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>Combat Chaos - Story 29
D&D - Combat Chaos, Fantasy Stories of Battle
ALEXANDER V.S. DRAGOLITH
Lord Alexander Ur-Drago eyed the decrepit wizard with disdain. “And how would one break this curse?”
Vicindrek sighed wearily. “This I do not know.”
Alexander growled menacingly. “Fools! All of you! I have seen every wise man and wizard within a hundred miles. None of them could tell me anything about the minotaur! Remind me why I sought your council?”
The aged wizard grinned slyly. “Because all of them told you I would be able to help you?”
Pushing himself to his feet, Alexander began making his way out of the cluttered study. “Fools and charlatans. Even the advice they agreed on proved false.”
“Wait!” Vicindrek called out after the angry knight. “I said I did not know how to end the curse. I did not say I could not help you…”
Alexander paused, his hand only inches from the door. Finally he made his decision. “Tell me more…”
One month later…
Alexander staggered forward with dogged determination. His once fine armor caked with slime and mud. His horse had fared poorly, dying from the venom of some foul serpent not one days journey into the swamp. Since then, Lord Alexander had pushed himself mercilessly through the swamp. Only stopping when exhaustion overtook him. Twice he had nearly drowned, only desperation lending him strength enough to struggle free of a watery grave. Now he paused gasping for breath, his right hand resting on the hilt of his sword, while his other leaned heavily on… worked stone? Falling back in surprise he gazed in amazement at the stone archway that materialized before him. A moment ago he had been sure nothing was there, but now… He wiped the sweat from his stinging eyes with his heavy glove and slowly crept forward. He laughed uneasily. It was now evident how he had missed it, time and the swamp had taken its toll, creeping inexorably over the stone archway until it was the same green as everything else in the damnable swamp. With shaking hands he brushed away the tendrils of vine and slime. Near the top he uncovered a single word in the Olde tongue. Lhuathes. Despair. With a feral grin Alexander threw back his head and howled with laughter.
“I found it!” He shouted, shaking his fist at the canopy above. His voice echoed weirdly in the swamp. The words ringing back at him sounded, hollow. “I found it.” He muttered excitedly under his breath. Drawing himself up, he regained his composure. Clearing his throat with a cough he issued his challenge. “Beast! Hear me and know that death is coming for you!”
As his words faded, the swamp fell deathly silent, as if holding its breath. Lord Alexander cocked his head, as if waiting for a reply. He did not have long to wait. Almost immediately a faint shuffling sound began emanating from deep within the depths of the arch.
From the darkness a deep guttural voice boomed. “Knight! I hear your words. And I smell your steel. Turn back. None who enter leave alive.”
Alexander drew his sword with a feral grin. “Show yourself beast! So that I may end your miserable existence.”
If the his words were heard, there was no reply. Grunting with irritation, Alexander hefted his sword and stepped through the arch. “If the coward will not come to me… I will bring steel to him!”
Three days later…
Lord Alexander fell weakly against the stone wall. He slammed his fist against the cold stone in frustration. Just ahead of him he could see the archway leading back into the swamp, the way he came. No matter which way he turned he always came back to the arch. To make matters worse, no amount of shouting, pleading, or threatening had summoned his adversary again.
“I will not fail.” He growled, slamming his fist into the wall again. “You hear me? I will not fail!”
Weary, he pushed himself away from the wall. As he did, the brick he was leaning against shifted and clicked. In front of him, the previously blank wall shifted inward, revealing a narrow passage with a twisting corridor. Alexander laughed weakly. “What trick is this?”
“No trick.” A gruff voice rumbled.
Alexander whirled, his sword at the ready. But there was no one there. “Show yourself, coward!”
“Come no further.” The detached voice replied. “Leave this place, and never return. Or step forward and suffer the fate that all who came before you suffered.”
The knight grinned and raised his sword, half mad from exhaustion. “We shall see who suffers!”
Stalking forward he charged into the darkness. No sooner had he passed the threshold of the hidden door than it slid closed behind him. “Trickery!” The knight shouted, flailing madly about with his sword. “You’ll not take me! Coward!” For several long moment he flailed blindly in the dark, his sword striking sparks where it hit the narrow walls of the maze. Gasping he fell to one knee, leaning heavily on his sword, sweat dripping from under his helm. “Coward…” He choked. “You’ll not…” His voice trailed off as he realized he could now see the ground at his feet. His head snapped up in alarm. All around him, on each wall a single rune glowed with a faint blue light. Looking around he could see more runes. Each was evenly spaced roughly an arms length apart near the ceiling, leading down the corridors as far as he could see. “More foul magics.” He muttered.
As he glanced about uneasily, something white caught his eye in the corner of the room. Creeping forward cautiously, he squinted in the gloom. Almost immediately he discerned what it was. A human skull grinned back at him from the corner, its gnawed bones long ago stripped of flesh. What tattered strips of fabric remained of the unfortunate skeleton’s clothes suggested finery. Creeping forward, Alexander searched the body, looking for clue’s as to what the skeleton’s identity may have been and how he might of died. His search revealed little. A copper ring, a pouch full of odd herbs, half of which were unfamiliar to him. Frowning in disgust he threw down the pouch. A magic user. “Good riddance.” He muttered, tossing the pouch down. With a grunt he staggered to his feet and looked at the corridors surrounding the small room. Three ways out. Of the hidden door that had brought him here, there was no sign. Glancing uneasily at his surroundings he noticed something amiss. He looked at the skeleton again. Either through accident or design, the dead mage’s hands pointed towards two of the hallways. “Well…” He muttered to the skeleton as he turned towards the third hallway. “If it is all the same to you, I think I’ll just go this way.”
Several twists and turns later, Alexander began wondering of the wisdom in his choice. “This is what I get for listening to dead mages.” He grumbled to himself. A faint glitter caught his attention. Warily, he held his sword out and crept closer only to chuckle uneasily as he poked a silver coin with his sword.
“The famed riches of the maze.” He joked quietly as he leaned down to retrieve the coin. Brushing the dust and grime away he squinted at the silvery disk in the dim light. His eyes widened as he realized the ‘silver’ was actually platinum. As he pocketed the coin he caught a glimpse of something sparkling to his left. Scooting forward on his hands and knees he lay flat on the floor. Someone had pried away several bricks near the floor. In the darkness, anyone would have missed them unless they looked at them from an almost supine position. Cautiously he peeked through the gap.
Piles of glittering coins greeted him. Sparkling gems, and jewelry glittering a promise of riches beyond measure. He gasped in surprise. The stories were true! The rumors of the beasts great wealth had not been a myth. Edging closer he grimly noticed white bones mixed amongst the treasures too large to be any animals. With his face almost flush against the hole, he noticed the hilt of a magnificent blade. ‘Surely.’ He thought. ‘Such a magnificent blade holds a powerful enchantment.’ Shifting his body around, he squeezed his armored arm through the hole. Stretching his fingers out he could just brush the hilt with the tips of his fingers. Growling in frustration he pushed himself closer. “Got it!” He whispered under his breath.
No sooner had his hand closed over the hilt of the sword, a heavy weight landed squarely in the middle of his back, before he could cry out something crashed down on his helm, knocking him senseless.
Several hours later…
Pain. Alexander groaned faintly as he regained consciousness. Cracking an eye open he was greeted by a twisted shape. Blinking in confusion he realized what it was. His own helm, dented and twisted by the force of whatever blow had rendered him unconscious. A scraping noise caught his attention. Rolling his head slowly he strained his ears to try and discern the nature of the noise. Almost immediately he recognized the all too familiar sound of steel on a whetstone. Suddenly he remembered where he was and what danger he was in. Panic gripped him and he resisted the urge to leap to his feet.
Opening both eyes he looked desperately around him. Coins. Everywhere he looked they glittered and winked at him. With a frown of surprise and confusion he realized he was now laying in the middle of the hoard he had been looking at before he was attacked. Sliding his hand quietly to his waist, he reached for his sword, only to have his hand close on nothing where his sword should have been. Without making a noise, he scanned the room, looking for the blade he had spied earlier. After several minutes of searching, he gave up.
Suddenly the scraping noise ceased. “It is about time you woke up.” An all too familiar voice rumbled.
Alexander turned his head slowly, hardly daring to breath. In the darkness he could make out a hulking hunched over form. Squinting, he estimated the beast stood a foot taller than him, and probably outweighed him by at least half again his own weight. From what he could tell, it seemed the beast had its back to him.
“Twice I warned you, but still you came on.” Standing slowly the beast stalked away from him.
With a gulp, Alexander could now clearly see the beast carried a massive axe whose haft was almost as long as he was tall. Hastily he added another foot to his estimate of the creature’s size. Now that it stood, he could clearly see two massive horns curling out from either side of its head. Was it a helm? He wondered absently, or were the rumors true and the creature he faced was no beast at all, but some horrid demon from the pits of the abyss?
“This is your last chance.” The hulking creature rumbled as it walked away, motioning with its axe. “If you leave now, you will find the exit in less than half a days walk.”
Alexander glanced warily at the direction the beast pointed.
“Or you can follow me, and suffer the same fate as those before you.” With that the beast ducked down a hallway and was gone.
Rolling to his feet Alexander searched frantically for a weapon. He did not believe for one second that the creature was sincere. “I’ll not fall for your games.” He muttered as he sifted frantically through the fortune. After a moment he stumbled upon the magnificent hilt he had spied earlier. With a triumphant smile he grasped the sword and held it aloft. It’s weight and balance were perfect, almost as if it had been made for him.
Confidence restored he turned back towards the archway the beast had disappeared through. “You should have killed me when you had the chance, monster!”
Slipping and sliding over coins he made his way towards the archway. “Now you will pay the price for your folly.”
No sooner had he spoken than the head of the massive axe came whistling through the doorway.
Scrambling back he narrowly avoided being cleaved in two by the massive blade.
“Coward!” Alexander shouted as he charged forward. With his knee he pinned the axe to the ground and swung his sword with all his might. If the blow had landed, it would have cleaved the limbs from whoever had held the haft of the weapon. But, no sooner had he swung than the axe was jerked out from under him, sending him flying backwards.
Keeping his wits and sword about him, Alexander slid across coins until he hit a wall.
Snorting, the beast charged him axe raised. Alexander gritted his teeth as he raised his sword. At the last second he dropped the blade and rolled to his side, letting the axe crash into coins once again. With a grin he rolled back and locked his arm over the haft and kicked outward. His heavily booted boot caught the beast in the shin, causing it to stumble slightly.
With a growl that sounded more like anger than pain, the beast heft his axe, lifting a shocked Alexander from to his feet. Before he could swing the beast took a step and heaved the surprised knight across the room. This time his sword skittered from his grasp as he landed heavily on a pile of coins. With a roar the beast stalked towards him, axe leading yet again.
Kicking himself forward, Alexander slid on coins, the axe narrowly missing his head. He grunted as the haft of the axe slammed into his chest, driving the air from his lungs. Gasping his head lolled to one side as a massive hand gripped the top of his breastplate and lifted him armor and all as easily as one might lift a child. Alexander’s pulse pounded in his ears as bestial features swam in his blurry vision. The beast was shaking him and shouting something incomprehensible. Finally the beast growled in disgust and slammed the knight into the wall. Once, twice and again. Alexander choked as he felt his armor buckle and ribs begin to crack.
Desperate he grabbed the huge fist in both his hands and lashed out with his feet. At least one flailing armored foot found its mark as the beast cried out in surprise and pain, dropping him roughly to the floor as It clutched it’s injured groin.
Coughing and choking, Alexander pulled himself hand over hand towards his discarded sword. As he gripped it he felt the strength in his arms return, leaning heavily on the sword he pushed himself to his feet.
Turning slowly he took one staggering step towards the beast and swung the sword with all his might. Steel rang out on steel as the beast raised its axe to parry the blow. Again and again, Alexander swung desperately. Each time the blade rang out as it was deflected by the axe. With a hoarse cry, Alexander gripped the hilt with both hands and heaved the sword in a might overhand blow. Once again the axe moved to block the blow. Once again steel rang on steel. Only this time the battered blade could take no more, snapping cleanly in half.
Half the blade went flying out of Alexander’s vision, the other half, the half he still held, flew with deadly accuracy, guided by sheer desperation. The flat of the shattered blade caught the beast squarely between the eyes.
Stunned the axe fell from the beast’s nerveless fingers. Seizing his opportunity, the knight gripped his sword tighter and battered the beast’s head with the flat of the blade, knocking the beast to the left and right with blow after merciless blow. With a roar the beast flailed out, lurching forward, tackling the knight and bearing him to the ground. Alexander reversed the broken blade and drove it as hard as he could in the creatures back. Man and beast cried out as they fell. Determined, Alexander twisted the blade this way and that, as the beast thrashed, its iron grip crushing tighter around his waist. Finally the beasts thrashings slowed, then stilled.
Relief and pain flooded through Lord Alexander. Awkwardly he pushed himself from under the massive form. Groaning the beast rolled to one side, the broken blade in its back cutting deeper with each labored breath.
Lord Alexander Ur-Drago pushed himself to his knees. Never taking his eyes from the strange beast. Now that he could look at it face to face, he could make out the features more clearly. The upper body was clearly humanoid, but covered in a thick fur. The legs ended in massive hooves and instead of a human head, the beast had the visage of a terrible bull with a mouthful of sharp teeth. Dimly he recalled the similar description of a beast form one of his childhood stories, a minotaur.
The beast grinned bloodily at him as the light in its eyes dimmed. “My name… Is… Isstaven Dragolith. Thank you…”
With a great sigh, the Minotaur expired.
As Alexander watched the beasts form rippled and changed. The massive form seemed to shrink and fall in on itself. Fur receded and hooves turned into very human feet.
The knight blinking in surprise, shaking his head in disbelief as he stared at the body of a large man, clad only in a loincloth and horned helm.
“Did I imagine it?” He wondered aloud as he reached forward to push the helm off the dead man’s head. Doubt began to push its way into his mind, fear and tricks of the light might have made the man before him appear larger, and the helm would have certainly made him appear more bestial.
Alexander looked at the odd helm curiously. It looked as if it would fit him perfectly. He grinned faintly it would make a good trophy too. A memento of his greatest battle. Slowly, he raised the helm over his head and slid it in place. Instantly the sided of the helm tightened, gripping his skull. “What is happening?” He screamed in alarm as he tried vainly to pull the helm off. Pain exploded in his skull and coursed through his body. As he writhed in agony the straps of his armor tightened and snapped. His muscles bulged and grew as his body twisted and bones crackled. Piece by piece the plates of his armor fell away and his mail strained and split. Leather ripped as his boots burst, no longer able to contain the inhuman hooves. His screams of pain changed from a high pitched shriek to a deep bellow as his face shifted and warped to a bestial bovine shape, the horns now a part of his skull. Deep in his mind he could now FEEL the maze as it shifted around him. Screaming in frustration he pounded coins with his now massive fists as he knew in the very core of his being that no matter how far he walked, he would never find the exit of the cave. Atop his pile of wealth, in the center of his maze, Lord Alexander Ur-Drago, stood victorious. And through the twisted halls of the maze of despair, the minotaur’s wail echoed mournfully.
By: Jason Haley