Endless Loyalty

You remember what I said about that ale? Great. So you wanted to hear about real heroes? I know the perfect story… The greatest hero I ever seen wasn’t some burly warrior or spell-slingin’ sorcerer. Dak looked far from what you’d imagine as “heroic,” but you’ll never find more courage, sacrifice, or endless loyalty than that peculiar ol’ bird-man.

He walked into a dock-side tavern in Awnya, a kytesi port in the Shimmerin’ Isles, where I was lookin’ for work. Everyone thought the gray-feather tengu was high on Echo Dust as he glanced around, mumblin’ to himself. As the crowd returned to their drinks, he snaked his way through the cut-throats, mercenaries, and soldiers to stop and gaze up at me—those copper eyes sharper than I expected. He didn’t introduce himself, just held out a coin purse and dropped it in my hand.

“150 gold checs now and 150 more when we return. We leave at dawn,” he said and walked away.

I was so confused I didn’t ask where we were goin’ or even where to find him. But the next day he was already waitin’ with four grizzled men, and the six of us sailed east for two weeks. Durin’ the trip, I found out the others experienced similar encounters with Dak. A stout craglin’ with midnight eyes named Taggor, told us Dak was an Unlivin’ Guide.

Now let me tell you, Tengu live a long time, almost as long as elves, and Dak had been around since the age of Silver Courage, a thousand some-odd years. When he was a youngin, he married a girl named Nox and found the good life, but his wife got into magic. One night she snuck off to practice and had an accident, turnin’ her into an unlivin’ ghost.

Dak spent the rest of his life studyin’ the unlivin’ and became an Unlivin’ Guide, some kind of priest to Aesa who helped ghosts complete their destiny, all so he could be with her in Elysium. Well, his wife’s destiny had come time, and that’s what we were doin’. 

I wasn’t thrilled to learn our destination was the dragon breedin’ grounds of the Wyvernlin’ Archipelago. But when I had the wits to ask, there was nothin’ I could do. The others were capable enough, so as we set foot ashore, I figured we’d be in and out without a problem. Boy was I wrong. Two weeks later we were still creepin’ through the undergrowth, tremblin’ in our boots from every shadow that eclipsed the sun, and then, Dak plopped his gear down and said, “We’re here.”

Now me and those hard men wouldn’t drop our weapons for nothin’, but ol’ Dak, he acted like we were stayin’ at the king’s palace. He kicked his shoes off, snuggled up in the brush, and took a nap. I swear, he took a nap! The other five of us took it upon ourselves to set up camp and scout the area. X’anthis, a katfolk with a wiry mane, crawled up the short cliff Dak was sleepin’ against and found a red dragon nest—with the momma still in it. Ha! That ‘fraidy-kat dropped pellets on Dak’s head.

Needless to say, we woke the ol’ coot and demanded we find somewhere’s else to camp.

“We camp here,” he said. “We have to save the hatchlin’ from a pack of lycoi, so rest up.”

If you’ve seen a lycoi you’d… You’ve never heard of lycoi? Well, they’re like a cross between a wolf and a panther, with short snouts, big ears, and razer fangs. Mangy as a goblin, but they’re crafty scavengers that’ll grab the scraps dragons leave, or apparently, kill a dragonlin’ if given the chance.

No matter what any of us said, ol’ Dak wouldn’t budge. So we plopped our backsides in the shadow of that nest and crawled under a rock so red-momma couldn’t see us. Come to think of it, we were so close that big red had to have smelled us…

Anyway, three days later, Dak says “it’s time,” gets up, and walks off. Krelin, this lanky little drow won’t move, says “he’ll guard the camp.” We called him a coward of course and followed Dak. I figured, with all the things he‘d done, I was better off followin’ him than hidin’.

We walked halfway around the nest, which took awhile since that red took up a hill the size of an elf’s ego, and Dak disappeared into a hidden cave as if he’d been there before. The lot of us crawled through those dank tunnels and popped out in the middle of the nest. As usual, Dak timed out arrival flawlessly, and the big red had left. I guess when dragons hatch, the momma leaves ‘em behind, somethin’ about lettin’ ‘em fend for ’emselves from day one—makes ‘em stronger.

So there we were, Dak with three of his thugs, an egg the size of a house, and an unlivin’ ghost driftin’ about the nest. Dak let out the biggest sigh of relief, seein’ his wife, and told us not to get too close. The longer someone remains an unlivin’, the angrier they get bein’ kept from Elysium.

As soon as the egg cracked, whoops and hollers called to each other from the shadows. The lycoi must have been waitin’ for big-momma to leave and the egg to break, as five of the beasts shot straight for us.

Taggor did this spell that sounded like thunder and blasted one beast right off me. I cut the head off a lycoi as Dak distracted it, yelpin’ like a wounded animal. By the abyss, we fought for our lives, each one savin’ each other at least a half-dozen times, but X’anthis got too close to the egg, and the ghost rushed him.

I swear, Dak knew somethin’ ‘cause he appeared out of thin air in front of Nox as Taggor shot lightnin’ from his fingers. The bolt ripped through Dak but drew his wife’s attention from X’anthis long enough for the katfolk to get away. I’ll never forget seein’ Dak and Nox reach for each other as that ol’ tengu dissolved into his unlivin’ shadow.

We cut down the last lycoi as the dragonlin’ broke free. Its wing was crippled, and it was disoriented, so it woulda been easy prey, but as it gained its feet, we watched Nox’s ghost fade into a swirl of blue magic and head for the afterlife.

No one wanted to stick around, so we high-tailed it back to the camp, but poor Krelin, his carcass was scattered everywhere… I always wondered if him gettin’ eaten gave us the time to get between the egg and the lycoi… Wouldn’t surprise me with all Dak seemed to know.

Anyway, we made it back to the ship, and here I am. Well, it’s been a hundred years since then, but that’s a lot of other stories.

You want to be a hero? Heroes don’t only save cities and kingdoms, they sacrifice everythin’ for others. And Dak gave everythin’, in this life and the next, for someone he hadn’t seen for a thousand years. That is a real hero.

I’d tell you another story, but I’m tired. If I’m here again, buy me another ale. I got plenty others you might like.

It all started with that “fit-for-goblins bard”

After hours of grueling drills, exercises, and repairing gear, the smells and sounds of the Naked Turkey tavern lightened Krod’s step. A hearty bowl of stew and a frothy ale were the half-orc’s favorite part of the day, and if he was lucky, there might be a few new rumors to overhear—if he was really lucky, a bard might be in town. The bawdy ruckus echoed through the open windows and doors, and a smooth male voice sang above the din, tugging at Krod’s excitement, and he ran inside.

The other recruits were still at the barracks, repairing armor from Krod’s merciless blows, so the half-orc didn’t recognize anyone. Summer had been brutal for Karth, the center of the Sindaran Army’s training regiment along the coast, and each passing night, the tavern had grown fuller.

A stool at the bar groaned as Krod settled his into the seat and ordered a meal; it was so loud he slid five copper pocs across the counter and mimed food and drink to the keep.

On a small stage by the unlit fire, a bard strummed an instrument. “With his men falling to Merroc’s hordes, our fearless king must break the walls or perish. Kaegar strode to those battlements, arrows raining like the rains of Pharast, but the mighty dwarf-giant swatted them from the sky. Undead rose from the swamp to stop him, but wave after wave shattered before his hammer.”

A cheer came from a couple of dwarves sitting near the stage.

“One blow. One… single… blow, sundered rock and stone. Kaegar Castlebreaker, born with arms as siege weapons, crumbled the wall before him,” the bard sang, accompanied by a wider cheer. “An open path ahead, the brave followed Kaegar and stormed the castle. Just before he was too late to stop Merroc from his evil rituals, Kaegar struck down the necromancer with the same hammer that felled the castle walls.”

A louder cheer erupted from the crowd, accompanied by the clink of mugs.

“He battered Kerric with such strength, the floor cracked, and that mortal enemy was reduced—” The bard grabbed a bowl of stew from a nearby table and threw it into the empty fire pit. “—to soup!”

Most of the tavern laughed or cheered, except for the patron who lost his stew and an old man beside Krod. Wearing a tattered jerkin and a beat-up sword, the old kytesi took a swig of his mead and grumbled something.

“Cheer up old man, that’s a great story! You could at least toast the victory of Kaegar,” Krod said.

The old man raised his mug and took another drink. “Pssssh, Kaegar didn’t do half of what that fit-for-goblins bard said.”

“Ha! And how would you know, old-timer? Were you there?” Krod said.

The kytesi let the words hang for a moment, gazing at Krod through keen, iridescent eyes. “The name is Telan, and yes, I was.”

Krod’s jaw dropped as the old man drained his mug.

“Wait, you were at the siege of Thunix?” the half-orc said.

“Sure enough. I been through many sieges, thankfully, Kaegar made Thunix the faster than a dragonlin’s temper.” The kytesi dropped a handful of copper pocs on the counter and walked away.

“Wait, wait. Will you tell me the real story then?”

“I’ve finished my drink, youngin, so no.”

Krod ran to head off the old man. “Please, let me buy you another drink. I want to hear what it’s really like. I joined the army in hopes of seeing epic battles like that, meeting real heroes the bards sing about, and maybe making my own mark upon the world. Who better to hear those stories from, than from someone who’s seen it with their own eyes—and lived!”

The old man thought for a moment, staring back into Krod’s eyes, and slowly nodded. “Fine. One story. An’ NOT the siege of Thunix! But it’s too loud in here. Buy me an ale and meet me under the tree outside.”

Krod nodded and ran off to get another drink for the kytesi. This really was his lucky day.

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