To celebrate the release of The Red Dragon Inn: Battle for Greyport, our old friend and founding member of the SFG team, Geoff Bottone, returns with another story. Will you defend the city from the monsters and defeat their nefarious boss, or will the city (and the tavern!) be overrun? Get your copy today right here.
The warning bells sounded, echoing down the narrow streets of the city. It could mean only one thing; Greyport was under attack!
Fiona drew her sword and ran toward the sounds of destruction, shouldering aside the members of the crowd that fled in the opposite direction. A few of the people, more present-minded than the rest, saw her coming and made way for her. It was not long before she was comparatively alone on the street, the din of battle and retreating citizenry echoing from the streets on either side of her.
Gerki was missing, of course—had been missing since the moment Greyport’s alarm bells started to ring. That was either a really good thing or a really bad thing. Fiona had adventured with Gerki long enough to assume it was the former. She hoped she wasn’t wrong.
She continued running, her armor clanking, her eye ever vigilant for signs of monsters or villainy. She was almost to the courtyard of the Mages’ Collegium when a very large shadow passed overhead.
Fiona looked up, eyes wide, as the vast shadow opened its maw and exhaled a streamer of fire onto the rooftops of the city. Thatch and shingles ignited in an instant, filling the sky with coils of black smoke.
“Yes!” said someone behind her. “He comes at last, and woe betide the squatting rats who presumed to take his rightful place.”
Fiona took her eyes off the burning roofs, off of the sky, and saw a livid man in a black robe approaching her. Even if he had not spoken, she could tell from the look in his eye that this was not a man to be parlayed with. Swinging her shield off of her back, she dropped into a fighting stance and readied herself for the inevitable attack.
“I have heard his call,” the man went on. “Oh yes, I and others have come to serve. We are here now to await the cleansing fire and to hasten his coming.”
Fiona sighed. “Either fight me or get the hell out of my way.”
The man cackled as he produced a strange, glowing rod from his sleeve. The gemstone set into the rod’s tip flared with arcane radiance and hurled a crackling black beam of death at Fiona. She raised her shield, but the deadly energy cascaded around the edges, pouring like water past her defense. The merest touch of the beam was agony. Fiona swore in dwarven as the pain drove her to her knee.
“Rejoice, my sister,” said the man. “You will be among the first to be cleanse…”
The beam and its terrible pain vanished all at once. The man let out a groan and fell sideways, his knees collapsing beneath him as he dropped to the cobblestones. Gerki stood in the street just behind him, holding a pair of freshly-bloodied daggers.
“Thought you could use a hand,” he said, winking.
Fiona got to her feet. “You thought right. C’mon. We have to stop that dragon.”
Gerki bent to wipe his daggers clean on the man’s black robes. “We, Fiona? We have to stop the dragon?”
“Yeah we do, because we’re adventurers and the city’s on fire.”
Gerki sheathed his now-gleaming knives. “You’re sure you’d rather do that than, say, head on down to the Undercity and wait for this all to blow over? I know a couple of nice, quiet, fireproof spots.”
“No. Come on, Gerki. We’re almost to the Collegium. I’m sure we’ll find some help there.”
She ran. As expected, Gerki came running after her. They reached the high road that led up to the gates of the Collegium, only to see it besieged by a large cluster of people clad in matching black robes.
“Just so you know,” said Gerki, “the Undercity offer is perpetually on the table.”
“This doesn’t look like everyone,” said Zot, eyeing the Collegium Masters who had assembled upon the balcony.
Deirdre came up behind the assembled wizards and shrugged her shoulders. “It’s everyone I could find, which is really worrying, you know, considering.”
One of the oldest of the masters, older even than Zot, looked around and shook his head, dismayed. “A pity the dragon and the cultists decided to attack us in summer session, when most of the students and faculty are away.”
“Surely there are others,” said Zot, taking a quick head count of the depressingly low numbers.
“There are some summer students in the dining hall,” said the elderly master. “But…”
Deirdre rolled her eyes and opened her hands, palms upward, in an appellation to the Goddess. “You hurried me right past the dining hall like there wasn’t anyone in there!”
“No one there would be of any use to us in battle,” said the elderly master. “They are just students. They should remain in the dining hall for their safety.”
Zot tugged at his beard, just about pulling it out by the roots. “Deirdre, you’d better go and get them.”
“But,” interrupted the old master, “they’re not trained!”
“Do they know how to cast Magic Missile?”
The Collegium Master looked back at his fellows for a moment. There were shrugs all around. “Yes, I suppose they do. It’s one of the first spells we teach…”
“Then get them up here!” said Zot. “We need all the firepower we can get.”
“A dragon is attacking the city.”
“Stop arguing with them, Zot. I’ll go and get the students.” Deirdre tugged on the voluminous sleeve of a water mage. “Come on, you, show me the quickest way back to the dining hall.”
One of the other mages, who had been surveying the front gates of the Collegium, turned to the others. “They appear to be performing a ritual spell. It’s some kind of summoning, I think. The soldiers are advancing to the square, but I don’t know that they’ll make it in time.”
“Dispelling spells,” shouted one of the Collegium Masters. “Disrupt that ritual!”
Zot pulled his wand out from its holster on his belt and wondered, for perhaps the dozenth time, where Pooky had gotten to. He hoped that the blasted rabbit would make it back before the battle was over—they could certainly use an angry ball of bad attitude and teeth right about now.
He aimed down at the courtyard, preparing to unleash a barrage of magical lightning at the cultists, when his finely-tuned Wizard Sight detected something powerful manifesting in the air right beside him. Zot whirled around, just in time to see Chronos materialize out of the timestream.
“Chronos. Thank goodness you’re here. We’re…”
“No time for that. I’m here for another reason.” Chronos glanced out at the balcony and the shuddering magical energies that the mages of the Collegium had woven in the air. “Once you’re done here, come as quickly as you can to the Great Temple. The Grand Cleric will desperately need all the firepower that the four of you can muster.”
“Four of us?”
Chronos snapped his fingers. “Ah, yes! Should have mentioned that. Gerki and Fiona are on their way to you, and they’re bringing reinforcements.”
“Thank goodness for that!” Zot paused to stroke his beard. A thought had suddenly occurred to him. “Once we’re done? Does that mean we win?”
“That would be telling.” Chronos grinned and began disappearing back into the timestream. “But the answer is mostly yes.”
Fiona had lost her sword somewhere along the way, but she continued to contribute to the fray by forcing cultists to chew the edge of her shield. It wasn’t long before she spotted a claymore by the body of a fallen soldier. She gave it a good swing to test its weight before letting out a raucous battle cry and charging up the Collegium’s steps. Magic crashed and splashed about her as she hewed cultists down on every side.
Moments later, the battle was over. Gerki trotted up the stairs to stand beside her, breathing heavily.
“Stupid human-sized steps,” he huffed.
“You all right?”
“Just fine,” she beamed, resting the claymore on her shoulder. “I got a new toy.”
“Me, too,” said Gerki. “Several in fact.”
Gerki started to open up his coat to show her, but stopped when he realized that Zot was stomping down the steps, velvet robes flying. Pooky rode along on the wizard’s shoulder, and several very intense looking fire mages followed after, their stored magical potential causing the air around them to smolder and shimmer.
Deirdre came bounding down the steps after them, in a manner that made quite a few of the battle-weary defenders in the plaza of the Collegium look up and take notice. Deirdre ignored them, but a small, pleased smile crossed her lips as she approached Fiona and Gerki.
“Well, hello, you two. I’m pleased to see you’re mostly unscathed, especially with the way Fiona keeps charging into things.”
Fiona ran a hand through her unruly hair. “It worked, didn’t it?”
“It did, yes.” A hint of a smile played at the corner of Deirdre’s mouth.
Gerki crossed his arms over his now-closed coat. “So. Collegium still standing?”
“More or less,” said Zot. “Mostly cosmetic damage. Thank you for the assistance, by the way.”
“You’re welcome!” Fiona gave him a thumbs up. “Any day I get to hew through legions of enemies is a good day.”
“The day’s not over yet, I’m afraid. In addition to the dragon that I’m sure we’ve all seen flying around, I have it on good authority that the Great Temple is being threatened.” Zot gestured at the motley pack of apprentice mages and low-ranking soldiers that had clustered around them. “If you would all accompany me.”
Fiona hefted her new sword. “With pleasure.”
Despite Zot’s apocalyptic warnings and exhortations to hurry, they found that the Great Temple, though suffering the usual chaos one might expect from a city beset by invading monsters, was unharmed. Soldiers patrolled the perimeter, keeping a watch out for cultists and other creatures, while junior clergy helped to escort the wounded into the temple for healing.
“I’m pleased to discover you’re wrong,” said Deirdre, looking rather relieved at the state of the Great Temple.
“Yeah,” agreed Gerki, his cheeks a rosy pink. “I guess we could have settled for a leisurely amble after all.”
Pooky hopped down from Zot’s shoulder as the wizard looked around, his impressive grey brows furrowing with concern. “No, I don’t think so. Chronos said…”
“Chronos said what?” said Chronos, who was just walking up with two mysterious-looking, cloaked characters in tow. Fiona felt her sword hand start to itch, but it subsided when she realized that, though the people in cloaks were likely very nefarious, they weren’t cultists.
“You said the temple was in danger,” said Zot.
“I say a lot of things.” Chronos favored them with a smile and a shrug. “Some of them even come to pass.”
Before Zot could reply, the flagstones of the temple plaza gave a small, but very firm shake. Fiona readied her sword and looked around as slashes of coruscating light tore open the air around the temple grounds.
“Zot,” said Gerki, his voice even higher than normal. “What is that?”
“It appears we didn’t stop the cultists’ summoning ritual in time. Everyone, get ready!”
Scaled beasts started to pour through the rents in reality, filling the air with thrashing wings and lashing tails. The acolytes and injured ran for cover as the wyverns and dragonspawn carpeted the plaza with fire and ice.
Deirdre raised her hands and shouted an invocation. Clean, blue light shot down from above. “We’re going to need the power of the Goddess to win this battle!”
“We may need more gods than that,” said Zot. “We need to get a message to the Grand Cleric! Ohava will have to rally the faithful and help us coordinate…Look out!”
They all ducked for cover as a dragonspawn darted out of the sky. It snapped at the air with its savage jaws and lashed out with its armored tail. The tail tip struck the ground right where Gerki had been standing, hard enough to splinter one of the paving stones.
Chronos held up his small hourglass, directing the power of the sands of time at the dragonspawn. The power of the hourglass withered the creature’s wings, sapped its vitality and strength. It collapsed in a heap. Before it could lift its heavy head on its now-arthritic neck, Zot finished it off with a blast of lightning.
“As I said,” continued Zot, “we need Ohava!”
“Do you want me to get her now, or sooner than now?”
“Whatever works, Chronos. Hurry!”
The magical light show caused by Chronos slipping into the timestream caught the eye of two ferocious-looking ice wyverns. They rounded on the party, sheets of frost falling from their wings. One rushed forward, its sinusoidal body whipping back and forth as it crossed the plaza. The other took to the air, nostrils whistling as it drew a tremendous amount of air into its lungs.
One of the apprentice mages tugged on Zot’s voluminous sleeve. “But…but…I’m just an apprentice…”
Gerki reached into his coat and extracted a rather majestic-looking scepter and pressed it into the apprentice mage’s hands. “Here you go, buddy. Why don’t you try giving this a flick of the wrist?”
“That’s Master Caboth’s scepter!” Zot sputtered. “Where did you get that?”
“Oh, you know,” said Gerki, with a wave of his hand. “Around.”
“Guys!” Fiona pointed at the advancing lizards with her claymore. “Pay attention!”
“Right,” said Zot. “Form up, everyone!”
The wyvern on the ground lunged forward, while the wyvern in the sky exhaled a cone of razor-sharp ice crystals. Fiona gritted her teeth, fully expecting to take the assault on the chin, but also hoping that she would be able to bring down one of the wyverns. As her vision filled with blue-white scales, she looked desperately for a vulnerable spot.
The ice shards never hit her, and the grounded wyvern never got close enough for her to find its weak point. Instead, both the shards and the wyvern bounced off a pearlescent field of energy that sprang into being in front of the party. The ground-based wyvern skidded along it, its claws finding no purchase, before its own momentum caused it to collapse in a heap in front of the shield.
Deirdre gestured with her holy symbol and the protective field vanished into the ground. With the barrier gone, Fiona leaped forward, driving the point of her sword into the fallen wyvern’s exposed chest. She twisted the sword, watching as the light vanished from the wyvern’s eyes and a final puff of frost passed between its lips.
She had a clever quip prepared, and would have said it had not Gerki tackled her from behind. The pair of them tumbled across the courtyard of the Great Temple as the skybound wyvern blasted the flagstones with its icy breath.
“Sorry about that, Fi,” said Gerki, trying to extricate himself from Fiona’s limbs and his own cloak.
They separated and stood up, Fiona watching the sky as the wyvern swung around, presumably for another pass. “No problem. Thanks for the save.”
Gerki flashed a buck-toothed grin.
“Oh no,” shouted Deirdre. “The temple!”
The wheeling wyvern had left them alone, preferring instead to join with its winged brethren on an all-out assault at the temple gates. Scrabbling wings and claws scored the marble columns and ripped holy statues from their alcoves.
Fiona pushed past Gerki and, with one powerful tug, ripped her new sword free from the ice wyvern’s frosty heart. She looked at the assembled knot of her party members and at the various other heroes and hangers-on they had collected since the first battle at the Collegium. “We’ve got to stop them before they tear the temple to pieces!”
“I agree,” said Zot. “Any suggestions?”
Fiona took the big sword in a one-handed grip and slung her shield down off of her back. With a toss of her head and a wild grin on her face, she turned to face the combined might of the dragonkin attacking the Grand Temple.
“Sure, follow me.”
She took off at a dead run, howling and beating the flat of her blade against the edge of her shield. The nearest wyverns turned at the din, their fangs bared, as Fiona closed with them. She didn’t look behind her to see if the others had followed. She just counted on the fact that they were there.
And they were. Crackling magic from Zot’s wand arced high over her head to strike a dragonkin in the flanks. Pure divine power hurled aside those lizards that had all but breached the temple doors. A brace of throwing knives took flight, burying themselves in the few vulnerable spots not covered by iron-hard scales.
Fiona pointed her sword at the ice wyvern that had almost given her frostbite.
“You!” she shouted. “You’re mine!”
The ice wyvern roared in response, the chilling mist of its own breath wreathing its head.
Fiona felt her shield shift on her arm as a heavy weight landed on it. She glanced down, sword at the ready in case a tiny dragonet or other small, scaly thing had made landfall there when she wasn’t looking. Instead, she saw a fluffy white ball of teeth and ears.
Pooky nodded at Fiona. Fiona nodded back.
“Correction,” shouted Fiona. “You’re ours!”
It had been a hard battle. The façade of the Great Temple, as well as its holy servitors, bore many fresh scars. Fiona was pleased that they had given better than they had gotten, though. As she tightened a makeshift bandage down over a wound in her thigh, she surveyed the rapidly cooling (or, in the case of the ice wyverns, warming) lizard corpses that were strewn about the plaza.
The dragon’s shadow passed overhead, looming larger this time. Fiona felt the temperature rise as a blazing plume of flame touched off an inferno on the next street over.
“FACE ME, OLD ONE!” roared the dragon, its voice so loud that Fiona’s armor vibrated. “FACE ME NOW, OR THESE LANDS ARE MINE BY RIGHT!”
The dragon performed an impressive aerial maneuver, banking up into a sky now grey with smoke. It turned and, with a single flap of its powerful wings, began its descent toward Greyport. Fiona watched it dive, saw it come down in the heart of the city, near to the Grand Square, right near…
“Oh, the hell you don’t!” shouted Fiona, getting to her feet. “Come on, people, we have a tavern to save!”
“Oh, it did not just mess with our home turf,” said Gerki, rubbing his nose with determination. “That was its last mistake. I’m going to make boots out of its hide.”
“Brave words, everyone,” said Zot, as Pooky mounted his shoulder. “Now let’s see if we can stop this thing and not die in the process.”
The dragon towered over the Grand Square and the entrance to the Red Dragon Inn. A buffet of its tail overturned a wagon. A swipe of its massive claw brought the inn’s sign down in a splintered heap.
“THIS EFFIGY DOES NOT AMUSE ME!” bellowed the dragon. “THERE IS ONLY ONE RED DRAGON FIT TO DWELL WITHIN THIS AERIE, AND IT IS I, MORDIGAR.”
“Get out of our city,” said Fiona, aiming the tip of her claymore in the vicinity of the dragon’s head. “This is your last warning!”
The earth shook from the dragon’s wild laughter. “YOUR DEFIANCE IS LIKE THE BUZZING OF GNATS IN A HURRICANE! YOU SHALL PERISH IN FLAME!”
The dragon breathed, exhaling a firestorm that devastated the square’s eastern archway. The timbers of the arch collapsed in the assault, burying the brave soldiers beneath it in a shower of embers and smoke. Their screams told Fiona that at least some of them were alive, but not all.
“What’s the plan?” she said to Zot.
“We’ll need to fan out so that it can’t kill us all at once,” said the wizard, tugging nervously on his beard. “We need to keep it distracted somehow, too. If it’s busy fighting a lot of little skirmishes, it can’t focus too much on one of us.”
Deidre clasped her hands together, holding her holy symbol between them. “Oh, Goddess, strengthen your faithful in their hour of need. Protect us from the fiery death that will soon rain down from above.”
Fiona hefted her sword. “While the Goddess is doing that, Gerki and I will try to get in close for the kill.”
“Close?” said Gerki.
The dragon spread its wings, flapping them with such force that it churned the air into twisting cyclones. One stray wing buffet struck a tower in the corner of the square, scattering it in a collapsing heap of stone. The dragon raised its head, and the light of the setting sun gleamed off of its armored hide and deadly horns.
“Well, as close as we can,” said Fiona.
“All right,” said Zot. “Everyone, fan out. We’ll…”
There came the strange sounds that heralded a shift in the timestream. Chronos appeared a short distance away, but it was not the youthful and cheerful time mage that Fiona was used to. This Chronos had darker robes, grey streaks in his hair, and an eyepatch.
“Zot!” Chronos shouted, his voice hoarse and ragged. “You cannot let the dragon destroy the tavern! You have to…”
Above them all, the great red dragon roared, spreading its wings wide enough to blot out the sun. The leading edge of one wing shattered a nearby house, causing a cascade of wreckage that blocked the street between the party and Chronos.
Zot pointed at several of the assembled soldiers, mages, and mercenaries. “Help me clear this debris. We need to reach Chronos and learn the information he brought back from the future. The rest of you, draw the dragon’s ire. Strike where you can. Let’s see if we can’t finish him off or drive him away.”
As several of the defenders bent to help move away shattered stone and broken beams, the remainder hastened out into the square, shields raised to provide cover for the unarmed and unarmored apprentices and novice clerics.
The apprentice bearing the scepter Gerki had found yelled out, “take that, you fiend,” and blasted the dragon in the flank with a gout of magical lightning. The dragon roared, its attention momentarily diverted.
“You look like you could use some help,” said a voice from an alleyway.
Fiona turned to see the tavern wench step out into the street. She was dressed for work, her dark hair tied back in a kerchief. She wore a determined frown on her face.
“Hey…you?” said Fiona. “We could use some help, but I don’t know if a civilian…”
The wench made a slight adjustment in her skirts and, somehow, from somewhere, a sword appeared in her hand. “Oh, please. If I have to deal with you adventurers every single night in the tavern, I can handle this.”
Fiona smiled. “Welcome to the team.”