Not true, Macho Man! Last session was way more Savage!
Picking up where we left off…
Morphicles, assuming his diminutive form again, disappeared into the Georgia woods, leaving the smoking remnants of the Slaver barge far behind. For the first time he experienced grief and loss. He had admired Aurys and learned much from the example she set. Now he was on his own—what would become of him?
The dragon wandered for days and days with no particular goal in mind. He would not return to the ruins of Atlanta and its strange inhabitants. There was nothing for him there. Gradually, his path took him in a generally northwesterly direction as he skirted the southernmost edge of the Appalachians. He frolicked in woodland glades, exploding with wildflowers of every color and variety. He ate when the fancy caught him, running down the three-eyed deer that roamed this part of the country. He soaked up psychic energy whenever he crossed through a ley line. Whole days would pass without him saying a word; he was returning to a state of primal, savage existence. He spent most of his time in his full form, eschewing stealth as he reveled in his size and strength.
It was in one of those glades that he loved so dear, near the old Tennessee-Georgia border, that the Slayer found Morphicles. He hadn't been hard to track. The Slayer was overconfident. This was just a hatchling, after all…
The dragon looked up and saw the figure, silhouetted against the rising sun, a massive gun balanced on one hip, his armor fashioned from the hides of dragons defeated in the past.
Without a word, the figure leveled its gun and squeezed off a blast of ionized plasma. The bolt screeched and burned through the air, detonating against Morphicles' thick hide! Even though it failed to penetrate his scales, the shot burned terribly. Morphicles lunged forward and the fight was on.
Just over the next rise, a solitary Cyber-Knight was finishing up his morning's meditation when he heard the tell-tale report of a plasma ejector. Curious, he gathered up his gear and started jogging towards the source of the shot.
Cresting a rise, he saw a singular combat unfolding in the glade below: a massive, serpentine dragon engaged in a dance of death with a single, man-sized figure. The dragon kept trying to get to grips with its foe, to crush him beneath tons of scaly might. The man, for his part, moved with preternatural speed and grace, always dodging out of the way, back-flipping out of close combat to squeeze off another shot from his plasma ejector.
Sir Brandus, having traveled far from the monastery where he received his training, had seen enough of the outside world to know that either (or neither!) of these combatants could be the "good guy" and worthy of his sword. He elected to hold back for the time-being. Nevertheless, two blades of pure energy, glowing blue, sprang from his hands—he might have to intervene at a moment's notice.
The two combatants seemed evenly matched as they trampled the flowers of the glade beneath their tread. The man was able to bob and weave away from the dragon's assaults but his great gun was unable to penetrate the beast's remarkable hide, even firing on full-auto. Sir Brandus decided to try and defuse the situation. He maneuvered around, unseen, until he was behind the man.
"End this fight now!" he called. "You have both fought well. Let us use words where violence failed."
The man turned. Sir Brandus could see that his heavily-muscled body was crisscrossed with vein-like tubes that appeared to pump blood. He wore a dragon's skull as a breastplate. "Stay out of this, Brother," he warned.
The use of the word "Brother" stuck in the cyber-knight's mind. Why?
"What do you want from me?" Morphicles asked. "What have I done?"
"I need your blood," the Slayer said, a wicked grin cracking his face. "And I will not be denied!" With that, he renewed his assault.
Sir Brandus had seen enough; he joined the fray on the dragon's side.
Fighting outnumbered, the Slayer was quickly overwhelmed. Sir Brandus laid him out with a vicious cut across the belly that sent the Slayer sprawling and nearly spilled his guts all over the meadow.
Remarkably, the Slayer got back to his feet. Grimacing, he picked up his gun from its carrying handle. "Very well," he spat. "This isn't over. I will return!"
With that, he limped off, going back the way he came. Utterly bemused, Sir Brandus and Morphicles watched him go.
The pair decided to travel on together. As they walked, there was plenty of time to think. That dragon-hunter had said "Brother," just like cyber-knights did back at the monastery. Then again, maybe he simply meant it in a more generalized way? He certainly didn't look familiar…
The miles passed by underfoot. They tramped through rough terrain for some days before coming to a magnificent vista looking out over a broad plain.
From this vantage point, they could see a mighty river snaking its way across the valley floor. They began to descend, Morphicles assuming his diminutive form.
As they approached a small tributary of the river, they heard shouting and the sound of a laser cutting the air. Then Sir Brandus spotted them: two Brodkil, one with heavy bionic modification, chasing after a slim youth. "Don't let him get away!" the cyber-Brodkil barked in a tinny, robotic voice.
Well, this was much more clear-cut! Sir Brandus and Morphicles moved in, putting themselves between the boy and the Brodkil as they crossed a rickety bridge spanning the stream. A brief fight ensued and the Brodkil were dispatched.
The boy, who had initially run to cower in the streamside bushes, had emerged during the combat and began excitedly cheering the heroes on. When the cyber-Brodkil fell, shredded with psi-blade and dragon claw wounds, the boy leapt forward, pumping his fists in the air.
"Wow! Amazing! You guys are awesome!"
They questioned the youth, who had the fine bone structure and elongated ears typical of the Elves, as to who he was and where he came from, and why the Brodkil were chasing him. Morphicles, in particular, wished to know if the boy knew Gran and Pennent at Fort Hawkins. The boy said he did not, but his mom might.
"C'mon—town's just over that rise!" And he raced off.
Garnet Town came into view as the rough trail bent around a copse of tall spruce trees. Situated on the bank of the mighty river, it was a small wilderness town with its own fusion generator and waterwheel mill—a typically anachronistic combination of technology often seen in these isolated communities.
Around the town was a four-foot wall constructed of sandbags, barbed wire, and sheets of corrugated aluminum, scarred in places by laser blasts. Two men stood desultory guard at the gate—Sir Brandus noted that one of them was scratching his chin with the business end of his rifle, and the other didn't have a clip loaded!
"Not a lotta folks left to guard the place," said the boy, who introduced himself as Von. "The Black Market's been operating from a base nearby, and they been kidnapping folk. That's why we built the wall."
The party passed through the gate without challenge. Just within, an Elven woman with care-worn eyes and a bandaged leg called out. "Von! I was so worried!" She hobbled forth on her crutch and embraced her son, kissing him and clutching him tight. As her worry subsided, she took note of Von's companions.
"It was these heroes what saved me, mamma!" he said excitedly. "I brung 'em here so they can save everyone."
The woman straightened up, wincing. Morphicles noticed fresh blood seeping through her rough bandages and slithered off Sir Brandus' shoulders. Scooting across the ground, he wound his way around her leg, using his psychic powers to heal her. The wound was old, so he could not do much more than ease her pain, but this was met with gratitude.
"A Cyber-knight and his dragon companion, eh?" she said, clearly impressed. "Welcome to Garnet Town. I am the mayor, Lithari."
They began walking into the center of town. Lithari confirmed Von's tale. "First to go was Old Duncan, our healer. I got tagged a couple days ago," she said, indicating her leg, "fending off a night raid by those mutami Brodkil. They say they're from the Black Market, but I really don't know either way. They're not the only ones interested in my town, though…"
As she said this, the door of the general store, which they were passing by, swung open on creaky hinges. Stepping out, his boots clunking heavily on the wooden porch, was a tall human man dressed in shining black armor, a skull-like helmet tucked under his arm. His dark hair was a perfect military-style crew cut, and his dark eyes twinkled with cagey interest.
"Good morning, Mayor," he said. "New visitors?" He couldn't conceal a sneer as he took in the cyber-knight's distinctive armor and the dragon coiled around the knight's shoulders.
"Yes, Lieutenant Beehan," she said coolly. "They saved my son's life today. I welcome them to stay as long as they wish."
“It’s fortunate your son wasn’t harmed. I must point out that if you allowed the Coalition to station a permanent guard force here, this kind of thing wouldn’t happen.”
Lithari sighed wearily. “So you’ve said before, on numerous occasions.”
Beehan tipped his hand to the mayor in salute and strolled off, still not acknowledging her companions.
"He and his men arrived a few days ago," she said. "They want to set up an outpost here. There's a ley line nexus not far from here, and they wish to keep watch over it. Or so they say. I'm fairly certain that if I allow the Coalition to come here they'll never leave, and that soon enough Von and I and all the other non-humans will have to find a new place to live."
"Quite right, my lady." The voice came from a shadowed side street, from which a man in a long hooded robe was stepping. He pulled back his hood, revealing a face of devilish aspect: red skin, horns growing from the forehead—even a goatee! Sir Brandus recognized the creature as a type of D-bee known as a D'norr Devilman. Not inherently evil, merely alarming to look at. Morphicles, with his crippling fear of demons (only made worse in his recent battle with the Brodkil) arched his back in alarm but managed to control himself.
"I am Symon the Seer," the Devilman said, introducing himself to the heroes. "I am here on the behalf of the Federation of Magic." Sir Brandus had only a passing familiarity with the Federation: he had thought of it as a failed state now mostly made up of squabbling wizards across the Ohio River valley. Who this seer was "representing" was an open question.
Symon nodded to Morphicles. "What a magnificent dragon! I don't think I've ever seen any of your kind… You are most welcome here, with the Mayor's leave, of course.
"I've been meaning to talk to you, Mayor," Symon continued. "That nexus point is a danger to this entire region. And now you've got those accursed Black Market thugs moving in. Isolated communities like this have failed under far less trying circumstances. My Lord Dunscon offers you protection. Elementals to guard you, golems to till your fields. You’d have all the freedom you wished under the Federation’s benevolence. And all will be welcome," he said with a toothy smile.
Lithari pinched the bridge of her nose. "I know, Symon. I know. I am still thinking."
"Well…don't think too long," said Symon, with only the slightest trace of menace to his voice. He set off along the main street in the opposite direction from Beehan.
Once Symon was out of earshot, Lithari took a deep breath. "Now you can see what we’re up against. The Coalition, the Federation, the Black Market…and now you two. With Garnet Town caught in the middle."
Although she addressed both of them, she fixed Sir Brandus with a steady gaze, her eyes shining. "You’ve proven yourselves as capable warriors when you rescued my son. So I have a request for you. I want you to locate where the Black Market is keeping my people and set them free. If you can bring them all back to town safely, I’ll…" Lithari’s voice broke, then she visibly steeled herself and continued. "We’ll all be very grateful. I can’t offer you any money, and I can’t promise to put the town’s future in your hands. I’m asking you to do this for me, as a…personal favor."
Without hesitation, Sir Brandus bowed. "Of course my lady."