The mount speeds through the roads at an unnatural speed. Mountains, forests, and other travelers pass by in a blur. Lightmail runs for hours, showing no signs of exhaustion. With the length of this trip and the lack of layovers, you wonder if you should have picked up some peanuts at some point, but you settle for the complementary mushrooms from the mycelites instead.
The world around you slows down and you realize that you’re almost to your destination. The road runs along a massive ravine dividing Castor from the rest of the county. Castor was built on a peninsula, with the city surrounded by water on all sides. The founders of the city created walls to stop water from flowing into the ravine. This deep canyon became a natural barrier that kept invaders at bay, with the architects building a massive bridge to connect the capital to the mainland.
You finally get a glimpse of the Great Bridge as you get closer. It is made from a single stone that was cut from a mountain. Dwarves brought it to its final resting place before working with an elf clan and human artisans to carve and design it. The bridge is a symbol of peace between all the races who worked together to complete it.
Now, it is one fire breath away from destruction.
You approach the bridge and realize that buildings were cut out of the stone along the edge of the construct. Taverns, stores, and storehouses lined the sides of the bridge, acting as barriers to prevent travelers from falling over into the abyss below.
Serena stops the horse in front of a blacksmith’s forge. The sounds of metal-on-metal echo from the inside of the building – as well as the sound squabbling between two people. Your party hops off Lightmail and you all enter the building.
Inside, you see various blacksmith tools neatly organized on racks, as well as weapons of various sizes and shapes displayed on shelves for customers to examine. Near the forge, two dwarves are bickering. Both are about half your height and covered in soot. One dwarf has a full, grayish-black beard that has been significantly singed around the edges. He is wearing a bronze-plated gauntlet on his right hand and has goggles over his eyes for protection. The other dwarf has a large bushy mustache (that has been significantly burned on one side) and has an iron-plated gauntlet on his left hand. Both are waving different tools and arguing with each other.
“Rock, we need to use the ball-peen hammer to shape the metal to fit the Guild Seal on the pommel! It’s basic smithin’: get the thing you want into shape first and then get the details on there!” says one dwarf.
“Stinky, if you use the ball-peen, it will make too much of a dent in the metal and the Guild Seal will fall out! You gotta use the chisel to carve the slot into the pommel and I guarantee it will slot in easily!” says the other dwarf.
Serena smiles and walks toward them.
“You could just drill through the Guild Seal and attach it directly on the blade instead. Saves you from having to forge a pommel to slot it in,” she chimes.
The dwarves stare at her.
“That could work,” they both say at the same time. They grasp their gloved hands to each of Serena’s arms as a greeting.
“Good to see ya, lass,” the bearded dwarf says.
“Aye, it’s been some time. Been up to any trouble recently?” the mustached dwarf remarks.
The elf turns and introduces you to the dwarves.
“These are the blacksmiths, Rock and Stinky. The Slag Brothers. They are masters of their trade, but they have creative differences every now and then. When they put their brains together, they can make anything. Their work is comparable to the work of the greatest smiths in the Dwarven capital, Axeforge.”
“But only if this earthworm listens to me,” says Rock.
“And only if this mole rat hears reason,” says Stinky.
Serena explains the situation with the Slag Brothers. She tells them that we need to stop the Dragon before it destroys the Great Bridge, which the brothers nod at in agreement. Rock looks at you and chimes in.
“Your fancy armor ain’t gonna stop a dragon by itself. You’re gonna need something to pierce its scales, and I don’t think we have anything strong enough in the shop that does that.”
Serena takes your bag and throws it at the brothers. They open it up and stare in amazement. Stinky holds up the bronze-gold colored ingot you found in the mine.
“Where did you get THIS?” he asks.
“I haven’t seen a bar of this purity in all my years. Do you know what this is?” Rock asks.
You shake your head in confusion. Rock explains.
“This is a pure ingot of Orichalcum. People up north call it Uri for short. It’s the strongest metal in the Dwarven records and can cut through anything if you forge it right.”
Stinky adds to Rock’s statement.
“We’ve only worked with an impure bar of Uri once, which was mixed with silver. We made a war hammer for this bearded fella from a place up north called Mazgourd. Said he wanted one enchanted with lightning magic. Unfortunately, the hammer had too much silver in it and made the lightning enchantment too strong, so the lightning shocked him instead during the fight with his brother, Lanky. The hammer is still where he left it. People made up some legend that only a worthy person can pick it up. Truth is, no one else wants to get shocked from touching it.”
Serena chimes in to get the conversation back on topic.
“In any case, this means that the brothers can make you a weapon of your choice. But there’s more. I noticed a special stone that was in your coin pouch.”
She pulls out your coin pouch from her pocket and shows everyone the stone you got from Wizard Fladnag when you traded him his staff. You wonder what the stone is and don’t question how she got your coin pouch in the first place.
“Well, I’ll be…” mutters Stinky.
“That’s a soul crystal, that is,” Rock explains. “It looks like it’s already been enchanted with Heartpiercer magic. I knew we’d need a blade to pierce The Dragon’s scales, but there’d be no way we can make one long enough to reach its heart. With that, we can make it so that once the blade pierces the hide and we crack the crystal, the magic in the stone will transfer into the beast’s heart, stopping it. It is single use, so you will lose the enchantment. It’s a small sacrifice for what we need to do to save Castor.”
“Where did you get this?” asks Stinky.
Suddenly, a puff of smoke explodes next to you and a familiar face appears.
“Ah yes, that would be from me,” says Wizard Fladnag. “I gave them the stone since I saw them fighting The Dragon in a crystal ball while I was having tea with mother. She likes watching the crystal you see. Could never get it on the right visions, though. Mother wanted to know what would happen on the next theater production of Game of Bones. We weren’t sure if the King of the South would be able to stop the Darkstalkers. Anyway, I figured I’d lend a hand in your quest. A wizard may come in handy, and I’d prefer not having my shop burned down or worse – going out of business and me losing my retirement benefits. I’m only available five days a week from sunset to sunrise for quests. Luckily, today is one of those days.”
“Well, I’m liking these odds,” says Rock. “You can count me in for joining you on this quest. Having a blacksmith might come in handy. Ain’t too bad with a war hammer, either.”
“My brother and I may bicker with each other, but I go where he goes,” says Stinky. “I’m not too shabby with a sledgehammer if you let me join you all.”
You nod your head and accept everyone’s help. The words “New Party Members Unlocked: Mad Wizard, Dwarven Berserker Blacksmith, and Dwarven Forgemaster” pop up in your head. The Rooster clucks, and you notice your party staring at you. You realize you’ve been staring off into space from wondering if the words you hallucinated were fear-induced from your impending doom. You confirm with you party you are okay.
“It’s alright,” quips Fladnag. “I stare into space all the time. You should see me when I spend a few hours with the mycelites.”
Rock walks to the forge with the Uri ingot and Stinky takes the soul crystal. Then, they get to work on making you a weapon. They work incredibly fast, forging the metal into shape faster than any human can. In less than a few minutes, they’ve created a high-quality longsword. Stinky slowly lowers the soul crystal into the pommel with tongs, slotting it in place. He then takes a glowing hammer and smashes the top of the crystal, locking it in place and causing it to glow. They sheathe the blade and hand it to you.
“The crystal is primed and the blade is ready. Be careful with swinging it ‘cause you might poke yer eye out. It’s a true masterpiece if we do say so ourselves.” The Slag Brothers beam proudly at their creation.
You carefully remove the blade from the sheathe and hold it in one hand. It’s perfectly balanced and you swing it with ease. Your experience with rakes and shovels on the old farm makes it very comfortable and easy to use.
“Well done, my friends,” Serena says to the Dwarves. “The Hunter finally has their claw. Now the Hunt can begin. We will – “
A loud roar echoes in the skies above.
“It looks like the Hunt found us,” whispers Fladnag.
Your party steps outside of the forge and you all look up at the sky. The Dragon is flying directly towards the bridge, roaring with fury.
“Wizard, enchant my arrow with Stun Magic! We must bring the beast to the ground!” yells Serena.
She takes out her longbow and aims at The Dragon. It notices your party and realizes you all pose a challenge.
Fladnag takes off his hat and starts digging inside of it. He pulls out some herbs, a few potion bottles, tea bags, and a (shockingly alive) rabbit. He smiles and finds what he’s looking for: the magic staff you traded him before. He waves it over his head and says some gibberish, causing Serena’s nocked arrow to glow bright yellow.
The Dragon seems to understand the nature of the arrow and opens its mouth. A blast of fire bellows out of its maw, directed towards the Elven girl.
You instinctively take your drakeskin cape and use it to shield Serena as she is aiming. You close your eyes as you’re engulfed in flames.
The Dragon stops breathing fire, roaring triumphantly.
You open your eyes and realize you are alive. The fire bounces off you harmlessly and you put out the remaining flames with a flick of your cape. Serena smiles and aims at The Dragon before letting her glowing arrow loose.
The arrow hits its mark, and a loud explosion rocks the skies. The creature makes a confused bellow as it falls from the sky and crashes onto the ground near the end of the Great Bridge. Your party rushes towards The Dragon as it picks itself up and roars in anger.
You realize that you won’t be fast enough to get to the creature before it blows another column of fire. You were able to protect one party member with your armor, but you cannot do that for all five of them.
The Rooster senses this and bolts down the bridge, running faster than anyone else in your party. As The Dragon cranes its neck to let out another fire breath, the Rooster leaps into the air and digs its claws into The Dragon’s head, distracting it. Fladnag waves his magic staff and casts the same spell on Serena’s arrow. She nocks it and lets the glowing arrow loose, causing another explosion that stuns The Dragon once more. The Slag Brothers look at each other, nod, and use the opportunity to attack. Each brother runs towards a wing, holding a massive iron stake in one hand and a hammer in each of their gloved hands. They jump on The Dragon’s wings and pin each one down with their weight. Then, they take their stakes and smash them through the wings with their hammers, pinning The Dragon to the ground.
You run towards the Dragon with your sword.
The Dragon shakes off The Rooster and starts to regain its senses.
You run as fast as you can, time slowing around you.
The monster sees you and roars.
You grit your teeth and continue running towards it.
It cranes its neck back, ready to attack.
You raise the blade above your head.
The distinct orange glow of fire grows brighter in the back of its mouth.
You swing your sword with all your might and aim the tip at The Dragon’s chest.
Flames begin to trickle out of its mouth.
The sound of metal scraping against metal rings in your ears. The blade pierces The Dragon’s scales, causing the beast to roar in pain. The soul crystal begins to glow. Rock tosses his war hammer at you, which you catch and swing towards the crystal in one fluid motion. The head of the hammer smashes into the crystal, shattering it and activating the Heartpiercer enchantment.
The Dragon’s roar stops. It goes stiff and it makes a strange growl before collapsing. Its glowing red eyes slowly fade into lifelessness.
The Dragon has been defeated.
Your party stares at you quietly in disbelief. It’s over.
The silence is suddenly broken by the Rooster, who crows in triumph. Your party members run towards you excitedly, picking you up on their shoulders and celebrating your victory over the Destroyer of Worlds.
But they aren’t the only ones who cheer for you. The townspeople of the Great Bridge – Dwarves, Elves, and humans – gather around you and begin cheering, thanking you for saving Castor and the county. They shower you with praise and the occasional pat on the back.
A horn blows behind the crowd. The cheering stops and they make way for someone approaching. A man with black hair in light armor wearing a green cloak approaches you through the crowd. He is closely followed by a large tan-colored cat strangely wearing an intricate wizard hat.
When the man gets closer, you notice a badge on his cloak. An Adventurer’s Guild Seal. He grabs your arm in greeting and smiles.
“An Adventurer’s Guild scout spotted The Dragon near the Great Bridge and ran to Castor to warn us. We were on our way to face it, but we were worried it would be too late to stop it. Luckily, it looks like we had nothing to fear. Well done, Hunter.”
A voice from behind the green-cloaked man speaks.
“In your excitement, you always seem to forget to introduce me, Quartermaster Tim.”
The man stammers a bit and moves aside. Behind him, the tan-colored cat in the wizard hat walks forward, stretches, and sits in front of you. It tilts its head sideways slightly and begins to speak.
“What? Have you never seen a talking cat before?”
After everything you’ve encountered the past few days, a talking cat is still somehow the strangest thing you’ve seen so far.
The cat continues to speak.
“Hail. I am Lord Cattington, Master of the Adventurer’s Guild. From your confused expression, I can tell you have questions, so let me answer them for you. Yes, I am a cat with extraordinary magical abilities. I am currently on the third of my nine cat lives, so I have led the Guild for over 40 years. And yes, I do like having the back of my ear scratched from time to time.”
“I came with my scatterbrained – but reliable – Quartermaster, Tim, to meet you all. My scouts have tracked your progress since your farm’s destruction. You befriended several party members, learned basic survival skills, confirmed the existence of a legendary lake monster, stopped a rampaging band of goblins, brokered peace between the mycelites and faeries, discovered drakeskin and Orichalcum on your travels, and stopped a World-Ending Fire Dragon from ruining my naptime and destroying my favorite treat store. For that, the Guild, the City of Castor, and the entire county will forever be in your debt. I think it’s only fitting that you receive this for your accomplishments.”
Quartermaster Tim grabs a document and a badge from his pouch and hands it to you. The Guildmaster continues.
“That is a Certificate of Membership into the Adventurer’s Guild, with all the rights, privileges, and resources we have at our disposal available to you. That badge is a Seal of the Guild, showing the world your bravery, tenacity, and resourcefulness. Normally, Guild Members start with a standard wooden seal, showing they have much to learn from this world. Your seal is decorated yellow with colored wings, symbolizing you are an Experienced Adventurer who is a cut above the rest. In a few years, maybe I will replace your seal with that of a Guildmaster. But until then, I’ll hold on to mine. I do still have six lives left to live and you humans have such short life spans.”
Lord Cattington meows and addresses the crowd.
“All hail the newest member of the Guild of Adventurers! The Dragonslayer of Castor!”
The crowd cheers. You smile as you see familiar faces in the crowd. Farmer Chuck gives you a thumbs up. The merchant from Milkvale whistles and claps. The cow he freed from Milkvale moos happily, with the rat you saw on the roof from that town sitting on top of it, nibbling happily at the cheese it stole from a stall nearby. The Fairy Godmother smiles as her bodyguards cry tears of joy. A band of the mycelites bow at you in unison, worshiping the ground you walk on. Lightmail whinnies happily. Serena gives you a hug and smiles as she stands next to you. Wizard Fladnag cheers as he walks around the crowd spouting nonsense and haggling with random villagers to buy his potions. The Slag Brothers walk up behind you and clap you on the back with their gloved hands, congratulating you.
Finally, the Rooster walks up to you, nuzzles up to your leg, and clucks happily before looking off into the distance. The sun is rising, signaling a new Call to Adventure.
The words “Quest Complete!” and “Achievement Unlocked: Hero of the Guild” pop-up in your mind. You ignore them, thinking they’re just another side-effect of decompressing after the stress of your adventure. Then, another phrase pops up in your end, which you somehow can’t ignore.
“New Quest Unlocked! Accept: Yes or No?”
You know the answer to that question…