It was late in the morning when the young swordsman Percival Jonathon McDoran stared into the tiny room, at the small bald child who was sleeping in her bed. The room's white walls were sparsely decorated; a small painting of a mountain landscape and a drawing of a white flower were the only two decorations that were hung in a spot directly above the little girl's pillow.
Percival was a skinny human of twenty-two years of age with jet black hair that was always spiked up in the front. His body was covered with freshly clean linens. Over the linens was a thin set of chain mail armor and a forest green colored cloak that was draped across his back. Strapped across his back was a two-handed steel sword.
The young swordsman looked down at the little girl and asked in a polite voice," Annie, are you awake?"
The little girl's eyelids opened, revealing the oval shaped green orbs that rested underneath. "Percival, what are you doing here?"
Percival quietly entered the room, his olive colored eyes examining the little girl as she spoke. He quickly noticed her skin had become more pale and her body more gangly, almost like a skeleton. To Percival, the only thing about Annie that hadn't changed since he last visited her two days before, was the light in her eyes. Her condition has worsened, he said to himself.
"Brother Donald didn't say you were coming," Annie continued, referring to the swordsman's half-elf friend Donald Falturk, who also happened to be a priest at the temple here where Annie was living. Donald was a priest to the Mother Goddess, Harmonia the Feymother, who was known as the goddess who created elves and other fey and magical creatures.
Percival shrugged, thinking of his dark skinned friend. "Donald had just probably forgotten to mention that I was coming today. How are you feeling?"
Annie sighed, staring up at the young man. "I feel a better today than most days. But I wish this sickness would leave me so that way I can run and play like the other children."
"You must grow restless being confined here," commented Percival as he patted her head. "Still you know what Brother Donald and the other priests would say."
"To keep praying," she answered with a smile. Percival nodded as he turned to walk away. He was glad that Annie had such strong faith. As his left foot was outside of the door, he heard Annie ask," Maybe you can visit me some other time Percival."
Percival turned to Annie and nodded. "Yes Annie. I will come and visit you soon." The little girl flashed Percival another smile, then reached underneath her large wool blanket and pulled out a small red book.
The swordsman quickly left the room and proceeded to wander the hallways quietly. Just as he was about to dive into his personal thoughts once more, he spotted Donald, who was wearing his light green clerical robes.
Donald ran a hand through his clean shaven head and walked over to greet his friend. "I take it you just visited Annie."
Percival nodded. "There seems to be no real improvement on her condition."
The priest shook his head, already knowing the rocky path where this conversation was going. "I have been praying day and night for her, just like everyone else."
Letting out a sigh, Percival crossed his arms and leaned up against the wall. "And has your goddess said anything to you? Is she going to help her? What about the other priests and their gods here at the temple?"
"The Feymother has told me that this sickness is not beyond her power," Donald answered. "But her attention is on other matters, just the other gods, you know that. The Elves in the main land are in a brutal war against the Shadowkin."
"So she can't take a little time out of her war to help a sick child," Percival said in a bitter voice. Noticing the glare in his friend's slightly slanted blue eyes, he added," I apologize. I didn't mean to speak ill of your goddess-"
"You can not go around besmirching the Mother Gods, especially here," Donald interrupted as he tapped his forehead with his index finger. "For someone who doesn't really put his faith in the gods, you sure have been visiting the temple quite a bit."
Percival rolled his eyes. Two months ago, he had been a knight in the service of King Benjamin Grail, and the kingdom of Belaroos, which was several miles northeast of Montagu, the town where the swordsman was currently staying. King Grail's commanding officer, Sir Brandon Trask, had asked Percival to leave the knighthood for unknown reasons, assuring the young man that he would be asked to return soon. Percival took this opportunity to visit Donald in Montagu and within the first week of him staying with the priest, Percival would have his midday meal with Donald at the temple. This is where he met Annie. After two months, Percival had contemplated on going back to Belaroos, but decided against it, seeing as he was called to help at the temple. Donald had told him that it was faith and that the goddesses wanted him to be there, but the swordsman just shook his head, saying that he was too lazy to travel back to Belaroos.
Disregarding his friend's last few words, Percival turned to look back into Annie's room. "I wish there was something I could do for her." The swordsman looked back to Donald. "Isn't there anything we mortals can do?
Donald shrugged then patted Percival on the back. "We can pray."
* * * *
After leaving Donald to do his praying and his clerical duties, Percival left the temple and ventured over a grassy area behind an abandoned granary. "Maybe Donald is right," Percival whispered as he went to a knee and cast his gaze up towards the cloudless blue sky above. "Maybe prayer-" the swordsman was quickly on his feet, when he spotted a beautiful woman in a long black dress, standing several feet away from him. She had stringy white hair that went down to her back and silvery eyes that stared his way.
"Yes, prayer, sir knight," the woman said in a sultry voice. "Pray to a goddess who will not answer the prayers of her own priests. A goddess you yourself do not believe in. Or perhaps you can pray to one who will listen to you and before you."
Percival arched an eyebrow as she-whom he guessed was an immortal being in avatar form, judging by her radiating beauty and the extravagant garments and jewelry she was sporting-approached him. Aside from the Feymother and Athene the All-Knowing, Percival knew of one other goddess who was worshipped in Montagu. "And I sure you can offer your own answer to my problems Lady of Vengeance."
Callilili, a goddess of vengeance and scorn, smiled as she looked over the young swordsman. Like all dark gods,-who were also known as the Titans-Callilili was a deity who was reviled and loathed by the races and worshipped by the Mother Gods. The Lady of Vengeance had expected Percival to flee in her presence, yet he remained calm as she began to circle him.
"Your priest friend is having trouble having his prayers answered by the Feymother, at least when it's about praying for the little girl. Annie, was it?"
A shiver went through Percival's spine as he felt the titan's hand touch his shoulder. "I had no idea a dark goddess could show sympathy towards children in need."
"You were raised to think-" she stopped and gripped his shoulder tightly when she saw the look of defiance in the eyes of the young man. "Mortal you dare look at me with those eyes. You claim that you are not a believer."
Percival shut his eyes as several volts of energy and electricity went through his body. Percival rubbed his shoulder after the goddess drew her hand away. "You are right milady, I should have known better…but may I ask why you are here?"
Callilili's lips parted in a cynical smile. Standing face to face with the swordsman, she saw though his deception. It wasn't that this mortal didn't believe in the power of the gods-both the Mothers and the Titans-but he merely lost his faith in their power at some point in his life, or he simply just questions it. "You want to save your little friend? Well sir knight, I am willing to make a bargain with you. Unlike the gods who are caught up in their wars, I can take time and help save the girl, provided you do something for me. One of my followers has abandoned me, and as my Knight of Vengeance, I need you to destroy him."
Percival opened his mouth," One of your followers-" He looked down at his armor, seeing it change from its plain steel color to shade of black. Looking over his shoulder, he saw that his cloak had also turned black, with images of tiny white skulls woven along the edges. Next, Percival let out a muffled cry as he felt Callilili's cold lips planted on his, kissing him deeply as the top row of her teeth bit on the lower part of his lip. As she pulled away, Percival felt a dribble of blood fall from his lips.
"When you are ready, seek me out," the goddess said with a hiss, then vanished.
Percival looked down at his black armor. He raced back to the temple, to tell Donald what had just happened.
* * * *
"So you are telling me that you pledged your services to a Titan," Donald said in a calm voice, once Percival had finished his story. "Don't you remember me saying to let prayer take care of this. I mean I am glad to you finally found faith with the gods, but a Titan?"
"First of all, I did not pledge my soul to her," Percival immediately answered. "I was about to pray, but then she came to me with the offer to save Annie." Seeing the disappointed look in Donald's face, Percival sighed.
"This is not good for you my friend," the half-elf said with a shake of his head. "Nothing good can come from helping a titan."
Donald shook his head one more. "You could have turned to any of the other Mothers for this."
"But she seemed to so adamant to help," Percival remarked. "She came to me and made a bargain to help Annie." None of the other gods came before me Donald, and I'll admit to you that encountering Callilili for the first time scared me a little. I know you priests seek counsel from your gods at all times and interact with them, draw from their power. But I have never felt that before and I would not have made this deal with Callilili if I did not think she could help Annie. You said yourself that the Titans maintained the power of immortals, even after they were cast out from the heavens."
"So now you are roping me into this," Donald said.
"I'm not trying to Donald, but I could use your help. In exchange for curing Annie, she wants me to destroy a disobedient follower of hers. This most likely could mean that I would be going up against some warlord or priest. I could really use your help on this." Percival paused, wondering how his friend would answer his request.
"So since you are not a priest, you need someone who is powerful in holy magic," the half-elf said with a smile. Percival nodded and then Donald added," I have to go pray."
The swordsman gave another nod, then watched his friend leave.
* * * *
An hour would pass before Donald returned. Seeing the astonished look in the priest's eyes and the smile on his face, Percival knew that his friend had been advised to go with him on this dangerous journey.
"So when do we leave?" Donald inquired in a calm voice.
"She told me to call upon her when I was ready." Percival quickly noticed the look of concern in the priest's face. 'Something the matter?"
"Yes something is the matter," Donald answered as he leaned close to his friend. "You can not call upon a titan here. Not in a temple dedicated to the Seven Mothers."
"I know," Percival added as he and Donald began walking down the hallway. "We'll go to the abandoned granary in a moment. There is something I have to do before we leave."
"I'll go with you," the half-elf said as he and the knight stood outside of Annie's door.
Percival flashed the priest a smile, then opened the door. He peeked inside and the girl sitting on her bed, reading her book.
It took Annie a moment to see both Donald and Percival at her door. When she saw the swordsman, she noticed the change in his armor. "Percival, your chain mail is different."
A sigh escaped from the priest's lips while an uneasy expression crossed the face of the swordsman. "Annie," Percival began in a quiet voice. "Donald and I are going away for a little bit. We are going to help…a friend, who in turn says, she can make you better."
As Percival finished his sentence, Annie left her bed and walked over, giving both Percival and Donald each a hug. Her lips parted in an innocent smile as she said," You both be careful and give your friend my blessing."
Percival watched as Annie got back in her bed. He wanted to say more to her, but he felt Donald's fingertips tap his shoulder. Turning to his friend, the swordsman whispered," Let's go."
* * * *
Dusk was settling in as Percival and Donald made their way behind the small granary. Much to the surprise of both the swordsman and the priest-whose left hand was clenching his holy medallion-the Lady of Vengeance was standing in the same exact spot where she had stood face to face with Percival hours ago. "It's about time," she spat when her silvery eyes spotted the two men.
"My apologies milady," Percival responded in a quiet tone. The young human glanced back to his friend, who gave a bow to the immortal being. "This is my friend Donald, he is a priest-"
"Of the Feybitch. Yes I know." Callilili looked over the half-elf, then looked at Percival. "Though he may be a mere priest, I am somewhat relieved that you went to recruit your help. You will need it."
Percival was surprised at Donald's calm nature towards the Titan. He wondered if the high priests had taught their acolytes to be respectful towards immortal beings, be they gods of darkness, or gods of light.
"So who is this servant of yours you want me to destroy?" Percival asked the goddess as a slick smile crossed his face.
Callilili stared at the swordsman, seeing through his smug look and sensing the uneasiness in his heart. "You must journey to the lair of Crainilar, known to many as the Skull. I am sure you have heard of him."
Both Donald and Percival exchanged worried looks. Indeed they had heard of Crainilar, one of the mightiest dragons in all of Airway. He was known to be a dragon who possessed brute strength and a deadly fiery breath. Many of the tales described how he would collect the skulls of his enemies he vanquished in combat.
"You never said anything about a dragon," Percival said in quick voice. Finishing his words, he kept silent.
"I realize this may be a bit of a challenge for you," Callilili said with a smirk. Her eyes looked towards the priest once more as she said," I understand if you want to leave, Priest of Harmonia." Her gaze went back to Percival," but you have no real choice sir knight, unless you want to make the choice of abandoning the girl."
"Percival bit his lip and turned to Donald. "If I had known she would be sending me to my doom against a dragon, I wouldn't have asked you to come along."
Then Donald did something that surprised both his friend and the goddess. "The Feymother told me that something like this might have happened," Donald said as his face broke out in a wide smile. "She predicted the Lady of Vengeance would set you upon a great task."
The Titaness rolled her eyes as the priest patted his friend's back. "So this ,seems you are going with him. Good. You can both be along your way."
"But where is it we are going?" asked Percival, who was now filled with a new sense of confidence. "According to the stories, the Skull's lair is far north in the Main Land, but that has never been proven."
"Well consider yourself blessed by Lady Luck sir knight, although you had best not praise her at this moment," Callilili said in a cool voice as she reached over and grasped Percival by the scruff of his shirt collar. "There is a village in the Vanarhan Mountains that is near the dragon's lair,. I am sure there are locals who can help you, provided you survive the danger."
As the Lady of Vengeance let go of his shirt, Percival felt an increasing warmth fill his body, followed by a bright light that blinded his vision.
* * * *
"Percival, are we in the Main Land?" the swordsman heard his friend ask. Percival opened his eyes, seeing Donald standing near a large boulder. The rest of the mountain area around them was dry and desolate. Looking to his left, Percival saw the base of the Vanarhan Mountains.
"We seem to be in the mountains," Percival observed as he looked into the distance, hoping to find any sign of the village the goddess was speaking of.
As Percival continued to survey the area, Donald whispered a quick prayer to his goddess Harmonia. When he was finished with his prayer, he turned to the swordsman. "A thought just came to me Percival. What did she mean when she said that we would find the village, IF we survived the danger." Percival paused for a moment. He too wondered what the goddess had meant.
Both friends felt a sudden shiver go through their backs. They their eyes north, Percival's eyes seeing several narrow shapes while Donald's eyes, which were able to see better in the distance thanks in part of his elven heritage, saw several hideous creatures; each with their own pair of feathery wings and bodies that resembled an aged elven female.
The harpys-which totaled to nine-all dived down at the swordsman and the priest, their arms extended forward, their claws ready to rip the flesh of their prey.
Following his battle instincts, Percival reached back and drew forth his two-handed sword. Like his armor, the handle and pommel of the swordsman's weapon had turned black, but the blade itself had remained its steel metallic color.
Two harpys flew straight at Percival, causing him to swing his blade in a wide arc. One of the harpys gave a shriek as the human's weapon cleaved through her body. But the other harpy turned her body just in time to avoid being hit.
Percival was about to advance the harpy he had missed when two other harpys tackled him. The swordsman hit the ground with a hard crash and immediately the two beasts thrashed at his face and chest with their claws. Using what strength he could muster, Percival managed to throw off one of the two harpys, yet the other continued to latch on him, straddling his waist as her claws dug into his chest.
Although he was concerned with his friend's well-being, Donald had found himself surrounded by six harpys. The priest cursed at himself at himself for not bringing a weapon of his own.
As the harpys stepped closer, Donald's sharp eyes noticed six figures racing towards the battle, each of them wearing olive colored robes.
The harpy's each raked their claws at the priest; four claws missing while eight claws ripped through the half-elf's robes and into his brown skin. Despite feeling the stinging and bleeding, Donald threw a sloppy but hard punch in retaliation. His blow struck one of the harpys in her lower jaw, causing a pair of cracks to fill his ears. As he pulled his hand back, Donald felt intense pain in his hand, followed by numbness,
The harpy Donald had hit, spat a broken tooth, but then let out a shriek as pair of hands wrapped themselves around her head and snapped her neck.
The other harpys turned to see the six robed months standing behind them. Donald, who was holding his broken hand watched as the six monks moved with lightning speed, each using a combination of their hands and feet to quickly defeat the harpys.
Donald looked back to check on his friend. Percival, who was no on his feet, slashed one of the harpys across the stomach, spilling a massive amount of blood. Donald noticed the blood that was flowing down the swordsman's face, as if he had just donned a crimson mask.
Partially blinded from the blood that covered his face, Percival stabbed his sword at a low angle, finishing the harpy he had already wounded. As the first harpy fell to the ground, the second harpy raked her bloodstained claws across the swordsman's face, spilling more blood. Percival let out a painful groan, and thrust his blade forward, driving it through the winged creature's chest. The harpy let out a scream as the swordsman's weapon ripped into her flesh, causing Percival to let go of his sword and fall to the ground.
Donald rushed over to his friend but then stepped back as two monks came over and helped Percival to his feet. One of the monks who was helping the swordsman, a human female who was a foot taller than the half-elf, looked at the priest. "Your friend will be all right. We are taking him back to the monastery."
Donald's eyes stared at the tall woman. Her noodle-like blond hair went past her shoulders and her well-sculpted face had blue eyes that sparkled like gemstones. "We will fix your hand when we get back the monastery.
As the monks walked away with Percival, Donald whispered a prayer to the Feymother, then followed.
* * * *
The monk's name was Robyn Mock, also known to her fellow monks as the Humming Bird, for her rapid hand movements and speed in combat. Like all monks at the monastery, Robyn was a disciple of Athene and she was a scholar.
Now Robyn was sitting in a small room, watching over the swordsman who had fallen on the battle field. The monks were not only skilled in hand-to-hand combat but also in healing, had done their best to mend the swordsman's wounds. Though the wounds had been healed, there were still many scars that littered his face and body. Robyn also remembered the half-elf, who had wanted to stay at his friend's side. She admired the priest's dedication to his friend, but she had assured him that he was in good hands.
Percival's eyes snapped open, actually had startled the Humming Bird. He sat up and immediately felt the pain that coursed through his body. When he had left his bed and began searching the small room for his weapon, it was at that moment Percival had realized the monk sitting in the room with him. It also that moment when he realized that he was wearing no clothes.
Robyn giggled as the swordsman jumped back into bed. "Relax Percival, we monks may have taken a vow of chastity, but my eyes have seen the naked body of a man."
Percival blushed from embarrassment. "That is good to hear…I guess. Have your eyes by chance seen my armor and my sword?"
The monk gave him a nod. "They are with your friend Donald. There are clothes under your bed and when you are ready, the Master would like to speak with you." With that, Robyn left the room.
Percival reached under the bed, finding a clean white shirt and white pants.
* * * *
Before meeting with the Master, Percival spent an hour exploring the monastery. He noticed the monastery walls were made of plain wood. The many doors were comprised of glass and birch wood and the floors were made of smooth stone.
After talking with one of the monks, Percival learned that the monastery was located on the other side of the mountain, built by human disciples of Athene and dwarven disciples of Brunhilda the Anvilmother. The swordsman had also learned that the monastery welcomed many visitors as long as they did not disturb the peace and tranquility of the monastery. The monks knew about the benefits of trading and having allies. A group of children passed Percival and his thoughts went to Annie.
When he was finished exploring the grounds, Percival made his way into the Master's private chamber where he and Donald appeared to be meditating. The Master was a bald man in his early sixties, standing an inch above four feet in height. He had olive colored skin that matched his robes and slanted eyes underneath his wrinkled brow.
The Master opened his eyes and smiled at the swordsman. "It is an honor to meet you Percival. Your friend Donald has explained your task to me and your dealing with Callilili."
Percival took a seat across from the Master. He tossed a glance at Donald, wondering if the priest would come out of meditation, just like the Master had done, but then a snore escaped from the half-elf's mouth.
"He has been sleeping like that for the past hour," the Master said in a soft voice. Percival kept silent, wondering if the Master-who according to many of the monks, was a special chosen servant to Athene-would belittle him for his dealing with a dark goddess. "It intrigues me that the Lady of Vengeance would simply offer to help you, especially since Donald has told me that you never really believed in the gods He is confused by this, but it is my belief that you are one who has not found a god to call his own. Perhaps you should think on this. But now to the task at hand."
"Yes the task. Callilili's help does not come with out a price," Percival said with a shrug. "The Skull is no easy foe, or so they say. Do you know where his lair is?"
The Master shook his head at the swordsman's question. "Alas Percival, my knowledge of Crainilar's lair is limited. Yet I know of someone who can help you."
It was then the monk known as the Humming Bird entered the Master's chamber, giving him a bow.
"Robyn is originally from the a village that was close to the dragon's lair," continued the Master. "If you are willing to wait until morning."
Percival looked at Robyn. "I think we can wait."
* * * *
Percival and Donald had settled themselves into the monastery's guest quarters for the evening. While the priest was praying to his goddess, Percival laid on his smell bed and stared up at the plain ceiling. His eyes rested on a spot near the middle-a spot that had now shaped itself into the face of a beautiful woman.
Taking our sweet time are we
! Callilili's voice yelled as it echoed in Percival's mind. If I had known you would be spending the night at a cursed monastery, I would have teleported you to the village myself.
"Do you hear that Donald?" Percival asked his friend.
Donald raised an eyebrow. "Hear what?
Only you can hear me twit, the goddess explained. I expect you to finish the task quickly sir knight. Annie's condition has gotten worse since you've been gone.
"What do you mean?" whispered the swordsman.
Let me just say that if you want to save her from a slow and agonizing death, than I suggest you finish this quickly. The face in the ceiling vanished and Percival closed his eyes.
From across the room, Donald watched his friend's face twist into an expression of concern. Although Percival didn't say anything, Donald knew the swordsman had just spoken with Callilili and the conversation had not been a good one.
* * * *
It was at dawn's first light when Percival and Donald followed Robyn out of the monastery and into the wilderness. The three companions walked down an invisible road, surrounded by the open plains that were covered with light green bladed grass and small bushes. Their path continued where the wind was blowing light breezes and the animals were just awakening from their winter-long slumber.
"So what did the Master mean by saying you could help us find the Skull's lair?" asked Percival in hopes of starting a conversation.
"He said you were from a village that was close to his lair," added Donald as he held his new quarterstaff-a gift from the monastery-in his right hand.
Robyn sighed as she and her two companions entered a familiar area that was now littered with corpses and feathers and the ground stained with dry blood. "For many years my village lived quietly near the mountains. We were a peaceful people who fended and took care of the land. But then the dragon came and slaughtered many of my friends and family. I was just one of the very few survivors who were found by the Master his monks. The Master saw promise in me and took me back to the monastery to train with him. He told me if I perfected my skills and become one with the body and spirit, then I would help avenge my village."
Percival nodded, but Donald shook his head in confusion. "But I thought monks were suppose to be all harmonious and peaceful and not lustful. It sounds to me like you are taking a path of vengeance."
"The teachings of Athene not only guide us to study knowledge and wisdom, but to also defend those who can not protect themselves," the monk explained the monk in a calm voice. Taking my revenge against the dragon would only satisfy myself and perhaps the spirits of those he killed, but avenging them would mean that no more lives would be lost. As for my vow of chastity, I have vowed only to give myself to my goddess, unless she it otherwise."
"So if Athene told you to get married and start a family, you would have to do it?" Percival asked, drawing surprised looks from both the half-elf and the Humming Bird.
"If it is her will, then yes," Robyn replied," but for now my focus is on my training and being one with the Mother of Knowledge."
Donald looked at his friend and saw the confused look in his eyes. The priest laughed and clasped his friend on the shoulder.
The three companions continued to walk until nightfall, talking very few breaks along the way. As the night skies filled the world above, the monk pointed forward. "There it is." Donald and Percival stepped next to her, both looking out into the distance.
"Everything looks burned to a cinder," commented Donald as he noticed hulking shapes moving around a small campfire that was being put out. Surrounding the shapes and the campfire were small burned out homes. "It looks like someone has resettled your village. I'm not sure if it's ogres or orcs. Do you know if they were always here."
"It has been a month since I was last here," Robyn said in a quiet voice. "But I have not seen anyone come to the village.
Percival drew his sword and looked at Robyn. "We will just have to see why they are there."
With that, the three companions walked down to the village, their eyes wide open and their weapons ready. "Maybe my eyes were just playing tricks," whispered the priest. "I mean-" he stopped speaking as the echoes of clicking noises filled the air.
"Sounds like they were ready for us," Percival remarked as twelve red skinned orcs, all armed with crossbows, had surrounded them.
* * * *
In the middle of the village, Percival and his friends were brought before a muscular orc with blood red skin and short black hair. He wore burned leathers over his body and had a slack jaw with three missing teeth. Judging by the many scars in his chest and arms, this orc had seen many battles.
"Two humans and a half-elf," the slack-jawed orc said in a gruff voice. "My voice is Slavin Bloodfist."
Percival looked to his friends, who were as confused as he. Slavin had the appearance of a Savage Orc, who were among the first creatures to be created by the Titans to fight the children races of the Mother Goddesses. Savage Orcs were known to hate the other races, especially humans and elves. Yet there was something about way the orc spoke and moved that assured Percival and his friends that they would not be harmed. Not yet anyways.
While Percival and Donald stayed quiet, Robyn stepped forward. "Bloodfist. You must be here hunting Crainilar."
The orc's slack jaw widened in a grin. "That is a good guess little monk. I have been after the dragon for some time, and we had tracked the dragon down to this area. You have seen the small force that I have. There used to be three times as many, but the Skull slaughtered them in attack one year ago. It pains me to think their tribes will go un avenged, that their skulls are in that monster's lair.
Percival stepped towards Slavin. "We have our own reasons for fighting the dragon." He stopped once again, thinking of Annie. "We are hoping to save a friend. Robyn is here with us as our guide, and this village we are standing in used to be her home before the dragon burned it down." Percival stopped when he noticed the smirk on the orc's lips.
"I am aware of your quest, Percival, Knight of Vengeance," Slavin said with a laugh.
"Knight of Vengeance?" Donald whispered in confusion. Robyn also stared at Percival.
"I am no knight, especially one of vengeance," Percival snapped. "Whatever Callilili told you is-" he closed his eyes, regaining control of himself.
"My men have found the entrance to the dragon's lair and I am quite sure he will be expecting us," Slavin continued, ignoring the swordsman's outburst. "We leave at dawn, assuming he does not come out and attack us first." That said, Slavin walked away, leaving the three to discuss their own matters.
"So, Knight of Vengeance-" Donald began, but stopped when he saw the scowl on his friend's face. "I'm sorry my friend. I mean I am glad that you have found an immortal who acts through you-"
"You said that already Donald," Percival said with a shake of his head. "You know my main reason for being here. The goddess said she would help her. Yes, you should be glad for me because for the first time in my life, I am going to believe in the power of a deity."
"If Percival wants to worship a Titan, than he should be able to," Robyn said to the priest in a somewhat harsh tone. "I know you clerical types do not like hearing this, but the Titans were once considered children of the gods and even after they were banished they still gained followers. You two are friends, so it should not matter what god Percival chooses to worship."
The half-elf sighed and turned to the monk. "Did the Master teach you that?"
The monk known as the Humming Bird shook her head. "Actually my mother taught me that. But in all seriousness, I do not think Percival will give himself to Callilili. I think he is still searching his heart. The monastery has helped many find their way along the road of life. Maybe it could help you Percival."
Finishing her speech, Robyn left to find a place to sleep. Donald once again looked at his friend. "Percival, I'm-"
"Don't be," Percival interjected. She is right though." Taking a deep breath, the swordsman looked to the sky. "Donald, I need you to do something for me. When this is all over and you see Annie again, I need to you apologize for me."
"Apologize. For what?"
Percival took another breath. "I'm not going back to Belaroos or Montagu."
* * * *
Just as Slavin had said the night before, Percival, Donald, and Robyn had left the village with the orc and his men at dawn. Moments before going to sleep, Percival noticed Robyn standing over a pile of ashes. The swordsman had wondered if he should go talk with her, but had decided against it and fell to sleep, dreaming of dragon's fire.
With Slavin in front, the group walked into an empty canyon, flanked by mountain walls that seemed to touch the heavens.
At midday, Slavin ordered the group to stop for a break. It was then he sent one of his men to fetch the swordsman.
Percival looked at Donald and Robyn, then walked to the orc leader. "You wanted to see me?"
"Surely two friends can share a meal together," Slavin said as he and Percival sat down.
"I was not aware that we were friends," Percival commented as he watched Slavin break a piece of bread. "Unless you are insinuating we worship Callilili, in which I would have to tell you that you are mistaken."
Slavin handed Percival a piece of bread and watched the human eat it. Together they shared the orc's lunch.
When they were finished eating, Slavin smiled at Percival. "Actually you could not be farther from the truth. Like you, the Titan believes me to be a pawn of her's. Yet I made my decision to turn my back from her years ago, much like the Softhearts who turned their backs from the Titans hundred of years ago."
Percival nodded. Softhearts was a term the orcs used to describe their ork kindred, who had surrendered themselves to the teachings of Athene and the other Mother Goddesses.
Percival was about to ask Slavin something else when the orc stood up. "We must not waste anymore time. Let's get a move on and kill this monster.
* * * *
The dragon's lair was not too far from where they had stopped for their midday meal. The entrance into Crainilar's lair was a vast cave which opened into the mountains. Even at the beginning, small skulls littered the cave floor. As Slavin and his group went deeper into the cave, the echoes of their feet smashing the skulls surrounded them.
"It he did not know we were here before, I am sure he does now," commented one of Slavin's men, drawing glares from many of his comrades.
After walking for what seemed like an hour, the group found themselves in a large open area. Unlike the cave entrance and tunnel, the cave floor in this area was clean and empty. Yet there was no sign of the dragon.
"Just wait," Slavin said aloud. "He will show himself to us."
Sure enough as the orc signaled his men to get ready, a gargantuan dragon flew into the room, his leathery wings spanning the entire room. Standing on all fours, his black scales glinted as his glowing green eyes stared at the many intruders.
Percival felt a surge of fear go through his body. Dragon fear, which was known to cause entire armies to flee in terror, had evoked three of Slavin's men to runaway. Robyn and Donald continued to stand their ground, the monk using a standing meditation while the priest used his faith in his goddess.
"Well Slavin, it seems you have once again come to your doom," Crainilar declared in a deep and powerful voice. "And I see you have brought me additional victims. Your skulls will fit in well with my collection."
The ten of Slavin's group who remained were already firing their loaded crossbows, releasing several bolts at the dragon. The Skull closed his eyes as the crossbow bolts bounced off of his scales.
As the orcs were reloading their weapons, the dragon took a deep breath, released a massive stream of fire that engulfed six of Slavin's hunters. Percival and Donald barely escaped the dragon's breath while Robyn was hit by a little bit of the fire, the right side of her body being mildly burned.
Suppressing the pain take came from the Skull's fire, Robyn dashed over to the dragon and stood before him with no fear in her eyes.
Crainilar laughed as the monk stood in front of him. "Little lady-" he stopped as the Humming Bird's fists struck him several times. The first ten hits did little damage; denting the scales. The monk continued to strike, hitting the dragon twenty more times.
After she was finished with her attack, Robyn jumped back and watched the Skull stumble backwards, which in turn caused the ground to shake.
Slavin drew the large spear from his back and ran towards the dragon. The group of the remaining orcs, along with Percival, whose sword was already drawn charged the giant beast. Donald channeled the divine power of his goddess and released a beam of holy light that flew into the dragon. Crainilar let out an ear splitting scream and thrashed his limbs wildly. Percival and two of the orcs were about to stab their weapons when the dragon's tail knocked them backwards. Robyn was also ready to attack once again, but she was hit in the face by the Skull's left wing.
Slavin Bloodfist, who was managing to avoid the dragon's sloppy attacks, went underneath the dragon's stomach. Letting out a mighty shout, the slack jawed orc let out into the Skull's stomach. Slavin grinned as the dragon's blood spilled from his large stomach and onto the orc's face.
Feeling the sharp spear go through his body, followed by the loss of blood, the dragon vomited a pool of molten lava. The orcs and Percival quickly backed away as the dragon vomited once more. The swordsman's eyes spotted Slavin, who was twisting the spear deeper into the dragon's insides.
All seemed well but it was at that moment when Crainilar collapsed on his belly, seemingly crushing the orc underneath his massive bleeding bulk.
Seconds after the dragon fell prone to the ground, Percival and Robyn were on the offense once more. The monk leapt into the air, driving her left foot into the dragon's nose. The swordsman came in seconds after, plunging his blade through the Skull's right nostril. Percival drew back his blade and covered his face as flames came his way.
Robyn came in fast, pulling Percival out of the way, her arm once again singed by the fire. Percival, whose armor and body had been darkened by the fire, turned his head to see the orcs rush to their deaths.
Crainilar lifted his head and once again unleashed his fiery breath, finishing them.
Donald ran to his companions and channeled the Feymother's power to heal their wounds.
Feeling the burns and bruises leave his body, Percival felt a renewed strength flew within him.
With his sword forward, Percival charged the dragon and stabbed his sword through the beast's neck. The swordsman drove his blade deep, but stopped when he felt the weapon shake, as if he had stabbed some solid object that was morning inside of the dragon's body.
Crainilar slowly turned his head to face the swordsman, but quickly jerked his head back, as if his neck had snapped. Then Crainilar's body slumped to the floor, the glow fading from his eyes.
Percival drew back his sword, noticing the amount of fresh blood that covered much of the blade. Robyn and Donald made it to his side and together, they watched a spear covered in blood and gore, break through the dragon's skull.
"You all didn't think I was finished did you," Slavin Bloodfist cried as he crawled from out of the dragon's mouth. To see the orc alive gave Percival a sense of relief, but that relief was vanished when he saw the orc's bunt flesh, and gaping wound in his side. A wound that was made by Percival's sword.
"And now your journey is over," Slavin said in a broken voice as he dropped to a knee. "Or at least it will be once I'm dead." When he saw the look of confusion in the swordsman's face, he added," Crainilar was not the one you were suppose to kill Percival. I was."
"You told me that you turned your back from her years ago," Percival said, looking down at the wounded orc. "Now it makes sense that she would want revenge against you. But how?-"
"How did I know?" Slavin, said his red eyes staring at the dragon's corpse. "She came to me and told me everything. I think she expected me to kill you, but I was not going to let her win like that. So finish me and go back to your friend. I only ask that you say I destroyed the Skull."
Robyn and Donald looked at Percival, who seemed torn. Part of the swordsman wanted to heal the orc and helped him back, thus helping Slavin offending the Titaness once more. But there was someone else to think about in all of this. If he were to leave with the orc, would Callilili take her frustrations on him and his friends? Or worse, would she take her wrath out on Annie?
Percival looked down at the orc. Despite the smile of triumph on his face, Slavin Bloodfist was in a state of agonizing pain, where every second he was breathing the pain was getting worse.
Closing his eyes, Percival drove his sword into Slavin's chest, ending his life. The orc's last breath would echo through the swordsman's mind through many days to come.
* * * *
Percival and his friends left the dragon's lair after burying the dead. It was the middle of the night when they returned to the village where Callilili was waiting for Percival.
"Congratulations are in order knight," the Titaness said with a giggle. "You managed to complete your task." With a wave of her hands, both Donald and Robyn fell asleep.
"Then our deal is complete," the swordsman said, standing by his friends. "We have no more business with each other and if you think I will willingly become your servant, than you might as well leave."
Callilili's eyes stared coldly into the swordsman's, but then they softened. "You have changed since our first meeting Percival. But know that I will not forget this. The Lady of Vengeance vanished, leaving Percival once again, alone with his companions.
"I am sorry Annie," the swordsman said as he looked up at the stars. "We must follow our own paths. Perhaps we will see each other again, someday." Percival smiled as he looked at his two friends. "I will go back to the monastery with Robyn and start from there. Feymother, if you can hear me, could you please send Donald some safely and watch over him and Annie." When he was finished, Percival realized something.
That was the first time he had ever prayed to the Mother Goddesses.
* * * *
When Donald opened his eyes, he found himself laying on his bed back at the temple. The half-elf looked around, wondering where Percival and Robyn could be.
"Donald, you're back," came a voice from the doorway.
Donald looked at the door, seeing Annie standing there in priestly robes that would fit a gnome or a Halfling. The priest noted the peach color of the child's skin, along with the glow of her cheeks.
"Annie, you are better," the priest said in a surprised voice. "Have you seen Percival?"
The little girl shrugged her shoulders. "I saw him in a dream I had. He was looking up at the stars, telling them to watch over me and that there was something he needed to do."
Donald sighed as the little girl sat next to him. "I guess I have some explaining."
"You sure do," Annie commented as she sat up. "But can we go outside?"
"Sure Annie," replied Donald. "We can."