Chaos reigned after Alchemy flicked his wand and the dragon enclosures all burst into flames. He knew the dragons wouldn’t be harmed before they could escape, and it made for a great diversion. Still using the chameleon spell, the elf slipped through the smoke and roars back up the stairs in search of Doctor Gnome. He’d cast the same spell on Gavin to give his friend some cover too. Only a sharp eye would be able to catch their movement as they moved up the stairs.
“Fire in the dragon pens!” a troll shouted looking down the stairs at the smoke now rolling toward the dining room.
The elves rushed above the landing so they’d be beyond the stampede of trolls and goblins that flooded down toward the chaos below. After the last one ran past, they slipped into the dining room, through the kitchen and out into the massive complex beyond. All around them, Doctor Gnomes minions ran about in a more frantic state than the normal calm efficiency Alchemy observed earlier.
“Where do we find Doctor Gnome?” Gavin asked from behind Alchemy.
“We have to go through a few halls and up some kind of moving platform/room to get to his private suite,” the wizard replied. “Not sure if that’s where he’s going to be. We’ll have to keep our eyes open for him.”
“I don’t suppose you’ve met a Grisselhand while you’ve been here?” the warrior questioned.
“Nope, but Gnome isn’t real friendly with his people, I still don’t even know the name of the gnome woman who kept escorting us around,” Alchemy said as they paused at the first intersection, the one that led back to the metal cell he’d been put in.
A screeching noise came down the corridor toward them. Alchemy flattened himself against the wall and pushed Gavin back too. Two trolls pushed a large rolling table down the hallway. The wheels screamed loudly against the passageway’s metal floor. Two large gadgets, they looked a lot like the weapons the goblins had been used in Beautamore, rested on the tables. They were much larger than the ones he’d previously seen.
“I want those,” Alchemy whispered to Gavin before the trolls rounded the corner.
They waited until the trolls ran past them, then stepped away from the wall and struck. Alchemy flicked his wand at the far one. “Burn!” The fireball struck the troll in the back of the head melting its way through the man’s skull even as Gavin’s sword swing took off the other one’s head. The rolling table kept moving a few more feet before it came to a stop with the two dead trolls laying on the floor just inches behind it.
Alchemy went over and after slipping his wand in his belt, picked up one of the large exploding tubes. It was longer and heavier than the ones the goblins used. The design was similar, but there was some kind of spinning chamber attached to the tube just above the trigger mechanism. Most of the weight of the thing was around that chamber.
“The other exploding tubes had to be reloaded,” he said handing the other one to Gavin once the warrior sheathed his sword. “I wonder if this design doesn’t”
Gavin carefully looked it over, his hands taking on the color of the metal tube. “Could be. Let’s try these out on the next folks we see.”
Alchemy smiled at his friend. “For the civilized world and all that?”
The warrior had a strange nearly crazed look in his eyes. “For all that and Buck.”
More feet ran toward them. Alchemy turned, saw several goblins dashing their direction. He raised the tube and pulled the trigger. A deafening noise reverberated off the metal corridor as the tube jerked repeatedly in the wizard’s hands. Harsh smoke filled the passage way by the time Alchemy released the trigger. His whole body shook from the thing releasing its deadly projectiles. Down the hallway, the goblins lay on the floor, their dark green blood pooling beneath them.
“Wow, that was loud and messy, a bit like Buck during sex,” Gavin said staring at the carnage. “I think I like it.”
Alchemy shook his head, Gavin sounded far away. His ears were still ringing from the weapon’s noise. A commotion was coming their way down the hall.
“You know we may have wanted to get a bit further along before we made so much noise,” he shouted trying to hear himself over his ringing ears. Then a mass of trolls rounded the corner down where he knew the strange moving room was.
“Naw, let’s just take them on,” Gavin said pointing his tube toward the charging mass of leather-and-steel-armor-covered trolls. Firing the tube didn’t look so difficult when Gavin did it, but his body still shook with the effort by the time he released the trigger and silence fell over the hallway. A few trolls still moved in the mass of flesh that now covered the metal passage, blood splattered over the shiny metal walls giving them a unique coppery color.
The end of the exploding tube drop nearly to the ground as Gavin walked over the pile of trolls almost blocking the hallway.
“You said that strange moving room was this way?” he asked as his foot covered the face of the first dead troll.
“Yeah, we’ll turn right then it’ll be on our left,” Alchemy replied falling into step beside his friend.
One of the trolls near the back of the pile moaned as Gavin walked across him. The elf stopped, bent down and grabbed a huge gray ear.
“Where is Grisselhand?” he screamed at the troll. Alchemy tried to remember when he’d heard that particular edgy tone in the warrior’s voice before.
“Guarding Doctor Gnome,” came the hoarse reply.
“Good,” Gavin snarled then snapped the troll’s massive neck. He turned to Alchemy. “Lead on.”
This was now war, Alchemy realized. Thanks to Doctor Gnome, they had to stop an army of trolls, goblins and other creatures to save the world. The wizard squared his shoulders. It wasn’t the first time he’d been in nasty bloody situations, but it never got easy. He’d never seen Gavin this set on destruction. His friend was taking his lover’s death hard. The two had only known each other a short while, but the bond had formed. It was hard to see the warrior like this, but then, war was hard. To keep the civilized world running, they would have to get their hands dirty.
They didn’t encounter any more resistance between the dead trolls and the moving room. As they stepped on the platform, Alchemy tried to remember how the gnome woman had made it move before. She’d closed the door, then pulled on the cord three times to go from the room where he and Dolce had first been held to the Doctor’s quarters, then when they were carried down to their cells she’d pulled the cord four times.
“This feels strange,” Alchemy warned as he pulled the cord four times. A couple of seconds later the platform slowly rose up.
Gavin looked disoriented. “No shit, it feels strange.”
As they glided past the complex’s other floors, Alchemy caught glimpses of the occupants frantically scurrying about. He wondered how the noises from their attacks on the goblins and trolls carried to the other floors. What would be waiting on them when they reached Doctor Gnome’s floor?
The platform jerked to a halt.
“Get ready,” Alchemy said as he reached for the metal door separating them from the hallway.
Four massive trolls, standing at least ten feet tall stood at the far end of the hallway. They looked up as the door opened. Alchemy ducked out of the way as Gavin swung his exploding tube their direction and fired. Smoke poured out of the tube as its deafening racket started again. Then it stopped.
One of the trolls slumped to the floor, but the other three roared and charged.
“Shit,” Gavin said. “Hand me yours.” He dropped his tube to the floor as he stepped out onto the metal hallway and reached back for Alchemy’s tube. The wizard stepped off the platform and handed his weapon to the warrior, then pulled his wand from his belt.
The tube roared to life as Gavin leveled it at the trolls. Two more fell before Alchemy’s first fire ball caught the last one in the chest, sending it hurling backwards to crash into the doors of Doctor Gnome’s suite. Stepping over the bodies, the elves hurried toward the cracked door. Gavin didn’t even slow down as he ran at the door, he just turned his shoulder into it and slammed his way through.
As they charged through the door, the sound of an exploding tube being fired erupted before them. Alchemy flicked his wand and shouted “Brickus!” The invisible wall formed between them and the giant troll standing over Doctor Gnome with an even larger exploding tube in its hands. They were far enough away from the wall, that Alchemy knew the chameleon spell wouldn’t be helping them now. He wished he’d had something more filling for diner. The running and the magic were beginning to take their toll on him.
The troll continued to fire the exploding rod. Sticking out above his massive gray shoulder, was the hilt of Buck’s sword. This had to be Grisselhand.
“Can you take him if I take out his exploding rod?” Alchemy asked Gavin.
A murderous grin split the warrior’s face. “Sure, he’s just a troll.”
Making sure he had a good mental aim on the troll’s rod, Alchemy leaned around the edge of his invisible wall and flicked his wand. “Burn!” The fireball shot out and caught the end of the metal tube. The intense heat melted the tube causing it to droop. The troll roared at them and threw the now useless tube. It clanged off the barrier as Gavin stepped around Alchemy and fired his own tube. One round went off before it stopped working. Gavin threw the device at the troll as he drew his sword. With matching roars the two clashed in the center of the room. The troll’s strength pushed Gavin back, but the elf relied on speed and agility to dance a deadly dance around his opponent.
Alchemy watched the two combatants for a moment before movement caught his eye. Doctor Gnome was running toward something on the far side of the room. The wizard flicked his wand at the Gnome. “Clank” Chains appeared above the Gnome and fell just short of snaring the little man. The elf ran for the villain.
Before he got there Doctor Gnome hit a small panel in the wall. The panel fell away and the gnome disappeared. There in the wall, a small chute, just larger than the gnome disappeared down into darkness.
Alchemy glanced over his shoulder. Gavin didn’t appear to be injured, yet, and the troll already had several long gashes running down its arms. He hated leaving his friend, but he couldn’t cast a spell without fear of hitting the warrior, and he couldn’t let the villain escape without trying harder to catch him. With a deep sigh, the wizard pointed his wand at himself. “Smaller” The magic engulfed him and he felt himself shrink down to the size of a small child. He hoped the chameleon spell held as he slid onto the chute and out of Doctor Gnome’s suite.
Out of the corner of his eye, Gavin saw Alchemy disappear near the spot where Doctor Gnome had, but the fight with Grisselhand was his first concern. The troll was big, but he was also older than most of the other trolls in Doctor Gnome’s regiment. The elf could tell from the droopy skin and exaggerated pale patches on the troll’s face. The creature used a lot of force in his blows, like he was used to just overpowering anyone who challenged him.
“You’re going to have to do better than that,” Gavin taunted as he easily dodged a heavy blow, but he winced as Buck’s sword struck the floor with a heavy crack. He’d never forgive himself if something happened to that sword before he could return it to his lover’s family.
The troll’s rage roared so strongly in his blood he was beyond words. All he could do at this point was groan, scream and roar at Gavin. The elf fought back his own rage, knowing that if he gave into his need to utterly destroy the troll in vengeance for Buck, he’d lose the edge his clear mind brought him in the fight. Swinging his sword in a sharp upward blow, he sliced through the troll’s elbow joint. The arm flopped uselessly, held on only by a little connective tissue. Grisselhand roared in pain and fury as he swung his remaining arm hard at the elf. Blood gushed out of the troll, and Gavin slipped as he ducked under the swing. He landed hard on his ass, but he rolled up and around so he could come up behind the behemoth. Before the troll could turn, the elf swung his sword hard up between the troll’s tree-like legs. The sword caught on something and Gavin had to yank it back out in tune with the roars that turned to screams of pain as Grisselhand collapsed on the floor. Without pausing, Gavin cleaved down on the bullish neck, it took three blows before the sword severed the spinal cord. The troll thrashed thrice then lay still. Gavin, chest heaving from the strain, walked over and retrieved Buck’s sword.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you, Buck,” he whispered to the empty room as tears trickled down his face. “But I promise I will get this back to your family. It belongs with them.”
Light blazed at the end of the chute. A sword struck the slide right above Alchemy’s head. Had he been normal size the blow would’ve decapitated him. He rolled away from the troll with the sword and dismissed the dimunitzation spell. Flicking his wand toward the troll he shouted “Burn!” the fireball struck before the troll dodged and it fell into a flaming heap against the boxes piled near the chute. The elf stood up just in time to see Doctor Gnome’s light-green bald head disappear out the door.
Not bothering with the fire, Alchemy ran after the gnome. The area he was in reminded Alchemy of the lower levels where the dragons had been. He could even smell smoke from the fire he’d set in the pens.
Doctor Gnome raced along the corridor ahead of the wizard. Alchemy tried to clear his head enough to cast another spell, but he’d used so much magic recently that he was nearing empty. He wanted to go find a soft bed, preferably with Dolce in it, to lie down in and get some much needed sleep. But he ran on. He had to catch the gnome.
Smoke billowed from the corner that Doctor Gnome disappeared around. Alchemy ran with all his might, feeling more light headed by the second. He rounded the turn in the passage and found himself back in the dragon holding area. The scene of carnage was more massive than any he’d ever seen before. Once free of their pens, the dragons had obviously turned their attentions on their handlers and the other folks Alchemy and Gavin had dodged earlier to get through the dining room. The fire blazed around them, but the dragons feasted on the humanoid handlers. Staring through the smoky scene, the elf tried to find the gnome, and spotted him dashing down the center aisle, apparently heading for the far side of the chamber. Dodging trolls and dragons, Alchemy raced after him.
Doctor Gnome ran into the last pen, one that hadn’t yet been affected by the fire. Seconds later, the largest dragon Alchemy had ever seen came rushing out with the gnome perched on a leather saddle just above its wings.
“You won’t stop me, Mister Pond!” the gnome’s high voice carried over the chaos around them.
Not bothering to reply, Alchemy glanced into the next pen and saw another dragon, already saddled ready to ride. He’d never ridden a dragon before, but without thinking it through too much, he opened the pen, and jumped up into the saddle. As his hands landed on the saddle’s cantle, he felt his mind suddenly connect with the dragon’s. This explained the strange metal caps he’d seen on the manticores the goblins rode to attack them. He looked up and saw a small metal piece near the dragon’s ear. On a dragon the device was much smaller in relationship to the size of the head. It was some kind of mind control mechanism.
“Come on dragon, go after them,” Alchemy said, even though he knew he didn’t need to verbalize to get the beast to move. Without complaint, the dragon lumbered out of the pen and awkwardly charged after the larger one burdened by the gnome.
The end of the chamber opened up on the steep side of Manticore Hill. Even in the dark night sky, Alchemy could see the shadow of the large dragon as it lumbered off toward human lands. With nothing more than his thoughts, the wizard urged his mount onward. Leathery wings strained to get enough altitude.
Alchemy wondered what he would do when he reached the other dragon. It had been one thing to fight the dragon in the air when he’d been riding Ashton, the gryphon. Ashton was free thinking, and he and the wizard had worked together for a while. This dragon was being controlled by the elf’s mind. He didn’t know much about flying, let alone how dragons fight in the air.
The distance between the two dragons closed since Alchemy’s mount was smaller and quicker that the massive beast Doctor Gnome rode. Alchemy discarded the idea of using magic. He was too tired and the last thing he wanted to do was cast a large spell, pass out and leave the dragon on its own to do what it would.
They passed over the larger dragon. Alchemy looked down and realized how big the creature really was. With just a bit of mental steering he swung his mount back around for a low pass over the back of the bigger beast. As they went over the wings, Alchemy pushed out of the saddle and fell down toward the gnome’s dragon’s back.
He grabbed one of the ridges between the wings then hit the hard spine with enough force to drive the air out of his lungs. Struggling to his feet, Alchemy scrambled along the broad back toward Doctor Gnome, who by the way he was frantically staring into the dark night sky was searching for Alchemy on his own dragon.
“Looking for someone Doctor?” Alchemy asked as he reached down for the diminutive dictator’s collar.
“Pond!” Doctor Gnome shouted as Alchemy pulled him free of his saddle. The little man kicked out, catching the elf in the ribs. Pain shot through him and Alchemy grabbed for his side, letting go of the gnome. He watched as the villain fell into the dark sky, then a white mushroom of cloth opened up.
Alchemy settled into dragon’s saddle and again linked minds with a beast. “Go get him!” he shouted and angled the dragon down. The monster roared and plunged down after the escaping gnome, just as the other dragon, now free from outside control, swooped down and caught the gnome in its mouth. The high pitched scream carried over the rush of the wind as the dragon leveled out its flight.