Heroes for Hire- Ep. 7

Episode 7:  A Dragon at the Docks

 

The Port burned against the heat of the dragon’s fiery regurgitations.

Buildings, ships, people and kenku alike, none were safe from the fire that belched from below that monstrous wingspan. Again and again the winged being arced up into the night’s darkness then came roaring down in deathcall, emitting its furious flames upon anything in its path.

While this was taking place, the collected forces of the city’s defenses were desperately attempting to maintain their attack on the last remaining mobs of kenku invaders.

The job was nearly finished when Krum, Tristam, Muzgash, Axehammerin, and I arrived on scene.

Gualichu and the city guard in our company had turned back to escort Fiddenmar to the bazaar once we informed her that Kolag was in fact, not dead. She stomped her little foot against the cobbles and vented fury almost equal to that of the dragon. We didn’t understand her frustration, given the circumstances, and resolved by assigning her an escort when she threatened to find Kolag herself and stormed off the way we came from.

“Oh thank the gods you have arrived!” cried a lieutenant of the city watch when we approached a defended tower nearer to the harbour.   

The exterior of the tower had been outfitted with steel and wooden barricades to corral any attackers into a small opening in the center. A catapult sat quietly on the top of the structure. Inside was a mess of wounded men and women being treated by priests and clerics as the still-capable defenders took brief moments to catch their breath and consume some liquids or quick rations before facing the potential death sentence that awaited them outside.

We were led to a small office laden with unfolded maps and schematics of the Port and of Mission proper. Scribbles, slashes, spill marks, and bloodstains covered the parchments haphazardly, resting below the bellowing voices of the remaining officers of various defending groups. Captains of the City Guard, officers of the Fighters Guild, Initiates and Wizards from the Mages Guild. All arguing about their next phase of attack, or was it defense?

They quieted down when they were introduced to the Heroes of the City. The superior officer of the gathered Fighters gave us a hasty report on the situation:

The Fighter’s Guildmaster had been wounded and was now missing, presumably dead. The Archmage Archibald Magdalia had not been seen since the fighting started. Much of Mission was under containment, but if the dragon continued to rain down fire it would break their fragile hold on the Port. The dragon seemed to be content on holding its position within the harbor, presumably to drive a hole for another wave of kenku to land ashore. The attacks had come at a complete surprise, and as of the moment, no intelligence regarding why the kenku attacked, or who was leading them was evident.

Their argument was over how to reconnect with the scattered defenders that were now bunkering within the three other defensive towers within the harbour.

I asked if that catapult was still functional, to which a City Guard Captain responded that it was.

“Could it hurl a net?” was my next question, a smile spreading on my face.

 

***************************************

 

The plan would soon commence.

Us heroes and the official representatives of the city’s defence had hastily slapped together a hopeful counter-attack. The mages sent ghost whispers and arcanically possessed animals to the other towers in hopes of orchestrating our strategy. They responded with light signals, and a lone ghost whisper. They were readying themselves.

It had been almost three hours since the dragon had arrived. Fires had spread from the harbour to the Port, and had nearly consumed half the district. The dragon was now perusing across the open plaza, taking his pick from the many carcasses that were strewn about. Smoke and the ceaseless roars of burning buildings allowed us even more discretion as defenders moved into position. I was atop the tower, overseeing the four men who were loading the bundle into the stationary catapult. I looked to the other towers, noticing our counterparts readying the other catapult and the two ballistae atop their respective towers.

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Slowly, and surely, the siege weapons were rotated on their clockwork platforms and turned towards their target.

A minute later the “ready” signal was given atop the towers. I asked the four men if they were ready to launch. They nodded their heads nervously. I gave a loud whistle.

The dragon’s head reared up from his mess of a human carcass and looked my way. The sudden snap of a catapult sounded a hundred yards from our perch, and the dragon snapped its attention in that direction as a barrel full of fist sized stones arced into the night sky. The dragon’s reaction was so swift and unexpected that it left no chance for the poor operators of that catapult. Wings unfolded in a split-second and a reddish-orange light shot forth from the dragon’s throat, a swirling mass of fire shot forwards faster than my eyes could follow. An instant later the ball of orange crashed against the ridge of the tower in a conflagration of swirling flames and combustible stomach acid. The impact was so forceful that the machine burst to pieces against the explosion and rained fiery shards of wood to the street below.

The dragon beat its wings once with a power to launch it into the air, but before its great mass could take flight the ammunition from the late catapult rained down upon its body. The dragon let out an angry roar as its body was pelted by at least two dozen stones. Its takeoff was faltered and it let out a futile bellow of flames into the sky against the raining stones. It beat its wings again, but suddenly the loud snap of a ballistae sounded across the night and a thick-shafted harpoon launched downwards. The point pierced into an outstretched left wing. A sort of draconic whelp of pain emitted and then it unleashed another bellow of flame towards the tower, which was unfortunately the closest to the dragon. Its two previous attacks must have diminished its ability because the flames were not nearly as violent as the previous. It was, however, effective enough to scorch the men operating the ballistae.

“FIRE!” I shouted.

A lever was yanked back by the operator seated next to me. A creaking noise emitted as the ropes twisted back to their passive positions and a thunderous snap sounded as the wooden shaft slammed against the frame. Our bundle hurled forwards, and a network of latticed ropes opened against the sky like the wings of a hempen dragon. Weighted nets on each end of the industrial fishing net parted ways, allowing much of the trap to envelop the thrashing dragon below. As the net landed atop the right wing and much of the dragon’s horn covered body, the second ballistae snapped and its missile rocketed forwards, impaling into the thigh of the dragon.

A large net, and two ropes anchored to the ballistas held the beast in place, refusing its attempts to take to the skies. Hundreds of shouts echoed amongst the buildings and cove of the harbour, and then all able defenders rushed into the plaza.

The dragon continued to thrash wildly. The rope from the first ballista had nearly burned through and suddenly snapped against the flailing wing it was resisting. This allowance of freedom gave the dragon more ability to swivel in place.

The first group to approach the beast were engulfed in a torrent of flames, charring the valiant martyrs to smouldering heaps.

Just then the last remaining groups of kenku emerged from whatever hole they were hiding from, swarming to protect their trump card. They were horribly outnumbered but they were now desperate.

I could see my companions, Muzgash, Axehammeran, Krum, Tristam, and even the dragonborn, Ralgar, thick in the action. I had done my part atop the tower, I need to get to ground level. I retreated down the latter to the lower floor. I dashed down three sets of stairs, passing the clerics and the infirmed. I ran outside and towards the chaos. Defenders with bows or crossbows were lining up near my position, firing as quickly as they were able at the vulnerable spots of the dragon; wings, inner thighs, head. I considered my shots carefully and fired off spells within my arcane arsenal. Other mages flocked to me, using what abilities they could to add to the offense.

Several fisherman-looking types charged courageously forwards, throwing roped harpoons. The ones that were successful in penetrating that thick scaled skin hooked their lines to something, or quickly hammered them into whatever a stake could be hammered into.

The dragon pivoted on its feet and threw its free wing wide, scattering kenku and defender alike dozens of feet into the air. Its leg pulled the attached ballistae rope taut and it was clearly straining against the dragon’s might. It stumbled back a step, then kicked its leg forwards, yelping in pain as it did so. The rope shuddered and the ballistae cracked at its base, breaking loose from its platform and spilling over the edge to plummet to the cobbles.

The net was still tangled against the right wing, the spines along the back, and the shaft still lodged within the dragon’s thigh. It’s wing would soon be loosed if it continued its powerful thrashing. Unless…

 

And there was Muzgash, clambering up the rope lattice of the net, deftly climbing upwards, even against the wild movements of his opponent. The border of the net ended at the midpoint of the dragon’s elongated neck, hooked against one of the many spines that ran down the creature’s spine. Muzgash used these as hold to clamber the rest of the way atop the dragon’s head. The beast realized something was upon it so it swung its head sideways, then shook violently to fling of its persistent invader. This was no match to a trained initiate of the Giant’s Grasp Technique. As soon as the dragon stopped its dizzying shaking, Muzgash flung himself forwards, latching onto the upper eyelid of an eye as large as his upper body. He punched furiously into that malleable orb of swirling colors and vertical slit of blackness. A pained wail of horror was unleashed into the night as Muzgash’s fist pounded into the dragon’s eye. The eyelid tried to close shut but was firmly held open, then the nictitating membrane attempted to slide into place but it too was interrupted by Muzgash’s grip on the thick fold of skin. He pounded harder, blood leaching into the iris as the cornea rebounded and conformed to each strike.

The dragon swooped its head down towards the ground, ignoring any repercussion as it slammed against the smooth stone. It lashed its head back and forth, scattering the bodies in its wake, dead or alive. Muzgash was thrown from his vantage point and landed roughly against the corpse of a kenku.

I saw the desolate chance of survival for the dragon, and I almost felt sorry for such a majestic creature. I fired against it anyways. Blood from a hundred wounds was pouring down in small streams down its body. Both ballistae missiles were still intact in their respective entry points, and those were also letting blood escape in small rivers of rust colored blood. The right eye was now clouded with a yellowish-white fluid with swirls of crimson red. It’s actions were more labored and its roars now seemed more a deep growl.

The kenku were now routing, being cut down as they ran from several small parties of pursuers. Axehammeran was drenched in blood and feathers and now he rushed to aid a group of about fifty men who had taken what remained of the rope anchored in the dragon’s wing and were pulling with all their might to drag the beast down to the ground. More and more were flocking to the deadly game that gave light to the term “tug-of-war”. Several times the dragon reared its wing back, pulling and lifting the growing team of rope-tuggers, but this was delivering noticeable pain to the dragon. It tried to move forwards but the hindering terrain below and the effect of the ballista missile caused the great creature to stumble forwards. It crashed against the plaza ground, struggling to gain its feet.

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Every defender nearby surged forwards, hacking, slashing, chopping, shooting, bashing, and whatever else you can do with a weapon against the grounded dragon. Six defenders fell victim to a swift lash of its open jaws. Another dozen were crushed beneath its body as it surged up in an attempt to stand but instead toppled over in pain. It was quickly losing energy as we gained more and more assurance of victory. People were now drunk with blood-lust, jumping and clambering atop its body to attack the most vulnerable areas.

It was quick business from then. The dragon submitted to its fate and it closed its eye; the other too mangled to even shut properly. It was a long, slow death as men and women from a multitude of races took their turn at the slaughter. Its slow, ragged breaths came at increasingly longer intervals. Every so often it would lash out with its jaws at some unfortunate bystander that was foolish enough to wander close to the head. At least a dozen places upon its body were worked open, flayed cut by cut and then pried open by sticks, or weapons, or tools, to allow the unhindered flow of the dragon’s lifeblood.

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An hour later it stopped breathing, and a half an hour later of anxious observation we deemed the creature dead. Among the chaos of smoke and flames, blood and carcases, rubble and ruin, a victorious cry reverberated within the Port District. Once, twice, thrice, until our throats ached we shouted.

 

Mission was safe. For now…

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