Quest for the Anystone
By Connor Drexler
The party came to the outskirts of town beaten and bloody. Joran the rogue stumbled along in strained breathes, his wounds only barely closed with Narita’s last cure spell. Susan the Wizard prayed to herself, because as she often bragged each time she dove a bit too much in her cups, “She didn’t need some nobby god just to make things go boom.”
Their stoic leader Brandon of the Tiny Butt, not his choice in names but when you come from a barbarian clan that chooses warrior names around puberty things happen, drew a line with his enchanted great sword across the mud. Brandon wondered aloud if that “One totally hot babe that was totally checking him out the other day was still there?”
The rest of the party rolled their eyes and reminded themselves their leader had other things going for him. Susan hoped the “totally hot babe,” also known to them as the elder Shadow Dragon N’Goa who Susan had to admit had shapeshifted herself into a “totally hot babe,” couldn’t hear Brandon’s stupidity.
Anyway Susan thought, N’Goa was checking her out more. Obviously the elder dragon would rather choose an experienced mage that could cast in the firth circle than a walking pectoral whose sword was obviously a metaphor. She imagined her dark skin against the shadow dragon’s onyx scales, they would look so hot together. Warmth crept into Susan’s cheeks as she blushed thinking about some of the things she would like to do with N’Goa’s human form.
It started to rain, because of course it did. Brandon ignored the cold fall rain because to him it was still a tropical vacation from his Northern roots. Susan could hear Joran’s teeth chatter from the other side of the road, her cousin had not quite adapted from their warm sunny island of their childhood. She covered him in her purple cloak and felt the cloak’s enchantment warm him. Susan regretted many things, chief among them was letting her aunt, the queen, talk her into allowing her little cousin into their guild. In her country everything was earned, so in order for Joran to succeed his mother he had to bring back a treasure worthy of the crown.
According the kingdom’s accountants, the crown was worth at least one million gold so Joran had a ways to go. He was a decent enough thief for a prince, but her life would have been a bit easier without constantly protecting the little brat. Seemingly to prove a point, Joran tripped over a puddle and gasped when the awkward movement almost tore open is newly healed wound.
“Idiot,” Susan chided, and let him lean against her as they walked the rest of the way to the village. She could hire someone in the village to heal him the rest of the way but Narita promised he wasn’t in any danger. Joran had to learn a lesson about running into combat, she thought to herself. . When you have a healer nothing teaches you quicker than a good stabbing. A couple of days of bed rest would be very educational for her cousin. Maybe while he was laid up she could see what N’Goa was up to. Flustered thinking about N’Goa again Susan brushed thin dreads off her face, It’s going to be a good evening, she thought.
“I hope we are not too late.” Brandon said “I had hoped to continue teaching the children the warrior arts before dinner.”
“Hard to tell with the rain, but as priest of the sun god Zara I can assure you will have time.” Narita said solemnly. Narita was also so damn solemn, even when they drank. Susan didn’t know much about the cleric, she had even given up trying to figure out Narita’s gender years ago after learning the followers of Zara god of the sun choose ambiguity when taking the white robes.
“The children will benefit from my skill then. Soon they will rule over their soft parents as the right of the strong.”
Susan chuckled picturing the town they had begun calling home ruled by a clan of tiny pre-pubescent Brandons, or Clan Kick Ass if you asked the children. Ever since they had pitched into buy one of the local taverns turning it into their defacto guild hall Brandon had decided they needed to become more a larger part of the community. Somewhere built into Brandon soul was a warrior’s code that guided everything he did. He would never tell anyone outside his clan it’s rules but community and doing what’s right seemed to high up. From how she saw one little girl act when a bully stole her younger sister’s doll Susan was convinced Brandon may have been teaching the children more than just how to hit things.
For their parts Susan and Narita had been teaching the children reading and math every morning before leaving on missions. At first Susan went into her class with the same reluctance she had as a child not wanting to go through spell drills with her teacher. These children aren’t special, they are nothing more than future pig farmers and merchants she thought. What she discovered was the same energy and desire to learn she figured her teachers had found in her when they recommend she learn the art.
She looked forward to seeing her students more and more each day until she started to admit to herself that guild missions where just a way to pay bills while she shaped the village youth. That is not to say Susan didn’t still giggle each time she shot a fire ball up some evil undead’s ass.
The passed the first barricade on their way to the village. Smeared red on white paint and shattered wards covered the earthen trench. Susan remembered drawing those wards with Narita over the past week to defend it against the evil Shadowlands that had appeared just south. The Shadowlands had appeared one night and spread like a cancer consuming village after village.
“More work for us, it appears.” Narita said after sneaking next to Susan. “May the sun bless our work against the Shadow.”
“We spent so much time on the wards, so annoying. I guess we have our chores for the week,” Susan sighed, but couldn’t remember why they worked so hard.
“I am filled with emotion, soon we will give N’Goa her treasure. N’Goa is filled with such righteousness, I hope to learn from her worthiness. With her I can only get closer to Zara.”
“Can I see the thing, whats-it-called. ‘S not even that shiny, what kind of treasure isn’t even shiny.”
Narita dug for a minute in the group’s bag of holding, it was the groups only bag of holding because those things were expensive. Narita’s face beamed as she held up a white stone for the group to gaze on. The stone itself was unremarkable, it had some cracks in but to the group it was the prettiest thing they had seen. This stone was important to N’Goa, therefore the world, their gods and them.
The guild oohh and ahh’d at the white stone until Narita put it back in the bag. Susan was a little disappointed she didn’t get to hold it but whatever. It was the “anystone” after all, something for her N’Goa. She wondered if N’Goa would stay for dinner, she was always so mysterious and sexy. Thinking about dinner reminded Susan that she hadn’t eaten since they left the night before. Hunger pain stabbed at her, the water running down her face soothed her parched lips. She also forgot to drink anything, or even bring a water skin which was not like her.
“Why do they not light their cooking fires?” Brandon asked, pointing to the smoke free sky above the village, “Is it not right that they welcome us home with a feast.” Susan wanted to remind Brandon, for the hundredth time, that as the owners of the local inn technically it was the guilds responsibility to cook the feast but explaining things like that only hurt her head. It was also possible that Brandon was screwing with her, he was impossible to read.
The lack of smoke was disconcerting, they had a cook employed at the inn. A local woman who had actually started walking out with Brandon. He had taken her to the last dance held by the town’s mayor. She had skipped the last dance but couldn’t help wonder what N’Goa would look like in a dress if they went together. She imagined spinning in her gold dress through the town square into N’Goa’s strong arms. They would dance and drink together, make vacation plans to visit the island of Susan’s birth. Would the Dragon allow Susan to fly on her back? Is it weird to ask? she thought. Of course explaining her love for Dragon from the Shadow would be difficult, but her parents would understand their love.
“We are here, come adore us.” Brandon of the Tiny Butt declared.
Only silence responded.
“Tiny members of Clan kick ass, it is time for warrior training.” Still nothing.
The guild walked nervously through the empty streets, Susan felt conflicted and it hurt. Her love for N’Goa, the woman and dragon she was going to spend the rest of her life with, and concern for the empty town fought for control. Her concern was like a rock battling against the ethereal feelings for N’Goa. Feelings that confused her, like something was very wrong.
The walked to the center of the town, where they were set to meet N’Goa and hand her the Anystone. The town center looked darker than Susan had remembered, everything felt like it was covered with a dark mist. Susan ignored Brandon’s increasingly desperate calls for his Clan Kick ass students. She was focused on how happy N’Goa would be when Susan gave her the Anystone.
They waited there till one by one each of them fell on their knees with hunger. Narita held up the Anystone with the last of her strength, in the distance Susan heard Brandon start to cry.
It was past midnight and Susan was the last of her guild, she huddled around the Anystone in a fetal position. Her cloak’s enchantment died, drained of its magic, around the time her cousin stopped moving. The only thing that kept warmth in her body was her first memory of N’Goa.
It was Midnight one night ago, her guild had set up camp behind one of the earthen trenches Brandon had spent the week teaching the villagers to build. They were protecting the keystone wards from attack from the evil minions of the Shadowlands. The wards were all the kept out the life draining magic of the Shadowland’s queen. They had already turned away three patrols of goblins attempt to sabotage the wards when the fighting abruptly ended.
They were all tired, Narita had been pumping them with pure holy magic just to keep them awake. In the distance Susan heard the most beautiful singing she had ever heard. She stood, it was sad and alluring at the same time like the call of the grave.
She felt the spell pull at her loneliness, the wards glowed red fighting the spells influences. She didn’t want to lose but Susan was so cold and tired. The magic felt so good as it pushed its way past her defenses, she didn’t feel tired anymore.
First she stood up, then the rest of her guild followed her into the wood and away from the wards. It was funny how quickly the goblins rushed the defenses once they left, she even giggled when they broke her wards with the blood of the other defenders.
In the forest an ancient dragon made of ethereal shadow dissolved into black mist, then that black mist eddied and collected into a the shape of a beautiful woman.
Honey words pierced her heart.
“If you love me, prove it. Go to the elven forest just east of here and grab any stone.”
“What if the elves fight us,” Susan asked, “They hate trespassers.”
“You love me,” N’Goa said and Susan did. “ Go and bring me any stone. If you need to kill for it, you will have killed for me.”
N’Goa dissolved into shadow then appeared as a dragon before she flew off.
Laying on the ground Susan was glad that Brandon had stopped crying, it bothered her but she couldn’t remember why. All around her the villagers had fallen asleep just like she wanted to. She could see Brandon sleeping against his sword, it looks like he finally found his Clan Kick ass warriors in training.
Susan held the Anystone tighter to her chest, breathing was starting to hurt but she was going to be the one to give it to N’Goa and they would be happy together.
In the distance she saw a midnight dragon land in the town square. It had become much solid since she had seen her love last.
In a woman’s form the dragon walked towards where Susan lay. Her heart fluttered and she coughed what tasted like blood. With each step closer Susan’s breaths hurt more. She fought with everything, holding on to her dream of being the one to love N’Goa.
With Susan’s last breath she forced her self up, straining against gravity to look onto her true loves face. The hungry loveless eyes of the Shadow Dragon N’Goa stared back at her, Susan looked at the plain stone she was clutching in horror and then she fell.