Chapter VIII

Valley Of The Dragon Gods
By: Hensbane

Part One

Hellbore crawled from her temporary shelter in the cave in the cliffs above the storm ravaged sea only after the sun had finally warmed the morning air; her tight muscled body still ached from her encounter with the two rogue werewolves the day before though most of the deepest wounds had already healed over there were still hundreds of blue-black bruises covering her body. Outside the cave she stretched her arms above her head then frowned when she caught a whiff of her blood encrusted clothing and the foul scent of her own body odor; she decided that a bath was in order if she planned on going among humans again because most of the animal kingdom didn't care about personal hygiene of humans, though most of the humans she had met lately smelled worse than any animals.

The sea was still gray and murky and a strong fish odor was wrapped in the salty tang of the water but this did not deter Hellbore for she stripped off the offending clothing and dove naked into the icy water. The sea embraced her in a dark and murky icy womb as she swam deeper and deeper until her lungs began burning and screaming for air causing her to feel the need to resurface again. When she came back to the surface her skin was covered in millions of tiny goose bumps as it met the still cold morning air and she was gasping for fresh air as she climbed back onto the rough gravel beach and reached into her rucksack and removed a pouch containing sweet sand for bathing. Once she had rubbed every inch of her shivering body and grimy hair with the sand she dove back into the icy sea to rinse herself clean.

Hellbore laughed as she once again stepped from the sea for she found that she had company during the last part of her bath because a family of harbor seals had taken delight in her long waist length heavy red tresses and they were playing tug a war with the now torn tendrils that drifted on the tide and she had to pull one pup off her head as she stood in the rolling surf it barked out its complaint as its mother moved it out into the deeper water again. Hellbore dressed once more in clean clothing, selecting a tight fitting yellow woolen shirt and soft brown leather breeches and a dark green leather short vest and her black oxen hide knee high boots, after securing her boot knives in their protective sleeves she followed the pebble beach to a tiny fishing village called Lorant where she stopped at a small bar called the Fisherman's Wharf to feed herself and see if she might find out some information.

The meal was poor by any standards as it was merely a few pieces of brittle salt encrusted dried fish and a wooden bowl of scorched oatmeal with course mealy bug blown bread to accompany the mess but Hellbore’s hunger was such that she wolfed down her unpalatable portion and was glad to have something to quiet her stomach's rumbling. She inquired of the elderly innkeeper if there had been any unusual occurrences in the area in the past ten years and he told her that she should go down to the docks and find the man called Old Frank for he might have some ideas of where she might search for her answers.

The innkeeper didn’t know why this female made him feel uncomfortable but he was glad to see the last of her as she left to find the man called Old Frank. His obese body gave an involuntary shiver as he recalled her yellow-green eyes and the way she carried herself meant death for someone. He had seen far too many mercenaries pass this way not to notice that carriage of body and the steady piercing look in those terrible eyes. Besides women meant trouble for hadn’t his own wife run off with such an adventurer ten years before?

"Good riddance!" he muttered to himself as he returned to seeing to the evening meal.

Part Two

Hellbore walked the hundred paces to where she found the ancient dock area with its gray splintered wood and saw the old man the innkeeper had told her about, he was mending torn fishing nets as he sat alone on an ancient stool. She watched him for a while as his hands deftly repaired torn fishermen's nets, then she noticed that one of his hands shook as the shuttle moved across the ropes. She smiled to herself as a fond remembrance of the old men in her village and how they worked long past their prime and health to earn a coin for themselves, Hellbore knew in her heart that this was such a man and she approached him and smiled at him in respect and honor and more than a small bit of yearning for her people.

"I am seeking a place where a river flows from the mountains and back into it yet again." Hellbore told the elderly fisherman as he mended the torn nets on the gray timeworn docks outside the village of Lorant. It was a place she had heard about in the village of Gay’ere when she passed there ten days before she fought the two rogue werewolves she had found in the woods beyond the village. She watched as his right hand shook with the palsied movements of the very old but his left hand was sure and steady as he worked. He looked up at her first in surprise and then gave her a welcome smile and spoke to her in an age shaken voice.

"Well, lassie, the only place that I recall that happening is in the Talos Valley. It be a strange place where the gods of the air toss their fireballs into the sky and set the clouds all afire. It be said that the ancient Dragon Gods abide there still." The man chuckled as his fingers deftly danced across the torn netting at a pace Hellbore was hard put to keep track of them, her mind was trying to follow his tale as she found herself absorbed in the work he was doing. She had to shake her head to clear her mind for the craftsman in her wanted to discuss the weaving techniques he was applying to the netting, not find a place to garner information about any unusual deaths that might have occurred in the area in the past ten years, but she was bound to the quest she has set for herself and knew that personal pleasures would' have to wait until she had won the day or had finally been slain by those she hunted. Hellbore stayed on the dock for better than two hours as the old man wove his tales of dragons who devoured the Fyrestorm Mountains and evil wizards who sacrificed innocent men, women and children to those foul beings. He told her of fairies and elves who lived among the trees and flowers and gray specters that floated across the land where their blood had washed across the soil, he managed to hold Hellbore in a trance as he spoke. Hellbore was hard pressed to leave this lonely old man, for she knew that he had kept her in his company to fill that space of loneliness but she had a quest to fulfill before she could allow herself any pleasures in this lifetime. She had enjoyed listening to his tales just as she had listened to the old men in her home village of Ducat more that two hundred years ago.

"Is there a place in this valley where I might refresh myself and get a hearty meal?" Hellbore asked, her yellowish green eyes never leaving those dancing fingers, as they seemed to barely touch the netting yet a perfect pattern was left in their hypnotic wake.

"Aye! There be the Red Gryphon Inn in there and they have a cook by the name of Dora. You tell her that Old Frank sent you her way and she will prepare you a fine meal." The old fisherman hated to see this beautiful stranger go so soon for he had been enjoying the retelling of the ancient tales of the Talos Valley. Too many people just passed him by anymore as they came and went on their adventures but there was something special in this warrior maiden something that made old Frank long for his youthful days as a warrior-sailor on the high seas. Old Frank watched as Hellbore departed the docks her footsteps carrying her toward the entrance to the Talos Valley, the gentle trade winds caught at her loosened hair making it wave about her head in a fiery mane and old Frank felt a faint stirring in his loins a feeling that he had long forgotten about in old age. Old Frank picked up the basket that held his weaving rope and started back toward the village of Lorant when something glittered amidst the coils of rope and caught his eye. Old Frank placed the basket on the ground and picked up the shinny object, it was an unstamped coin of solid gold the value of which was greater than he could ever make in two years of hard work mending the fishing nets of others. He looked once again in the direction that the red haired woman had taken and with a palsied hand he gave her a salute and a silent prayer that she would find whatever it was she sought in this world then he stuck the coin deep into his pocket and made his way to the Fisherman's Wharf where he would find a hot meal and a refreshing drink.

Old Frank would tell no one of the woman and the coin she left to him, he didn't understand his reasoning except that it felt right. The elderly fisherman had several copper coins to use for his food and drink and would not touch the golden one for another week when he bought a small house for himself and hired an older woman to care for him and his needs until the day he died and he willed the house to the older woman. Old Frank would leave a legacy behind him in his skillful fishing gear that would be prized by all those lucky enough to own his Blackwood poles and unique barbed hooks and fine hair lures created from the tendrils of red hair he had found floating on the tide that very same day of Hellbore’s visit that were said to be enchanted, drawing fish to every cast.

Part Three

Hellbore walked for over an hour from Lorant as the gentle trade winds kept her from feeling the discomforts of the noon sun as it beat down upon the barren rocks and seared salt grasses until she came to a place where the Fyrestorm Mountain formed a natural gateway where they touched each other like two drunken sailors. Hellbore slowed her pace and looked into opening of that that wide valley, her eyes were treated to a sight she had never beheld before; the sky was on fire! Old Frank had not been boasting when he told her the tale of the gods tossing fireballs and setting the clouds afire.

Crimson clouds stretched across the entire sky above the valley and brilliant near blinding flashes of blue lightning streaked from one sided of the mountains to the other with none of it touching the ground beneath. The mountains began to glow as each new strike hit their edges then Hellbore heard the screams of dragons and saw the majestic creatures as they dove toward the cliff edges with their great maws stretched wide. Each brilliantly colored dragon seemed to be devouring the mountain cliffs in a single crunch then each beast would fly had again and disappear from sight. Hellbore looked closely at the cliffs of the Fyrestorm Mountains and saw that they glowed not the red of true fire but had a bluish cast to them as when a forge was blazing when working steel. Suddenly a dragon blew out a breath of yellow-red flame filling the air with the scent of sulfur and Hellbore promised herself that before she left this valley she would know the secret of those stones. Suddenly the sky cleared and azure blue replaced the red and the golden sun shone down once more across the vast expanse of the Talos Valley. She had to smile when she realized that Old Frank had truly been an honest man and she was very glad that she had placed the golden coin in his basket, she hoped it brought him good fortune for the rest of his life.