When they reached the top of the tower again, they were surprised to find a somewhat older woman, think in the middle with wide hips and breasts that were clearly large, but because she was wearing a baggy grey green tunic with pleats that only partially disguised the poor quality of the fabric, it was difficult to tell her exact proportions. On her grey haired head she wore a garland of holly and green oak leaves, which was studded with acorns and woven through with mistletoe. This contrasted sharply with her mahogany dark skin, but framed her button nose and round cheeks that gave her face a pleasantly chubby softness. In fact, what others noticed is that while her clothes were definitely out of fashion, and her gray hair made her seem old, he skin was lustrous and smooth, with a particular glow of health.
She smiled awkwardly.
“I am sorry for dropping in like this.”
“How did you get here? Lady Priestess of ...” his voice trailed off.
“Morwethe d'Arlaine, Priestess of, well, his name is hard to pronounce.”
“Not going to get many worshippers with a tongue twisted name.” Observed the Summoner.
“He goes by the name the master of healing.”
“That might attract some attention, but healing is a very crowded niche.”
“I was summoned.”
“Ah.” The Summoner nodded.
“I did do a quick summon for any gods or goddess that might be in the area. One of them must have sent her here.”
“After a manner of speaking, he had an oak scoop me up and throw me.”
“That must have been a hard landing.”
“A bit, but he healed me.”
There was a short puzzlement. Finally Niccolo broke the silence.
“Mighty trust you place in your God, Morwethe. However a ship's surgeon is hard enough to find. Does your God reach into high space, we are not staying here, and have little use for deities that cling close to one or the other spheres.”
“My lord is anywhere that faith in him abides.”
“Well then, I am sold on her, at least.” The captain bowed to the Priestess. “You are welcome on my ship, Lady Priestess of the unmentionable God.”
Jehanjir cleared his throat.
“I think we have the ship's complement, if I recall Captain Niccolo's preference for a smaller skiff. It would, I think behoove us all to set ourselves to finding a time to launch, and thence to prepare for what will be an extremely hazardous enterprise.”
However, before they could retire, Niccolo's head jerked around and he fixed at what seemed to be a spot over the edge of the water. Almost before anyone else could move, Jehanjir swung a small telescope in that direction, and said “Yes, I see it.”
Albrecht looked. “I see nothing, what is it?”
But by this point there was something that looked like a fluttering of a gnat, only at a great distance. One by one the assembled company could focus their eyes on it, Jehanjir then made a pronouncement.
“It is a flying serpent.”
The Summoner scratched under his ear. “Someone wishes to send us a message. I doubt it friendly.”
Albrecht noted: “Friendlier than a note attached to a dagger, I feign.”
Niccolo twisted his mouth about, and added. “But not by much.”
“Why don't we either prepare to meet an unfriendly visit, or wait and listen?” Morwethe's plain voice seemed both high and low-pitched at once.
But it was to the Princess to ask the question of protocol: “Is it a herald?'
After a moment, the astrologer squinted and asked the Summoner to take a look. The Summoner, more conversant with the intricacies of creature lore, nodded. “The Princess has saved us worry and trouble. That is a herald of a dragon lord, I would have to refer to find which one, though I imagine we will be told long before I could even find the exact volume to reference.”
The princess allowed herself only the softest of glowing smiles of triumph.
The spinning motion of the serpent grew more distinct, and it combined the slithering of its body like a snake through dense grass, and the movement of its wings, which seemed to go all the way around the twisting and turning of its elongated torso, and well as a fluttering and shifting movement of its feathered feet, 6 of them, that seemed to be to stabilize it in its flight.
At last it grew large and visible, and hovered just beyond sword reach of the observatory, hovering in air, its wings beating so fast that they had become a blur and hummed in the air. Its slithering motion was reduced to a vestigial wavering in place. Its four eyes under golden lids focused on different figures at different times, its crocodilian mouth alternately grimaced and grinned as it yapped syllables to which it was clearly not adapted.
The astrologer stepped forward. “Greetings friend herald. We welcome you in parlay, but would ask who your Lord is, by name.”
The Summoner softly spoke as an aside: “Ah, he is from Erehwyreve, a lesser Duke, or greater Earl, among the Dragons. His realm is near the fixed sky and stars, to the celestial east. There are 8 such in that circle.”
“He hisses so, ” remarked the priestess, “and looks as if he would rather be eating us.”
Captain Niccolo, his hands diplomatically raised and away from weapons, gave a laconic rejoinder: “Aye.”
The astrologer walked over to the balcony.
“And what message bring you from your dread lord, herald? Deliver it so that we may consider an answer.”
The herald paused and then started again.
“AbandonallhopeofanexpeditiontoKORanafortheaffairstherearenoneOFyourlPUnyBUSiness.” The end of this rose to a screeching wail that made both the Princess and the Summoner cover their ears in pain.
The astrologer, unaffected, bowed, and started to raise his hand to dismiss the serpent, when, at that moment, a hammer, the size that most men would use to split logs, sailed through the air, hitting the herald on the head, and bouncing off. The herald wavered for a moment turned in all directions, and then lunged for the astrologer.
However, even as he did so, the Albrecht stepped in the way. Despite the wyrms fearsome hissing, his two forward fangs were only the length of small daggers, and not that much fatter. Albrecht had a rapier and main-gauche at the ready, parrying in cross the strike, and then ducking down and turning over resulting in the herald flying by and hitting the telescope, which clanged and spun about 15 degrees. The astrologer winced.
“Cease this! At once!”
However, there was no end to the commotion, as the giant clambered up over the railing and attempted to bring his maul across and into the head of Captain Niccolo, who pushed Morwethe out-of-the-way before ducking himself under the sweeping stroke. He drew a heavy single-edged ship's saber and balanced himself in a defensive posture, but it was clear from his face that he had no hope of defending or blocking such a massive weapon.
The herald, for its part, coiled around the large telescope and then struck the way a poisonous serpent strikes, aiming for the leg of the astrologer, ignoring the swordsman entirely – who seemed to duck in a passata soto, dropping to the ground on one hand, and going below the strike. The herald flew in a slight arc, but found itself rudely halted by the sudden jutting of the short main-gauche behind its jaw, it rolled end over end and found itself entangles with the swordsman, its wings now visible as being more like an iridescent beetle, with complex gossamer veins and a flashing color in the shifting light. At least more this than either bird or bat, were badly bent and dented. The herald and Albrecht locked in a mortal wrestling match, with serpent trying to strangle the life out of Arvid by crushing his chest and squashing his abdomen, and Albrecht stabbing over and over again into the gap between scales he had created and gripping the serpent with his gloved right hand. The serpent kept trying to strike with the barb on its tail, and claw with its legs, but the barb would not land, and the legs turned out to be quite weak for combat.
Near the desk, the giant kept taking powerful, but slow, swipes at Niccolo, who, for his part spent much of his time ducking under, jumping over and blocking with any large object to hand. He was able to slash now and again, but the saber was unable to do more than nick the leather armor the giant wore, which seemed to have more than ordinary resilience and strength, and was backed by some kind of wire mesh. The giant tried to double his hands together and bring them down in a crushing strike, but only managed to leave himself exposed. Niccolo however, could do little to exploit this, as his saber bounced almost harmlessly off the giant's metal collar, not once, but three times.
The giant spun around, swiping with a double fisted blow again, and getting enough of Niccolo's shoulder send him spinning. The giant turned and lifted his hands to deal a massive blow to the princess, who was cooly standing in place, seemingly unphased by the coming onslaught. She dropped one hand to the right, revealing a metal sphere, somewhat larger than her fist, and in the other, a bit of phosphorus and flint. With a flourish, she snapped her fingers, creating a trail of flame that lit a small hole in the sphere. Instantly silver sparks began sputtering out of it, and she tossed it straight into the gut of the giant. There was a thundering pressure, an almost blinding flash, and the giant was launched backwards over the edge of the railing.
This sound seemed to deafen the wyrm, and Albrecht used the opening to wrap his arm up and around piercing one of the herald's four eyes. The herald then began igniting like a pounder fuse, and disappeared in an orange flash of his own, leading to a cloud of dark choking smoke. Albrecht was not burned, but was covered with some kind of glutinous soot.
As quickly as the brawl started, it was quiet, with only the remaining undamaged equipment spinning. The astrologer surveyed the damage, which was worse to the telescope, but otherwise minor to everything else, though one of his wood stands had been utterly smashed being used as a makeshift shield, and one chair was in splinters. Papers were scattered about, and several small wire instruments were tangled and crumpled. It could have been worse. There was also a layer of grey and black ash over everything. He realized that Morwethe was missing.
“Where is the lady priestess?”
Niccolo picked himself up and strained his injured shoulder, he pointed to footsteps across the soot that lead down to the spiral. “I think she must have run down after the giant.”
The Summoner was, likewise missing. However, he crawled out from behind the desk, some ruined components in his hands. The astrologer gave a quizzical glance, and the Summoner made a gesture with his right hand holding up one finger and spiraling it upwards. Jehanjir nodded. “You sent him back?”
“Not from the physical world, dragon's summon their heralds, it would take too long for them to fly.”
Albrecht and Si-yeona took the initiative to run down the spiral, and found Morwethe at the bottom straightening out Higar's twisted form. The giant was barely breathing and blood was pouring from his mouth. She then stood up, took out a mistletoe arrow, and loaded a bow. She aimed it at Higar's eye. He lolled over and looked blankly at him, almost welcoming what seemed to be the coup de grace. She let the arrow fly, and it pierced his eye. However, the next moment was utterly unexpected. The arrow shattered like it was a glass vessel, and water spattered everywhere. Higar's body convulsed, but the blood stopped, and his limbs seemed to align as if they were being pulled back into shape. His flattened chest rose and fell regularly, and he was screaming in pain. But both eyes were open, and seemingly working. He slowly curled up into a ball, and was sobbing in pain, but there was not even a bruise left on his body.
There was a disembodied voice in the air, it was raspy but a tenor with a kind of melodiousness in its vowels.
“He's your responsibility now.”
“I thought we could leave him behind.”
“Then he would be dead. It is not a loose end that a dragon would leave.”
“So we have to take him with us?”
“Well of course, Morwethe, and anyway, you need him to plead your case with the dragon.”
“I didn't know one could.”
“Trust me, dear, plead is a very good world to keep in mind when dealing with dragons.”
“But it wasn't our fault.”
“The old law, is done to the herald, done by the lord. The astrologer is lawful liege here, and he's responsible for what happened.”
“So we have to take the giant with us, and at some point will have to have the dragon not to take this out on us?”
“You will have to be more persuasive than that, but yes.”
Morwethe stared in the air, and frowned.
“This is already a disaster.”
“No, but it isn't beginning under an auspicious sign. However, we need this. You need this. This expedition will make us renowned and gather worshippers to us.”
“Are you sure.”
“Oh, I am remarkably sure that there will be ample chance to heal all manner of grave injuries.”
“Is this your command?”
“I would rather make it a very strong suggestion based on our mutual interests.”
Morwethe curtseyed low, know that this was the best deal she would get. She then sank to her knees and began praying.
The princess and the swordsman watched all of this silently, still stunned at the magnitude of the regeneration and restorative power that they had witnessed.
Finally Albrecht found his tongue.
“Who was that?”
“That was the voice of my God, of course. Through me he healed Higar.”
Higar for his part was still rocking in place nursing the intense agony of having been nearly ground to a flour like consistently, and then almost killed back to life.
“And he's going to come with us?”
The princess interjected. “The dragon will kill him if we leave him here, it is an affront that no lord could accept.”
There was a quiet nodding. At this point Jehanjir, the Summoner, and the others behind them arrived from the top. They gaped at how Higar seemed to be almost undented by the shock and the fall, but then the Summoner nodded. “That is powerful force your god puts forth.”
“He is, from time to time, very generous, but there is enormous cost.”
“And in this case that cost is?”
“We have to take Higar with us.”
Niccolo rolled his eyes skyward. “As if I didn't have enough weight to account for. Well, if that is the freight we need to collect the fare, so be it.” He shrugged his shoulders.
Above the silent stars turned, and glowed, and the myriad reflections of Lilith stared on them.
Then, in the distance, there was a shooting column of fire from where the lighthouse stood. For a moment there was a bright puff of fire that rolled upwards with folds of black, that then became a grinding orange glow that rose and fell. They beam of the lighthouse did not return as expected.
Niccolo pounded his fist on the railing. “Those barbarians! They toppled the lighthouse.”
Morwethe and Jehanjir halted their animated conversation about the new mechanism fire arms that the astrologer had acquired to improve upon, and she seemed to be at least somewhat knowledgeable on the topic of combustible powders.
The others sat and stared.
It was to the priestess to ask the obvious question: “How bad is that?”
“It is very bad, ” returned Niccolo, “because without the lighthouse and boats there, it is a very long way back to Astronoma, where the ships are. We would be days behind them, And there is a good launch that we will miss. The next one is not as good.”
The Summoner stroked his chin. “I have, I think, a solution. Though I would need help from our esteemed Astrologer, and some aid in sorcery, and your alchemical skill Captain, assuming you do your own work in that line.
“And you are a shipwright?”
“Then draft out a ship for us. She will be made of ash, because I saw a stand of ash, with masts of fir.”
“And then what, it would take weeks and many workman we do not have.”
“Do not fear for workers. Though men will be beyond my ability to provide.”