Chapter Three: Wartock Canyons

It was difficult for Rynn and Arokh to talk due to the noise of the river flowing by the side of them as they walked through the long tunnel cutting under the mountains. Despite the nearby Wartocks, the tunnel was often used as the main route taken by traders coming from the northlands as the only other real way to reach the village was by sea.

Eventually, they spotted light at the end and Arokh gained speed wanting to be out of that place a much as Rynn did. She could feel the dragon's movements through his immense body.
"Riding Arokh on the ground isn't that different from a horse,” she thought to herself. Of course in the air it was a different matter, it was the most wonderful feeling she had experienced.

"A Wartock mentioned the mines, we should start looking there for my brother" Rynn suggested as they left the tunnel into the long canyon simply known as Wartock Canyons. Arokh grunted but did not give any real reply. Thunder echoed down the canyons and rain started to fall soaking Rynn and Arokh. The air had come much cooler seem as they were higher up in the mountains and she shivered with the cold.
She wasn't exactly dressed for the weather conditions with her thin leather tunic and scale mail. At least Arokh's back gave off some warmth she thought.

"A Grull!" Arokh exclaimed as he spotted one of the creatures, which Rynn referred to as Orcs. "Oh, is that what you call them" she said.
"Vile disgusting creatures" Arokh said as he shot several balls of flame in the Grull's direction roasting it alive. Its companion cowered nearby at the sight of the dragon placing its small hands over its head.

A Grull being roasted (Order of the Flame screenshot) Click to enlarge

"I see you have a dislike for them as well" Rynn laughed trying to break the ice. She could feel that the dragon was still angry for he was nasty and sarcastic and she wanted to do something to lighten his attitude towards her.
"Rynn, you would not believe the hatred I have for those things. Them, along with their Wartock cousins were the main troops of the Dark Union" Arokh growled.
"Seems like we have something in common then" Rynn answered, glad to share at least one common interest with the dragon.
Arokh smiled slightly and walked up to the still cowering Grull covering its face with its club.

"Die you hideous beast" he snarled as he unleashed a steady stream of flame burning it to the bone in seconds. A sudden wave of satisfaction came over him, it was so good to be back!
"Arokh look out!" Rynn shouted as a third Grull bravely came up to attack from the left. Too near to use his breath weapon, Arokh bent down and bit off the Grull's head and crushed it in his mouth like a grape. He quickly spat it out in disgust.
The horrified Rynn looked down at the mess of blood and saliva and thought to herself "He's bad. I'd better stay on his good side.”  

Arokh turned his head to fix Rynn with a glaring eye.
"Do you want to get off and pick up those potions the Grull dropped?" he asked.
"Yeah" Rynn said as she jumped off looking up the path as she did. "It looks like there's a burnt out house up there, we might find something."

Arokh didn’t reply and quickly glanced up to the house and then back to the pathway. He wasn’t in the mood for waiting whilst the nuisance of a woman explored some old ruins. He wasn’t even in the mood for being there at all; his life, his purpose now wasted on finding some insignificant village boy when it could have been spent on defeating evil threats to the world such as another man like Navaros. Hell, he could have been part of the Order reborn if its return to the world would be needed again. Now it looked like he was stuck with her, “perhaps not for long if she got herself killed “ he thought. He grinned to himself at this thought but his jaws soon dropped when he remembered his soul crystal; he would return to his lair in stone waiting for the day the dragons would be needed again. His soul crystal would could fall into the wrong hands; anyone could pick it up and use him to his or her advantage much like Rynn but it could be far worse. He let out a sigh, as a slight feeling of depression came over him wondering what to do. He stared after Rynn who was now at the ruins and decided to stick with her to see where she led him. He had to protect her at all costs if he wanted to survive himself.

Rynn walked around the burnt out farmhouse nodding in Arokh’s direction to acknowledge him as he joined her. The ruin was still smouldering; it looked like the Orcs had been there before her village, leaving a trail of destruction behind them. There was nothing to be found in the ash that was any use to her. She looked across the river flowing down the canyon and saw another three houses. One looked to be intact and smoke could be seen coming from the chimney. A place to visit later, for now she continued up the steep path with Arokh following closely behind ready to protect his soul mate from any harm.

The path led up to a cave blocked by a huge boulder; either something nasty was lurking in there or the wartocks were hiding something. It seemed too good to ignore and she tried to push the boulder out of the way but it was too heavy. Arokh landed and observed Rynn from behind covering her back should anything come up unexpectedly.
Rynn strained again and gave up. "Help me with this thing, instead of just standing there!" She shouted to the dragon.
Arokh frowned and strode up to the boulder rearing up on his hind legs. "Get out my way then" he snorted when Rynn didn't move.
"Oh" she replied and quickly got out of the way.  

Arokh bent down and picked up the boulder with his front feet and wings flapping to steady himself, walked on his rear legs carrying the boulder and hurled it down the hill like it was as light as a feather.
"Well, that's impressive" Rynn exclaimed. Arokh looked down his chest, eyes following his magnificent body to his tail and grinned when he saw that Rynn was looking straight at him. "You think so?" he questioned with a slight smile thinking that the girl would be impressed by the full view of his body. He purposely posed so that his muscles bulged and stood out to look more impressive.
"Not quite Arokh. I meant the boulder you just threw" she sighed as she crouched and went into the small cave previously blocked up.
With a thud, Arokh put his front feet back on the ground going back to his normal walking position and sat waiting for Rynn to return.

Rynn cautiously walked into the cave. It seemed quiet in there, no spiders, scavengers or anything. Just lots of grimstone, which lit the cave with an eerie green glow.
"Ugh! Grimstone" Rynn said to herself with disgust trying to keep herself as far away from it as possible.
She could remember someone once telling her that grimstone is a magical substance that grows in crystal form in mountainous regions throughout the world of Drakan. It can weaken the wills of all but the most powerful mages merely by continued close exposure. It is also used for generating forcefields and barriers; useful for sealing off protected areas. Forces of evil had usually used Grimstone as the Order found the substance to be too dangerous and banned its mining and use.

Looking around the cave and avoiding contact with the grimstone, Rynn noticed more human remains on the ground. She picked up the potion of life and the Mithril axe next to the skeleton. It was well worn but in better condition than her Mithril sword she found earlier. She didn't have any more room so she threw the sword away leaving her with two axes, two long swords, a heavy but devastating battle hammer and some arrows. She desperately needed a decent armour-piercing weapon...

Something suddenly struck her legs causing her to cry out in pain. A scavenger had crept up to her unnoticed and attacked with its blood soaked claws. Rynn spun round and did a downward chop with the axe killing the creature in one blow.
"Wow, this does major damage, pity its almost useless" she said. "Now to get out of here."

She exited the cave to face Arokh. "I feel that you ran into trouble,” he said. Rynn gave a puzzled expression and then noticed the wound on Arokh's hind legs. "Do my injuries affect you too?" she asked. Arokh nodded in reply.
"Oh, so what happens if I get killed, you become a soul shadow too?" she asked as she mounted the great red dragon.
"No Rynn. It’s different with me. I will not die but I will be weak and next to useless. It would take many years for my stength to return. Becoming encased in stone again in my lair hastens this process so I can be awakened and bonded again. Remember, I was bonded to Heron and he died during the battle against Navaros" he explained carefully.

"That's why if you are not up to scratch, I can be used to anyone's advantage even for evil intent" he continued as he took off into the sky.
Rynn laughed "I won't let that happen, I promise."
“I don’t have much choice in the matter” the dragon muttered under his breath but Rynn did not hear him.  

"Down there, Rynn. Grull!" Arokh pointed out as they flew over the river hovering above a burnt out house. He landed and swiftly dealt with the closest one and Rynn hopped off to explore the ruins of the house. Two heath potions were found in the fireplace, which had seemingly survived the blaze. “Unless somebody had put them there afterwards” she thought to herself as she picked them up.
A large thundering boom shook the ash and dust as Arokh flamed another Grull sneaking up behind. "Just watching your back" he said nodding his head at the smouldering corpse. Rynn’s eyes flicked over to the dead Grull and walked up to Arokh and tried to mount him. "You go on. Ill be right here,” he said refusing to let her onto his back. He wanted to see what her combat skills were like for a while. He would bail her out of trouble if necessary.

Two Grull were up ahead and Rynn killed them with deadly accuracy not even taking any damage herself even though she had slipped in the mud as the rain was quickly turning the path into a slippery mess. Arokh landed behind on a patch of grass away from the muddy path. "Not bad Rynn, not bad. You seem a proficient fighter,” he said with a smile.
"You’re not bad yourself" she replied as she mounted him. It would seem that the dragon might be beginning to like her, she just had that feeling. Arokh took off and they flew over to the next house which was intact, again it was similar in design to the ones in her village as most homes were designed and built by the same team some 50 years ago.
"That house looks inhabited! Arokh remarked as he noticed the smoke coming out of the chimney.
"I think you are right, Ill go and investigate. There may be someone inside who might know something about the whereabouts of my brother." Rynn agreed, jumping off the dragon’s back walking up to knock on the front door.

"Come in" a man's voice shouted from inside. Rynn opened the door, closing it softly behind her.
A middle aged man sat alone at a table, a roaring fire behind him. Several swords and a shield were arranged in a decoration fastened to the wall above the fireplace. The house had a ladder leading up to a wooden platform fastened to the rafters where several barrels and utensils could be seen.
"Warmth!" Rynn thought to herself.
"What can I do for you?" the man questioned putting aside the book he was reading.
"I'm looking for my brother, there was a raid on my village and almost all have been killed or captured. I think that the Wartocks took him to the mines" she replied, explaining the situation.  

The man’s face changed into a frown as he thought of the attack on his neighbours during the early hours of the morning. "Some wartocks came by earlier. They tried to destroy my house but I scared them off” he said, shifting about on his chair to remove an itch.
"How?" Rynn asked.
"This" the man said as he outstretched his hands suddenly producing a fireball in the palm of his hands. He suddenly aborted the spell. Rynn looked on amazed.
"Don't look so surprised girl. I'm no wizard but I know one or two tricks to keep the wartocks at bay."
Not really interested in what the man was showing her she got straight to the point. "So, do you know anything about my brother or not?" she asked impatiently.
"No, but you can find the mine further up the valley. It’s heavily guarded though. The dragon you ride will be a great help but you will need better weapons." The man suggested.
"How do you know about Arokh!?" Rynn asked, surprised.
"I sensed him" came the reply.

There was a pause. The man eventually said "If you are looking for weapons, I know where a good one can be found but I need a favour first."
"Where?" Asked Rynn, suddenly interested.
"In a cave high up on the valley wall, on the left just after where the canyon bends." The man answered, stroking his chin remembering the location of the sword he was told about by some traveller many years ago.
Rynn shrugged and said, "what do you want me to do?"
"I need the old mine behind the house clearing out of spiders. I need a place to hide from the wartocks and this house won't be a suitable place soon. You must kill all of the spiders."

Spiders were one of Rynn's worst fears and she disliked the idea and promptly gave her answer. "If you think I'm wasting my time just to get a rusty old sword you are mistaken!"
"This is no rusty sword girl. It’s a magical flame sword. Trust me, it will be worth the effort." The man offered.
"Okay. Ill do it" she said uneasily after a short pause.
"Here, take this key, you will need it to get into the mine." The man offered an old, well-used key to Rynn. She took it and left the house.

"Find anything out?" Arokh asked.
"Sort of. We need to go spider hunting first" Rynn replied.
Arokh looked puzzled for a moment and let her climb onto his back.
"Land over there Arokh, beside that gate" Rynn said pointing out the entrance to the mine the man had mentioned. Without warning, a flaming fireball shot past them crashing into the mountain wall. Arokh rolled out of the way of the blast and turned to face the threat. At first he thought it was another dragon but it turned out to be a catapult manned by Grull hurling rocks covered in flaming tar in their direction.

"That was close" Arokh exclaimed as he returned fire dodging another flaming missile with practised ease. The catapult erupted in flame and ceased firing.
"We'd better be careful. It would seem they have good defences up there, whatever they are guarding" he said quietly. He looked around for more airborne threats and landed beside the gate Rynn pointed out.
Rynn jumped off Arokh and unlocked the gate peering into the mine for any enemies.
"Good luck Rynn" Arokh wished his companion.
Rynn looked up into his sparkling red eyes and saw that the Dragon genuinely was concerned for her. "I will be careful. See you soon" she said as she disappeared into the darkness.

Arokh sat down and thought about the events of the last couple of hours. He realised that what is done is done and there is no point in being bitter about it. The human seemed okay, he felt that a good friendship would develop between them; she certainly seemed to share his sense of humour. True, his purpose would be wasted unless the Dark Union were to raise its ugly head once more during his lifetime but it did not seem to really matter anymore. He thought that he had better change his attitude towards her as well and cut out the nastiness and sarcasm. It would be hard as that was just the way he is unless talking to somebody equal or more powerful than him; to them he would be surprisingly polite and noble.
After helping out Rynn, he planned to explore the world and to find any more dragons of his kind so that the Elder Breed would be reborn. But that would be another day. He laid down in the damp grass with the rain running down his scaled body and let out a huge sigh.

Inside, Rynn found that the torches were already lit, how she did not know, it looked like this place hadn't had human visitors for years. Unless the torches were enchanted she thought...

Cobwebs hung from every wooden beam and pointed piece of rock along the walls. The mine had obviously been closed down due to exhaustion of its product; there was no grimstone in sight.

A spider egg sac hung from one of the beams and Rynn drew away in disgust as she passed it. She stopped and thought for a moment and picked up a discarded torch on the floor. She lit it from one of the nearby torches on the wall and set fire to the sac making a disgusting odour fill the area. She threw the torch onto the ground putting her hand over her mouth to mask the smell and continued deeper into the mine.

A slight pattering noise suddenly sounded in front of her. Spiders! Swallowing hard and drawing her weapon she walked forwards and chopped the arachnids with the axe splattering them into a horrible mess. Sweat began to form on her forehead even though it was freezing in there and ran down her cheek. She wiped it away leaving a sooty smear across her face and swallowed again. She hated spiders and wanted to be out of there as quickly as possible.

Setting fire to another sac she came to a huge gap in the path and looking down, she could see that the mine was very deep. There was no lift shaft however; it looked like it was one continuous winding path leading deeper and deeper. There was no bridge over the gap and it was too far to jump.
"Bah, I knew there was something funny about that man" she said to herself ready to turn back. Suddenly it dawned on her. The wooden beam in front was rotten at the base and could possibly reach the other side if cut down. Not thinking that it may bring down the roof, Rynn cut the beam with the axe sending it crashing to the ground bridging the gap.
"Excellent" Rynn exclaimed and crossed the bridge facing more spiders. She now had confidence in the axe and she proudly strode ahead slaying spiders as she got deeper and deeper into the mine.

Eventually she reached the bottom. She noticed a couple of barrels by the path side and upon the top of them was a bow! She excitedly ran over to it and picked it up. Now she had something to use those arrows in and they would come in handy for reaching those spiders that insisted on staying on the roof attacking from above. She smashed open the barrels revealing health potions and some flaming arrows. She drank one potion to heal wounds and pocketed the other.

Thwack! Rynn hit another spider with her Uber axe but the thing broke against the floor. "It lasted longer than I thought" Rynn said and grabbed the bow aiming for another spider coming at her from above. Ahead she could see something moving; it did not look like a spider. Moving closer, she saw that it was a Wartock caught in the spider’s webs. To the left of the Wartock was the biggest spider she had seen.
"This must be the spider's nest!" she exclaimed. "Now how do I destroy it?" she asked herself. Something suddenly bit her and looking down saw that she was surrounded by baby spiders. A mild panic began in her throat and she began hacking at them with the other axe but it was hopeless. She got bit again and her vision began to go hazy with the poison. She quickly reached for the flame crystals and let loose a couple of blasts obliterating the spiders leaving nothing alive. The large queen spider seemed unaffected but it did not attack.

Rynn drank two more health potions and followed the path which now seemed to be going upwards slaying more spiders as she went. Eventually she came to a hole in the floor and carefully peering down saw that the queen spider was directly below her. She made her way around the hole to the opposite side where a plank of wood sat resting on a case. An explosives barrel was on the end of the plank. She collected the items from the nearby table and suddenly had an idea. What if the barrel was dropped on the spider?

Being sure that it would work, Rynn jumped on the other end of the plank tossing the barrel straight into the spider's nest. A roar could be heard and the roof gave way burying the spider under hundreds of rocks.
Rynn rubbed her hands together, happy that she had overcome her fear, the task was much easier than she had thought but there was still the problem of getting out of there.

There was no way back due to the rock fall so Rynn pressed on. No more spiders attacked her as she wandered around the upper parts of the mine. It looked like to her that it used to be some sort of sleeping quarters; obviously of slaves that once worked in the mine. Several beds were set against the walls made of wood and oxen hair mattresses horribly musty and rotten with age. Looking round, she spotted a hole in the wall and she jumped up on nearby crates and went through. Daylight could be seen ahead. Following the path, Rynn came out of a cave further up the canyon straight into a group of wartocks who were sitting around a campfire.

"Arokh!" Rynn yelled at the top of her voice.
Arokh got to his feet quickly and looked in the direction his bonded was shouting from. "Yes Rynn, I hear you. Hold on!" he shouted back and came to Rynn's aid with a powerful beat of his wings.
By now the Wartocks had heard Rynn and came running over to attack. She readied her battle hammer and swung at the first one then began to run round him in circles taking sideways swipes whenever she could. The weapon did not pierce the armour, only dented it with it being a blunt weapon and her arm was starting to ache with the heavy weapon. It was obviously meant for strong men and Wartocks to use.
"Arokh help me!" she shouted.

"Get out of the way" the dragon commanded as he hurled fireballs at the Wartock. Rynn could feel the searing heat and ran back to the safety of the cave. Arokh meanwhile finished them off and landed amongst the dead grinning triumphantly.
"Ashes to Ashes" he remarked nodding his head at a nearby Wartock.
Rynn smiled at the Dragon's humorous comment and patted him on the side of his neck. "Thanks Arokh, I would have been surely killed there."
"No problem. What have you been up to my friend?" he asked in a soft, friendly voice.
"My friend" Rynn thought. "His attitude has soon changed from what it was half an hour ago."
"Ah, just slaying lots of Drakan's arachnid population. Now lets tell that man I have completed his task." She said answering his question but decided to query his attitude. “You seem to be friendly all of a sudden, what’s got into you?”

Arokh’s eyes showed some concern at her question. He knew he had been very rude and nasty recently but he thought it was justified, but however he had decided to amend his ways. He was not one for apologies and had hoped that his change of manner would go unnoticed.  

"Nothing” he answered bluntly.

“Oh” Rynn said sarcastically. “I thought you had found something to have sex with whilst I was gone, you know release some of that frustration you had in you.”

“What!?” Arokh snarled angrily. “You suggesting I had a quick tug whilst you were in the mine? Because there is nothing around here but, oh never mind. How dare you!”

Rynn smiled to herself. “I’m sorry Arokh for offending you. It was just a little light hearted joke, no offence but you seem the type who fancies himself.”

“Hmm, well it’s not funny” Arokh said in a quieter voice. “You say anything like that again and Ill slap you silly. Now come on, we should get to that man.”


The fog covered Wartock Canyons (Order of the Flame Screenshot) Click to enlarge

Arokh turned around noticing the animal carcass the wartocks were cooking and devoured it in the most disgusting manner. Dragons certainly did not have any good manners when it came to eating. He belched loudly and proclaimed "I'm starving, that filled a little hole."
Rynn smiled and suddenly realised that she was hungry herself having not eaten since the night before. "I'm hungry as well Arokh,” she said.
"You should have mentioned it. The next camp we come across, Ill let you have your share first" he replied as he began to head for the man's house.

Rynn did not bother to knock this time and walked right into the room. The man looked up from the table but did not say anything but looked surprised to see her.
"There, I've done all you asked. The spiders are dead,” she said as she gave him the key to the mine. "I didn't lock it" she continued.
The man’s face drew into a broad grin. "Excellent work, here take this. It’s the rune key you will need to get access to the sword." He threw a stone engraved with yellow markings onto the table and Rynn picked it up. There was an uneasy feeling between them, Rynn wanted to make sure he was safe but she could not delay.
"Well, I'd best be going. Farewell and good luck" she said to the man and promptly left.

Outside, Arokh was waiting as usual. "Did you get anything?" he asked.
"Yeah, I got..." her voice trailed off as a blackwing came towards them spitting acidic poisonous blasts at them.
"Blackwings, quick, get on my back!" Arokh yelled. Rynn mounted the Dragon choking on the poisonous fumes and trying not to breathe them in. Arokh swiftly took off to face his first aerial foe in centuries hurling fireballs at the dragon / bird hybrid creature singing its feathers and burning its scaled underbelly. Rynn was getting thrown all over the place. She reached for a health potion but dropped it into the river below.
"Rynn! I feel myself weakening. Do something!" he snarled as he dodged another flaming missile fired from another catapult further up the valley.

"I'm trying!" Rynn snapped, desperately trying to pull the cork from the potion of life she held. She eventually managed it and drank the contents restoring their health and strength. With one final blow, Arokh sent the blackwing crashing to the ground and turned his attention to the catapult destroying it in seconds.
Hovering for a moment he said "you will have to be quicker than that if we are to survive, I need to rely on you to heal us whilst I fight."
"I know, it’s kind of difficult with moving around" Rynn answered.
"Oh, so Ill stay still and get pounded then" Arokh growled sarcastically, beginning to doubt the human’s abilities.
"Ill get used to it, don't worry."
"I hope so" Arokh grunted as he scanned the skies looking for more airborne enemies.

"What exactly are those blackwings, Arokh? We have always called them crow or blade dragons" Rynn questioned, interested to find out more about the aerial terrors.
"There are many different breeds of dragon, Rynn." Arokh replied. "For example there are bat dragons, ice dragons and of course Elder Breed dragons like me. Although sadly I believe I'm the only one left" he continued with some slight sadness in his voice.
"Only the Elder Breed can bond, other breeds don't have the magical properties or genetics necessary" he explained.
"That clears things up Arokh. Thanks. Now shall we look for that sword, the man mentioned its high up just around that corner" Rynn suggested.
"Good idea" the dragon replied with enthusiasm.

It wasn't long before they found the cave the man was talking about; it was not hard to find. Rynn jumped off Arokh's back as he landed on the small rocky platform in front of the cave. The soft snow crunched under Rynn's feet; the rain had turned to snow higher up the mountainside where the air was much cooler.
Three oval shaped stones carved with yellow text in an ancient language blocked the entrance to the cave and the middle stone had a small recess cut into it just at shoulder height.

"I suppose the rune fits in here,” she said to Arokh who had followed with interest. "Try it, there's only one way to find out" he suggested.
Rynn placed the rune into the hole and stepped back as a thundering noise sounded and the middle stone retracted into the ground in a show of yellow light revealing a dark man made tunnel. She turned to Arokh who raised a single eyeridge. "I see it worked."
"Ill go in then and see if I can find this sword" she said as she walked inside.
"Hey, Arokh, its wide enough for you to fit in here!" she shouted from inside the tunnel. "All we need to do is move the other two stones at either side of the entrance" she continued coming back into daylight.

Arokh strolled over and tried to move the rocks but couldn't. "They are carved around the entrance Rynn. We cannot move them, you will have to go alone."
"Great. Its not my fault you are too fat to fit" she grumbled.
"Fat!!" Arokh said angrily "how dare you! Don't you call me fat again, you cheeky wench!" he roared.
Taken aback by Arokh's anger she replied "I was only joking."
"Yeah. Well, that’s not funny either. I take great pride in my personal appearance and that's an insult. Get in there before I do something I'll regret!" He yelled at her, still furious at her recent comment.
Rynn gave a sheepish look and went into the cave. This time, Arokh did not wish her luck.

Arokh stomped about angrily. His body was slender and almost perfect, there was not a single bit of fat on him. How dare that puny human possibly compare herself with him! He looked down at the bulging muscles on his forelegs and his chest. He was certainly the most handsome dragon around in his opinion and he pitied anyone who dared to say otherwise. He sat down waiting for his bonded to return bearing his teeth in anger; it would be quite some time before they got used to each other. She had also better be quick; he didn't like waiting.
Inside, Rynn made her way down the dark passage wondering what horrors may lie in wait for her. That sword had better be worth it.

As Rynn walked down the long corridor, it seemed too quiet; somehow she had a feeling that something would go wrong. There were recent inhuman footprints marked into the dusty floor indicating that she probably was not alone in there.
Without warning her fears were confirmed as a scavenger came bursting through the wall upon hearing Rynn's footsteps. She grabbed the long sword across her back; she wanted to be as far away from the creature as possible but yet still kill the thing.

Rynn crouched and made a forward stab at the creature stabbing it in the chest. Undeterred, it continued to attack but Rynn got closer and swiftly cut off a clawed foot as it made a swipe at her. Standing on the bloody stump that remained, it hit her with the other claw; scavengers always fight to the death. Rynn gritted her teeth in pain even though her armour absorbed most of the attack and struck again leaving the creature bleeding to death on the floor.

She went into the hole the scavenger came from and found a large open cavern that bent round to the left. Determined to find the sword, she followed the cave round, past a large hole in the floor to an area covered in more grimstone crystals. A skeleton lay on the floor harbouring a heath potion, which she quickly collected. She passed the hole again and looking down saw more scavengers in the room below. There were loads of the things. Shuddering, she continued past and ended up at the other end of the stone passage. As she approached, spikes came out of the walls blocking her path.
"I'm not risking going back in there!" she said to herself and returned to the place where the scavenger had come from.

Peering into the darkness, she saw another short stone tunnel leading to a dead end. "That sword has to be in here" she said quietly. Suddenly she noticed a brick protruding higher than the others on the floor, obviously a switch of some sort and without thinking, stood on it.
A grating noise of stone upon stone sounded as the 'dead end' opened up revealing a natural cave leading downwards to another fork. She followed and decided to go right taking her to a room with two swinging blades resting next to a stone bridge over a seemingly bottomless pit. She could see the sword at the other side on a pedestal.
"That's it!" she exclaimed and carefully made her way across the bridge watching the blades to see if they would activate. They didn't.

With a sigh of relief, Rynn picked up the sword, which immediately was wreathed in magical flames as soon as it was in her hands.
"The man was right, this is awesome! I don't need two of these anymore,” she said as she threw one of the long swords away. Smiling to herself, she began to make her way back across the bridge but her triumph was cut abruptly short.
A loud clanging noise followed by crashing stones sounded as the blades swung into action smashing the bridge preventing her return. The sight of this filled Rynn with dread; the blades would surely kill her if she made contact with them.

Rynn could see that the other side was within jumping distance if she could avoid those blades. She looked up and let loose a couple of arrows at the rope securing them to the cave roof but it did nothing. Sighing with disappointment she realised that she would have to jump between the blades at exactly the right moment. She waited for ten minutes observing the timings before she made her move, landing neatly on the other side completely unscathed.
"That was close! But it was definitely worth it" she thought.

Rynn decided not to go back the way she came and instead followed the left-hand fork she had come to earlier. It led to a room full of scavengers, two large ones and five or so small ones. "A family of scavengers, how sweet. Pity I'm going be the one to make sure their family tree stops growing,” she said with sarcasm as she strode into the room flame sword held firmly in her hands. It made short work of the hideous beasts and she also found that it produced rings of fire similar to the fire crystals. "This will be good against Wartocks,” she said as she examined it in close detail noting the markings of dragons carved into the blade.

Rynn stopped to collect any useful belongings left by the human remains and followed the cavern round till she saw daylight below her at the bottom of a steep slope. Stepping on the unstable floor, it suddenly gave way causing her to slide down on her armour to emerge on the canyon floor. Getting up to dust herself down, she looked up to notice two wartocks coming up to attack, and no longer afraid she dove straight in flame sword outstretched.
The following fight that ensued was short lived leaving both wartocks dead and Rynn only slightly injured. She drank potions to heal and looked up the canyon at the snow capped pine trees and the area where she had entered the cave above.

"Where's that damn dragon? AROKH!" she shouted. Shortly, there was a sound of wingbeats and the dragon landed beside her looking incredibly bored.
"Do you think I enjoy waiting around?" he grumbled.
"Stop complaining, if you wanted to do something useful, you could have gone further up the canyon taking out any enemies,” Rynn said flatly.
Arokh snorted and replied "I need you just as much as you need me. Now, let’s find that mine and no more messing about,” he said impatiently as Rynn climbed onto his back.

Together they flew up the lonely canyon slaying Wartocks, blackwings and destroying catapults as they went. Rynn stopped to collect any items dropped by their enemies. It had now started to snow heavily and it was even settling on Arokh's body.
"Those blackwings are a real problem! Arokh snarled under his breath as he sent another one crashing to the canyon floor.
"Why do they keep attacking us Arokh? They are not normally this hostile,” Rynn asked.
"I was thinking the same thing and it’s strange why they don't attack Wartocks and Grull. It’s probably me though, blackwings are fiercely territorial and will attack any foreign dragon they believe is a threat" Arokh explained.
"Do you think they are on the Grull's side? Or am I being stupid?" Rynn asked.
Arokh flicked his eyes back towards her and thought for a moment, she did have a point. "Funny you should mention that. The Dark Union used them as their frontline air troops, like the Grull only in the air. They possessed them making them serve the Dark Lord himself, Navaros. Its possible in the six centuries that I've been sleeping that the Wartocks and Grull have made allies with them though."

Rynn was just about to ask another question when she saw a large wooden gate leading into the mountainside. "Arokh, look. That may be the mine entrance."
Arokh descended and landed outside flaming a Wartock as he did so.
"I thought you would have known where this mine was, Rynn" He suggested, believing Rynn was the adventurous kind.
"No, up here is Wartock territory. Few villagers ventured this far. I haven't ventured more than twenty miles from my home village myself" she answered shaking her head.
"So, you have not visited the city of Surdana ? Assuming it still exists." Arokh asked surprised at her comment.
"Oh it exists alright, and I know where it is but I've never been" Rynn continued placing her sword onto her back so her hands were free. She had up to now held a sword in her hand during flight so she could help Arokh if needed.
"You have much to see in the world of Drakan Rynn. Now that we are bonded you will begin to see things you never thought existed." Arokh said softly.
"Ill look forward to it" Rynn answered as she jumped off to investigate the large wooden door.

"Locked!" She said with disappointment as she returned to Arokh who was scratching himself. Rynn looked away embarrassed. The dragon did not seem to have many manners. She thought that he was probably still trying to impress her but it wasn’t working… Yet. He did have a truly magnificent body, perfect in every way and a stunningly handsome head but she still thought his attitude stank.
"You give up too easily. Let’s go further up the canyon, we might find a key on one of the Wartocks." Arokh said placing all four feet on the ground.

A short while later and finding nothing, the soul bound pair landed outside a cave entrance flanked by two flags bearing the mark of the Dark Union.
"The Dark Union's banner!" Arokh exclaimed. "I never thought I'd see that again."
"Maybe the wartocks continued to use it after the Dark Union's demise?" Rynn suggested.
"Maybe. Unless... No, its not possible" Arokh answered in a short tempered voice. It seemed to Rynn that he was worried about something but she didn't ask. She dismounted and went into the cave.
"Be back soon Arokh,” she shouted from inside.
Arokh grunted in reply and turned around to watch for any adversaries that may have followed them.

A Wartock walked down the path ahead completely unaware of Rynn. He held a shield unlike the ones she had encountered since the raid on her village; he was probably a chieftain or something. She silently crept up behind and landed a hard blow with the flamesword in his unprotected back instantly setting the leather coat and fur aflame. The Wartock howled in pain and spun round to face Rynn who tried to hit him again but he blocked the blow with his shield. He bellowed for his companions but they did not come as Arokh had already dealt with them five minutes ago outside.

Rynn rolled to the side to avoid an incoming blow and quickly rose back to her feet running round to the unprotected axe arm with lightning speed and agility. Rynn was not a strong fighter but she made up for it in speed and accuracy. There was a sickening crunch as Rynn's sword cut through the flesh and hit the bone setting the hairy Wartock arm on fire. Again he roared in pain and ran away clutching his arm.
"Not so fast!" Rynn cried as she ran after him. He was almost certainly going to get help or heal himself. She landed another blow in the back and the hairy, twice her height creature stumbled and fell to the ground lifeless. Letting out a deep breath, Rynn continued deeper into the Wartock's underground hideout.

She eventually reached a lift going down to an open area stacked with crates and supplies. There was enough for a whole army down there; this was the storage and weapons facility the local forces were using to raid nearby villages. A forge and a couple of anvils were at the far end of the cave and a Wartock was busy making swords, another was checking through the crates. A Grull noticed Rynn watching from the top of the lift and began to jump up and down pointing in her direction.
So much for the stealth approach” she thought to herself.

Rynn fired a couple of arrows at the Grull killing it and turned her attention to the un-armoured Wartock killing it with five arrows. She checked her stash; only two arrows were left. She unloaded them into the second Wartock’s face and dropped down into the room below using the crates to block her fall.
Stepping back and pulling the offending missiles out of his snout, the Wartock bellowed and came charging at Rynn but with her being at an advantage point, she simply smiled at him and used the last of her flame crystals.

"What does it take for you to die?" she shouted when she saw that it was still alive. The Wartock did not reply and began to reach for a health potion.
"Oh no you don't" Rynn said and jumped down and whacked the life from him with the flamesword.

"Now to see what there is in here,” she thought as she went over to the stack of new weapons, just come off the anvil. Most were too heavy as they were meant for Wartocks but she picked up a Mithril long sword, which she used to replace her standard one. She did not want to be bogged down with too many weapons especially if something better comes along. As she was about to leave, she picked up the key and health potions from the table and returned to Arokh.

"Did you find the key?" Arokh asked.
"I got A key. I don't know if it’s the right one or not" she mumbled showing the key to the dragon.
"Well, we had better find out then. Come on" he invited. Rynn hesitated for a moment and climbed onto his back. With a rush of wind, Arokh was aloft and he glided down the canyon swooping over the treetops that lined the riverside, the cold mountain air pummelling Rynn's face like lots of tiny needles.

They reached the large wooden door they visited earlier a few moments later and Rynn walked over to a small side door. "Wait here Arokh" she commanded.
"I can't do much else can I?" he asked sarcastically.
Rynn didn't reply and tried the key in the lock. It worked much to her relief.
She pushed open the door and killed the two Grull and Wartock inside and opened the main door so Arokh could come through.
"Nice work Rynn" he congratulated. "I'm not too fat to fit through this door,” he said with a sarcastic smile.

Together, they walked up the tunnel that opened out into a large cavern with a lake at the bottom. A Wartock spotted them from the bridge above and with a thud, shut the gate blocking their progress.
"It seemed too easy" Arokh remarked nodding his head at the gate.
"I don't think these are the mines, they must be ahead somewhere" Rynn suggested, noticing the lack of grimstone in the area.
Arokh glanced through the bars at the Wartock who had just shut the door. "I think you are right. You go on and see if you can get up to that bridge so we can get this door open. You should be able to squeeze through the wooden bars."
"Can't you just burn them?" Rynn asked.
"No, it would make too much smoke. It shouldn't be a problem for you to get up there. Or is it?" The dragon asked with a hint of sarcasm in his voice. Rynn could not see the dragon's face clearly in the shadows but she could see his eyes twinkling in the torchlight. She knew he had a smirk across his face as he said that last comment though.
"Not at all" she said quietly and walked between the bars into the massive cavern ahead.


As Rynn stepped through the bars, two Wartocks came up to attack.
"Get out of the way! Quick!" Arokh shouted from behind her. She quickly sidestepped out of the way as Arokh poked his head through the bars shooting a lethal cloud of flame at the pair of Wartocks engulfing them. Only their cries of pain were heard for a few seconds then silence.
"Just how I like them, extra crispy!" Arokh said as he turned to look at Rynn.
She acknowledged him with a nod and a smile, noting his sense of humour and began to follow the path leading up to the bridge above.

The path did not lead straight up to the bridge as expected but instead wound deeper into the mountain past two storage caves where she collected more health potions and a potion of life. She encountered little resistance in the form of a dozen or so Grull but they were no problem for her with her current weapons. Nearing a bend, a ladder in front of her led down into another cavern below and she could hear Wartocks shouting but decided not to go down just yet; she thought that there might be another way in with Arokh. She began to follow the path to see where it went. It would seem luck was on her side as it led straight up to the bridge crossing the underground lake.

The Wartock was getting bored. He had been posted to supervise the passing of prisoners through the caves to the mine ahead and to torture any that gave trouble. Walking back along the bridge for what seemed like the thousandth time that morning he noticed a human coming towards him. Thinking that she was just an escaped prisoner he ran at her, battle axe high in the air hoping for an easy kill. How wrong he was.

Rynn rose up to the challenge and readied her flamesword. She was the first to land a blow but it merely hit the Wartock's shield causing no harm at all. The Wartock counterattacked and hit Rynn in the back knocking her to the ground. Slightly stunned, she rolled over just as the Wartock's axe came crashing down onto her chest causing immense pain. She cried out in agony and simultaneously heard Arokh roar; the injury she sustained affected him through the bond. Determined to win and with a sudden boost of adrenaline, she got back to her feet and began to circle her adversary, her usual tactic in defeating these powerful creatures. She successfully avoided subsequent attacks getting her own in whenever she could and eventually, the Wartock slumped to the floor lifeless.

Sitting down beside her fallen foe breathing heavily, Rynn drank a couple of health potions and examined her armour. Two of the straps holding it together were broken and several holes were cut through the metal chain mail. It would not last much longer.
She got to her feet, rejuvenated by the health potions and pulled the lever to let Arokh through.

The dragon's wingbeats echoed in the large cavern making them sound louder than normal as he landed beside her. "That was quick, well done" he congratulated. "Shall we go?"
"Not yet Arokh. Follow me, I saw a ladder leading down to a cavern back there in that tunnel. Its possible they have prisoners down there and I'll try and rescue them." She said disagreeing with the dragon.
The dragon nodded in reply and followed his bonded to where she saw the ladder leading into the pit. Just as they neared the top, human screams could be heard below.
"I'd better get down there Arokh" she suggested.
"Be careful" the dragon replied, concerned for her safety. He knew how dangerous Wartocks could be despite Rynn’s almost lifetime experience of fighting them.

Rynn climbed down the ladder into a gore-splattered cave. She noted the Wartock's voices but she could not see them and carefully crept up to a large rock as quietly as possible so she could observe from a safe distance.

The sight that met her eyes sickened her and filled her with rage; human corpses were amongst the mess of blood and gore littering the cave floor. Upper halves of human bodies hung from meat hooks suspended from the ceiling. A couple of men were in cages but she saw that they were dead, one had a hole right through his chest and the other had no arms. She shuddered with disgust and her eyes fell on the Wartocks who had just finished torturing a man to death, fastened to a rack and pinion.
As she looked closer, the wartocks were not stretching him as the usual method would imply; rather they were slowly winding his arms and legs between two stone wheels crushing them inch by inch. Blood dripped from either end of the torture rack, the man had already had his hands and feet crushed. A single axe was embedded in his chest; which had dealt the final deathblow. Only one could imagine the pain he must have been in.

With a cry of rage, Rynn ran up to the two wartocks and attacked them in a frenzy of fury and fire cast from her magical flame sword. The fight did not last long, Rynn sustained some injuries but she was glad she had dealt pain and death on those responsible for the torture of her villagers. She stood for a moment to catch her breath and went over to the cages and torture racks to see if anyone was still alive but to her dismay they were all dead; there were even children amongst the dead.

"How sick can you get?" Rynn thought to herself as she picked up a child who looked about five years old. She wiped a tear from her face and looked around the cave for any supplies. Lucky for her, some scale mail in almost pristine condition was found in one of the cages. It was a bit tight around the chest as it was meant for men but it did not matter, she wouldn't last against a Wartock without protection. She took one more look around the room and climbed the ladder to meet the waiting Arokh.

"What's the matter Rynn?" he asked when he saw that she was upset.
"Arokh, it was terrible down there... people from my village, even children slaughtered in the most horrible ways. It was the most sickening thing I have seen. What did those people do to deserve that?" she replied half sobbing.
"Wartocks, evil creatures." The dragon said shaking his head slowly. "I presume its because they put up a fight or were too weak to work in the mines."
"Maybe" Rynn sniffed "but it won't bring them back."
Arokh gently placed one of his front feet onto her shoulder and brushed away the hair over her face with one toe to show his concern and sympathy at her loss. "Don't worry Rynn, we will avenge their deaths by slaying every Wartock we come across.
Ill show no mercy for them."
Surprised at the dragon’s compassion and sympathy after what he had said that morning, Rynn took a moment to stand motionless feeling the warmth from his foot on her shoulder. She wasn’t too pleased about having his muddy foot near her face and gently pushed it away and looked him in the eyes giving a slight smile. "Thanks" she mumbled. "We should get going, Delon could be getting further and further away."
"I agree" Arokh said as he dipped to let her onto his back, turning back towards the bridge heading out of the cavern. His feet made a loud 'thud thud thud' as he walked quickly across the bridge; he wanted to be back in the open air as soon as possible.

The tunnel beyond the bridge led by the underground riverside to a large open area in which several ruins of typical village houses lay scattered across the ground. Thick snow had settled on the stones, these houses had been abandoned a long time ago when the Wartocks moved in to reopen the mines.
As Rynn and Arokh left the caves, two blackwings attacked but Arokh made short work of them sending them crashing to the ground in balls of flame. Arokh landed and let Rynn off to investigate the ruins for discarded supplies.

"Rynn, look. Is that a human over there? It looks like he is moving" Arokh pointed out when he saw a man covered in blood beckoning to them.
"Yes, it looks like one of our village knights, Ill go and see if he needs help" Rynn suggested, seeing the man Arokh pointed out leaning against a collapsed wall clutching his wound. She walked up to the man with Arokh following behind.

"Jhoni, is that you?" she asked kneeling down to sit in front of the man who painfully tried to sit more upright from his slumped position.
The man rubbed the blood from his face and replied in a hoarse voice "Rynn, it is you! are riding a dragon!" He exclaimed when he saw Arokh behind her. "I thought it was just one of Atimar's stories."
"So did I. This is Arokh by the way,” she said nodding in the dragon’s direction.
Remembering the legends of the Order well, the man instantly recognised the dragon’s name. "The Arokh? You mean Arokh who saved the world!" Jhoni asked in amazement, he couldn’t believe his eyes.
"That's right" Arokh interrupted. "And I'm probably going to save it again" he added with a smirk.
"By the way, have you seen Delon round here recently?" Rynn asked probing for information.
"Yes, he was taken through the mines with the other children and prisoners in the early hours of the morning. I managed to get away but as you can see I didn’t get very far." He coughed and Rynn's face lit up with joy.

"Where are these mines?" She asked, her heart pounding with excitement.
Jhoni’s hand faltered in the air pointing towards a large wooden door in the mountainside. "It’s that large door there but you can't get in that way. The door is locked from the inside but I know another way in which you can reach with the dragon. It’s beside the waterfall halfway up the cavern wall up ahead. You should be able to get inside without running into trouble" Jhoni explained coughing violently. “I fell from that ledge and crawled all the way here.” He added pointing in the direction of the stone ledge jutting out from the rock face at the side of a waterfall fed from the river coming from the mountains above.


“I wish I could help, but I'm almost done for" he continued coughing up blood again.
"Don’t worry about that, Arokh is more than what I need. Here, take this health vial, it should heal you" Rynn said as she gave him one of the bottles of precious red liquid.
"Thanks, I appreciate it" He murmured as he drank the contents of the bottle healing most of his injuries. He sat upright from his slumped over position, his strength returning as the healing potion flowed around his body healing wounds. He looked up at them both and smiled.
"Rynn, you must go. Don't worry about me,
Ill be alright. I'm going to try and get to Surdana" he grinned.
"Well, good luck if you do. The way to the village should be clear but after that I don't know." Rynn replied.
Jhoni shook her hand and walked past the dragon placing a hand on his side and paused for a moment.
"It’s an honour to meet you Arokh, Sir" he said. Arokh turned his head to look at him with a glaring eye but he did not reply. He turned his head away again back towards Rynn. “Ignorant bastard” Jhoni thought and walked back towards where Rynn and Arokh had just come from.

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