The Bloodaxe Saga Book Three: Mayhem, Magic and Miracles Chapter Five

(The Diabolic and the Dearly Departed)

Wyverns were a race of pure evil made flesh. Their every thought was either of self or the pain and suffering of others and their every action reflected these thoughts. The scholars of the Earthlands down through the ages debated at length the enigma of whether the species had evolved because of, or in spite of such a directive. The concept flew in the face of all logic and reason. Races and species of life, it was widely held, flourished best when there was a conscious, unconscious or subconscious recognition of the value of others; their role in strengthening the basic advantages and bonds of nature.

It was assumed that wyverns mated out of sheer sexual lust. Whether they actually conceptualized that the outcome was procreation was unclear. The females of the species laid eggs, covered them and left them to hatch and fend for themselves. If, in fact, they were anywhere in the vicinity at the moment of hatching they would invariably devour the entire clutch. Obviously this habit, not being conducive to large populations, add to that, a slow metabolism and long gestation period, contributed to their flagging numbers and may very well have been the salvation of all other races of the Earthands. The thought of a thriving population of such creatures could only spell doom for all else

It was known that male black dragons, also a predominately evil race of that species, would occasionally overpower and mate with female wyverns. This was probably due to a black dragon’s having been defeated by an alpha male and driven out of its society causing that dragon to go rogue. The resulting offspring of such a union were always sterile, another fortunate happenstance for the rest of the races, for such beings were every bit as evil and rapacious as all wyverns but were larger and often possessed the forelegs common to dragons. Some of these hybrids also inherited the longevity of dragons.

Unlike dragons, wyverns did not possess the power of speech. In some of the hybrids however, they were endowed with the physical capability. But language, naturally, is something that must be must be taught through care and nurturing; something that no wyvern would ever receive. A disturbing feature of these particular hybrids with vocal chords is that they would develop their own babbling gibberish. It has never been clear whether it was a language they, themselves understood or whether they would simply be exercising the physical capability ignorantly. Either way, down through history there had been unfortunate individuals who perished with such unintelligible babble roaring in their ears.

For ages, unexplainably, one wyvern would take up residence at the Gunderbad volcano seemingly to guard the field of bones and decaying carcasses of the dead wyverns against invasion and/or desecration. Being the interpretation of the nobler races, in fact, it was erroneously accepted that this was the reason. In truth, what caused this enigmatic behavior was a deep seeded longing for the release from life and a moribund fascination with death, simply that. No reverence for their fellows or species. Being opportunistic cannibals, there would be carcasses to feed upon. Why only ever one at a time? Wyverns were territorial and simply would tolerate no others.

Such a monster was Barrach the Black.

Barrach was an old and battle-scarred beast that currently was the only inhabitant of the area of Mount Gunderbad. The volcano was a massive landmass that had expanded itself through millennia of countless eruptions. Presently Barrach resided in an expansive cave that was actually a long eroded lava tube that went straight through the southeastern flank of the mountain. The floor was littered with the bones of his countless kills over the years. Being lazy and sluggardly, a trait common to wyverns, Barrach would let them pile up until he could barely move and then he’d push them out to fall thousands of feet into the caldera.

Today, Barrach was awakened by a jarring rumble that shook dust from the ceiling of the cave and made him sneeze. This was compounded by a wisp of acrid smoke that belched from the caldera and filtered lazily through the cave. Then…all was quiet. Barrach shook his head, blew mucous from his nostrils, laid his head back down and slept.

  • * * * * * * *

“Did you feel that?” Tykk was riding beside Juliex, but the man had been very reticent since the death of his friend. He looked up jarred out of his funk. “Hmm…feel what?”

“I know we’re mounted and riding, but I’d swear I felt the ground shift,” Tykk answered.

Juliex shook his head. “I felt nothing,” he said.

“No, I felt it as well,” said Briar who was riding ahead of them and several others concurred.

“We can expect as much the closer we get to Gunderbad. You’ll recall Algar’s warning of such things,” said Arnaald. “The sooner we accomplish our mission and are away, the easier I’ll feel.”

“I wouldn’t worry too much,” said Briar. “Such things have been common to the area for centuries. I’ve felt much worse while hunting in these mountains. What we do need to watch for are landslides. They’re one reason it is advisable to stay to high ground where possible.”

“Well, I’d say we’re on our way,” said Helmut. They were now just entering the outskirts of the woodlands at the summit of the mountain.

“Everyone keep your eyes and ears open. The occasional quake is less concerning than some of the predators in these woods. Bear, coyotes, wolves and even cougars are common,” said Briar.

“The Gods know what else these days,” said Garr to nods of agreement.

Arnaald reigned in Torfax and turned to face the group. “While we’re on the subject, I think it’s a good time to bring this up. I’m sure we all know that it’s common protocol to post one sentry at camp for a group of this size. At the risk of seeming over-cautious, I suggest we post one at each of the compass points, at least until our mission is complete and we are headed home.” He didn’t vocalize it, but his main concern was for the safety of Garr.

Briar nodded. “Not over-cautious in the least, Arnaald. If you’d not have mentioned it, I’d have insisted. We cannot be too careful.”

Garr looked meaningfully at Briar but said nothing. The look was not wasted on the Swordmaster. “What is it, lad? You’ve been wound tight as whip leather since before we even left.”

Garr nodded. “Yeah, I have been. Even before what happened to poor Hornn.” He nodded to Juliex who acknowledged it in kind. “I haven’t been able to shake a looming sense of…not dread, really, but of being… watched.”

Arnaald said nothing, but eyed Garr carefully. He’d sensed it as well, but was surprised at Garr’s sentience and made a mental note to pay more attention to this. He debated inwardly whether to share his feeling that Garr was right but decided that it would avail nothing but to add undue tension to an already tense set of circumstances. Instead he said, “I think we are all a bit edgy and with good reason. There are a lot of unknown variables to an outcome that I daresay we all feel is important at the very least.”

Garr thought for a moment and nodded agreement that he was not at all sure he felt in earnest.

By dusk they were well into the forest. The area they chose to camp was a rounded knoll in the conifer area of the forest so there was very little underbrush and this gave them a good defensive position. Tykk, Edvard, Dolf and Skell took the first watch.

As the group sat about the small campfire, Smuntley, whose habit it was to keep his ears open and mouth closed in unfamiliar circumstances, decided it was time to ask some pertinent questions. To Juliex he asked, “I say, I’m quite curious about these wyverns. Are we likely to encounter any? If so, how many and what would be the best proof against them?”

Chewing his dinner of hardtack and jerky washed down with strong tea, Juliex said, “Most of my knowledge is from lore though I have observed a few from safe distances. I think it’s safe to say that they are every bit as evil and dangerous as their reputation would indicate. In any case, I’d certainly advise erring on the side of caution where wyverns are concerned. Proof against them? Ha! Stay away would be my recommendation. Barring that, a well aimed spear or arrow though the eye, as I’ve mentioned, or a missing scale, and that had better be in a vital area or all you’re liable to accomplish is pissing him off.” He grinned and the others laughed nervously. “As to whether we will encounter any,” he shrugged, “I can only say that it is widely known that they guard the very area we’ll be searching for. They are territorial and vehemently so. Given that, I’d say we probably only have to worry about one. Believe me that’s enough and I confess my concern.”

No one spoke, digesting the ramifications. Finally Juliex drew a deep breath and exhaled. “This is not fact, but only a rumor that I’ve heard from travelers. It tells that the current resident is a dragon-wyvern hybrid. I didn’t mention it before now because, one…it is only a rumor and two, I didn’t want to cause undue tension and concern.” Smuntley noticed that Arnaald suddenly sat up much straighter.

“Dragon?” asked Smuntely, hopefully. “But that could prove to be a good thing, right?” He thought of the friendly and helpful Faracayne. Juliex and Arnaald shared a long and meaningful look as Smuntley looked from one to the other. “What?”

“I know what you’re thinking and it’s wishful thinking indeed,” said Arnaald.

At Smuntley’s vacuous expression, Juliex explained. “Hybrids are the worst. This particular one has been dubbed Barrach. It’s the trull name for monster. I daresay if they call him such, we can safely say he’s trouble in the extreme.”

Long into the night the whole group got an education on the subject of hybrids and it was news they all could have done without.

They all turned in and slept fitfully. Garr dreamed of a deformed and insidious dragon-like monstrosity ferociously fighting the whole group. In his dream the beast lunged and pinned Stern to the ground. Stern cried out in agony and Garr awoke in a sweat and bolted upright. Dolf was waking the next shift of guards and Garr was relieved to see Stern among them. He pulled his blanket up and rolled over. Soon he was wrapped in dreamless sleep.

Arnaald seldom truly slept when on such a mission but instead put himself into a state of profound relaxation. He was finding it hard tonight to do so for now he took time to contemplate Garr’s seeming ability to sense things on an extrasensory level. He wondered to what degree this was so or if it was simply a case of the heebie-jeebies. It was something that certainly warranted exploration.

At daybreak, the guards, Helmut, Snori and Trevor came in and woke the group. Stern was nowhere to be found.

The Bloodaxe Saga Book Three: Mayhem, Magic and Miracles Chapter Five

George Yesthal

Brodheadsville, United States

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