The dragonborn’s solitary eye shot open. Something had awoken him, yet he saw only darkness. Gruff shouts came from somewhere nearby. He scrambled to his feet and left the shelter he had been sleeping in. Peering through the gloom, axe at the ready, he spotted a group of goliaths huddled around the remains of the fire, a quick scan of the surrounding area revealed nothing else of interest – more precisely, there was nothing that needed killing. Clearly a diplomatic head was required; Grimlock hurried to Greil’s shelter and shook him awake.
Euven exited his shelter in time to see Grimlock entering the wizard’s. Moments later the two re-emerged, Greil ordered his two mercenaries to stay put as he roused the others – the party were awake and at the ready in less than a minute.
“With me, Grimlock,” the wizard commanded, “the rest of you stay back and watch for my signal.”
The two strode over to the group, announcing their arrival with a curt greeting upon spotting Destel, not wanting to startle the hardened, blade-happy warriors, “Good morning, Destel.”
“Indeed” the goliath turned to them, his face deathly serious.
“What’s the situation?”
“One of our patrols has returned,” Greil and Grimlock arrived alongside the group as he said this, and saw what they were huddled around: a horrendously wounded goliath, coated in bruises and lacerations, was sprawled on the ground, unconscious and breathing in short, ragged bursts, “…What’s left of them anyway.”
“Gregg!” Greil called without turning.
The invoker reached the huddle seconds later, “Sir?”
“Can you help this man?”
Gregg nudged through the crowd and got to his knees by the injured warrior, where he administered a thorough examination, taking several minutes.
“He’s badly hurt. Most of these wounds are deep and will take time to heal, but not fatal, this however…” he gestured to a large, black bruise at the centre of the goliath’s chest, “It seems to be some kind of impact wound, something hit him and it hit him hard.”
“Can you do anything for it?” Destel asked.
The invoker gave a quick nod, as he laid his hands over the soldier’s chest and began to mutter a prayer.
The heavy silence was broken minutes later by Gregg’s uncharacteristically soft tones, “He needs rest. I’ve done what I can do, if he survives to the morning he will be fine, but for now it’s out of our hands.”
The goliaths all accepted this and carried the wounded man off to one of the shelters.
“Thank you,” Destel said, laying a bulky hand on Gregg’s shoulder, “You need not have helped, but I truly feel honoured that you did. It takes a noble man to use his own strength and abilities to aid those with whom he is not directly involved.”
The invoker said nothing, but gave a respectful nod.
“Get some sleep, the lot of you. I will call for you when he wakes, if you would like?”
“I most certainly would” replied Greil.
Destel woke the wizard at the crack of dawn, after only a few hours of sleep. Several minutes later, Greil, Euven and Gregg were heading towards the wounded goliath’s shelter, having left Grimlock and Tarkus to sleep. They nodded to the two goliaths outside, stationed as guards, as they pushed aside a flap of canopy and entered.
The shelter was still dark. It had been well constructed – the covering was comprised of several layers of thick leaves, though the dappled pattern of the rising sun still managed to penetrate through small cracks, providing some light. Destel and another goliath were inside, crouched by the bedroll in which the wounded soldier had spent the night, the goliath himself now propped up on a pile of blankets.
“Glad to see you came too,” Destel said to Gregg, “He’s having difficulty speaking.”
The invoker got to his knees and placed a hand over the soldier’s throat as the goliath croaked out a strained greeting. A short prayer followed by a brief surge of arcane energy, felt only by Greil, and the warrior’s voice was improved, allowing him to answer the myriad of questions thrown at him moments later. His scouting patrol had been ambushed by elemental constructs, a fact that might have been shocking in any other situation. He had been thrown clear of the chaos when something landed a rock-solid punch directly to his chest, launching him through the air. Seeing an opportunity, and knowing that the others were already dead, the goliath had made his escape, barely managing to return to the camp before collapsing.
There was little else the interviewers could get from the soldier, he clearly needed more rest and was taking the loss of his companions hard – Euven did not say anything, but found it odd that the other goliaths, being from an honour bound and generally battle-savvy culture, did not question this warrior’s fleeing from the scene without any attempt to rescue his men. Before leaving, Greil investigated the wounds himself and was able to detect traces residual magic around them. This worried him; the constructs must have been considerably potent to leave such energy behind.
Grimlock and Tarkus awoke an hour after the others, Greil having brought them heaped plates of tender mountain lamb for breakfast, which both mercenaries greatly approved of.
Stomachs filled and packs checked, Greil and Euven updated the others on the plans devised the previous night: they were to appeal to Destel’s better nature, hoping to get him to send a retinue of men, if not the entire camp, with them. Whether this succeeded or not, they would then set out for the dragon themselves. The group accepted this plan, though not all of them really agreed, particularly Tarkus, who was all too aware of the code of honour running between members of the goliath military and of the possible punishments that insubordination could be met with.
Whether a united front from the mercenaries could have swayed Destel or not was a moot point, the answer was a stern “No” and was respected by all present, though he wished them the best of luck and seemed somewhat disgruntled about not being able to help. The group’s final bit of business, a relatively standard discussion of formation and tactics to best guard them against ambush, was marred by a particularly odd event. Mid-way through a sentence, Greil began to flash, a bright white light seemingly shining from his very skin every couple of seconds. After quickly hiding a surprised expression, the wizard carried on talking for almost half a minute before someone stopped him to ask about this bemusing event.
“What the heck is going on?” Gregg interrupted.
“Just ignore it” Greil replied.
The four non-flashing mercenaries shared confused looks.
“No, no I’m not ignoring this. What is happening?”
“It really is nothing; it’ll be over in a minute.”
Gregg looked taken aback, “What will be over? What exactly is going to happen?!” fear danced over his eyes as he sensed that Greil was not deliberately casting the light.
The wizard was lost for words, his face etched with concentration. Grimlock stepped forward, grabbed the wizard by the arm and tugged him into some nearby trees, away from the others.
“Wistark” he growled.
“Greil, call me Greil.”
“Grrr…ale, what’s going on? I’m worried.”
Now the wizard truly was lost for words, though he managed to find them after several moments of pure shock, “Don’t… worry. Everything is fine.”
As if confirming this, the pulsating white light suddenly stopped.
“What was that?” Grimlock asked. In an attempt to avert the dragonborn’s attention, Greil changed the topic, “Grimlock, I have to tell you something. From what I’ve heard from Destel, the black dragon was completely unmoving when they battled the sunspeaker over it… the chances are high that it is dead.”
Grimlock rejected the goliath’s testimony immediately, “It was sleeping.”
“Perhaps. I just want you to be aware, my friend. Please don’t get your hopes up.”
Tarkus and Gregg ceased their chatter as the two mercenaries returned to them.
“I see your little problem has come to an end” Gregg said with an air of suspicion.
“Come on,” Grimlock interjected, “Let’s get going.”
“Agreed” Euven replied with a nod.
“Hang on,” Gregg piped up again, “I want to know what that was.”
“The sooner we find the dragon, the sooner we can move onto work that actually pays” Greil locked eyes with the invoker as he spoke.
A tense silence descended before Gregg eventually shouldered his pack, “Let’s move then.”