Rise of a new Shadow 24
It didn't understand what was going on. Its existence was nothing but a haze. There were faint, cloudy memories of gliding high above mountains, of fire burning underneath its wings.
Memories of dying.
Yet, it was alive, a different kind of alive than from what it remembered from the faint impressions. In a sense it couldn't truly comprehend. It felt like it had been shattered and rebuilt with parts that did not belong to it, both in body and mind.
For the faint flickers of memories were overridden by an intense desire to kill it. To destroy it. To burn it until there was nothing left of it but flakes of ash dancing in the air. The thing that was close, too close to be ignored.
The first it did was to look around and finding the thing on its own back. A little pest it could have just shaken off, but every fibre in its being told it to kill, to destroy, to burn the little green thing. The thing ran away. Following suit to fulfil its overpowering instinct, it ripped free from its restrains and followed, the thin, brittle stone wall being no obstacle. Having emerged from the cave where it had awakened from its death, the open sky above its head, it took off, to glide above square-shaped mountains again, in pursuit of the little pest that would give its being no rest until it had been killed, destroyed, burned from existence.
Orell didn’t bother with invisibility. Turning invisible meant slowing down and right now, this was the last thing he needed, with several tons of brass and dragon bone being loose behind him. Reducing his mobility might result him being crushed purely by accident. He didn’t care about the dwarven civilians or guards seeing him, considering they were just as busy running away from the berserk automaton as he was.
The only advantage Orell had over the dwarves was his expertise in climbing, thanks to him being currently stuck in the borrowed body of a Green Minion.
The first thing he did after leaving the hangar was to leave the clockwork dragon’s line of sight, to get a few buildings between himself and the metallic menace, as Gnarl had immediately suggested. Then he took the next best pipe upwards, from where he could jump over to a balcony, took a ledge along the wall, jumped to a different building where he found another pipe to run on, let himself drop onto a different balcony and slipped into a wide-open window.
Orell assumed this was enough distance to the dragon for now, whose rushing of wings and screeching of cables he could hear above. Ideally, the monstrosity would be distracted enough by the visible targets of fleeing dwarves and either would move on to a different part of Hraffheim to terrorize, or one of the exclave’s advanced cannons would take it down and turn it into scrap metal. Either way, this building was a good place to sit the storm out; it was small, inconspicuous, yet equipped with thick, solid brick walls.
Unfortunately, the dragon had other ideas.
The ground shook when the contraption landed in the building’s proximity, accompanied by the sound of roofs crumbling under its weight.
“Change of plans, Master, time to run!”
Orell didn't wait for the advisor to repeat his suggestion. The dragon was definitely too close for his comfort. Taking the window on the other side of the building, he left without being noticed, hearing more crumbling. As he turned a corner, Orell saw the wall light up orange, accompanied by the sound of roaring fire, rock bursting and metal bending under the heat.
A dreadful suspicion formed in his mind.
Increasing his speed and being grateful for the majority of dwarves having left the streets by now to hide inside the buildings, Orell was searching for a different hiding spot himself. But most importantly, he needed to bring as much distance between himself and the clockwork dragon. His suspicion couldn't be true. It just couldn't.
With the dragon being content with the level of destruction it had caused in its landing place, it took to the air again with loud flaps of its wings, a sound that made Orell dive into the narrower alleys, where he was less likely to be seen.
Jumping over the head of a perplexed dwarf, Orell found a different open window, but after a quick look inside, he decided against entering. It was a tavern, stuffed to the seams with terrified dwarves either staring at the door or trying to drown their fear with the contents of numerous kegs, much to the bartenders’ delight. Sprinting deeper into the alleys, only interrupted by pressing himself to the walls and going invisible when the rushing of metallic wings passed over his head, he searched for a better place to hide – and found one, better than he expected.
His nose picked up the stench of sewers, which brought him to an arch in a wall at ground level. Since he didn't register the stench as something unpleasant and it wasn't his own body he would be soiling anyway, Orell didn't hesitate with squeezing into the opening.
“It amazes me that how as different as the races inhabiting the world are, their shit always smells the same,” Gnarl commented. “I do hope that overgrown cuckoo clock loses your scent trail in that stench, the earlier the throne room stops stinking like the aftermath of an orgy near the Green Hive, the better.”
Inside, he could see muddy water flowing past in a canal without sidewalks, carrying a variety of trash items. He could tell it was not deep – the Minion's darkness vision allowed him to tell such from the turbulences of the water, and it needed to allow maintenance workers not taller than his current form to move around in it. He lowered himself into the tunnel and indeed, the surprisingly warm water didn't splash higher than to his knees. Taking the direction the water was flowing, Orell moved away from the opening and deeper into the sewer system, hopefully shaking the clockwork dragon off that way.
It was deceptively quiet down there, only occasionally he could hear muffled bangs which he sincerely hoped to come from dwarven cannons attempting to take the mad machine out. Orell didn't know where he currently was within the exclave and where he would emerge again. Judging by the flow direction he had taken, he expected it to lead to some waterway that left the city, from where he might exit it altogether to leave it to the rampaging dragon.
A closer impact made the ground shake. Well, apparently the rampaging dragon had been taken care of. Either way, Orell could see the mission as more or less successful; the construct was likely mangled to the point of being unusable and even if it was still functional, he expected the support of this thing that had laid waste to its creator city and probably killed a sizeable amount of dwarves in the process to be next to nothing. Relieved but uneasy, Orell trudged on through the sewage.
Except the clockwork dragon was still in perfect condition, as Orell found out when a swipe of its front claw tore away the ceiling of the tunnel he was in.
For a few moments he was too shocked to move, both from the unwanted reunion with the clockwork dragon and from the harsh sunlight blinding his darkness-adapted eyes. The dragon triumphantly raised its neck. Regaining enough control of himself, Orell jumped up the collapsed rubble that remained of the sewers and bolted into the first narrow alley he saw.
There was no doubt, his greatest fear had turned out to be a reality. By unknown means the clockwork dragon was capable of tracking him, pinpointing his position without him having to be in its view. Orell let the Minion take control again, hoping the innate reflexes of his borrowed body would give him an edge in speed, as small as it might be.
He could hear metal scraping against rock, followed by the sound of fire roaring into the alley. To his luck, Orell had brought enough distance between himself and the clockwork dragon, and the alleys were convoluted enough to take the brunt of the flames. All Orell noticed of it was the light becoming brighter and the feeling of warmth on his backside.
The alleys ended into another wide street which was currently crossed by a small group of armed dwarves to his right. One of them took aim at the green creature on the streets, but was quickly grabbed by a sleeve by his comrade, who reminded him they had much more pressing matters to deal with than some vermin. Orell didn't notice any of it, as he was too busy running along the street looking for the next alley to hide in his Minion-induced panic.
The search for an alley came to a sudden end when several tons of brass crashed down before him, its four legs shattering the cobblestones where they impacted. Orell slid to a halt, his wide, yellow eyes staring at the red pinpricks inside the dragon's head.
He was trapped. The street he had run into had no other alleys and even if he managed to run back into the alley he had come from, it was likely collapsed. Orell stood there, frozen in shock, only his edge of consciousness registering how the dragon's neck rose, its mouth opened to reveal two small flames glowing inside. How Gnarl was shrieking something into the Shroud.
Cables strained, gears spun and the dragon jolted its head forward, a flame roaring out of the gaping maw. And out of sheer reflex, Orell jumped.
He heard the flame roar, felt the heat on his face. However, the sound came from several storeys below and the heat was not warmer than from a warm summer day. Utterly confused, both from the sight as well as the sheer realisation of being alive, Orell looked down at the clockwork dragon releasing its flames into the street, carpeting the walls in soot and cracking the cobblestones with heat. Looking a bit further down, Orell realized his feet were at the edge of a tall building. He stepped backwards, then turned around to move away from the edge further. He was sure the dragon would notice more sooner than later that its flame had hit nothing but rock and the creature it was hunting down being still alive.
But more importantly, Orell had managed to do it. The only way he could explain his sudden change in position was that he had subconsciously used Mirage's phasing to save himself. Or were those Mirage's instincts awakening on their own? Either way, this ability might be his only chance at surviving.
But most importantly, Orell needed to know how to control the phasing. He sped up into a run on the roof, focussing on a different roof in front of him. He revoked his memory of standing in front of the dragon, of the pinpricks of light in its mouth. As he jumped off the roof, he found himself in the middle of a completely different roof in the next moment. Sliding to a halt, Orell looked around. It was not the roof he was about to jump onto, but still, he had managed to phase voluntarily.
Slightly less panicked, Orell continued with his escape. This way, he would be able to avoid the dragon's attacks as long as he timed it right and the ability wouldn't fail him in an inconvenient moment just like it had emerged in a convenient one.
“Impressive, Sire!” Gnarl's sudden voice made him nearly trip over his own claws.
“Is this all you wanted to say? I'm in the middle of running for my life, you know,” Orell panted out, turning his ears back to listen for the rush of wings or creaking of cables.
“I wanted to give you a bit of a morale boost for your escape, Master. But also a suggestion on how you can make that pesky pewter pigeon to stop following you. Look to the left.”
There was nothing of note in the direction Gnarl had pointed him at, save for several towers close to each other. They were close to the city's wall and visibly under construction. Just as Orell wanted to ask his advisor about the reason he had pointed him into the towers’ direction, he did spot the most likely reason: structures that reminded him awfully of catapults.
“By throwing a rock at it? Gnarl, I don't think that will work. Are there no cannons or the like around?” Not only did Orell have no experience with this kind of weapon, but he was certain that even if he had, a construct as extraordinary as the clockwork dragon would have had measures implemented that would prevent it from being taken out by something as simple as a rock.
“It is your best chance, Master. That thing is going to follow you up into your bed in the private quarters otherwise.”
Gnarl was right – if Orell managed to escape Hraffheim, that would still mean he would have to cross the plain between the city’s walls and the mountain he had left his body on, endangering not just his current borrowed body but also his real one, along with a number of Minions guarding it. He wondered if Gnarl would be able to send a Minion Gate for him to get away, but even if he could, him constantly being on the run from an unpredictable berserk machine that wanted him dead would make it hard to position the Gate correctly.
Orell decided to follow Gnarl’s suggestion and to practice his newly-discovered skill on the way. It came in handy seconds after, when the clockwork dragon had seemingly realized it had burned nothing but cobblestones and lifted its mass over the roof line on its large wings.
Phasing off the roof to go between the buildings, Orell nearly smacked into a wall when he missed the balcony he had aimed for. Pushing himself off the bricks with his legs, he jumped downwards from wall to wall and used the momentum from his final jump to run over the cobblestones in the alley in the direction he remembered the towers to be.
Dead ends were no obstacle for him any more. Whenever Orell met a wall at the end of an alley, he simply phased above it for better or worse, his powerful legs catching his weight whenever he went too high and his hooked claws allowing him to scramble the last metres up if he went too low. Thankfully, it seemed to be impossible for him to phase into a solid object, a danger he had thought about way too late.
The dragon passed over him several times, screeching with all the fury a skeleton brought back to life with iron flesh and brass skin could muster. Gnarl voiced his theory that the phasing confused the dragon’s sensors and encouraged Orell to do it as often as possible. Trying both to avoid another situation like the one on the street, as well as trying to get a better hang of the phasing, Orell complied, phasing even when he didn’t have to.
One such jump brought him into the proximity of a dwarf hiding in an alley shaded by several thick pipes passing above. Orell didn’t bother to take a closer look, but the high-pitched shriek his sudden appearance caused suggested the individual to be a child. He just jumped over the dwarf’s head and ran on, out of the alley and phasing to the other side of the wide street he entered, the tower looming closer in front of him.
Running, climbing and phasing, Orell arrived at the base of one of the towers’ construction sites. Allowing himself to stop, he looked upwards.
Reaching the tower was one thing. Climbing it was another. While Hraffheim’s architecture had allowed plenty of cover and ample space to avoid the rampaging machine, the tower would severely limit his options to avoid the clockwork dragon and if it was particularly stubborn about it, it might be even able to bring the tower to collapse. There, speed would matter more than secrecy.
Looking a last time into the direction where he heard metal screech and brickwork collapse, Orell jumped up the scaffolding erected at the base of the tower. As long as the dragon was at a distance and out of sight, he planned to get as high as possible on structures he could see before having to vanish in the tower’s interior.
Letting the Minion’s instincts take over again, Orell went up the scaffolding at a speed he still found incredible despite having become mostly used to his borrowed body by now, but it was slower than he had hoped for. He had been running, jumping and climbing through half of Hraffheim by now, first on the search for the hangar, then on an escape from a horde of dwarves, now from a rampaging machine. He was exhausted, his muscles felt half numb, half as if they were injected with vinegar, his airways dry and irritated from the strained breathing of Hraffheim’s smoke-laden air.
Just a little bit more, he told himself. He briefly wondered if it was possible to push his borrowed body so far it would collapse and die like a horse forced to gallop far past its limits. Before that happened, he would have reached the lowermost catapult no matter the cost, he decided.
Orell mostly scrambled his way up the scaffolding, leaving scratches on the metal and wood, not trusting his legs enough to jump larger distances without folding underneath his weight and risking to fall off. Whenever he saw a platform or a protrusion on the tower wide enough, he phased onto it. At least this ability didn’t seem to be affected by his exhaustion.
Rushing of wings and screech of metal forced Orell to phase off the scaffolding and into a window to get out of sight. The sight of a building's skeleton greeted him, featureless floor and naked brick walls forming a basic layout. Without doors obstructing his sight or movement, he ran further inside to avoid the dragon's sensors.
Soon enough, Orell crossed ways with a staircase in its early beginnings. Large, quadratic sections of ceiling and floor alike were missing, with scaffolding and a surprisingly simple-looking construction of a large bucket on a cable serving as some sort of lift filling the empty space. Orell didn't bother with the scaffolding or the lift, simply phasing on the floor visible above him.
He managed two more jumps carrying him higher until an impact shook the building to the very foundations. Being too aware what was supposed to follow, he ran in the direction opposite of the impact, trying to get as much distance between himself and the fire as possible.
The fire either remained unexhaled or the convoluted walls, floors and ceilings had been enough to absorb the flames before any trace of them could reach Orell. Focussing too much on the sound of fire or even the clockwork dragon itself, he was semi-aware of leaving the building at the opposite side from where he entered, running along the scaffolding struts.
Then ahead, he saw what he was searching for.
The towers the dwarves were constructing were not being evenly erected, some were drawn upwards while others were nothing but large open squares loaded with red bricks.
The resulting problem was that the tower he had climbed didn’t get much higher than the point Orell had reached, with the catapults he needed to reach standing on a different building connected by a long, exposed bridge provided by a pair of horizontal pipes. Far too wide of a distance to phase over to and taking a detour over the ground taking too much time.
Seeing that this was his best chance and every second of standing there and doing nothing only diminishing it, Orell jumped over to the pipes and ran along them.
Obviously, that had to be the moment where the clockwork dragon came into sight, circling around the smaller portion and noticing the Minion it had been chasing through half of Hraffheim almost immediately.
If its metal skull could grin, it would probably have done exactly that. The prey it had been chasing through half the exclave was out in the open with no shelter to hide in, like a fat fruit on the end of a leafless branch. Whatever the dwarves had used to replace its brain, it had enough awareness of the situation to see that its victim was pretty much trapped.
The clockwork dragon took its sweet time to fly up to Orell, who ran over the pipes as fast as he could, his airways parched and burning. It followed his path on the pipes, positioned below and behind him, seemingly to prevent him getting away by turning around or jumping off. One glance to the side showed it arching its neck, sacks in the exposed parts inflating with the fuel it planned to release to end the little nuisance that had awoken it.
Getting the last out of his borrowed body, Orell managed to increase his speed a little bit. One eye on his goal, the other on the clockwork dragon, he needed to catch the right moment – too early and he would probably be dead, too late and he certainly would be.
The mouth opened and the neck thrust forward, the pinprick of flame inside rapidly growing and billowing out. Upon seeing the first hint of orange inside the clockwork dragon’s mouth, Orell phased forwards and into the tower’s window, hopefully out of the clockwork dragon’s sight. He still felt the heat of the inferno released onto the pipes behind him on his back, hearing the creak and crack of heated metal in the burst of flame.
Exhaustion and shock made him sit down where he had landed. He had made it over the pipes alive.
“Don’t dilly-dally, Sire, that flaming trumpet with wings isn’t done with yet,” Gnarl spoke up.
“What you don’t say,” Orell panted out, painfully rising back on his aching legs. The few seconds of rest he had allowed himself had done little to ease his exhaustion; it almost felt like it had made him all the more aware of how close he was to the Minion body’s limits. Still, the clockwork dragon and its fire would bring it to its limits way faster than exhaustion would, so he had to push himself further, away from the window he had used to enter the tower. Hopefully, the dragon would take its time to realize its flame had missed its target once again.
If Orell remembered right, the closest catapult was located on a platform three floors above his current position, and if the staircases of this tower were in the same unfinished state as the first one, it would be easy for him to get there.
Having recuperated a bit while being in the relative safety of the tower’s interior and skipping on some walking distance by phasing, Orell stepped into the sun shining on the platform, feeling like standing on a serving platter. The dragon was nowhere to be seen, but the loud, rhythmic hum of its wing membranes accompanied by the screech of straining cables and the rattling of spinning gears indicated its presence to be somewhere close by, but out of sight.
At least, this way he had a few moments to figure out the construct he was about to use.
Despite the strange apparatuses he had seen in Hraffheim so far, the catapult was surprisingly mundane. It was rather sleek and made of composite material rather than being a crude wooden construction like the ones he had seen so far, but the general mechanism was the same.
Orell turned the lever to cock it, noticing that it moved smoothly with barely any resistance. The moment the arm clicked into position, a conveyor system next to it dropped a rock into its bucket, sparing Orell of figuring out how to load the catapult right away.
Just as ordered, the clockwork dragon flew into sight.
Aiming was as comfortable as loading the catapult, everything about it seemed to be well-constructed and well-oiled. Orell quickly brought the catapult into position and pulled the lever that released the arm from its tensed position, hurling the rock at its brazen target. To Orell's misfortune, the rock flew over the dragon, but under his own and Gnarl's curses, he managed to load a second rock onto the catapult, aim and fire it at the clockwork dragon before it came dangerously close.
This time, the rock hit.
There was a loud clang, followed by an angry screech of metal, but nothing changed about the dragon's trajectory. The rock had simply bounced off, leaving barely a scratch in its metal armour. It did seem to have only gotten angrier, making Orell half jump, half phase into the shadows of the tower. Just a second later, there was a crash followed by the roar of fire and another, even louder crash.
So much for the catapult.
“If you make it out alive, I will order the Minions to collect every single scrap of this overgrown brass lizard and have Giblet reforge them into chamber pots to be used in the vilest dungeons!”
“I need catapults, not chamber pots,” Orell panted out as he ran deeper into the tower again.
“Of course, Sire. There was another one two floors above you and more to the left when seen from the tower segment you had arrived on.”
Orell heard a third crash, lower and duller but also more worrying to him, considering how much of it he felt rather than heard. More worrying was the sound of metal screeching over rock.
“Sire, get your green, scaly posterior moving, the dragon tries to dig you out!”
Nearly out of reflex, Orell looked back into the direction he came from and couldn't believe his eyes once his mind properly processed what he saw. The dragon had broken through the tower's wall, tearing away rocks while pushing his head and neck into the breach. The dwarven ceilings too low for it, it seemed to struggle forwards, clawing and snapping.
Mobilizing new strength, Orell ran forward, deeper into the tower and away from the dragon. He did see the staircase shaft to his left. Preparing to phase onto the floor above, Orell slowed a bit down – only to lose control just in the moment he was about to jump. It did save his life, though, since the reason for his sudden phasing was a reflexive reaction to the sound of flame being exhaled by the clockwork dragon into his direction.
However, now he was unsure where he was.
Orell decided to continue forwards, then quickly adjusted his direction to the right once he heard the metallic screech of the clockwork dragon from the opposite direction again. If he was not mistaken, he was one floor above, yet the staircase was nowhere to be seen. Was it unexpectedly possible to phase through walls, after all?
After some aimless running, Orell did encounter the external wall, but all it showed was a view of Hraffheim he was unfamiliar with seeing, neither from the tubes he had run along, nor from the platform with the catapult the dragon had obliterated.
“Gnarl, do you see anything familiar?”
“Not from this particular angle, Sire. It seems like your frantic jumping through reality had brought you out at a point far off the mark, to say the least. Of course, you could climb on the outside of the tower where you could see where to go, but since that would also put you on a silver platter, I will recommend to poke around inside the building instead.”
After minutes of aimless searching, encountering a different staircase shaft and worrying about the dull crashes and tremors caused by a maddened machine, Orell eventually arrived at a platform not dissimilar from the one he had found the first catapult on. Nearly forgetting about the situation he was currently in, he ran onwards with an anticipating grin, only to be thoroughly disappointed.
There was a catapult, but for once, there was no more tower above him, and the most important difference was the absence of the conveyor system loading new rocks onto the catapult. Orell's keen eyes searched the platform, but between the cranes, planks and tools he was unable to see anything resembling catapult ammunition.
“May those blasted earth eaters choke on their own beards! Erecting a catapult without even thinking about the ammunition... what are we supposed to use, the bricks!?”
Orell looked at the piles of red bricks neatly stacked on the platform. It was a silly thought using those to shoot at the clockwork dragon, considering the little effect the regular rock had on it. The armour plates were probably too thick to be damaged by the rocks, regardless whether they were additionally enhanced with magic or not. There was simply no way for him to take the dragon down with a catapult without either hitting the exposed mechanics or using something with smaller ammunition and larger penetration power. Unless...
Orell's eyes lingered on the basket filled with nails, screws and bolts to be used by the construction workers.
“I have an idea.”
To save time, Orell phased to the crane and began to pull its levers to see which one did what. At first, nothing moved, but upon hitting a red button, the construct rattled to life as a shunt opened that released steam into its mechanics. From there, it was easy to figure out the controls and picking up the basket with the crane's pincer. Orell let it rise high above the ground, manoeuvred it over the catapult and gently lowered it towards the catapult's bucket.
“Hmm, an interesting idea, Master,” Gnarl said as he realized what Orell was planning.
A crash, a metallic screech and the rush of wind against wing made Orell release the freight prematurely, letting the basket fall into the bucket with a loud clatter and some of its metallic contents spilling out. Orell himself phased towards the position at the catapult's control and grabbed them immediately, not a second too late as the dragon's wings came into sight.
Trying to ease his panic, Orell attempted to aim the catapult carefully. If he were to botch this, there was not much left to do, all had to be done perfectly. The dragon screeched in his direction, but didn't come closer, preferring to fly in a broad circle instead, beating its wings with such fury the artificial membranes whistled in the wind. Satisfied with the altitude, it began to turn towards Orell for the final strike.
Orell pulled the lever.
The catapult released a hailstorm of nails and bolts against the dragon, pattering over its metallic armour and wing membranes. If this was the last thing the little annoying creature had to offer, then there was nothing left between it and its demise. The dragon's metallic skull would grin if it could, as its powerful wings churned the air once, twice...
Orell could see how the wings slightly jerked up and down, the mechanism fighting against the tiny metal parts that had gotten in between the gears. Unable to adjust its direction, the clockwork dragon harmlessly passed by the tower's tip, continuously losing altitude as its spread wings failed to provide the lift necessary to keep its heavy brazen body in the air. Orell ran after it, watching how it went ever lower, grazing off a roof and crashing into the buildings below. As the delayed sound of buildings collapsing reached his ears, an explosion bloomed before his eyes when the clockwork dragon's fuel reserves made contact with fire. Orange, oily flames billowed up, forming an oversized mushroom with a dark grey cap. The sound of the explosion made Orell wince, but for the most part, there was nothing but elation in his mind.
It was over. The secret battle machine of Hraffheim was no more.
Orell sank down onto the ground, his shaking legs refusing to hold him up any longer.
“Mission accomplished, Master. Time to return.”
Orell looked around, his eyes passing the pillar of smoke indicating the clockwork dragon's final grave, similar pillars of smoke in the distance being testament of the machine's spree of destruction, the towers rising over the sea of roofs, the walls of the city that blocked it and its strange inventions off from the surrounding world.
“Nothing simpler as that, Sire,” the old advisor chuckled. “Since you are in the body of a Minion, you can enjoy certain comfort functions of the Netherworld usually barred for Overlords and their imposing figures. Just wait a few minutes until Grubby is done.”
To Orell’s surprise, the Green Minion Gate drilled itself out of the floor of the unfinished tower. While it spared him of descending the building, he still had to wonder how it was possible.
He stared into the bright green light that wavered and bubbled like a thick soup in a witch’s cauldron. It was very different from the normal Gate, and did appear rather unsafe.
Well, it was either using it or going all the way back on foot.
Imitating what he saw Minions do whenever they retreated into their respective Gates, Orell simply jumped into the light. There was a strange feeling of something passing him that was neither water nor velvet and a moment later, he felt his feet hit solid ground. Opening his eyes, Orell was greeted with the sight of… an ordinary tunnel dug through earth. A bit confused, he looked up, where the same green, wavering and bubbling light was.
“Just go ahead, Sire,” Gnarl said, sounding strangely distant. “Follow your sense of smell.”
Orell made a few steps forward, noticing how the tunnel’s walls moved past much faster than they should. It was a strange, disorienting sight, but appeared plausible to him, considering if he actually had to walk rather than being dropped off in the desired destination, it was rather helpful if the distance was somehow shortened.
Then he was standing in front of an intersection. “And now?”
There was no answer, despite Orell calling out for Gnarl a few more times.
Use your smell, the advisor had said. Orell sniffed the air from either direction, but couldn’t really tell a difference. Yet, a part below his consciousness did react differently to the right tunnel. There was the feeling of home coming from there. Assuming that it would lead Orell back to the Netherworld, he picked the left.
Along the way, Orell encountered another branch-off. Once again, he sniffed the air. The left one elicited no particular reactions, but from the right, there was a smell drawing him forwards, like there was something located he really desired. Orell wondered what thing made him react like this. On one hand, it might be another route to the Netherworld he was standing in front of, on the other hand, it might be any route leading to a Gate outside close to a location he planned to visit to fulfil his plans, ranging from the Gate close to the paladin camp in the Wastelands where he would have been right now weren’t it for the Hraffheim distraction, to the Gate in Faairdal, where it all had started and the brisk air reminded him of how to do it better.
Orell was about to try and contact Gnarl again, when it struck him. The desire was not his own, but came from his borrowed Minion body.
A Minion strove to serve their Master.
Of course, he thought. The smell drawing him closer was his own body, suspended in mid-air on a small plateau. From there, he knew exactly where to go.
Grody was about to yawn and scratch himself behind the ears when a new Minion walked onto the plateau him and the others were waiting, some with their weapons drawn and vigilantly circling the body of their Master hanging in mid-air next to the Possession Stone, others taking a rest just like him.
The new arrival was a Green, covered in scabs, reddish dust and worse, but even with that layer of dirt everyone could tell this was Mirage, the Minion in whose body their Overlord's consciousness had left them several hours ago on a dwarven flight machine.
The other Minions sprung up from their resting places and cheered their Master’s return, who, rather than responding to the cheers, faltered in his step and gasped. The next moment, their Master’s real body was released from his floating position next to the Possession Stone, surprising several of the Minions circling said body with their teeth bared and weapons drawn. Mirage, now back in control of her own body again, rubbed her aching head for a few moments, then looked at her hands in confusion before glaring at the other Minions in search for her mask.
Meanwhile, the Master shook his arms and legs, before he addressed Grody and the other Minions. “It's done. The dwarven machine had been destroyed.” The Minions cheered at the news, everyone trying to be the loudest. No one of them had doubted their Master to be successful in his task, but everyone was still elated at the Overlord telling of his success himself. Grody didn't know much about what Master had come here for; there was talk of a huge machine to be built to fight the Minions and their Master, which made his feat of doing it with nothing but entering Mirage's body all the more impressive. Grody started to jump up and down to get the attention of his Master over the other Minions, hoping for the honour of being noticed.
“With this, we will leave for now, return to the Netherworld first, then back to the Wastelands.” More cheers from Minion throats, but significantly less than upon their Master's announcement of success and some dread mixing into the exultation.
“I want to see your best then, as we will attack the paladin encampment. So bring all your bloodlust and enthusiasm with you to make plenty of helmeted heads ring. Or make them roll, if that is what you prefer.” Lots of agreeing cheers from the listening Minions. “But for now, rest and prepare. It will be a long and gruelling undertaking where I cannot promise for everyone to make it out alive.” More cheers, not a single one coming from a throat of someone being bothered by the thought of not living to see the sunrise of the next day.
With this, the Master turned towards the path he had arrived on in a borrowed body and walked back towards the site in his real one to where the Gates were located, having finished his business with Hraffheim.
A to Z Episode 7
Interesting chapter. I think a well written 1 on 1 between a dragon and a green minion. For me though it was a bit unclear why it mattered Orell from surviving. I guess the dragon had a link to orell and not only the minion body then? But he was made to attack minions only so not sure why it would suddenly go after orell when he would go back to his original body. I had not expected the dwarves to be that scared and would have expected some to try to get the dragon down. But overall good chapter with nice Orell brains to defeat the dragon in the end.
Well, there would be a number of reasons. First, he doesn't plan to die even in a borrowed body, then he can't exclude the dragon from going after the Minions parked on the plateau, where his actual body is at, and if the dragon manages to escape, there is a risk it will track down more Minions sooner or later, at best case burning down some marauders, at worst case reaching Nordberg and tearing itself into the Netherworld.
It did happen quite fast, so they were first terrified and most of the seen dwarves were not fighters, while the fighters were probably more busy with bringing the civilians to safety before they would try to launch an attack. However, I do think I could add a flight machine attacking the dragon here and there.
Oh that is an interesting sequence. Started out with the dragon's perspective.
I would advise a break between the dragon's perspective and Orell's. I feels a little jarring with us suddenly shifting perspective from one line to the next.
Only dwarves would try to drown their fears in the middle of a rampaging automaton-dragon attack XD
... I somehow doubt the monstrous machine would fall that quickly, offscreen. Better watch out Orell.
Hah, proven right within two lines XD
Hmm, I do wonder why the dragon is so consumed by the need to kill Orell - or at least the minion he is inhabiting. Some control the dwarves installed, or something to do with the dragon itself.
I like this hunt. It's one of the most intense scene you have written in a good while. Especially the part of him escaping through the tunnels, only for the dragon to rip off the top and continue the hunt. Excellent work.
Oh! I had entirely forgotten about the phasing thing from last chapter. Nice save.
I would like to vote 'pesky pewter pigeon' for best alliteration of the years.
'like a fat fruit at the end of a leafless branch'
- Ooh, I love that metaphor.
'So much for that catapult'
- My thoughts exactly.
Hmm, now that was an inventive idea. Lucky for him those parts were exposed. A ignominious death, falling to a jammed gear :XD:
That's a really interesting look at the minion tunnels. I had not expected anything like that. Makes me curious what would have happened if he had followed any of the other ways in the tunnel system.
Again, I would suggest making a break in the text when shifting perspectives. Otherwise it gets difficult to track what is happening.
Heh, I do like that little speech by Orell at the end. He's starting to get good at this.
Overall, an excellent chapter. It was quite intense and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
And out of sheer reflex, Orell <>jumped</>. - Some derp have happened here, as there are still brackets around 'jumped'.
considering how much of it he <>felt</> rather than heard. - same as before.
<>Of course</>, he thought. - again
Fuck Eclipse, Episode 2785. The lack of breaks and the bracket derps are entirely fault of this tumor of sewn-together arseholes that replaced Deviantart.
Well, there isn't much else for them to do, might as well get drunk.
A man can hope.
The sequence from the dragon's perspective kind of showed it being an unnatural desire and with the earlier-mentioned dialogue between the parliament attendants telling the clockwork dragon being built as an anti-Overlord weapon, so definitely something added by the dwarves.
It was certainly one of the sequences I had stewing in my mind for years before it was time to put it on paper (or rather screen). Though, the sewer part was spontaneous.
Gnarl is perfect for those alliterations. I did need to find a metal or alloy that started with p for it, otherwise I would have scrapped it.
Sometimes it doesn't need big weapons to take down a big enemy.
Combined something mundane with mindscrew for the tunnels. If Orell took the wrong turn, he would have popped out of a wrong portal.
Well, it was more a case of briefing them, but Minions being Minions, they made it into the greatest motivational speech ever.
Thanks. And I'll see if I can fix the fuckups the Ewwclipse formatting caused.
Yeah, it's going to be a shit storm for a few months until everyone has figured out how it works.
Ah, right I forgot that conversation. That's what comes of us doing these kind of stories in episodic format, you forget all the little details. I figure that when I upload my next chapter no one is going to remember anything as the last was so long ago.
I figured as much, but it worked.
That's true, and certainly more inventive than I would have figured. Good on you for using an unconventional tactic like that.
Yeah, for minions even a brief order will sound like the inspirational speech of a hollywood blockbuster.
If it were just a few months I'd be glad.
Well, I could fly over the previous chapter to get my memories back a bit. As I indeed barely remember anything.
And an actual inspirational speech will require them to change their pants afterwards.