It was hopeless. Krane knew this, but it did not cause him to fear. His kind was always tested in battle by pitting strength against strength. But now, even his prodigious strength was fading. They had almost done it. Even now the remains of his fellow’s friend was in one of their bags, stolen from the slayer of his kind. The elf had been the last to fall, stricken with the poison of hundreds of centipede bites. Five of these creatures was too many to carry, even for him.
His fury had brought him this far, and while the edge of the swap was less than a hundred feet away, it might have been ten miles. We couldn’t leave his companions in the swamp, and he couldn’t carry them with him. As his fury had abated, he noticed again the stench of the dead in the swamp and the ravenous hunger of the thousands of small biting flies. It was a wasteland of disease and death, one he did not expect to escape.
A light drizzle had started, a grey and dreary day for a grey and dreary end. To the north, where the accursed tower stood, the gongs and horns had gone silent a few minutes ago. The armies of the dead were mobilizing for a hunt, and their game was lame. But goliaths did not go done easy, and Krane vowed quietly to himself to make them pay dearly for his death.
- * *
Guss still had trouble feeling comfortable being called a lord. He viewed these dwarves as comrades in arms and comrades in spirit. A people who understood the training necessary to defend those who needed it and the sacrifice necessary to execute that training in the face of fear. And while they treated him as an equal in almost all things, the deference in being addressed as a lord still struck a sour note to his ears.
“What is it, Limos?” He responded to his friend.
“m’Lord, the goliaths are very upset. They wish to speak to you and Kloister immediately. Their witch has had a vision.”
- * *
The goliaths were upset, the entire tribe at the foot of the Grim Watch, lined up for the march. The strongest of them stood towards the front, a light pack, war armor and weapons hanging from various hooks and catches on their packs. Towards the back, even the youngest of the goliaths stood stock still and ready to move when ordered. The witch was at the head of the column, her potions and powders arrayed across her body in a series of colorful scarves and wrapped clothing. Even where the fabric did not cover, her body was etched in a series of vibrant tattoos.
“You. Must lead. Take war giant devil.” Her common was halting and her eyes pleaded with hope that Guss and or Kloister would understand and take command.
Kloister’s diplomatic senses took over for him and he answered in the goliath’s native tongue to help facilitate the communication. Although brash and headstrong, the young human had an air of command around him and his ability to work softly even as he was loud and boisterous was a strength his taller, stronger companion Guss had always been amazed by.
“War Witch. You honor us with your tribe’s strength to command. What troubles you so that you wish to ride to war and slaughter? Kloister’s giant had improved considerably since he had had amble time to practice with the Goliath Krane.
“Your friends will die without aid.” The war witch replied, with a trace of fear, maybe awe, in her voice. “We cannot allow the ones who are blessed to come to that end without our strength. We must hurry, for we might already be too late.”
“Two nights ago”, she continued without waiting for the nicety to be asked, “a vision was given to me. The spirit of the mountain of our fathers and our mothers came to speak to me. He told me of a swine herder with seven swine. He said two swine would stay, five would go with the herder. Then the herder would come to a great dark cave. He would enter the cave with his swine to look for mushrooms. When he came out, his swine were sick and the herder needed to carry them. While the herder was strong, the cave was evil. It did not wish for the herder to leave. The herder would have to fight the darkness.”
“Then the spirit of the mountain of our fathers and mothers paused.” She continued, reverence in her voice. “He said the time had come for the goliath to be counted. The time had come for war and for choosing.”
She looked up directly at Kloister’s eyes with a fury and an intensity that startled even the experienced human leader. “We choose to stand and fight strong. We choose for war against the evil. The vision is clear, the swine herder must go with all seven swine. And he should go with us. Where is Krane, that he might be the herder and take us to battle in the evil cave?”
Kloister had been taken aback by the veracity of the war witch’s speech. He could only answer candidly. “You are too late War Witch. My friend Kane and the others set off three days ago.”
- * *
This was not Guss’s preferred method of travel. Twice he had flown in the air powered by dragons. Neither of those two previous times had it been by choice however. Now he was astride one of these magnificent beasts. By it’s request.
After hearing that they were too late, the entire Goliath tribe had taken up a wail of agony and grief. It had awakened some of the Grim Watch’s newest residents, five very young, very hungry, very curious iron dragons. While they were newly hatched, dragons actually came into the world with substantially more intellect and awareness then the mammals that cared for them. The wail of the goliaths had all five of them alight and winging their ways down to the war party even as the startled elves tending them tried to unsuccessfully calm them and get them back to their bedding.
Each of the young iron dragons was acutely aware of what had happened to their mother and whom it was who had saved her from an eternity of anguish and torment. Not only did they offer to fly Guss and Kloister to the swamp of Jorn the giant slayer, betrayer of all dwarves; they convinced the silver dragon to the north to fly as many of the war party as she could bear, insisting that the conflict that she’d had with the heroes was not as important as the safety of the ones who were fated to bring an end to the hated green Glimmer.
The irons had insisted on the honor of flying both Guss and Kloister, so here Guss was, astride a dragon racing into a battle that for all he knew was already lost. Nearby, Kloister looked absolutely jubilant as a war leader leading a small flight of irons with a silver dragon right behind, a slimmed down, grim looking war party of goliaths on her back. Man, this is a long way from being a sell-sword to protect caverns to the Stone Hall Guss thought.
Kloister was jubilant. He could not imagine a more glorious way to ride into battle. His heart raced and the blood pounded in his ears as the wind whipped by fast enough to cause his eyes to tear. The best part? Attached to a lance given to him by some dwarven artisans as a gift the week before was a brilliant banner, a new heraldry to announce to anyone who’d view it, that the heroes of prophecy had taken the field of battle. Good gods, this was so much better than guarding caverns!
- * *
On the swamp, Krane checked his weapons a last time. The ghoul packs were getting closer. They were fooled by the robe he knew, but eventually they would be close enough with a controller that they would descend on him and his helpless companions. The drizzle continued unabated and the air was humid and dank. This would be it, Krane thought. The end of the vision. The end of the hope.
Then, there was a tremendous roar from behind. Krane winced in spite of himself. Overhead five small dragon flew over head. Then a large silver beast settled in ten feet away, and from it’s back his kinsmen descended, painted for war and looking for trouble.
The ghoul packs scattered at the approach of the five outriders and cajoled by a loud figure waving a brilliant banner, one of the dragons made the first breath attack of it’s short life. Kloister. Krane thought wearily. And then he grinned the grin of a goliath. The grin that unnerved the halfing children who feared they might be on the dinner menu.
Krane’s roar echoed the dragon’s earlier roars, and his kinsmen took it up. “Let the world tremble.” Krane thought. “These heroes do not stand alone.”