Journal of a Paladin
Episode XIX: Artifacts
By Matthew R. Fleming
A.K.A. the Cheddar Paladin
Entry #20 The Fifth of December in the Year Sixteen Hundred and Ninety-seven
The three of us hid in that antechamber, the fear of the Gods coursing through our veins as the Dragon of Mount Katah slammed into the Chovian door behind us in effort to break in and devour all but our bones and blades. Jordanello braced himself against the door in some futile attempt to keep the beast on the other side. Dr. Truman Kyle still had his torch, our only source of light. With what little glow we had, he and I searched the room for some device or information to possibly serve as our means of escape or victory.
The walls of the room displayed some Chovian hieroglyphs that neither of us fully understood, though I had seen some before on scrolls that the professor had shown to me. There were some useful illustrations, though. Using them we deduced that the writings on the wall were descriptions of the ceremony used to seal the dragon in the first place. The images showed a band of warriors holding the beast down with some chains or rope while another warrior strikes the creature with a staff resembling the crimson staff found in the chamber outside. We assumed the chains were used to drag the monster into the hole and finally the massive stone plug is positioned over it. Somehow, the lanterns surrounding the hole and the staff itself serve as some kind of key to keep the creature dormant. That must be why it awoke when the researchers removed the staff from its fixture.
I don't think we can do that, said Dr. Kyle, There's only three of us and they had chains and a giant plug.
Perhaps, I said, but they were only trying to seal it. I fear we may have to destroy it.
Yeah, that's going to be much easier, Jordan said sarcastically, followed by another large thud against the door.
I think we should just try to run past it, said Dr. Kyle.
I don't think that's a good idea, I said, He's out for blood and he may be able to escape through the chasm in the cave ceiling and pursue us that way, or worse, he could go on to attack the town below the mountain.
Well, what do you suggest? asked Dr. Kyle.
I think we should use the staff against it. I believe it may have some power over the creature, disabling it momentarily. When it is stunned, we shall try something to either seal it again or kill it.
And I wonder who you want to use the staff against it, said Jordan, fully aware of his own prowess with staves and polearms.
Yes, I was thinking of you for the task. You're the natural choice afterall.
Yeah, well even if that hunk of metal out there dazes it, as unlikely as that is, how are you going to kill it? asked Jordan, You saw that machine try. It didn't even break the skin.
But it did prove that it can be hurt, said Dr. Kyle, It winced in pain when the Clockwork Knight jumped at it with the lance. If we could find something...
The walls shook at another ram from the other side.
Truman continued, ...if-if we could find SOMETHING that can break its skin, I think we may be able to kill it.
I thought for a moment, looking around the room for ideas. Other than the inscriptions on the walls, the room seemed to have little value. It appeared to be a tomb, as there were evenly spaced stone vaults along the floor, each with what I knew to be a symbol for a Chovian religion beveled into each cover. The room stretched on like that into darkness, so I asked Truman to follow me into it, though not so far as to leave Jordan completely in the dark. There was just enough light to show me the back of the room. Unfortunately there were no more exits, but there was at least one object of use.
It shone brightly, even in the dimness it caught what little light was available and sent it out in all directions. The light reflected back with a blue hue despite the amber glow of a torch. Clutched in the stone hands of a monument to some great Cho warrior, was what came to be our shining hope. I pried the hilt from the marble gauntlet of the majestic figure and held the weapon closer to the light. The blade was made of adamantium, so it was much lighter than even the steel rapier I had at my side. It was somewhat more broad than a rapier and appeared to be designed for slashing and piercing equally. The hilt was made of ebony and trimmed in gold, its pommel providing a perfect counterweight, making for a wonderfully balanced sword. However, there was something more than intricate design to this blade. I wasn't sure yet what it could do, but just grasping it, I could feel like I could take on five armed soldiers simultaneously without even breaking a sweat. Legend has it that the Cho were some of the first enchanters, and I believe that this blade was a product of such practices. I immediately equipped it.
I looked back up to the statue. His avian head stared back down at me. If he was an accurate representation of the Cho, then I had never seen anything so magnificent, yet so sad as a Cho warrior. They were bird-like, I had been told, and now I saw it. Large eyes, feathers, beaks even. But the figure before me stood like a man; bipedal, without wings, tall and postured. Heroic. His race, now wiped from the face of the Earth, shall only be recognized by the artifacts they left behind. I grasped his now empty, outstretched hand and said, Thank you, and I walked back to Jordan. I told him, If you can stun it with the red staff, I think I can wound it with the blue blade.
The door was cracked now, having been thrashed by the dragon over and over again. Jordan said, I'll give it a shot, but how do you expect to get to the staff, let alone out of this room alive?
Almost as if to answer his question, there came a disturbance on the other side of the door, but it wasn't the dragon crashing into it again. Rather, it sounded more like the dragon wasn't alone anymore. We took that opportunity to peek out the door to see what was happening. What we saw was the second clockwork knight fighting the dragon with its inhuman zeal, leaping at the beast again and again, thrusting its lance into the scaly hide just to be repelled like a pebble flung at a stone wall. Yet it was persistent. And that futile persistence allowed Jordanello and myself an opportunity to sneak past the dragon while Dr. Kyle stayed in the relative safety of the tomb.
We were able to hide ourselves behind a mass of debris close to the location of the staff. We watched as the dragon, fed up with the barrage of attacks from the clockwork knight, lashed the machine with one of its tendrils and flung it toward one of the adamantium protrusions in the chamber walls. The machine was shattered, and the beast turned its attention back toward the door to the tomb, believing all three of us to still be trapped inside.
I knew the door would not be able to hold much longer, and Jordanello needed time to grab the staff. Desperately, I told my partner to get ready to move. I then ran out from cover, and thinking back to my training with the professor, I hurled my shield at one of the dragon's massive, amber eyeballs. My discus struck true and the monster reeled its head back in pain. Jordan ran for the red staff, scooping it up while I retrieved my shield. The dragon regained some composure while I was still chasing after my defenses, but before it could manage any sort of retaliation, Jordan pitched his usual staff at the now massive eye of the dragon like a javelin. The solid iron shaft stuck under the swollen, red eyeball, between it and the monster's eyelid. It flailed around in pain, it's tendrils as flimsy as grass in the wind. I collected my shield and met up with Jordan. We prepared ourselves for combat.
The clouds parted and the moonlight shone through the chasm in the chamber ceiling. Suddenly, where there once was a massive beast, there was an iron battlestaff falling into a large hole in the ground, and nothing else. Did we somehow destroy it? We didn't take any more time to think about it. We rushed to the tomb entrance and released Dr. Kyle. Did it work? he asked.
We don't know, we weren't even able to try the plan, he just disappeared, I said. There's no time to ponder this. We need to get ourselves, Dewium, and the researcher to safety. We moved toward the chamber entrance.
We can't just leave, Truman protested, That thing might come back and could even find a way out of here.
We'll return tomorrow with some invokers and stronger soldiers than us, I said. We have to go, now!
Unfortunately, before we all could exit, the clouds moved in front of the moon once more, and we heard a deafening roar coming from behind us. The creature had rematerialized with the concealment of the moon! That was its curse, to only exist when not in direct moonlight. What happens to it otherwise is another mystery entirely. Before I could fathom all of that though, my ankle was grabbed by one of the dragon's great tendrils. It raised me up toward its head and I stared into that gigantic, blood swollen eyeball, pulsing with each of the dragon's heartbeats, and protruding from its socket.
I thought I was going to meet the same fate of Sir Stanley. Half dragon food, half bloodstain. However, that was not to be so. For, at that moment, I saw the slit pupil of that great eye turn its attention elsewhere. Following its gaze, I saw the figure of Jordanello Hoffberg, racing toward the maw of the dragon, and in a great leap that of which no normal man should have been able to accomplish, he literally flew at the snout of the dragon, and struck it with his newly acquired crimson staff. The beast went stiff, and released me from its grip. I was falling, but within reach of the body of the monster, I attempted to slow myself by stabbing into it. I was lucky enough that my prediction was correct about my new blade; it proved to be the only thing to break the nigh impenetrable skin of the dragon. I dug in along the length of its hide and eased to the floor.
The monster slumped forward, collapsing on the ground. Its jaw slacked, both eyes wide open and bulging from its head, one of them already swollen with blood. Without delay, I leapt for the engorged eyeball, sword raised. With the quickness of a lightning strike, my blade sunk deep into the eye, unleashing the built up blood pressure. I hopped backward, away from the tide of blood that came spurting forth. The beast wailed in pain but seemed unable to move, even involuntarily.
Jordan bludgeoned it again, this time on its forehead. The spot where he struck grew red. Taking that as a sign of a weak spot, I thrust my blade through the creature's skull. After I withdrew, the dragon finally mustered the energy to flail its body back one last time in a haunting death cry. The moon once again shone into the chamber, but this time the monster did not vanish. The wound from its head burst forth with brilliant light, its eyes aglow with the same force. Quickly, the dragon's scales turned black, and it shriveled and withered, the life draining from it. Then it gloriously exploded in light and smoke. It was a wondrous sight. Peculiarly, that light became absorbed by the red staff in Jordan's hands.
It would appear I was correct about the staff having some sort of mystical bond with the dragon, I said.
Or maybe my staff is just that awesome! said Jordan coming down from his battle high. Did you see what we just did? That was... man!
I'd be just as excited as you are but I'm not sure what to make of this. What was that monster? How do we know it wasn't just protecting its home?
It was locked away in a dungeon. There was even a guide showing us how to seal it.
Yes. SEAL it. Not destroy it. Perhaps we made a mistake in doing so?
We didn't have a choice. It killed all these people.
I suppose you're right. Let's get everyone else back home and see what our superiors think.
Our superiors were more than excited to accept the adamantium discovered in Mount Katah. The researcher was offered a position at a laboratory studying adamantium, most of which would be coming from the newly established Katah Mines. Dewium was offered a spot in the Winguard Royal Academy, working in an engineering shop with the best engineers and mechanics in the kingdom. Dr. Truman Kyle was monetarily rewarded for his assistance in the investigation, a reward he used to travel the world on a search for various mysteries to solve and knowledge to discover.
Finally, Jordanello and I were knighted for our courage and skill. According to some historians, no small group of adventurers from this kingdom had fought anything that large and seemingly invincible in many years. We were allowed to keep the artifacts we looted from the chamber. Jordan was happy to keep his new staff, and I felt a great connection to the blue, Chovian sword I had named Esperanza, the Chovian word for hope.
At our knighting ceremony, my brother was present in the crowd. He was there for my mother who had to remain at the plantation to care for my father. In an uncharacteristic show of respect for me, he bestowed upon me the true scarf of my family which he inherited from my father. He had decided that I was more worthy of it than he was. He told me that whenever he would wear it in front of his face, he was never cold in winter, and could breathe the freshest air even on the most humid of days. It was an act that showed great character of my brother and I could not have appreciated him more for it. The strife between us diminished greatly after that.
We were both given the offer to join prestigious sects of the Winguard military. Jordan was approached by the most elite group of tactical fighters in the kingdom, the stealthy commandos known as the Winguard Nightmen, the same forces that defeated the Drakian leader. I accepted an offer to join the legendary defenders of the kingdom, the Paladins of the Royal Guard. We were each to begin official training classes in Autumn.
The only one who wasn't outwardly happy for me was Professor Flekag. He had a different perspective of our actions. You defiled an ancient Chovian burial site, he reprimanded me. You slaughtered the guardian of a Chovian holy place. Did you even think why that creature was there?
Professor, the thought occurred to me afterward, but we were doing our jobs, I said, The creature could have left the cave and caused damage to Medguard or even farther than that. It had already killed many citizens.
Maybe those citizens were somewhere they shouldn't have been. Maybe that 'creature' you destroyed was something that you couldn't comprehend. And that friend of yours, walkin' around with his new stick, maybe he doesn't know all that it can do.
What should I have done? I was ordered to help this investigation, and when confronted with a dangerous known killer, I had to put it down! We had no choice but to do what was done! I was furious with the professor. What was he asking of me?
Look, kiddo, I know that you didn't know what you were getting into. I'm sorry that I seem like I'm coming down on you about it. Regardless, I know more about the Cho than anyone else in this damned city. I know that something like that was set up for a reason.
I had considered that after the fact. I know there's more going on, but at the moment I did what I had to do and I did it well because of your teachings.
Yeah, well... I don't know. Maybe it's nothing. Maybe you'll just have a really nasty afterlife. Heh heh, he chuckled and brushed off the issue. I really am proud of ya, though. For what it's worth, you did a fine job. I want to give you something. He produced a pocket watch from his coat. This watch was created from an amulet a friend of mine gave me. Much like yourself, we were adventurers. We dug this out of some tomb, years ago, in a land across the ocean. I suppose even I am capable of some disrespects. It reminds me more of my best friend from long ago more than it reminds me of the civilization that it belonged to. So I kept it even after I realized the scope of what I had done. Just keep it to remind yourself of respect for the past, as the hands of the clock always keep pushing the future forward so you can never get that past back again.
At that time I wished I had been more nostalgic, like the professor. However, there was time for that after I had something to reflect on. For me, that moment was all about the hands of the clock pushing time forward. I wondered about what artifacts I might leave behind for some young adventurer to find and use someday.