The Dragon of Old Ak'karell.

Amidst the fortified city of Stonegard, two towers rose significantly higher than all the other buildings, and from their pinnacles ran a single bridge connecting both towers to the peak of the mountain in a straight line.

The tower inbetween the other and the mountain was the least stable of the two, and was built far more ornately. Its beauty was surrounded by a series of pipes and fountains full of cascading water which made it clear that an aqueduct ran along the bridge carrying water that melted from the glacier that gripped Mount Stonegard like a silver helmet.

When Gormund's burial was finished, it was upon the steps of the water tower that Williard and his companions came to rest, free of the stale air of Stonegard's mausoleum.

"Bundle," said Williard. "Where is the Bow of Belendar?"

Bundle did not answer. He just stared down at the dirty town square, where the cobbled cartographer's compass had once been brightly polished in an array of sharply angled coloured stones.

"There was nothing on my father," said Noira.

"Well, he wasn't the one tossin' arrows at Will!" muttered Axbrand. "I be wonderin' mighty hard as to why we ain't dealt with them yet. We know it wuzzn't ol' Gormunder, so I'm scratchin' m' head as to who shot both Will and Wolfram."

"Wolfram thought it was G-Gormunder, or w-wanted us to think that," sobbed Bundle. "The wounds on dear Gormunder suggest s-s-something b-blunt and spiked, like a flail or a m-mace..." he sniffled.

"Don't tell me Belendar made a morning star!" exclaimed Noira.

Bundle shrugged, "I think I've told you all I know about the Seven Weapons."

"Great," grunted Axbrand. "Just great! The one who knew the most is sitting in that dusty crypt."

"We're going up," said Bundle as he stood up, suddenly no longer so sad. "The Oracle is now the one with the most knowledge of -"

"Blimey!" exclaimed Ax, jumping to his feet in a panic with his hands in his pockets. "Did one o' you young'ns take it?"

"Take what?" asked Noira.

"The Shield! The bloody shield is missing!" Ax told them, as he demonstrated what little was in his pockets. The tiny arrowhead of the minimized shield was not among the odds and ends the butcher had in his pockets.

Everyone else had their hands at their sides immediately checking for their respective items. Axbrand glanced around from the Belt on Bundle's waist to the Sword in an old scabbard Will had taken from a suit of armour in the mausoleum to the leather holders on either side of Noira's thighs, one of which was empty.

"Demondung!" cursed Noira, before bringing a hand up to reassure herself that the weight of her crown had not been replaced with something else.

"Well, there goes my first guess..." said Bundle.

Noira sneered and then forced a bow with venomous sarcasm. As she rose, she pointed down the street: "What was that?!"

Everyone turned around to see where she was pointing, Bundle not taking his left hand off the clasp of his belt or his right hand off the hilt of his saber.

She ran toward where she thought she'd seen a flash of black chasing a flash of brown, and then turned around the corner to give up, seeing no trace of either figure.

"Use your first Gift," said Will, as he caught up. "Show us what you've seen."

"I need to show myself what I saw again," Noira mused, putting her hand out. "It happened so fast."

"We should be climbing one of the towers, not chasing shadows!" urged Bundle. However, he fell silent as a second set of eyesight invaded his mind. He watched as events unfolded through Noira's eyes, weapons missing and runners spotted.

The runners were moving in slow motion, and Noira immediately commented, "That's new... I couldn't do that. Must be the crown!"

It was a smiling middle-aged woman, the breasts making her womanhood obvious from beneath her brown cloak. There was a quiver of arrows on her back, a bow at her side, and a spiked metal ball hanging on a chain from a wooden handle that she gripped in her other hand. She was being chased by a dark, horned beast of a man that made everyone yell as they saw the memory replayed.

They remained silent afterward.

Then Bundle turned to Noira, "That was him, wasn't it?"

She nodded somberly.

Bundle's fist struck Williard abruptly, "You fool! You walked away from the furnace too soon!" But then he stopped himself and pulled back, when he realized that Williard was intensely distracted. So was Axbrand.

Bundle turned to Noira, "Am I missing something?"

"What is it, darling?" Noira asked Will, putting a hand on his shoulder.

Williard looked back at Bundle with regret and confusion etched on his face, and said nothing at all.

The vagrant stepped back, shivers running down his spine at the strange display of emotion.

"Have I gone mad?" wondered Axbrand.

"No," said Williard, though it was barely audible. "That was her."

"That was who?" asked Bundle.

Noira brought back the woman's face for her and Bundle, and let the memory rest entirely still as if it were a painting.

"I see," said Bundle, as he noticed the keen resemblance, and the same brown hair with red undertones. "That is quite the reason to be speechless."

"Bundle, look at her pocket," said Noira. During a moment when the running woman's cloak blew open to them, Noira had spotted the hilt of a Knife of Belendar. "She's probably got the shield too."

Williard remained still, utterly perplexed, and overcome with a sense of failure.

At that moment, the large wooden doors of the water tower burst open, and a beastly roar, thunderously deep, echoed from its interior.

"What the bloody underworld wuzzat?" demanded Axbrand, as he drew his cleavers out, feeling naked without the security of the Shield of Belendar floating around him.

"No, she wouldn't have..." Bundle said to himself. "No, she couldn't have..."

The stomping creature inside the tower made more noise as it roared and pounded its way toward the doorway. Its reptillean head peered outside with eyes of white marble. Its body was gray stone carved into the likeness of a dragon. It had all the strength and durability of the Stonegard mountainside as it thundered down the stairs and into the town square, breathing out a sandstorm of gray sediment and dust.

Williard's eyes widened and he drew the Sword of Belendar. Its length still shone with a horde of Gifts. He ran toward the dragon with a deathwish, and then seemed to vanish as the granite drake lunged forward. However, he had avoided this attack by flying away in the shape of an overgrown snowy owl.

"The boy's coming into his Gift pretty darn quick!" said Axbrand, as he stood defensively beside Bundle, who was flogging away at the dragon with the Whip of Belendar, each blow casting pieces off the creature's rocky hide.

Noira had snuck up behind the creature and had severed the end of its tail with the remaining knife in her possession. Upon its back, below the area Bundle was whipping at, Noira was channelling lightning out of the knife with a passionate concentration.

"Where did this beast come from?" asked Axbrand.

"I think it was summoned by a friend of mine, to protect the Oracle from Wolfram!" Bundle yelled over the noise of the dragon's ferocious roar.

Williard landed on the battlefield in front of the dragon, taunting it with the sword. Giant white wings of a feathery soft white spread wide from Williard's back as he seemed to hypnotize the beast with the Sword of Belendar.

"Then let's sick one beast on the other!" suggested Axbrand.

Noira jumped off the beast's back and moved away cautiously, gaping in awe at the graceful beauty of Williard's new seraphic form.

"Sounds like a good plan to me!" Williard called over his shoulder, before flapping down with his wings to push himself away from the dragon.

Bundle flung the belt around the earthly dragon's neck, and pulled it toward Williard.

The beast had its eyes greedily on Williard's sword, and began to pant as it followed him.

He spoke to it, "Yer not gonna breathe any dust at us gentle giant. No... look for the furry black man. C'mon big guy, you can help us sniff him out!"

Noira signaled to Ax, "You go ahead and track them, I'm going to show this beast exactly what I saw. I have a way with animals, and I'll show you precisely how I speak to them."

Ax turned to Williard before he went, "Will, toss me a Gift! You can take it back from me later if it's not one I want."

Will looked the dragon in the eyes, pearly white with gray slits, and moved the sword playfully from side to side before thrusting it in Ax's direction. A single glow of green was sent flying across the street toward Axbrand, who stepped in front of it, absorbing it into himself.

Bundle shook his head in dismay, but kept leading the dragon forward, as Noira began to catch the stony dragon's attention.

The End

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