“Interlude: the Song of Dragon Face”

Come after that day                           of daring deeds

when that cult of malice           cold evil evolving

was righteously crushed         by the powerful Pilgrims

and gouged from the ground of the town Crimson Girth

One brother of that band                  the daring Dragon Face

Awoke in his bed                     dawn-stirring, slow-breathing.

And fixed his copper-forged mask   dragon-forged to his face.

Moving out to the morning air          he started strange movements

stretching and straining            his many-grooved muscles

And all the while breathing               each breath slow and softly.

For as Sigil-carving Swayers            bake Mana in mortar and clay

And Harper strings shape Mana      through music and humming

The Wrestlers manipulate               Mana through breathing

stored up their belly                           to strengthen their body.

After Dragon Face            ended his exercises

he met with his friends     his Party of Pilgrims

The Witnessing Uuco             moustached and magical

Wind-blessed V’vendy    the dreaded Deathweaver

The Dinosaur Corax                  cool-headed, a hidden god.

And the chronicler,           unnamed, not noteworthy.

They stood on a village   steered by hoary ghosts.

across the sky                  setting down in a valley

Bearing spoils of wars     they rode off with the wagons

From steep canyon edge        to flattened foothills.

The Brave Band came    to Baruck’s Charging Walls

To the binding gates                 at the heart of our World

At the sight of the Temple,      ever-growing, high-rising

Each Pilgrim’s soul           in awe grew still

Then came thunderbolts blasphemous blasts

The Temple face shattered     Rocks raining down

All faces blanched at this         sleight to the Gods

one cursed throat laughed      with lanquid thrill.

“I know who caused this,”        The Priestess cried

she who was rope-bound,       a prisoner of war.

“My counsel can lead you       to this catastrophe’s cause

if you swear well and full  to let me go free!”

Each breath of his    was drawn in hot.

Dragon Face’s fiery          soul flickered bright.

Eager to grapple      the wretch that had wrought

On this holy city       cruel cataclysm

“Be he sorcerer       or swordsman keen,

evil beast or mutant         the evolving knave

that cracked the       Infinite Temple ill

shall feel the wrath of my tight-gripping grapple!”

Suddenly a shriek             pierced the sky

Sunlight flickered               struck out by shadow.

A soaring eagle                 swooped down from on high.

a strip of bark born            between its talons.

Clamped claws opened   the bark strip fell

down to Dragon Face               into open fingers.

The eagle soared off                on a southern wind-stream

The masked wrestler                unrolled the bark with fear!

For on the dark bark,                 crudely carved with blades.

Was a map of the land,    marked with one sole symbol

Of a roaring lion,                mane-rich, fang-leering.

The sinister sigil of            Dragon Face’s sworn rival–”

%%%

“The Main Man!” Dragon Face exclaimed, crushing the strip of bark between his hands.

“The Main Man?” Lady Ira said, glancing over her shoulder. “Dragon Face, what’s wrong?”

“My rival summons me,” Dragon Face replied, dropping bark fragments on the ground and brushing his hands clean. “I must go,” he said, turning his back on Ira, Corax and V’vendy.

“Go?” Lady Ira repeated incredulously. She glanced over her shoulder at the City Guards, the gawking merchants and the hogtied Priestess currently being loaded into a Chariot for transport to the city prison. “Hold on a moment,” she said to the Guard Captain. “We’ll be right back.”

Lady Ira strode after the masked wrestler as he walked over to the wagon and threw its tarp open. “You cannot go, Dragon Face,” Lady Ira said urgently. “The Zealots of Evolving Evil has blown up part of the Infinite Temple, and may have worse planned!”

Corax stepped up and rested a claw on Dragon Face’s shoulder. “Surely your rival can wait, Dragon Face,” he said. “Your presence here could mean the difference between victory or death against these Zealots!”

“I know that!” Dragon Face shouted, breaking free of Corax’s grip with a shrug. He bent over the wagon and pulled out his rucksack and cloak. “I know that Baruck itself is in danger!” Dragon Face slung his sack over one shoulder, and his cloak over the other. He turned to face his fellow pilgrims: the eyes behind his mask were haunted. “But my hands are tied,” Dragon Face said miserably. “I have to wrestle!”

Ira blinked. She drummed her fingers along the bridge of her harp in thought. Her brow furrowed. “Wait, what?” She said. “You’re not making sense, Dragon Face!”

Dragon Face crouched and set his hands palm-first on the ground. “I will make my way back as soon as possible, my friends,” he said.. ‘Look for my coming at first light!”

Dragon Face breathed deep. “Stride of the Bronze Coils!” he shouted. Purple-hued steam rose from his body like smoke from a green branch burning. His feet carved furrows in the dirt road as he sprinted off to the east,

“Dragon Face, wait!” Ira called out, raising her harp and setting fingers to its strings. “I order you to come back, you selfish fool–!”

V’vendy rested a hand on Lady Ira’s shoulder. “You cannot solve every problem with music, Lady Ira,” the feather-haired archer said. “Let him go. That wrestler has his reasons.”

Ira slid her Harp back into its case and sighed. “What reasons?” Ira asked. “Honor? A geas? Or perhaps his rival is a threat as dangerous the Zealots of Evolving Evil?”

V’vendy coughed into the folds of her hood. “Truthfully?” she replied, “I think he really likes wrestling.”

Corax groaned and rubbed at his snout with his talons. “Regardless, now our little Pilgrimage is under-strength,” he groaned.

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that!” A grizzled voice declared. Ira, Corax, and V’vendy looked around to see where the voice had come from.

Uuco the Witness dropped his invisibility spell and reappeared in a burst of static electricity. “Short one wrestler? No big deal!” the moustached Nobble chortled. He lifted a linen pouch and shook it: metal jangled inside. “We’ll use Dragon Face’s share of the loot–that I just stole from him, I might add–and hire a guy just as strong!”

It was Ira’s turn to rub at her snout and groan.

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