The trail was dusty and worn, having been used for many years by the deer and local wildlife for many years. 20 men in single file moving along it, some having to use makeshift walking sticks to keep going. Over 100 had travelled this trail just a day before. Liggit's mind wandered to what his thoughts were then. Over 100 men from the human, elf and dwarven villages walked up this trail. Now only 20 returned, broken and bleeding. He was in better shape than most. He could hear behind him the soft shuffle of feet, and the sound of the makeshift walking sticks thumping lightly on the ground supporting the weight of some of those that were more badly wounded. The brush would rustle now and then as someone staggered from the path, quickly helped back onto it by another.
The blood was no longer running into his eyes. This was a good thing, he thought. It was hard to see for a while. At the rate they were moving, it was going to be nightfall before they made it back to the village. The men had only broken camp 3 hours ago, but already the trail seemed endless.
The silence was suddenly broken as someone from the rear shouted "Incoming Dragons!"
They instinctively dove into the brush for cover, swords and ax's drawn for the upcoming battle. Surely, he thought, they are coming to finish the job.
They soared high above their heads, 30 or more strong. Their scales shining in the sun, making their skin appear as though they actually were covered in diamonds. Even though death was near, he couldn't shake the awe of the splendor and beauty of them as he watched them fly past. And then realization stuck, They flew past! They weren't attacking after all.
"We've routed them from the lair! They've had enough and are finally leaving our valley!" the cheers were all around him. Liggit knew better. There were no females, no young. The entire flight of dragon that had just flown over were the young male fighters. It was a hunting party. He had seen that before. He kept this to himself for now, as it seemed that the spirits of those with him had been raised, and it certainly would make the walk home a little better, at least for them.
For the next few hours, it was certainly better. The wine flasks had come out, and they were being passed around the group, human sharing with elf, sharing with dwarf. All racial tensions were at this moment, completely gone. They were at last, one people.
"If nothing else good comes from this, this might make it worth it." He mumbled softly.
"Liggit! Don't tell me YOU'VE not a wish to join us in drink! Tell us, now. Have you any tales that can match this great adventure?" The laughter and singing quieted a bit as the men waited like children to see if Liggit would tell one of his great adventure stories. He thought for a moment, and sighed. His heart was heavy still knowing that it wasn't truly over.
"Liggit, Tell us of Feerrott!" one of the men shouted, and then said quietly to no-one in particular, "That's been my favorite adventure since I was a small boy."
"You STILL are a small boy." was the quick response. The laughter resumed in earnest at this.
Taking a pull from a wine flask that had been thrust into his face, Liggit stopped, and leaned against a nearby tree.
"Feerrott," he began, "Was indeed a great adventure. I was a young dwarf then, younger than most of you are now. It was a great place to search for treasures, and of creatures not heard of in our home land. I had to be constantly aware for the sound of Ogres and Trolls that might be on patrol. There were strange creatures I have yet to forget, part frog, part human. Others were more like lizards." He looked upward, getting lost in the memories and had to smile as he continued, "Hell, there were even some giant mushrooms that would attack you there!"
"Sounds like you had some good wine THEN as well, Lig!" The men laughed hard, most now sitting on the edge of the trail, or leaning themselves listening to the story. It was a nice break, and one that was much needed.
"The swamp area was, of course, a very wet place. My armor was constantly in need of a good buffing. In the heart of this jungle was a huge temple. Cazic Thule was the name of the lord of that place. In my travels, I heard tell of him wiping out entire companies of men, as well as entire companies of ogre and troll. It seemed he didn't care who died. As long as he was left alone, he didn't bother too many folks."
"Did you leave him alone, Lig?" someone asked, already knowing the answer. In fact, they all knew the answer. Liggit had no idea how many times before he had told this story, and so many others, but for some reason, they all loved hearing about this swamp.
"I left him alone, sure. I only went to visit his minions upstairs." (More laughter)
The men sat and listened as they all had for years, hearing all about the swamp, and the lost temple, and the battles inside with the undead. He had no idea how much time had passed, with the wine, and the stories. It was probably a couple hours wasted, but their spirits needed to be lifted.
The shout was heard again, snapping him out of his story and laughter, "Incoming Dragons!"
And indeed, the dragons were overhead again, flying north towards their lair.
"This can't be good." Someone said quietly, echoing the thoughts of everyone on the path. The packs were slipped back on, the wine flasks put away, and the walking began again. Each man thinking the same thought, "They came from the direction of home!"
It wasn't more than an hour than they were stopped by a sound. A horrible sound. Men dropped to their knees, others refused to admit what they heard.
From far off in the distance, a low, very loud rumble was heard, and then a sound like an explosion that was nearly deafening. The very earth shook beneath their feet. After a few moments, all was silent. The birds were not singing, the men were not laughing; indeed, it seemed as if the entire world was silent, in shock.
The silence was finally broken, a very faint voice from one of the men, "Oh by the Gods, they've brought down the mountain.
Those that could, ran. Those that could not, limped, hobbled or used whatever means necessary to get home as fast as they could now. Time seemed to stand still, and the hours now seemed an eternity. Liggit was far in front of the rest of the group, having fewer injuries.
They made it to the valley long before nightfall, and followed the river towards the mountain. There was still a cloud of dust far ahead of them, hanging like a dark, evil cloud upon the ground, and the river they followed was full of debris. Burned pieces of burnt lumber and other charred remains floated past them in a river brown with mud and rock. Eventually, one at a time, they made it though the forest into the clearing. It looked like a war zone, the likes of which even Liggit had never seen. The dead and dying were everywhere. He found one of his neighbors, an older merchant, sitting in the field amongst the debris, covered in blood. His right arm was shredded, and his right leg was twisted and bent in ways that a leg is not supposed to bend.
"Elgrin! Have you seen Elgrin!" he shouted. The old man, simply sat and stared at the side of the mountain.
"Can you hear me, fool! Have you seen Elgrin!" He was in such a state of panic, he wanted to grab him and shake the information out of him, but knew that he was already seeing death. The old man, simply stared, muttering "They came in so fast, so fast. They were everywhere. The fire. It's all burning. All dead. All dead."
Liggit left him there, and continued to run through the field. A stream had formed where there had been none before. It was coming out of what was once the entrance to the city. It was there he found what he did not want to find. He saw a leg coming out from underneath some rubble, and upon clearing it off the body, to his horror, he found her. Elgrin was lying on her back, her eyes staring blankly up at the sky. He was almost shocked at the peaceful almost pleasant look that was on her face still. In her arms, she still clutched the most horrible sight he could ever imagine. That of a small infant, burned black from the dragons fire.
Throwing his pack on the ground, he threw himself on the ground, wrapping the bodies in his arms and cried. He knew at this moment, his own life was over as well.
Slowly raising up, his eye's filled with an intense hatred and fire, he pulled his battle ax from its sheath, stood above the body of his wife, and slowly turned north. The hatred spread like a wave across his face and through his entire body until in a rage, he shook uncontrollably. With his ax raised above his head, he screamed "By the names of the gods, I shall avenge thee!"
He ran north. He ran past the bodies, the survivors, the men that he had just hours ago had been drinking, laughing and telling stories with, yet he saw nothing. His eyes were looking miles ahead, and nowhere. They saw him run like a madman into the forest and disappear into the underbrush. He was making his own trail as he ran. They all knew he was gone, and would never return.