Fantasy Adventure

There was news that a dragon’s egg was somewhere in the mountains. And hired swordsmen, like Alabast and Branch, were drawn to the news like sharks to chum. 

In addition to actually finding the egg, one of the hardest parts would be finding someone who would actually pay money for it. This was because even though being incredibly rare and valuable, dragon’s eggs were also incredibly illegal. But as luck had it, an old surly witch in a dark tavern said she would pay Alabast and Branch a lot of gold to have one. 

“I only need the heart of the unborn dragon,” she said. “I don’t need the rest.” 

Her words echoed in Alabast’s mind the entire two days he and Branch trekked through the mountains to find the egg. By the end of the first day, Alabast had decided that he couldn’t kill a defenseless creature. Throughout the second day, he racked his brain trying to figure out how he would get Branch to share his decision. 

Then, they found it. In the cold of the mountains, they happened upon a cave with an opening that looked like it had been carved open by the claw of a giant beast. 

“You think the mother made this?” asked Branch. Branch was a tank of a man, with arms as thick as most men’s legs. He wore a leather vest without sleeves to show them off. Alabast had never come across anyone stronger than Branch.

“Maybe a long time ago,” said Alabast. “This egg supposedly has been dormant for hundreds of years.” Alabast was tall and lean. He wore a cloak to block out the cold. He had lost his left arm many years before. Severed just above his elbow. But this didn’t make him any less effective with his sword. In fact, Branch never came across anyone more skilled than Alabast. 

“Well at any rate,” said Branch. “Looks like it could collapse at any moment. Let’s be quick.”

The outside wind became a low whistle as they stepped into the hollow. The floor was covered in the dry debris of autumn leaves and twigs. About halfway in, it sloped upwards and ended in a wall of solid rock, with large, loose boulders resting all around it. 

“Well I’ll be damned,” said Branch. Nestled on a pile of rocks at the back of the cave was a grey-shelled egg, as big as a human’s torso. “Alright,” said Branch, rubbing his hands together. “Let’s break this baby open and get the goods.” 

“Well actually..” started Alabast. “What if we don’t break it?”

“You kidding?” said Branch. “This thing’s huge! It’d be a real pain to carry back. Plus, there’s no telling how many others are on our trail. It’d be a nightmare to carry it down the mountain and defend ourselves.”

“Well,” said Alabast, picking his words carefully as if he were trying to take a bone away from a sleeping dog. “What if we don’t take the egg at all?” 

“Wait. What are...?” said Branch. “Have you gone crazy?” 

Alabast breathed deeply through his nose and ground his teeth before speaking. “It’s a living creature,” he said. “And we’re here to cut its heart out before it even hatches. I… I’ve decided I can’t be a part of that.” 

“Are you…” began his flabbergasted friend. “We came all this way. And you’re telling me this now?”

“If I told you earlier, you wouldn’t come all the way here. I mean what I’m suggesting is…”

“Insane?” said Branch. 

“Yes,” shrugged Alabast. 

“Are you forgetting how much we’ll get paid for this?”

“No,” said Alabast. “But this is not worth getting paid for. It’s cruel. And I know you agree with me.” 

“Of course it’s cruel,” said Branch. “It’s awful. But if we don’t do it, one of the dozens of hired swords behind us will come and do something just as cruel.” 

“Not if we defend the egg,” said Alabast, flinching. Branch’s mouth dropped open. 

“Listen,” said Alabast. “You and I are more than capable of defending it. And we could just wait until it hatches.”  

“Hatches?” said Branch. “The egg is dormant. We don’t have a mother dragon. Are you going to sit on it?” 

“No,” said Alabast. “But I heard if you set it in fire, it’ll hatch.” 

“Well... who cares?” said Branch. “So what if it hatches? Are we going to carry a baby dragon back with us?”

“I haven’t thought that far,” said Alabast. “I just don’t think this creature deserves to die. Not for money.” 

“You’re not thinking clearly, Alabast,” said Branch. “You’re thinking with your heart. Not your head.” 

“Then help me think through this,” said Alabast. 

“I’ll help you,” said Branch. He unsheathed his sword and made way to break the egg. 

“What are you doing?” said Alabast. 

“This is the best thing for us. I’ll break the egg and cut out the poor creature’s heart. I know it’s awful, but we can’t take the egg with us and it’d be foolish for us to try and guard it.” 

“This isn’t about us,” said Alabast. “This is about a creature’s life. One that doesn’t deserve to die.” 

“I know and I agree,” said Branch. “But we can’t ignore reality. Move away.” 

Alabast positioned himself between Branch and the egg. “No,” Alabast said. For the many years that he fought beside him, Alabast witnessed Branch as an unstoppable force. He could absorb destruction and deflect it back ten-fold. 

In addition to his broadsword, Branch wore a tower-shield on his back. He unbuckled it and it clanged heavily on the ground. It was an implement usually used by castle guards, men who usually didn’t need to move around that much. Branch wielded it with one arm. His strength permitted him to plow through things with alarming force. He would push through Alabast like a carriage up against a rabbit. 

The two stood off. Despite not moving, an intense game of chess was going on in their minds. 

Alabast and Branch knew each other well. They grew up together and learned under the same teachers. They had worked together as hired swords for many years. They were as close as brothers. So, Alabast knew the last thing that Branch would expect - a head-on attack. 

Alabast leapt into the air, with his sword over his head. Expectedly, Branch raised his shield to block it, but at the last moment Alabast kicked forward with his legs, performing a dropkick, thrusting his entire weight into the shield.  

The impact sent reverberations through Alabast’s body. It felt as if he dropkicked a wall. But it had its intended effect. Both he and Branch crashed into the ground. 

Not weighed down by a heavy shield, Alabast was first to his feet. Before Branch could get off of his back, Alabast was able to thrust his blade behind Branch’s shield and press it up against the crease of his elbow. Either Branch would have to let go of the shield or sacrifice his arm. 

Branch eyed Alabast frustratedly. “Think you’re clever?” 

Alabast didn’t respond. He just stared Branch down, daring him to pick up the shield. 

Branch slipped his arm out the straps. Alabast smiled victoriously, but then Branch did something Alabast didn’t expect. With full abandon, Branch rolled up to his feet and charged towards the egg with his sword held high. Alabast cursed and charged after him. 

Alabast was quicker than the behemoth and was able to ram into Branch with his shoulder at Branch’s waist. It was not enough to knock the big man over. But it was enough to anger him. 

Branch spun around and hacked at Alabast. He had taken the bait. Branch had no chance of winning against Alabast in a sword fight. Branch delivered an incredible vertical swipe that would have cleaved Alabast in two. Alabast deftly dodged to the left and then pushed off with his right leg, generating the power for a horizontal strike at Branch’s mid-section. 

Branch parried the attack furiously with two hands on his weapon. This knocked the tip of Alabast’s blade out wide. Branch immediately reversed the direction of his sword, and cut back with frightening speed. Alabast ducked, holding his blade upwards at an angle so that Branch’s sword slid off of it like a ramp, sending Branch off balance. 

Alabast thrust his sword between Branch’s feet and with the flat part of his blade, slapped Branch’s right ankle. Branch bellowed in pain and staggered backwards, trying to calm his right ankle with his free hand. 

Alabast rushed in for a body check. Already hobbled, Branch toppled to the ground. 

Alabast rushed in again. He would force Branch to yield. This was not a duel to the death. In the end they were still friends. A win would only mean that Branch would have to do things Alabast’s way. 

An arrow came flying in from the mouth of the cave, narrowly missing Alabast’s head. Branch’s shield was the closest object for Alabast to hide behind. Alabast jumped behind it and an arrow bounced off of the hard wooden surface. Branch found cover behind a stalagmite. 

There were three hired swords standing at the mouth of the cave. The one wielding the bow wore a hood. The other two wore metal helmets and held swords and bucket shields. 

“Surrender and we will spare your lives,” said one of the helmet-clad men. “We are only here for the dragon’s egg.” Alabast had a clear line of sight to Branch. Years together as fighting partners, they didn’t need words to strategize. 

Branch held his palm at an angle and with his other hand, he mimicked a man running and jumping off of it. Alabast nodded. 

Alabast yelled loudly, drawing the three men’s attention as he stood the tower shield upright and braced his shoulder behind it. There were quick, heavy footsteps and a tremendous weight impacted against the shield. He had launched Branch into the air. 

Alabast drew a dagger and flung it. It stuck into the back of the archer’s hand, causing him to drop his bow. 

Branch slammed down hard on one of the helmets with a meteoric strike. 

Alabast dashed in, easily deflecting the two strikes from the other helmet and delivered a powerful front-thrust kick. The helmet lost his sword as he rolled out of the cave. It caught between two large boulders at the entrance. Its springy steel reverberating. 

Alabast heard Branch bellow with effort and a large object sailed by from the corner of Alabast’s periphery. Alabast dove to the side and saw the unconscious body of the other helmet-clad man collide with the archer, evicting them both from the cave. 

Before Alabast could even turn back around, Branch was already dashing back towards the egg. Alabast dropped his sword and made an all-out effort to overtake Branch. Alabast jumped onto Branch’s back and wrapped his only arm around Branch’s neck. Branch choked and pulled mightily at Alabast’s arm, but Alabast tangled up Branch’s legs with his own and tripped them both to the ground.

The hard impact and the entire weight of Branch on top of him knocked the air out of Alabast’s lungs. Alabast’s hold weakened and Branch was able to roll out of the headlock. They both laid on the floor as they struggled to fill their lungs with air. 

“Oy! Looky what we ‘ave ‘ere,” said a voice from the front of the cave. Alabast recognized it. It was Darius the Bard, dressed in his typical flamboyant blue and purple clothing. A muffin of a hat on his head. He stood with a group of hired swordsmen at the cave’s entrance. “Did I interrupt a romantic moment?” 

Alabast and Branch both groaned. “Time out?” asked Branch of Alabast. 

“Fine,” said Alabast. They both got to their feet, dusting off. Alabast bent over for his sword. 

“No. No,” said Darius, pointing a loaded crossbow. “Leave your shiny toys where they are. You can ‘ave ‘em back after we take the egg.” 

“We were here first,” said Branch. “You’ll steal it from under us? I thought we were friends.” 

“Course we’re friends,” said Darius. “That’s why I’ll buy you a drink after I collect my prize.” 

Alabast began to move around his armless shoulder, grimacing as if he were working out the pain from his and Branch’s wrestling match. In truth, he was sending Branch a signal. In a sticky situation such as the one they were in, long ago they had developed a code of movement to communicate. 

Branch crossed his arms, seeming to express dissatisfaction with Darius, but it was actually a response to Alabast. It was code for a criss-cross pattern. 

“Very well,” said Alabast to Darius. “But you’re buying all night.” 

Darius didn’t lower his crossbow, but he relaxed noticeably. “No ‘ard feelings, fellas. Not every day we get news of a dragon egg, ya know?”

“Tell me about it,” said Alabast, pretending to massage his aching shoulder with his one hand. 

Darius lowered his crossbow. “Glad we could be sensible about this, gents. I really do value our friendship, after all.” 

“So do we,” said Alabast and yanked off his cloak, tossing it like a net at Darius. Branch sprinted forward and Alabast crossed behind him. The Bard cursed and fumbled with his crossbow under Alabast’s cloak. 

Branch swept up Darius with one arm and kept going towards the swordsmen. Despite being armed, the swordsmen ran away from Branch out of the cave, not wanting to accidentally slice Darius. 

Alabast followed in Branch’s wake, but then stopped as something caught his eye. It was the helmet’s sword that had caught between the two boulders. The structure of the cave’s entrance rested on these two rocks. 

A commotion broke out outside, as Alabast’s giant companion roared and faced off against the group. Alabast knew they were no match for Branch. 

Alabast pulled sideways on the sword with all of his strength, trying to displace the boulders. At first they didn’t move. But as beads of sweat and veins popped out on Alabast’s furiously red forehead, one of them began to slide. 

The walls of the caves entrance began to crumble and crack. Branch and Darius’s crew turned around. “I said time out!” Branch yelled at Alabast. But all Alabast could do was smile sheepishly as the mouth of the cave collapsed and his world became darkness. 

After some time, Alabast was able to blindly locate the dragon’s egg and collect a pile of dead leaves and twigs that had blown in from the outside over the season. 

His flint sparked against a knife and the pile of debris ignited into a fire. The giant dragon’s egg sat in the middle of it. Hopefully it would hatch. Alabast would figure out the rest, afterwards. 

January 09, 2021 04:10

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