A hunt... for an ally?

Britannia is certainly not a dull place to live. Barely three Britannian weeks have passed since the Royal Guard was summoned to stop an orc invasion, and once again there is a call to the people of Britannia.

This time it was not Kalis Sevren that beckoned, but James Greymason. He has called before for hunters and trackers to help corral exotic creatures for the Zoo in Moonglow. It was weird to meet Greymason in the place where the Royal Guard usually meets, but as he pointed out, the Community Hall in Skara Brae, his usual rallying point, was a bit dangerous at the moment.

When Greymason first appeared, only Sephora, Ragno and myself were there. A few others started to trickle in as we waited patiently with small talk, and I also went to Britain to nudge the town crier there, as I have done in the past.

"I suppose I just do not bring the crowds as some other notables of the realm do," Greymason sighed. Myself, I figured people were still recuperating from the battle with the Orcs, and their aching limbs were just a bit slow to respond.

As numbers began to grow, Greymason filled us in on his purpose. "Well, as some of you here may know from past meetings, I was hired by the Council of Moonglow to find animals and exotic beasts for the Zoo. There seems to be another beast that may be a nice addition to the Zoo, but..."

"I am not sure how wise it will be to try and take it, due to the nature of the beast itself." This got our attention.

"Will this require travelling to the new lands?" one in the crowd asked. A very good question, I thought, for I have seem some strange creatures there myself, and have heard of still others.

"Nay, I have not travelled to these new lands myself," the ranger replied. Turning back to the group, he continued. "The beast that has been sighted is a dragon." I almost laughed aloud when he said this, for I was sure that any citizen of Trinsic or Skara Brae would say that's the last thing we want.

"But there are lots of those across the lake," someone pointed out, echoing my own thoughts as I unconsciously glanced in the direction of Skara Brae.

"Let us just say it is most peculiar," Greymason said. "Some say it is a black dragon, yet others state that it is purple. An interesting riddle to be sure." The ranger shrugged as he though about it. "I assume one can either call it a purple dragon, or perhaps it is just a very old black dragon. Since I have not had much experience with either, I am unsure of how this will bode for us."

None of the hunters in the room seemed fazed by this uncertainty, and the slight buzz through the crowd had the feel of excitement.

"As for this dragon, it had been seen in the swamps east of Papua. It is my hope to lead an expedition there to find it. It we can capture it, great. If not, we may have to take it down. The protection of the town is critical."

"Is it causing trouble over there?" someone asked.

"Aye, it is."

"Well, if it is causing trouble, then there is naught much else we can do." The sentiment was echoed by others. "Perhaps my wyrm can help it see reason," another offered.

"Well, we shall see what we can do," Graymason suggested, "but I fear it may not like the idea of being in a cage. But either way, we shall remove the threat to Papua."

With that tone of finality, everyone started checking weapons and readying for the hunt. "I shall cast us a gate to the Moonglow Mage Shop," the hunt leader said over the sound of preparation. "We can take the portal to Papua from there."

Once we were underway in the Lost Lands, I realized how small our hunting party was, but reminded myself that it was but a single dragon we sought, not hordes of orcs as Britannia has faced in recent times, nor waves of dragons such as some of our great cities have been seeing.

Greymason seemed well-informed, for it took us no time at all to find the dragon. Indeed, it almost seemed too easy, compared to the last time I came along for a wrangling.

The dragon was indeed a very dark color, black in my opinion. I realized as I saw it attack that I hadn't brought any of my dragon-fighting gear with me -- no dragon slayer harp nor my dragon slayer mage bow!

I attempted to pacify the dark dragon, as well as throw it into discord, but my skill was not up to that task. I didn't even have my jewelry of discordance! I felt so useless as the great hunters advanced on the creature, so I did all I could by keeping them as healthy as possible.

As was evident as soon as we found the creature, it was going to have to be destroyed. It was violent and aggressive as the rest of its kind, and it seemed tougher than the others I had seen. It also had a cold aura which harmed anyone who stood too near, too long. The combined experience in our party, however, was easily a match for the beast, and it fell.

I was a bit disappointed. Of course there was no taming the dragon, but it seemed like such an empty ending to the hunt. Greymason, however, wasn't finished. He continued through the swamp wordlessly, for it seemed that he suspected -- or perhaps knew? -- that there was another. I took this time to leap to the bank and get my dragon-fighting gear, determined to take a bigger part in any future encounter.

As I caught back up with the party, they were fighting yet another dark dragon. Again, there was no taming it, but again, the ranger didn't seem overly concerned with this fact.

We followed Greymason through the swamps, for he still walked with purpose. At the east end of the swamps, we entered an open field, and began searching there. Greymason, usually stoic and calm, started running around the field, his cool demeanor gone.

"It must be here somewhere," he muttered as he ran past me. This started to concern me. "It"? We had already faced two of them. What could the "it" be? Were those not what we came to find?

Apparently not. Back into the swamp we went, and it was not long before we found what it was that Greymason really sought. It's name was Drayaz, and while not much larger than the others, it reeked of evil.

It was understood by all that there was no possibility of taming or subduing this creature, and it was set upon with full force. Even with my most powerful bardic magic, I was unable to faze the beast, so I did my part with arrows and healing magic.

Drayaz seemed to ignore the little sticks I launched at it, though, and indeed seemed to ignore almost everything we threw at it. Summoned creatures, mighty pets and brave warriors all fell beneath Drayaz, made all the worse by the introduction of yet more of its dark minions. The additional dragons caused the hunting party to become split, and there were many hunters that found themselves one-on-one with some of the lesser dragons -- if they could indeed be called that! -- and were forced into a strategic withdrawal. I was included in that number more than once.

It was then that the gods started to watch from up above. Or, rather, another dragon seemed to be, for a great golden dragon swooped down from the sky, nearly bowling over those on two legs. This dragon was a sight for sore eyes -- literally, for its scales shone so bright in the midday sun -- as it landed and immediately engaged Drayaz in combat. Even over the din of battle, whispers were travelling between the hunters, telling of the dragon's name: Blaze.

Drayaz, however, seemed unimpressed, and seemed to regard Blaze as just another nuisance to be put down. As Blaze attacked, Drayaz still split its attention to the small beings -- ourselves -- as we tried to help put the evil dragon down.

At one point, Blaze broke off from battle with Drayaz, perhaps realizing that it could take down the weaker black dragons quickly enough to keep them off of our backs. I followed Blaze to see what help I could be, and was very proud when I was able to affect one of the dark dragons with Discordance, weakening it so Blaze could make easier work of it.

With that straggler down, Blaze returned to the main scene of battle, where many of our party had fallen. Drayaz was still on his frenzy, and though wounded, was still giving better than we were.

Drayaz, upon seeing Blaze return, seemed to summon his remaining follower and had it join the fray. I tried and tried to affect that one with my bardic powers while filling it with arrows, but it was the skill of the rest of the group that really took it down.

With none of its lackeys left, Drayaz was doomed. Blaze, whether by magic, by hardened scales or by the power of the Virtues, seemed unfazed by Drayaz -- or perhaps Drayaz focused solely on we smaller folk, arrogantly thinking it could take us all out and then focus on Blaze. Such arrogance was its downfall, however, for it was destined to fall under our combined might.

Even after Drayaz had dropped, two more dark dragons appeared, perhaps seeking vengeance for their fallen master. They were set upon as before. One fell, and while taking down the other, Blaze startled everyone when it spoke to the lone creature. "Thy master has perished... flee, or die old one." The creature did not flee.

With the battle finally over, James Greymason approached the majestic Blaze with awe and wonder in his eyes. The rest of the hunting party gathered around, resurrecting fallen companions and healing others while trying to hear what words were being passed between the ranger and the dragon.

As I approached, I made out a few words from Blaze, something about Blight having been defeaten. Blight! The king of all dragons, the one that is behind the Skara Brae and Trinsic invasions! Could it be true?

Greymason's voice snapped me out of my reverie. "I think those within Skara Brae and Trinsic would not agree with that," he said with politeness. "Blight was brought back from what I heard," he explained, "by a being named Zar'el Darkan."

"How unfortunate," Blaze mused with draconian understatement. "A very serious matter indeed."

"He remains unchecked in the lands," Greymason continued, perhaps seeing an ally in the war against Blight. "And attacks cities at will."

"It seems my work is unfinished then. I will aid thee once more. Aye, if he lives, he is a threat that needs remedy. I shall aid thee in that remedy."

As I sat listening to this powerful, ancient creature speak matter-of-factly about being a "remedy" for Blight, I squinted once more from the shine of its scales. Quite the contrast to those that lay dead at our feet, for their scales were so dark -- and yes, there, you could see the purple tinge -- that they didn't shine at all. Scales... they be salvagable, could they not?

Quietly stepping back from the group, I went to inspect one of the corpses, but saw that others were quicker than I, for they had already been plundered of any scales that hadn't been damaged in battle. The dragon did, however, have a good amount of treasure, and being a treasure hunter, I thought it best that I accomodate myself.

As looting is second-nature to me, I was able to do it while still listening to the conversation behind me.

"Though this battle is won," Blaze was saying, "I shall need rest... I take my leave of thee now."

And with that, the dragon was gone. James Greymason seemed sad to see such a creature leave, but got back to business and provided a moongate back to the Ranger Hall.

Even though we were without an addition to Zoo, Greymason seemed in good spirits. "Someone should send word to Kalis about this turn of events," he said. "A shame about the purple dragon. There was not much hope that we could capture it. And, we did do a service to the village of Papua. But meeting this gold dragon... strange indeed."

We lost him for a few moments as he thought back to just minutes ago. "And he talked about defeating Blight long ago," he pondered. "I suppose the lore can be found somewhere." This stirred something in my memory, for I was sure I had heard tales of a golden dragon from my grandfather. Could it be the same one?

"But at least it seems the Royal Guard has a new ally against Blight," Greymason was saying. He nodded to himself for a few moments, still half-lost in thought. "I thank you all for your help this evening," he said, snapping back to the present. "And spread the word to those within the Royal Guard and others in the realm about our discovering Blaze."

The group broke up then, and a small group gathered to talk about the purple scales they had scavenged from the battlefield. The Zoo did not get the treasure it had been seeking this night...

But some of us did.