Gavin claimed Buck’s sword from Grizzelhand’s lifeless fingers. The blade was still intact, still sharp. Loosing the scabbard from around the troll’s chest was a bigger struggle. The creature was huge, and nearly more than the elf could roll over on his own, but Gavin wasn’t about to leave any part of Buck’s legacy behind. With a herculean effort, he managed to get the troll on its side so he could reach the buckle and free the sheath. He remembered the last time he’d handed Buck the sheathed weapon, the morning before their trek into the jungle. Sliding the blade home, he turned and walked from the room.
The first wisps of smoke curled up from the shaft the moving platform traveled in. The warrior knew the fire below must be spreading. He wondered where Alchemy and Doctor Gnome had disappeared to. Before retrieving the sword, he’d looked at the chute they’d slid down, there was no way his broad shoulders were going to fit. If the fire was spreading he’d have to get out of the complex and onto the hillside. But he should try and find the elf woman Alchemy had brought in with him.
Gavin stepped onto the platform and pulled on the rope like he’d seen Alchemy do. Nothing happened. He yanked harder. Still nothing. He wondered if the fire was somehow affecting the thing. The right side of the platform was open to two ropes running up and down. Alchemy had said that he and the woman had been taken down several floors.
Checking both his sword and Buck’s to make sure they were secure, Gavin grabbed hold of a rope and began working his way down the shaft. As he went down, the smoke grew thicker. There at each opening in the shaft he saw more people ran down the metal hallways carrying various items to safety.
When the smoke was almost more than he could deal with, Gavin spotted the hallway he and Alchemy had first entered the platform from. The pile of dead trolls still lay nearby. He swung a bit to get some momentum for his jump. Letting go of the rope, he deftly cleared the distance from the rope to the hallway.
Gavin stared down the hallway. Through the thick smoke, he spotted a small figure moving. The warrior dashed for the figure. He caught her as she turned the corner down the next hall.
The little woman screamed and kicked at him. He realized it was a gnome. She was small enough that he could hold her out at arm’s length so her kicking legs couldn’t connect with anything delicate.
“I don’t want to hurt you!” he shouted at her.
“Then put me down,” she screeched back. “We have to get out of here.”
“I know. You have an elf woman prisoner. Where is she?”
“Mister Pond’s mistress?” the gnome woman asked with a sneer.
“That’s her,” Gavin replied.
“She’s down this way,” said the gnome woman, pointing down the hall.
“Take me to her,” he growled. He set her back down. The little woman looked up at him as if trying to judge his demeanor. She paled.
“This way,” she said, scurrying off down the hall.
They passed the pile of dead goblins. The gnome stopped at a door. “She’s in here.”
“Then open the door,” replied Gavin, glaring at the woman.
She fumbled for something in her pocket, then pulled out a key ring. It took her several tried to find the right key before she opened the door. A young violet haired elf charged the door, then stopped to stare.
“Are you Dolce?” Gavin asked.
She nodded. “Who are you?”
“I’m Alchemy’s friend Gavin, we need to get out of here,” he replied.
“Where’s Alchemy?” the elf woman asked.
“He went after Doctor Gnome,” said Gavin fighting back a cough that threatened to come out as the smoke thickened.
“We need to get out of here,” the gnome woman complained.
“Can you get us out?” Gavin asked.
“We have to go up,” she replied. “Too much smoke to go down. Someone said the dragon pens are ablaze.”
Gavin nodded. “That’s right. How do we go up?”
“The stairs are this way, or we can take the lift.”
“The lift’s not working,” said Gavin with a shake of his head. “I had to climb down the rope to get to this level.”
“Come on then,” the gnome woman said starting back down the hall the way they’d come.
Gavin grabbed Dolce’s arm. “Come on, if I don’t get you out Alchemy will come looking for you.”
The elf woman paled at the sight of the dead goblins. “Oh my Gods!”
“Don’t worry, we did more damage to them than they did to us,” Gavin replied, not needing to breaking stride to keep up with the hurrying little gnome.
“You did that?” Dolce asked, clinging to Gavin’s arm.
“Alchemy and I did a little while ago,” the warrior replied.
“Then you were the racket I heard earlier.” Her voice took on a distance, as if she were trying to find a way to understand.
“Here,” the gnome woman stopped at another door. Something behind them crashed, the whole complex shook and a thick cloud of black smoke billowed over them.
“Come on!” Gavin shouted, scooping up the gnome under his arm to carry her up the stairs. The little woman didn’t squirm as the elf ran. Dolce’s longer legs kept up easily as they raced upwards. As they passed other doorways on the stairs, more people crowded around them trying to reach safety. Moving upwards helped get them out of the smoke, but the complex continued to shake.
Darkness of the hillside night greeted them as they emerged from the top of the stairs onto the peak of Manticore Hill. Gavin set the gnome woman down and bent over with his hands on his knees to catch his breath. His chest heaved with the effort to get them up the stairs and free of the complex. Under his feet, the ground shook and an explosion rocked the hillside.
“Hey, it’s an elf!” a troll voice shouted.
Around Gavin, swords slid noisily out of their scabbards. He sighed and drew his sword as Dolce screamed.
Fire blazed from the passage the dragons used to get out of the complex. Alchemy circled the dragon around the hill, trying to find safe passage in. He had to find Gavin and Dolce. With any luck Gavin had managed to find a way out. But the wizard just knew that Dolce was still locked in a cell somewhere in the burning complex.
Down below a troll shouted, “Hey, it’s an elf!”
Alchemy scanned the dark hillside as the dragon soared over. He spotted naked swords glistening in the moonlight of the three moons high overhead. A flash of purple hair in the circle of trolls gave him a target as Dolce screamed. With a tight mental rein, he angled the dragon low over the hilltop. Hoping he had enough control for the situation, the wizard aimed his mount as his friends.
Dolce’s screams carried on the wind as the dragon snatched her and Gavin off the top of the hill.
“Don’t struggle, it’s me, Alchemy!” the wizard shouted as the dragon gained altitude. He pointed them toward the tiny lights in the jungle he presumed were Beautimore.
Minutes later, Alchemy angled the dragon down toward a large clearing in the jungle just outside town. He jumped down from the beast’s back and landed next to his friends. Gavin swept him up in a huge hug.
“You made it!” the warrior whooped.
“And so did you!” Alchemy replied, returning the hug. “And you got Dolce out.”
When Gavin set him down, the wizard scooped the woman up in his arms. It felt good to hold her. As their lips met, her kiss was as sweet as it had been earlier, it seemed much longer than just a few hours since he kissed her lips.
“I so glad you’re safe,” he said softly into her long hair that now smelled of smoke.
“Me too,” she smiled at him.
“So what happened to Doctor Gnome?” Gavin asked, looking from his friend to the dragon that stood calmly nearby.
“Eaten by a dragon,” Alchemy replied. “Problem solved.”
“So what do we do with this one?” the warrior wondered.
“Set him free,” the wizard said. “Give me a hand and we’ll be done with it.” He jumped back up to the control saddle. Even in the light of three moons, he had trouble finding all the straps and buckles holding the saddle. Alchemy pulled out his wand, “Flash.” A small ball of lightning floated near the tip of the wand, using the light Alchemy got the saddle loose. He tossed it down to Gavin. Strange cords ran from the saddle up to the reins and the metal piece near the dragon’s ear.
“Keep your hand on the cantle until I’m done,” Alchemy instructed his friend. “We don’t need him deciding to eat me this close to setting him free.”
“What do I do?” Gavin asked.
“Just think calming thoughts to him,” the wizard replied. “That should do the trick.” Using the ridges along the dragon’s spine for hand and foot holds, he worked his way up the dragon’s powerful neck to reach its head. He pulled the leather bridle free, letting it fall to the ground, then he grabbed the metal piece and pulled.
At first it didn’t budge. Then, it popped free. Little bits of scale and flesh came with it from where the dragon’s skin had grown over the piece that was much larger than the little bit extending above the dark scaly hide. The dragon roared in pain and threw its head back. Alchemy grabbed hold of the creature’s horns and hung on for all his might. Without looking around, the dragon launched itself into the night sky. The powerful wings beat to escape the pull of gravity.
“Alchemy!” Dolce screamed below them.
Letting go with his right hand, Alchemy reached for his wand. Once it was firmly in his grasp, he pointed it toward the ground. “Cushion!” he screamed as he let go with his left hand. The last of his magic flowed out of him as he fell. His head spun, and everything went black before he landed.
Soft delicate humming filled his ears as Alchemy’s head cleared. Something soft cushioned his head, and a warm cloth rested on his forehead. He opened his eyes to soft candle light reflecting off the purple highlights of Dolce’s hair as she leaned over him.
“You are awake,” she said with a smile.
“So did I die and you are the Goddess come to lead me onto my next life?” he asked, reaching for her delicate hand.
She laughed softly. “You did fall fairly far, but no. You’ll survive.”
“Where are we?”
“Gavin brought you back to your room at The Lady’s Pleasure.”
He caught her hand and kissed it. “So then, perhaps I should ask what is the lady’s pleasure tonight?”
She laughed at him as he pulled her down to his lips. “Alchemy are you really up for filling my pleasure?”
His head cleared further as their lips touched. “My dear, I’m always up to filling my lady’s pleasure.” He rolled her over on the bed with all thoughts of evil gnomes and firebirds out of his mind as he worked his hands across her body, ready to lose himself for a while in her gifts, hoping that K wouldn’t be calling him anytime soon.