Originally published at: https://gemsofwar.com/lorekeeper-i-chapter-13-a-small-army/
If the Gods had intended us to drink beer,
They’d have given us mouths.
- Gimlet Stonebrew
It has been said that ‘time heals all wounds’. In Dimetraxia’s experience that wasn’t entirely true, but nobody in their right mind argues with a thousand-year-old Dragon. What she had become certain of in the past week however, was that the lack of time could certainly open up a whole bunch of new wounds, especially muscular cramps, strains, and sprains.
The old Dragon could feel time slipping away, and so she pushed on, as hard and fast as her old bones would allow. And she was feeling every mile, more and more as she went. She’d crossed three continents in as many weeks, but events had conspired to save the longest journey for last - all the way from Urskaya to Darkstone. Just the thought of it made her ache. What made it worse still, was her decision to take a slightly longer route.
Not long after leaving Urskaya, Dimetraxia had realised time was running out. Nobody had given her a deadline on when the next Blight would occur, but when you’ve lived as long as an ancient dragon, you get a sense of how the universe works. It’s quirky like that, the universe - it makes you wait for all the good things, but when it comes to earth-shattering cataclysmic events, it likes to dangle them just far enough away that you have to keep moving fast; really, really fast. That was what was happening here; she was sure of it. She could almost hear the universe chuckling in furious confirmation.
What Dimetraxia had also realised, was that it was quite impossible for Halfgrim Halfgiant to ever make it anywhere near Darkstone in time, so her first order of business was to collect him and fly him there. Hence the detour. She might be able to pick up another passenger while she was at it, but then she’d be totally spent by the time she arrived. Hopefully a bone-weary Dragon, a deranged half-giant, and whatever unspeakably violent creature he could lay his big blue hands on to accompany them, would be enough to tip the scales in their favor and stop the Blight.
Thinking about that, it sounded like madness. Dimetraxia hoped Medea and Baba Yaga knew what they were talking about, but maybe they didn’t - maybe she was slipping into madness herself. But still, her instincts told her this was the right course. What was a Dragon to do?
Grumbling quietly under her breath, she flew on towards the last place she’d seen Halfgrim - in Stormheim.--------- o ---------
The universe, as it turns out, isn’t always a complete jerkwad.
As Dimetraxia passed beyond the Dwarven lands of Khaziel, crossing over the forest that signified the beginnings of Stormheim, she caught sight of something which, at first, she thought was rather suspicious. There, on the edge of the woods, she saw smoke.
Circling around so her old eyes could get a better look, she saw a small army camped below her. Even up here, it had the sickly sweet smell of ale-sozzled, sweat-soaked Dwarf, unwashed Giant, and wet dog. That stench marked it pretty clearly as Halfgrim’s band.
She circled down towards it, landing a good distance away, wary of drunken over-enthusiastic Dwarves with crossbows. Truth be told though, if you caught them on their day off, Dwarves with crossbows were more of a danger to each other than to her.
Dimetraxia waited, giving her wings a much-deserved rest.
As expected, after a short time, just like before, Halfgrim rode out with a small entourage. DImetraxia smelt, before she saw, more Dwarves in this one.
The Half Giant dismounted a little way off - Dragons tend to have much the same on effect on horses that smiling clowns have on nervous adults, so keeping a little distance is wise. He strode towards them, a little band of Dwarves shuffling desperately along behind him.
“Well met, Dragon,” he boomed, solemnly.
“Half Giant,” Dimetraxia acknowledged.
“Meet my friends from Khaziel.” He motioned at two of the Dwarves behind him. Dimetraxia narrowed her gaze, sizing them up.
One Dwarf was unkempt, and smelt a little burnt, like he’d been turned on an open spit for half an hour. At first she thought he had 4 eyes, but squinting a little harder, she saw he was wearing a pair of soot-covered goggles on his forehead. He had a lopsided, slightly maniacal grin, that indicated he would fit in well with Halfgrim’s crew.
The other Dwarf was accompanied by a barrel almost as large as himself - he’d rested it on the ground and was leaning on it now. He smelt like someone had built a brewery, filled it with mold, and then scrubbed it clean with decade-old ale. The refuse pits in Blighted Lands had smelled better than this.
“I can smell them from here,” Dimetraxia replied disapprovingly.
“Ha! Aye!” Halfgrim laughed. “They are charming, yes? Zhak here, Zhak Boomgrizzle,” he motioned at the burnt one, “blows things up.”
“Even himself, by the looks of it,” the Dragon observed.
“Especially himself!” the Half Giant boomed, ruffling the soot-stained hair of his tiny companion. At the mention of explosions, the Dwarf hopped excitedly from one foot to another, looking up at Halfgrim like a dog hoping to go out on a walk.
“The other one is Gimlet - Gimlet Stonebrew.” He pointed at the smelly one. “Master brewer.”
“Because Daemons are afraid of beer?” Dimetraxia asked sarcastically.
“Ha! I like you, Dragon!” Halfgrim’s smile was fierce. “Gimlet brews much more than ale. His Dwarven Rotgut could eat through stone.”
Dimetraxia was a little taken aback at that. She looked at the portly little brewer a second time, and he gave her a hearty grin, revealing a mouthful of teeth that looked like an ancient druidic stone circle, weathered away and melted by the passage of time. The Dragon guessed the contents of Gimlet’s barrel may have had more to do with the dental carnage before her than time though.
“Ye show us the Daemons,” he mumbled. “And I’ll make ‘em into puddles o’ goop.”
Red Dragons can’t go pale, but Dimetraxia’s face made a pretty good attempt.
“Now. You have good news, I hope?” Halfgrim asked inquisitively. “Daemons?”
“If you call that good news,” Dimetraxia replied.
“I do,” Halfgrim’s reply was a lot more solemn, serious, and emphatic than the Dragon expected.
I know where the Daemons will be-” she began.
“YES!” Halfgrim interrupted. “YES! Daemons! It will be a slaughter! Ha! My friends! We will-”
“But,” the Dragon interrupted him right back. “But there is a problem, Halfgrim.”
“Problem?” The Half Giant looked confused.
“They will appear in Darkstone.”
“Dark… Dark… Stone?” Halfgrim stammered to a standstill. Dimetraxia realized the Half Giant had no idea where that was.
“How many days?” he asked.
“More than we have-” she began.
“No!” He cut her off angrily. “No! We will march. Twice speed. No sleep.”
“More than we have, even if you march,” Dimetraxia continued, “but not if we fly.”
“Fly?” Halfgrim looked at her suspiciously.
“That’s right,” the Dragon continued. “I can carry you there, and maybe one companion.”
“Two companions,” Halfgrim motioned at the Dwarves. “They are small. Each one is half a companion! Ha!”
Dimetraxia looked at the pair of them, and imagined the long trip ahead of her with that stench accompanying them all the way. She considered her options.
“Okay,” she finally nodded. “But only if they take a bath.”
Halfgrim shook with laughter.
“What?” The Dragon asked, annoyed.
“Silly Dragon,” the Half Giant chuckled. “It’s not Summer for six months!”--------- o ---------
A short time later, Dimetraxia leapt into the air, a small giant, and two very heavy (and stinky) Dwarves tied onto her back, along with a large barrel. Her passengers cackled maniacally, about as concerned for their personal safety as they were for their personal hygiene.
They flew like that for many days, passing over parts of the old Empires of Khet, and Adania, then over the broken lands of Geheron. Halfgrim and the Dwarves didn’t know these lands, but they seemed content to ignore the view and just sing. As it turned out, it was a minor distraction from the smell and her rapidly-tiring muscles, and Dimetraxia was willing to take whatever respite she could get at this point.
Finally they passed out over the seas of Geheron’s Bite, and Dimetraxia felt rather than saw something far to the south. A warmth spread through her chest; it would have been pleasant, except for what it signified. She pulled up, and beat her wings in place.
“What is it?” Halfgrim yelled.
“A sign,” Dimetraxia roared back, struggling to hold altitude with all the extra weight.
“An arrow was fired,” she replied.
Halfgrim and the Dwarves peered down towards the water, looking for signs of trouble.
“Not at us,” Dimetraxia continued loudly, so they could hear. “It was a signal from an old friend. The Daemons are almost upon us. We need to hurry.”
And with that, she beat her wings with all the strength she could muster, and sped straight for where the arrow had been fired - the Isle of Darkstone.