from the strain, walked over and retrieved Buck’s sword.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you, Buck,” he whispered to the empty room as tears trickled down his face. “But I promise I will get this back to your family. It belongs with them.”
Light blazed at the end of the chute. A sword struck the slide right above Alchemy’s head. Had he been normal size the blow would’ve decapitated him. He rolled away from the troll with the sword and dismissed the dimunitzation spell. Flicking his wand toward the troll he shouted “Burn!” the fireball struck before the troll dodged and it fell into a flaming heap against the boxes piled near the chute. The elf stood up just in time to see Doctor Gnome’s light-green bald head disappear out the door.
Not bothering with the fire, Alchemy ran after the gnome. The area he was in reminded Alchemy of the lower levels where the dragons had been. He could even smell smoke from the fire he’d set in the pens.
Doctor Gnome raced along the corridor ahead of the wizard. Alchemy tried to clear his head enough to cast another spell, but he’d used so much magic recently that he was nearing empty. He wanted to go find a soft bed, preferably with Dolce in it, to lie down in and get some much needed sleep. But he ran on. He had to catch the gnome.
Smoke billowed from the corner that Doctor Gnome disappeared around. Alchemy ran with all his might, feeling more light headed by the second. He rounded the turn in the passage and found himself back in the dragon holding area. The scene of carnage was more massive than any he’d ever seen before. Once free of their pens, the dragons had obviously turned their attentions on their handlers and the other folks Alchemy and Gavin had dodged earlier to get through the dining room. The fire blazed around them, but the dragons feasted on the humanoid handlers. Staring through the smoky scene, the elf tried to find the gnome, and spotted him dashing down the center aisle, apparently heading for the far side of the chamber. Dodging trolls and dragons, Alchemy raced after him.
Doctor Gnome ran into the last pen, one that hadn’t yet been affected by the fire. Seconds later, the largest dragon Alchemy had ever seen came rushing out with the gnome perched on a leather saddle just above its wings.
“You won’t stop me, Mister Pond!” the gnome’s high voice carried over the chaos around them.
Not bothering to reply, Alchemy glanced into the next pen and saw another dragon, already saddled ready to ride. He’d never ridden a dragon before, but without thinking it through too much, he opened the pen, and jumped up into the saddle. As his hands landed on the saddle’s cantle, he felt his mind suddenly connect with the dragon’s. This explained the strange metal caps he’d seen on the manticores the goblins rode to attack them. He looked up and saw a small metal piece near the dragon’s ear. On a dragon the device was much smaller in relationship to the size of the head. It was some kind of mind control mechanism.
“Come on dragon, go after them,” Alchemy said, even though he knew he didn’t need to verbalize to get the beast to move. Without complaint, the dragon lumbered out of the pen and awkwardly charged after the larger one burdened by the gnome.
The end of the chamber opened up on the steep side of Manticore Hill. Even in the dark night sky, Alchemy could see the shadow of the large dragon as it lumbered off toward human lands. With nothing more than his thoughts, the wizard urged his mount onward. Leathery wings strained to get enough altitude.
Alchemy wondered what he would do when he reached the other dragon. It had been one thing to fight the dragon in the air when he’d been riding Ashton, the gryphon. Ashton was free thinking, and he and the wizard had worked together for a while. This dragon was being controlled by the elf’s mind. He didn’t know much about flying, let alone how dragons fight in the air.
The distance between the two dragons closed since Alchemy’s mount was smaller and quicker that the massive beast Doctor Gnome rode. Alchemy discarded the idea of using magic. He was too tired and the last thing he wanted to do was cast a large spell, pass out and leave the dragon on its own to do what it would.
They passed over the larger dragon. Alchemy looked down and realized how big the creature really was. With just a bit of mental steering he swung his mount back around for a low pass over the back of the bigger beast. As they went over the wings, Alchemy pushed out of the saddle and fell down toward the gnome’s dragon’s back.
He grabbed one of the ridges between the wings then hit the hard spine with enough force to drive the air out of his lungs. Struggling to his feet, Alchemy scrambled along the broad back toward Doctor Gnome, who by the way he was frantically staring into the dark night sky was searching for Alchemy on his own dragon.
“Looking for someone Doctor?” Alchemy asked as he reached down for the diminutive dictator’s collar.
“Pond!” Doctor Gnome shouted as Alchemy pulled him free of his saddle. The little man kicked out, catching the elf in the ribs. Pain shot through him and Alchemy grabbed for his side, letting go of the gnome. He watched as the villain fell into the dark sky, then a white mushroom of cloth opened up.
Alchemy settled into dragon’s saddle and again linked minds with a beast. “Go get him!” he shouted and angled the dragon down. The monster roared and plunged down after the escaping gnome, just as the other dragon, now free from outside control, swooped down and caught the gnome in its mouth. The high pitched scream carried over the rush of the wind as the dragon leveled out its flight.
As the sun finished it downward path below the horizon, Gavin followed the two trolls around the side of Manticore Hill. Wrapped up in their own noisy conversation, they gave no indication of noticing the elf following along behind them. The warrior was careful with each foot fall. He moved fast enough so he didn’t lose the trolls, but not so carelessly that he made any noise. His hand never far from the hilt of his sword, he trailed the two.
Pausing behind a large boulder, he watched them enter the wide cave mouth. Even his keen ears couldn’t pick up their loud voices once they passed through the opening. Bright flickering torch-light blazed forth from the cave. Making sure to stay in the shadows as much as possible, Gavin worked his way slowly toward the cave. He pushed all of his senses outward, listening for any sounds, watching for the slightest movement, even sniffing for the unmistakable stench of troll. Nothing.
Deep shadows against the hillside were comforting to the warrior as he eased his way along. He still couldn’t see any guards near the cave mouth. So he slipped up there. His nerves tight, he listened for any sounds beyond the opening. Silence greeted him. Easing around the lip of the cave, for a second, he stepped out into the light.
No one stood inside the cave. Large crates cluttered a narrow passageway, providing Gavin with more cover to go deeper. He leapt lightly up the crates so he could dash along the top of them, hoping if any patrol came by they might not think to look up. The stack stretched all the way to the camber’s far end.
The passageway narrowed at the back of the cave. After hearing no sounds of movement, Gavin dropped gracefully down from his perch atop the crates. He was careful that no noise escaped his feet as he landed. There weren’t as many torches down the next passageway, and the warrior carefully avoided looking at any of them, to preserve his night vision. It’d be disastrous if he were blinded when enemies were coming his way. As he moved further down the passage without encountering anyone, he began to wonder if everyone was a dinner.
The metal hallway remained mercifully clear as Alchemy strolled down it, careful to stay close enough to the wall that his blending spell kept him appearing metallic. At each door he passed, he listened, hoping to hear some sound from Dolce. So far everything remained silent. When he reached the far end of the hall, it t-ed. The shiny metal surfaces gave no indication as to which way the troll carrying Dolce off had gone. He’d been underground long enough, that he no longer had a sense of direction. All the hallways were the same bright silvery surface.
As he stood there, a gnome woman with mouse-brown hair appeared from a door down the hall on his left. She carried the remains of someone’s dinner on a wooden tray. Without glancing Alchemy’s way, she scurried down that hall away from him. The wizard followed.
Gavin stopped in the entrance to another passageway. This one led to stairs going down. Glancing at the steps, they were still rough and unworn. This stairway must be fairly new since the rock in the cave had been fairly soft so far and would wear quickly. That matched the intelligence he’d been able to dig up on Doctor Gnome saying that the mad man hadn’t been in the area more than a couple of years.
Partway down the stairs, a torch illuminated a landing. Gavin paused there, listening at the door to his right. Loud ruckus voices sounded from beyond the door. Figuring it must be the dinning room, he continued down the stairs. If there was one thing Gavin didn’t want to do, it was have to fight his way through a bunch of hungry trolls. At the bottom of the stairs, the passageway turned right.
Loud coughs and growls came from the end of the latest passageway. Gavin tried to figure out what the noises were, but they weren’t anything he remembered hearing before. Deciding that the cave may be distorting some of the sounds, the warrior crept forward, hand still close to his sword.
The passageway opened in a huge cavern lit by strange lights that Gavin had never seen before. They hung from the ceiling with strange cords running between them. Glowing like miniature suns, the lights glared down on large pens holding an incredible number of dragons. From what he could tell, most were about the size of the ones they had fought so far. But even that size was more than he wanted to take on by himself, one on one, let alone with the more than twenty he counted penned up around the cavern.
Several trolls and goblins moved around the chamber, tossing large chunks of meat to the waiting dragons. Gavin ducked into a small space between the nearest pen and the cavern wall. Peering through the thick wooden slats of the pen, he watched as one of the trolls tossed several large chunks of meat that looked like huge arms into the pen. The dragon rushed forward and started gulping down the arms even as Gavin recognized the golden brown ursa fur.
He sank to the ground. His heart pounded in his chest. The fear he’d been holding since seeing the battle site on the hillside came rushing forth. Buck was gone. He wanted to rush out and kill every dragon, troll, goblin and gnome in the hill, but knew he’d never be able to do it by himself. Hot tears ran silently down his face. He’d never again know the ursa’s soft caring touch, or his warm kiss.
He didn’t know how long he sat there. The dragon had finished its grizzly meal by the time the elf wiped the tears from his checks and glared through the slats at the giant reptile. He was a warrior. Buck was a warrior. He could only hope that his lover had met a warrior’s death and gone down fighting a good fight. Sudden death was the price every warrior faced, and they lived their lives knowing that.
Then Gavin remembered what the trolls on the hillside said about Buck’s sword. He had to get that sword back and return it to the ursa’s family. It had to go on, even if its latest welder did not. Gavin would do that to honor his lover’s memory. And he could only hope that Alchemy fared better.
Alchemy stood still against the wall of the dining hall. Around him the trolls, goblins, brownies and gnomes under Doctor Gnome’s command sat silently as their leader walked to the big table at the front of the room. The little mad man moved with a confidence that inspired loyalty in the people that followed him. Using a chair for a step, the diminutive dictator made it up on the head table. Every eye in the place watched him. It was all the wizard could do to hold still and watch. He’d followed the gnome woman down the hall and into the kitchen. Several of the kitchen workers had been talking about the appearance that Doctor Gnome was about to give in the dining hall, so Alchemy decided to go find himself a place along the wall to listen to what the man had to say.
Doctor Gnome cleared his throat before he began speaking. “As you all know the pinnacle of my plan to thwart the humans’ firebird network is about to play out. Even with the interference from the Fragrance Guild, we are still on schedule for our dragons to attack the secret nesting site with the dawn.”
The whole hall cheered.
“It is imperative that as soon as we have destroyed the firebird clutch that everyone returns to your respective governments and inform them that we have stopped the humans and are prepared to go to war with them and their allies. You must also inform your governments that it was I, Doctor Gnome, who stopped the humans, thus ensuring that the longer lived races have their rightful place in the world.”
Another louder cheer erupted. It made Alchemy realize that Doctor Gnome was very popular with his followers. This could be very bad for the Guild and the civilized world.
“Once our dragons have destroyed the firebirds, they will go on to lay waste to the human settlements around the secret hatchery,” Doctor Gnome continued as the cheering died down. “It will be very easy for us to stop the human menace before they can expand any further.”
The loudest cheer yet went up.
Gnome waited for the clamor to die down. “Now once you have finished your well deserved meal, I need my riders to report to the dragon pens for their last minute preparations. Never fear my loyal minions, I will be right there with you on the largest of our dragons.”
As the final cheer sounded, Doctor Gnome leapt off the table and marched out of the room. Alchemy stood there against the wall stunned. He knew he should contact K at headquarters, but how would she be able to help being all the way across the world in Salmania? She could only get so many people through the gates at a time, and by the time they reached Manticore Hill, the villain and his followers would be in flight toward human territory. Keeping his closeness to the wall, Alchemy followed Doctor Gnome out of the room and into a rough rock corridor.
Trying to move around the penned dragons was harder than Gavin first thought it would be. The beasts were much more observant than their handlers, and had a nasty reach when they wanted to. Several times he’d been pinned between two dragons each one trying to get a hold of him. Twice he’d had to crouch down and wait for the creatures to get bored and look away, giving him the opportunity to dash past. Once he’d had to use his sword to dissuade a grasping claw from getting hold of him. It left evidence of his passing, but he couldn’t find another way around it. Each time the dragons got upset and started roaring about his presence, the handlers would simply shout at them to be quiet.
As Gavin reached the far end of the chamber, a commotion started up by the stairs. He risked a glance up over the pens to see what was going on. It looked like a small group of trolls had just entered the cavern, but they acted like guards.
“How are my lovelies?” a high voice asked.
Gavin’s breath caught. Could it be that Doctor Gnome himself just entered the cavern to check on his dragons? He tried to figure out a way he could get a better look. A glance down the way he’d come dissuaded him from that path, since several dragons still had claws sticking out through the slats searching for him.
“They will be ready to fly soon boss,” one of the troll handlers replied.
“Very good,” Gnome replied. “And make sure that Firewing is saddled and ready for me and my personal driver along with two guards. I will be leading the attack.”
“He’ll be ready for ya boss,” the troll said.
“You haven’t had any problems in here this evening have you?” the high voice asked.
“Nope,” the troll responded.
The dragon nearest Gavin started roaring its displeasure at not being able to reach him. The elf ducked as heads turned toward him. He couldn’t make out the details of what was said after that. Gavin retreated to a small alcove in the wall, just out of reach of grasping dragon claws. His mind raced trying to think of some way to stop the dragons from taking off.
From his vantage point blending in against the wall, movement at the far end of the dragon pens caught Alchemy’s eye. He watched as the dragons near there reacted to an unauthorized person in their midst. Still unsure how best to deal with Doctor Gnome, Alchemy headed toward where the dragons indicated someone waited. Maybe the newcomer could shed some light on the situation and a possible solution.
The dragons were more attuned to their surroundings than the trolls and other minions of the good doctor. By the way they paced up and down the back of their pens, trying to find Alchemy, he knew they sensed him. A razor sharp talon, nearly two feet long almost caught his leg as he worked his way behind the pens. The dragon looked cockeyed out the slat of the pen at him, like it was trying to get its eyes to focus. After that he watched were each dragon was in its enclosure before he scurried behind it.
The trolls began moving along the front of the pens, checking to make sure the dragons had finished their meals. This drew the dragons’ attention toward them and away from the wall. As the dragons turned toward their keepers, Alchemy moved swiftly toward the spot in the wall where he’d seen the figure disappear. His heart leapt when he saw Gavin crouched in the small alcove. With his best friend at his side, they could overcome the odds and find a way to defeat Doctor Gnome.
“Gavin,” he whispered inches from his friend’s ear.
“Alchemy?” the warrior responded just as softly. Alchemy knew with his training, the other elf wouldn’t do anything to alert the dragon handlers to their presence. The wizard laid a hand on his friend’s shoulder, the hand changed to look like the leather armor Gavin wore.
Gavin smiled. “The chameleon spell. How are you doing magic without your wand?”
“How do you know I lost my wand?”
The warrior reached into his pack. “Because I found this out on the hillside,” he said, pulling out the lost instrument.
Alchemy’s breath caught as he snatched the wand from his friend. He’d never been so happy to see a silly piece of wood in his life. “Thanks, I think we’re ready for a fight.”
Wand in hand, the wizard spun around toward the nearest troll. He whispered “Burn” as he flicked the wand. The fireball caught the troll in the head and flipped him backwards into the dragon pen behind him. The dragon there roared and tore into the troll with gusto. The other troll and the goblin turned too late to see the fireball, and scrambled to try and save their friend. Alchemy flicked his wand again. “Burn” and caught the second troll in the back.
As his coworker flamed up, the goblin screamed and ran for the stairs. Gavin jumped up on the slats of the dragon pens, and took the quickest route to intercept the goblin. Dragons roared around him, but the elf ran for his life as he dodged their grabs and managed to make it off the pens to land just ahead of the goblin. His sword slashed down and the little green man died with his head split in two.
Gavin turned toward Alchemy as the wizard walked toward him. He swept the other elf up in a big hug.
“I’m so happy to see you’re still alive,” he mumbled, his voice starting to fail him. “They fed Buck to the dragons.”
Alchemy hugged his friend back. He decided to not tell Gavin that the dragons weren’t the only ones that got a taste of the ursa.
“I’m sorry about that,” the wizard said. “I saw him fall. He died in battle like any good warrior would want to. He fell defending me and Dolce.”
Gavin wiped his eyes and nose with the back of his hand. “I take it Dolce is the girl?”
Alchemy nodded. “We need to find her. Doctor Gnome has her somewhere in the complex.”
“First we need to take out Doctor Gnome,” Gavin replied.
Gavin stared at the ground in the center of the cluster of boulders. It looked like Alchemy and Buck slept there the previous night. He spotted two places where it appeared like the men had laid down, the sparse grass was mashed, and in one place he found a lump of Buck’s golden fur. Taking a quick sniff of the hair, Gavin’s heart beat a little faster at the thought of the big ursa’s powerful arms wrapped around him. He wanted this job done, so he could spend more time with Buck. The two hadn’t talked much about what the future held for them, but he knew he wanted the man in his life.
Both sets of footprints led Gavin out of the security of the boulders and up the hill. Alchemy’s prints went further. There, near some more rocks, the warrior found another set of prints, smaller, more delicate than his friend’s. At one point the two had stood very close together. By the position of the footprints Gavin had to assume the second set belonged to a woman. Alchemy wasn’t prone to get that close to strange men, but his attraction to women was often a problem for the young mage.
Sounds of heavy footfalls came down the hill, accented by the occasional dislodged small rock. As they came closer, the thick voices of two trolls carried easily on the evening breeze. Gavin squatted down behind the boulder where Alchemy had encountered the woman.
“Why does the boss think there’s another elf out here?” one of the trolls asked.
“I don’t question him,” the other one replied. “If he says there’s another elf out here, I come out here and look. I thought we got both of the elves and that ursa too.”
“All I know is that Slip, you know that goblin that runs errands between the boss and the garrison, said the boss was furious about the number of manticores we lost this morning to the wizard. And they never did recover his wand.”
The two trolls wandered into view. From what Gavin knew of troll age, they looked young. Something in the way they ambled amongst the rocks told him they really weren’t trying too hard to do their jobs. But even at eight feet tall, he wasn’t sure he wanted to take on both of them at the same time. Large nasty looking axes hung at their sides, never far from their mottled brown hands. The elf stayed low, hoping neither of them would think to come his direction.
“Man, did you see that sword the ursa carried?” the first one asked. “If old Grisselhand hadn’t already claimed it, I’d be happy to have that thing.”
The second one snorted. “Like either one of us is high enough in rank to claim any kind of trophy.”
Gavin’s heart stopped for a second. They had Buck’s sword. He didn’t like to think about what it had taken for the trolls to relieve the ursa of his sword. Buck was so proud of that sword. It was a family heirloom. His great grandfather had actually had it forged by dwarves over two hundred years ago.
“Hey I can dream can’t I?” the first one continued.
“Just don’t let either Grisselhand or the boss hear you dreaming,” the other warned as they walked past the rocks where Buck and Alchemy spent the night without noticing the many foot prints around the area. “You know how they feel about personal thought.”
Gavin missed the rest of the conversation as the two passed beyond earshot. So Doctor Gnome had captured two elves and an ursa. There was no doubt that it was Alchemy and Buck, but who was the woman? He looked at the tracks in the dirt. Her tracks came from the direction he trolls now headed. The bad guys had Buck’s sword, but not Alchemy’s wand. Following the tracks from the outcropping, Gavin came to the sight of the battle.
From the marks on the ground, and the amount of blood spilled, it was fairly obvious that it had been a really big fight. There were a series of scorch marks too, telling him that Alchemy had managed to get off a series of fireballs. Moving away from the trolls, the warrior looked for more evidence of what happened. Bits of fur lay scattered on the ground in one spot. Buck had been injured. He needed to get into the hill and find both his friend and his lover. Moving outside the trampled area, just downhill from one of the bigger pools of dried blood, his sharp eyes saw a carefully worked piece of wood.
Picking up the wand, Gavin inspected it. It looked fine. From the distance it lay from the closest foot prints, he had to assume it had either been knocked from Alchemy’s had, or lost from above. True his friend was often loosing or breaking wands, in this case it caused a heavy lump to form in the warrior’s throat. He gently placed the wand in his pack, and went back to looking at the ground.
A series of large reptilian prints caught his attention. They weren’t large enough to be a dragon, unless it was a really small one. He wondered what they meant.
“See, I told ya there weren’t no other elves on the hill,” the first troll’s voice carried back over the rise before they walked into sight. Gavin slipped behind a tree and watched the two return.
“We had to check,” the second one replied. The red light of the setting sun glistened off the large metal helmet sitting lopsided on his head.
“Well, I don’t want to be late for dinner,” the first one complained. “They’re probably about to eat, and I’m hungry.”
“You’re always hungry,” his companion replied. “Now let’s hope they don’t make us come back out in the dark. You know how the boss can be when he has his mind set on something.”
The two continued to chat as they disappeared down the trail they originally traveled. Gavin didn’t pause, but silently slipped in behind them to see where they went. He just hoped he’d be able to get into the villain’s lair and rescue Alchemy and Buck.
Alchemy studied the stark metal room the trolls unceremoniously tossed him into. They’d taken Dolce somewhere else. Her screams carried to him for several minutes after they slammed the door, but grew more distant. He hoped she’d be alright. She was a very attractive woman and he’d hate for something unseemly to happen to her at the hands of Doctor Gnome or any of his henchmen.
Alchemy’s fingers worked along the riveted seam in the metal wall. He couldn’t tell what kind of metal it was. It looked like the same metal that the halls were made from, but he didn’t know of any process that would make metal in large sheets like this. Somewhere, air flowed in, it blew in just strong enough that it he stood in a particular spot it ruffled his long blond hair. Moving around the room, he tried to figure out where it came from, and would that be enough for him to escape without his wand.
Everything in the room was metal, so there was nothing he could use as even a makeshift wand. He needed something to act as a focus for his magic, something that could conduct it from his person out so it could interact with the world. Sitting down on the cold, hard, metal bed, he tried to think of anything that might help him out of the situation.
Years ago, when old Shamus gave him his first wand, the elder wizard told him a cautionary tale about a wizard that tried to work magic without the focus of a wand. It had been dangerous just pointing a finger and whispering a magic word, but it had worked for the wizard until one day his concentration slipped and he blew off his hand when casting a fireball spell. Since then, all wizards used wands of one form or another to project their power out into the world. But it had been done in the past. Alchemy tried to decide if he were desperate enough to try using magic without a wand. If he could manage to get out of the cell, rescue Dolce and stop Doctor Gnome, it might be worth it, even if it cost him his hand in the process.
The door was almost as cold to his touch as the metal bed had been. Laying his hand against it, Alchemy focused his magic through his hand and onto the door. He tried not to think about his hand blowing apart by the magical forces running through it. Taking a deep breath, he focused on the outcome of the spell he wanted to cast. He saw the door opening. He’d done this spell numerous times in practice and while out with his friends on some of their less than legal escapades. It worked every time he’d cast it in the last ten years. It was one of the easiest spells he knew. His brow furrowed in concentration.
“Open,” he whispered. The magic shot out of his hand and into the door. A soft click from the lock reverberated through the metal room. The wizard hoped it hadn’t gone out into the hallway as well. The door swung open soundlessly.
Pushing the door nearly closed again and bolstered by his success with opening it. Alchemy turned his attention to himself. If he just wandered out into the hallway, he’d be stopped before he got too far. He wasn’t sure he wanted to risk doing a fireball spell without his wand. Blending in would be his best option. Invisibility wasn’t one of his best spells, but he had other options. There was a spell that took a lot less energy than invisibility and it might work, unless there were folks around that paid more attention to details than what he’d observed so far.
Running his hands over the tunic that Doctor Gnome left in his room earlier, Alchemy called up the power for the spell. He had to be careful, not only was he casting without a wand, this spell was destined for his body.
“Blend,” he whispered.
The magic tingled around him. It felt raw and strange. Something changed. He held up his hand. It still looked the same as it had most of his life. He reached for the wall, and his fingers turned the same color as the wall. As he stepped closer, his hand and arm became a metallic shade. He’d have to stick close to walls, but he’d blend in.
Still wishing for a wand as a safe focus, Alchemy opened the door and slipped out into the metal hallway. He had no way of knowing where they took Dolce, but he remembered the way they’d come after leaving Doctor Gnome’s dining room. Slowly, keeping close to the wall, he headed the opposite direction, ever watchful for something he might use as a weapon, or maybe even a wand.
When last we left our hero he was about to have dinner with Dr Gnome.
Silence greeted them as the door opened onto a spacious room. The gnome woman gestured for them to enter then stepped out of the way. A small click sounded as she closed the door behind them.
Two large trolls stood on opposite sides of the doorway. They appeared not to notice the elves as they walked onto the plush carpet leading deeper into the room.
“Please come in, Mister Pond,” a high gnomish voice said.
Alchemy glanced through the room’s opulence and spotted a short man standing near the head of a long table. In the soft light that permeated the room from unseen sources, the man’s bald head had a light green cast to it. Large metal shells protruded from the side of the pale green cranium where his ears should have been.
“Doctor Gnome, I presume,” said Alchemy, starting toward the man.
A high gnomish laugh answered him. “Ah, but I am the only gnome in the room, Mister Pond. At this point who else could I be? But please, if you and Miss Leek would kindly have a seat, we can begin dinner. It has been a very busy day and I, for one, happen to be hungry.” He hopped up on the well padded chair at the head of the table.
Alchemy still holding Dolce’s hand, led her to the places waiting for them near the gnome. As they drew nearer to the doctor, the wizard noticed that the gnome’s hands weren’t exactly normal, where most gnomes had small rounded hands, more like an elf or human’s, Dr. Gnome’s were slightly elongated, more like a goblin’s. His nose was also more pointed than bulbous.
Carefully positioning himself between their host and Dolce, Alchemy pulled out her chair. She smiled weakly at him. He tried to look reassuring as he patted her hand before releasing it.
“Mister Pond, do you enjoy working with the Fragrance Guild?” Gnome asked as Alchemy settled into his own chair.
“You don’t beat around the bush do you, Doctor Gnome?” Alchemy responded.
“I’m a very busy man, Mister Pond, and I like to get to the meat of my problems as quickly as possible,” their host replied as several goblins approached the table carrying food-laden trays.
“I’ve done worse jobs,” the elf smiled as one of the goblins dished out a portion of steaming red meat onto the silver plate before him.
“Like when you apprenticed for the old coot Shamus the Magnificent?” Doctor Gnome asked, ignoring the goblins that placed food on his plate.
“Your information is very good,” Alchemy replied.
“I have my network of people. Fortunately you elves aren’t very good about keeping things quiet in your kingdom. So how is it that a person such as yourself that took so very long to complete his apprenticeship came to the attention of the Fragrance Guild and became one of their field operatives?”
Now that the plates and goblets were filled, the serving goblins placed the trays on the table and vanished. Alchemy reached for his wine goblet and took a sip before answering.
“I happen to be better than most people assume,” he smiled.
Doctor Gnome raised his glass at the elf. “That’s what I presumed with the reports I’ve been hearing about your exploits. From what my observers have relayed, you are an incredibly talented wizard with a quick head on his shoulders. I could use a man like you in my organization.”
“But I thought gnomes despised magic?” Alchemy asked as his knife slipped into the tender meat before him.
“Oh we do, Mister Pond, don’t get me wrong,” Gnome assured him. “But I didn’t build the empire I have being short sighted or narrow minded. I know that even though its future is limited, magic in our world has its uses. That usefulness is why I’m trying to disrupt the human’s firebird hatch. Did you know that those creatures actually have a hive-mind intelligence? The humans don’t like to let that out. It’s what makes them so important in long distance communications. The mother of the brood maintains a mental link with her offspring. Keep the mother close by and she can communicate with her children all over the planet. It’s so much faster than sending messages by courier.”
Alchemy didn’t respond. He and most of the rest of the world thought the birds would be used to carry messages back and forth since they fly faster than any other creatures in sky. There were no firebird nests outside human lands, so most of the other races didn’t know what the birds were capable of. If they communicated mentally, it would mean the humans had their own equivalent of the mirror network the elves and some of the other magical races had. He covered his silence by chewing on the tender meat longer than necessary.
Doctor Gnome chuckled “By your silence, I presume you didn’t know that. Of course I’ve been working on long distance communications for the races that don’t have magic. Since we can’t use the mirror network like the rest of you, we have to come up with something, or be dependent on other races to keep in touch.”
“But why not let the humans have their advance?” Dolce asked after taking a big bite of potatoes.
“Because, we can’t allow them to go on,” their host’s voice rose a couple of octaves. “Already they are becoming one of the most populace races. They have no concern for anything but their own expansion.”
Alchemy nodded. “That’s right, aren’t they threatening to push into some of the disputed lands between the gnomes and the ursas? Something about bringing peace to the area?”
“Peace? Peace?” Gnome shrieked as he slammed his fork down on the table. “What do the humans know of Peace? They will move into that land which is rightfully gnome land and within a generation they will engulf both the gnomes and the ursas. If we stop their firebirds from hatching, they will have no long distance communications without using riders and carrier birds. It will make their expansion harder.”
“So you want to protect the gnome lands?” Alchemy asked. “Then while not file a grievance with the People’s Forum?” Alchemy knew how useless the People’s Forum was in issues between the different races. But it was normally the route that most races used when they had issues with the others. The forum consisted of three members of each race, and each member had a vote, with an odd number of delegates, it was impossible for a tie, unless someone abstained from voting.
“Everyone knows the amount of influence the Fragrance Guild has in the forum,” the gnome sneered. “There’s no way they would back the gnomes. They see science and invention as abominations. No, it is far easier to move within the shadows and work out the issues there. I should know. I’ve moved in the shadows for years. I’d still be there, but one of my operatives in the human capital got caught, alerting the humans and the Guild. Now I find I must face the light for the first time in my life. But there is little the Guild or any of their allies can do to stop me.”
“What do you mean?” Alchemy asked taking another sip of his wine. “If the human’s are aware of your plan to interfere with their hatch, they are doing everything they can to make sure this clutch is safe.”
“Ah, but once I learned about the impending deployment of the firebird network, I did some research on them,” Doctor Gnome said, taking another bite of his steak. “Did you know that a mother firebird will destroy her hatchlings if she feels threatened by a dragon?”
“But we killed your dragon,” the elf replied.
“You killed one of my dragons,” Gnome said. “I’ve lived my life always having a backup plan. What you killed was a young female I’d been grooming for this, but I still have others. Before the sun rises tomorrow, my goblin and troll troops will mount their dragons and we will fly toward the secret nesting spot of the firebirds. The humans don’t have the firepower to stop a flight of dragons coming down on them. And even if they manage to take out one or two of the dragons, there will be at least one that makes it through their defenses. The mother bird will be so scared by the dragons she will set fire to her nest, destroying the eggs and any hope the humans have of getting their communications network up and working before I can inform Gnomeland Security that the way is clear for them to invade the human lands.”
“You can’t do that,” Dolce objected. “What about the innocent lives that will be lost.”
“Have you paid attention to how fast those humans breed?” their host asked. “They are the biped equivalent of rabbits, worse, rats. The rest of the races breed slower, age slower, live longer. We are the better races, yet the elves and their allies protect the humans like they are beloved pets or something. We have to put the apes back where they belong.”
“Gnomes are almost as short lived as humans,” Alchemy observed. “There is even some evidence that the two share a common ancestor.” He’d heard many arguments over the years about which race was better, and lifespan always came up in the arguments. A lot of people thought the longer lived races were superior just due to the time they had in the world to accumulate knowledge and power. This thought pattern was particularly prevalent in magic users who did everything they could to extend their live spans.
Gnome sneered. “Trust me there is nothing human about me. Of my gnome father I could not tell you.”
“So you’re not completely gnome?” Dolce asked, a look of distaste crossing her features.
“Please, my dear Miss Leek, don’t pretend to be coy. You knew the minute you laid eyes on me that I wasn’t a full blood gnome. My mother was a goblin servant in my father’s home. I lived in the shadows after my father and his people kicked me out. But his genes gave me the brainpower to become what I am today. Once I destroy the human’s firebirds, the gnomes will welcome my genius back into their fold. I will be one of their guiding forces of intellect.”
“That’s monsterous!” the elf woman said, slamming her fork down on the table. “You’re going to destroy those defenseless firebirds because you want the gnomes to take you back? You’re a monster! No one would ever want you!”
“Dolce, please calm down,” said Alchemy putting a hand on her arm.
Doctor Gnome gestured. “No Miss Leek, you are correct. I am a monster. But sometimes, the monster wins. This time it will be all about the monster winning and there is nothing you or your magical boyfriend’s precious Fragrance Guild can do about it. You see I’ve neutralized Mister Pond here. We’ve eaten Mister Staghorn, and even as we speak, my trolls are closing in on Mister Whitehawk.”
Alchemy stared at his plate in horror and felt Dolce stiffen under his hand as she realized what Doctor Gnome had just said. With his other hand he flung his plate with his partially consumed bear steak on it at the little mad man. Gnome ducked, but the plate still clanged off his left ear. Massive hands grabbed Alchemy by the shoulders as he started to rise.
“Monster!” Dolce screamed.
“We are what we are, Miss Leek,” Gnome said straightening in his chair.
“You realize that I will stop your plan,” Alchemy said through gritted teeth.
“You are welcome to try, Mister Pond, but I assure you, it will be impossible for you to escape the prison my trolls are about to put you and Miss Leek in,” said Doctor Gnome, nonchalantly pushing the scattered food on the table away with a light green hand. “When I have destroyed the firebirds, I will be back for you. I need to arrange for quick transport of your head to the mysterious K before I kill you.” He gestured at the trolls.
Alchemy fell silent, his mind trying to find a way out as his troll captor pulled him the rest of the way out of his chair and moved him out of the room. Dolce’s screams echoed down the stark metal hallway. Alchemy noticed the gnome woman waiting just outside the door.
To Sex or Not to Sex
There’s something I’ve been debating for a while now, and by a while I mean several years. Does gay literature have to involve sex?
A couple of years ago when I was first trying to sell “Blood Moon, Yellow Sky,” before Tal became a dragon, I was with a literary agent. After several rejections of the book she and I debated if it would sell better if there were graphic sex in it as opposed to alluded sex. “Sex sells,” she told me. I left that meeting debating a: if I wanted to put a couple of graphic sex scenes in the book and b: where I would put them if I did. The next time I talked to her and expressed a concern that I wanted to reach a broader audience than I would if I had sex scenes in it. After some thought she agreed that the story on its own was strong enough and with the right publisher behind it, it didn’t need sex. She also agreed that the sex would limit the sales of the book to gay men and women who enjoyed reading about gay sex.
Now that I’ve self published the book, along with several others, I’m finding mixed reactions. I get mostly good feedback on the series. Every so often I get a review or an email that sounds surprised that a book with mostly gay male characters doesn’t have sex scenes in it. One review of “Shadows on the Campfire” actually said “Most of the characters are gay men but there are no sex scenes, making the read suitable for Y.A. as well.” This is good in my opinion, opening my writing to several audiences, and that is my goal, to hit as wide an audience as I can. I have also gotten feedback from readers that they want more sex in my work, sorry but that’s not going to happen in these stories. Yes I have my visions of what my characters do to each other in the privacy of their own bedrooms, showers, forest, ect., but that’s not the audience I’m trying to reach.
I’ve also heard concerns that most of my main characters are in stable loving relationships, with little personal drama. Life is full of enough drama without having to go looking for more. One of my big goals in reaching a wide audience is showing gay couples in committed loving relationships. I feel that right now, when we are fighting for very human rights in the real world, it’s important to show things in as positive a light as possible. I want my characters to be as good and upstanding as possible, even if they do happen to be dragons, vampires, werewolves and mages. The drama in my stories happens around my characters through the world interacting with them, it very rarely happens with them interacting with each other. One reviewer of “Coyote’s Pup” wrote “Chance and his fellow characters are all quite likable in that they consistently behave in a pro-social manner, and I do like books about people who are undisputedly on the “good” end of the good and evil scale. The members of this Coalition of supernatural creatures are all genuinely interested in helping each other with their magic or anything else that they can help with.” I think this is a good thing. I never viewed the whole thing as “pro-social” before, but I guess in a way it is. Why not have characters more concerned with making the world a better place than in seeing how much drama they can cause each other?
One of the first things that we as writers are told is to write what you know. On the whole my life is low on the drama scale. I am happily partnered in a very stable relationship. I’ve known drama in my past, and don’t like to dwell there. I like happy relationships. It’s what I know now. I think more people need to know what happy, stable relationships can be. If my writing can help people realize these in their own life, then I’m making a good impact on my readers and the world.
I want my books to reach a wide audience. I want my readers to get a good impression of what loving gay couples can be. It would even be nice if folks want to see a little more of the qualities that make heroes and heroines as opposed to just more drama. If folks are just wanting sex with no plot or anything else to carry you through the book, I know a few writers that can fill the bill. If you want a good strong story with characters that leave you impatiently waiting for the next book, check out my stuff. Good gay fiction doesn’t need to have sex, just strong characters who happen to be sexy.
Tomorrow look for the beginning of the end of “Dr Gnome” as I try and get the novel wrapped up over the next week or so.