Last time on Magic and Machines:
The party left on their quest to retrieve the stone from the dragon's horde but came across a golem of possessed machinery in the factory district. With a knight and someone well versed in magic, the team went to help, defeating the golem with some teamwork and a mysterious magic from Hel.
Leaving the clean up to Ethel's knights the party found their horses and left the city. Ash tried again to convince Ethel that Hel should ride with her but the knight refused once more.
“She’s not leaving my sight.”
“I wouldn’t bet on that, speedy.” Hel sniggered earning herself a light whack.
The party stayed quite until they left the city and even a bit after that. Balaz looked back to the shrinking buildings in the distance.
"Can I ask about that magic now?" The question burst from his chest, like a child asking if they could have their present yet.
Ash nodded, deeming it a better time as Hel just looked away.
“If it’s really bothering you that much then its angel magic. The kind I believe you were talking about when you told the king about that war.” Ethel spilt the beans and Hel just pulled up her hood and mask up as she leant back, casually.
Balaz glanced at the strangely quiet thief, confused and amazed.
"The angel taught her magic to mortals yes but, it was only one family that I knew of. Hel, you're from-"
"She's not from that family." Ethel stopped him, predicting the question, "I was. Which is why I know about it; and why I know this bitch has something more she's not telling us because like a lowlife like you wouldn't have used that spell if you had to pay the cost."
"I don't know what you are talking about, speedy." Hel looked away, her voice slightly muffled through the mask.
"What cost?" Ash looked concerned.
"Correct me if I'm wrong Balaz Fai, but magic uses life a kind of life energy to cast. Using too much will kill you but the energy can be recovered with enough rest." Ethel looked to Balaz who nodded,
"Mana, yes, that is correct." The mage agreed with her.
"Well, the cost of mortals using magic that is beyond them is that the mana used for such spells is burned away and cannot be recovered. Using angel magic shortens one's lifespan permanently." Ethel stated the glanced over her shoulder at the quiet thief, "Something I don't believe Hel Chiboza would sacrifice for us."
Balaz's back straightened, a look of fear and dread in his eyes at such an idea.
"That.." he couldn't speak.
"I...take it that could mean you could miss out on a lot of life?" Ash asked, a little unsure on the impact such a thing would have.
"Depends on the spell but repeated usage will lead to an early, if not instant death." Ethel admitted sadly, "I have seen a few wall to it."
Ash looked sad but Balaz's looked at her hard,
"Can you use it?" He asked the knight.
"No." Ethel said with a breath of relief, "My parents were disappointed but I can't say I'm not grateful that the gift of magic did not pass to me."
Balaz look conflicted, he wouldn't give up magic for the world but...if it had that cost, if it killed him and his family for it's use... He couldn't help but pity the knight whoes view of magic had been tainted by that.
"That explains why he wouldn't teach me then, I suppose." Balaz sighed, finding a way to change the subject.
"Who?" Ethel questioned.
"The Successor. He can use angel magic too but refused to teach me. It seems he was protecting me." Balaz explained.
"Smart person," Ethel noted, then shoved her elbow back at the thief,
"Anything to say for yourself?"
"Not really." Hel ignored them, seeing her back rest was unhappy she leaned forward now instead, holding the back of a saddle.
"What are you using to get around the cost?" Balaz asked her anyway.
"How do you know I didn't pay it?" Hel looked at them over her shoulder, pulling down her mask to speak clearly
The looks of doubt answered her question. Even Balaz didn't believe for a second that she would pay such a cost for them.
Hel sighed loudly,
"How do you know I didn't just want to make sure that monster didn't kill too many people? Too many people dead is bad for business." She stated and Ash admittedly started to look convinced by the cold hard logic.
"If that was the case you would have done it another way." Ethel pointed out, "I don't know how but you would have been able to think of something. Sacrificing your life just isn't something you would do for no gain."
"And you know me so well, speedy." Hel rolled her eyes, turning away and pulling down the sleeve of her glove to check their heading.
"I'd like to know about that magic too." Balaz again asked, even though he knew he was talking to an information brick wall.
"How about you pay me for the job I did by not asking any more questions, Bal-bal?" Hel told him, a cheerful voice but a flat and somewhat threatening look.
Balaz pouted in disappointed even though it was about the responce he expected. There was no reasoning with the mad woman that was Hel Chiboza.
"Fine." He sighed.
"Good!" Hel chirped, beaming happily as she covered the markings she had and informed them, "We're on track, not long now."
A few hours of travelling still and the horses came to a stop at the base of a rocky and steep mountain.
Ash looked to Hel,
"Please tell me it's the other side of the mountain."
“Nope!,” Hel hopped off her and Ethel’s horse as soon as it stopped and looked up the tall imposing mountain, “Hope you can climb. Oh! Or fly. Can you fly Bal-bal?”
“Really?” She tilted her head, looking a little disappointed.
“Well, not for very long,” He admitted, reluctantly, "It'll be no use getting up this mountain at least."
He looked up and held his stomach at the sight. Ethel noticed the look of dread on the mage's face but said nothing. Ash was too busy looking down at her heavy armour, shifting her battle hammer and frowning at the idea of having to climb with it all.
Hel seemed the only one who seemed confident about the idea of climbing at all. Ethel couldn’t say she was happy about it but slid off her horse and started to look for a route up. Hel ran past the knight, gigging,
"Race ya, speedy!" She chirped, taking to the rock face and starting her accent.
"Get back here!" Ethel quickly started after her but there was no keeping up.
Hel climbed like recklessly, she made jumps the others wouldn't dare, skipped over footholds that did not look stable. It got to the point that Ethel was more worried about the thief falling to her death before getting to the dragon.
Somehow though, Hel didn't fall and, to Ethel's annoyance and relief she would stop and take a seat at any ledge big enough for her and laugh as she watched the other struggle. After the first time she did that Ethel slowed herself down a bit, not moving too far from Balaz and Ash so they could see what footholds she was using and make it up the mountain safer.
"This one's big enough for everyone!" Hel yelled down when she stopped on ledge.
Ethel got what she was getting at and called back, "We'll take a break there then. Stay where you are."
For once she got some agreement from the theif, though I suppose she had to wait for them unless she wanted to face the dragon alone, "Aye, Aye, speedy!"
Ethel managed to catch up with her and Hel was right, it was a large ledge, large enough for teh four of them to sit comfortably away from the edge while they catch their breath.
Having been following her footholds, Balaz wasn't far behind, testily and happily getting away from the edge and taking a seat.
“You can do it!” Hel cheered their slowest climber as she hung her head over the egde.
The dark skinned woman glared up at Hel with all the anger and frustration she had with this situation. She was taking seep breaths, brow glistening with sweat but the idea of introducing Hel to her hammer kept her going.
It was a struggle and the slayer's mussels burned but she eventually managed to get to the ledge. The bliss of just being able to roll on her back and take some deep breaths made her forget about beating Hel up.
She could see why her order stopped making house calls.
Hel giggled at her as Ethel tapped the Slayer with her foot.
"You might want to get a bit further from the edge before you rest." She advised.
As groaned loudly in protest before she managed to push herself to her feet, stumbled into a saver area the collapse back onto the ground again.
"Here." Balaz placed a water canteen by her and Ash took some grateful swings.
Ethel took a seat too and started getting some rations out of her bag. Hel just giggled at the scene, pulling down her sleeve to check directions.
“It’s not far now, if go straight up and it’ll be in the biiig cave,” Hel informed them.
It took a few moments to realise what exactly the thief just said and when it clicked Ethel rose to her feet.
“It almost sounds like you are not coming with us,” Ethel glared.
“I’m not.” She answered, simply; taking a number of steps away from them and to the edge of the ledge.
“Yes, you are.” Ethel darted for her and Hel didn't dodge, she was already at the edge of the ledge, there was nowhere for her to do so.
Hel didn't seem bothered about that one bit. She just smiled happily at Ethel and that just pissed the knight off all the more.
“You are coming back with me after this and going to jail where scum like you deserves to be!” Ethel barked in her face.
“Because yes, that was totally going to happen.” Hel rolled her eyes, ”I told you I’d lead you to the horde but I said nothing about helping you with the dragon.”
“You’re not going anywhere?!” Ethel growled.
“You, speedy, have no say in what I do.” With that Hel’s foot planted itself in Ethel’s stomach and being so close to the edge then leaning back the ground slipped from beneath Hel and with a smirk she fell.
Ethel recovered from the kick as quickly as she could; she darted forward desperately grabbing for the thief but she had gotten too far away, gravity stole away the criminal she had supposed to be guarding.
“Thief!” Ethel roared, but there was go grabbing her now, not without throwing herself off the cliff and, as much as the king wasn't going to be happy, Ethel wasn't about to do something like that for the lowlife that was Hel.
“She’s insane.” Ash had sat up and was staring wide-eyed at the spot Hel had just been and where Ethel now glared down.
“No; by how she landed from that building in the factory district, I’d say she has some kind of spell so she can do things like that without getting hurt.” Balaz sighed,
“Do we have to go after her?” Ash asked, reluctant to detour again.
“We have to get the stone.” Bal shook his head, “We can’t.”
Ethel sighed, heavily. Hel's escape made the knight feel she had failed the mission despite the stone being the true objective, after all, that was the thing that could end the world, the thief on the other hand, was pretty harmless in comparison.
“A quick rest then we move on the Dragon,” Ethel ordered.
Ash and Bal didn’t argue, eating up some of their rations and taking a good break ready for the battle with the dragon. Ethel forced herself to take a few breaths to calm herself down. God, she was pissed the thief had run off but there was nothing she could do.
The priority was the stone and the dragon.
So, once they felt they were rested enough the group gathered their things, taking to the rock face once more.
Hel hadn’t lied. It wasn’t very long before they found a gaping mouth in the mountain. The entrance ate the light and dissolved it into darkness through a gateway large enough for a few dragons to enter and exit.
They had to wonder how it was never found before but the answer to that question was the clouds that lay at their feet. Balaz had to quickly turn from the sight and hold his stomach.
“Why couldn’t the dragon be underground or something?” He said as he took a deep breath.
“Because these beasts like to be awkward,” Ash said pulling her hammer from her back and marching into the tunnel.
Ethel and Balaz just glanced at each other before following the Dragon Slayer into the lair. They allowed a bit of distance between them and Ash, if only so they didn't get in the woman's way when the dragon appeared but as the light leaked away they closed that gap slightly so that fire Balaz conjured could light Ash's way as well.
“Ethel,” Bal whispered, not wanting to alert any scaly ears to their presence.
“What?" Ethel responded, quietly.
“I know you are very…dedicated with your duty, but I must ask you let me hold onto the stone until we get back to the kingdom.” He saw her eyes narrow in distrust and her mouth open to start talking so he quickly added, “To suppress its power. I’ll let you take it back to the vault and I’ll put the necessary seals on it there; I just ask that you allow me to look after it, for now.”
After a few moments, Ethel took her eyes off him and pulled them forward.
“Fine.” She agreed reluctantly.
She didn't like it but she saw Balaz as at least more trustworthy than their runaway thief. He had a chance to kill The King and didn’t, so at least she knew his want to stop the stone’s power was genuine.
The cave wasn’t too deep so soon the cavern opened up. With their minimal light source, it should have been hard to see the whole cavern but heaps and heaps of shining metal reflected Balaz's fire and sprinkled stars over the grey rock faces.
Once they had adjusted Balaz and Ethel were taken back by the sheer amount of both object valuables and knowledge valuables that littered the ground. Jewels and gold but also books and scrolls, almost anything that wasn't living but could class as valuable sat in the mountains that probably equalled the wealth of multiple countries.
Ash’s eyes ignored it all.
Her deep brown eyes fixed on the black scaled form that was starting to rouse from its sleep.
“How are we going to find the stone in all this?” Ethel questioned, pulling her sword and gun ready for a fight as the blood moons of the dragon's eyes became full.
“You two focus on that,” Ash said, smiling, “The scaly magpie is mine.”
Ash darted forward, hammer raised, as the groggy dragon was lazily getting to its feet.
Balaz was about to say Ethel should back Ash up but the Dragon Slayer jumped up, slamming back down with an electrically charged hammerhead.
The dragon had just woken up, it was trying to dodge but it was too slow, the hammer ploughed into the dragon’s jaw with a crack that for a moment made Ethel and Ash think of thunder but the roar that followed, the panicked scrambling of the dragon and the fact that it couldn't seem to close its jaw told them exactly what it was.
Ash had broken its jaw.
The dragon's eyes narrowed, its slit pupil barely visible as its wonky jaw showed off rows of razor teeth and gave a clear view of the inferno it was breathing in.
Ash charged the creature, ready for another blow as it spewed fire but it was far from the jet of flame it had managed to conjure before. The fire shot out in bursts, flying around in random directions and made the dragon slayer skid to a halt and reluctantly take her eyes off her prey so she could predict the path of the fireballs and dodge.
Balaz conjured his black tinted shield and pulled Ethel behind it as well through the smaller knight's eyes darted around the room trying to find an opening.
She learned around the shield, shoving off Balaz's attempted to keep her covered and level her pistol, aiming for the dragon's eye.
Ash acted first though.
After she managed to find a clear spot from the fire she pulled her hammer back and aimed her handle at the dragon's eye also. With the flick of another switch on her handle a blade shot out the end of the hammer. It whistled through the air, skidding on the dragon's scales and hitting true to its mark.
The dragon reeled, shaking its head in a desperate attempt to dislodge the blade but unable to close its jaws, more flames fired from its mouth in even more sporadic directions.
"You know, I'm not sure she needs our help," Balaz commented, moving his shield up as fire rained down on them.
Ethel was forced to duck under his shield also.
"I doubt it too but I'm read just encase." Ethel glared up.
Ash's next charge was swift but patient. She was making a beeline for one of it's stronger back legs but would make sure to take glances up and change direction to avoid any direct hits from uncontrolled fireballs. A few scraped so close Ethel and Balaz worried but they could only guess, considering what she was, that maybe Ash had a higher tolerance to the heat or her armour had greater heat resistance.
Pulling her electrified hammer back she struck the Dragon's back leg in a drive-by swing carrying on under it as the dragon fell. It opened its wings to try catch itself or escape but its wings got too close to the ground.
Ash turned on her heel and slammed her hammer into the joint on its body that led to its wing and with another pained roar, what was left of its fire breath dribbling from its mouth the dragon's wing fell limp its body following, its balance was lost.
"Is it bad I actually feel sorry for it..." Balaz muttered.
Ethel said nothing because all that was going through her head was to never, never piss off a dragon slayer.
Ash didn't stop there. She'd taken a few steps back to make sure the dragon didn't land on her but as soon as it was on the ground she ran onto its body, jumped up and brought the hammer down onto its head.
There was another thunderous crack and then, silence.
No roar of pain, not a single twitch. The dragon was defeated.
Balaz's conjured shield faded away as he and Ethel stared baffled.
Ash took a triumphant deep breath, pulling her hammer back with a glow of pride. Eventually, she realised just how quiet it was and looked over at the knight and mage who were still trying to get their head around the incredible show of prowess they just witnessed.
"It can't be that surprising," Ash commented as she dismounted the dragon's corpse, "If I couldn't do this, I wouldn't really be able to call myself a dragon slayer."
"I er..." Balaz struggled, "I had heard rumours that your order were expected to be able to take out dragon single-handedly but...I can't say I believed that until now."
Ethel nodded dumbly.
Ash frowned at them, "I have to say I find it quite insulting you didn't think I could do it on my own."
"It's nothing personal Sir Prohito it's just... I'm not sure any of my knights could do what you just did." Ethel managed to find some words.
"Well, I'm not one of your knights." She shook her head, "What about the stone?" she brought them onto the task at hand.
“R-right.” Balaz shook his head also and remembered why they were here “There are a few powerful relics here but none as powerful as that stone. In other words, I can sense it. It shouldn’t take long to find.”
“Good,” Ash approved, going to the dragon so she could pull the blade she shot at it out of it's eye.
“We’ll leave it to you then.” Ethel nodded and Balaz walked into the horde trying to avoid the corpse and fight off any disappointment at the burning documents in the piles.
As promised it only took him a few minutes, during the time Ash had successfully cleaned and reinstalled the blade back into the handle of her hammer and Ethel had picked up a few gold and valuables to give to the king when they returned as an apology for losing Hel.
Thank you for reading!
This part was so much fun to write, letting dragon slayer do her thing to the point you have to feel sorry for the dragons. No wonder they are pretty secretive about their hordes huh?
I had to re-write the whole battle scene compared to the original as in that one Ash had an even easier time and it was just a bit too much bad ass and Ash's personality was a little more flippant then compared to the team mum she seems to be in this version.
Next Time of Magic and machines:
Mission accomplished and dragon defeated. The Party scale back down the mountain and start their journey home only to get caught in a thunder storm that for some reason doesn't worry Balaz one bit.