“My comrades!” Dragon Face exclaimed, rising up; his sculpted copper mask was warped and half-crushed, its molded fangs, nostrils and wings smashed into unrecognizability. “After exchanging blows with Captain Zarth, I’ve come to believe he might be stronger than me!”
Dragon Face smiled, revealing teeth stained with blood. “Isn’t it wonderful?”
All the Pilgrims stared at Dragon Face blankly for a moment.
“As long as you’re happy,” Corax said in a dry, bland tone, “that’s all that matters, Dragon Face.”
Dragon Face’s cheerful grin turned to a frown. “You raise a fair point,” he acknowledged, turning and looking up at the jagged hole in the tower. “This enemy’s incredible strength may well prove our end.”
The thumping of sandaled-feet echoed from the hole in the tower. With a mighty bellow, Captain Zarth hurled himself into the open air, wolf hide cloak fluttering in the morning breeze. He fell towards the gathered pilgrims, mace raised, hide-shield clutched close to his side.
“Scatter!” Ira shouted, dashing several steps back. She raised her hand and flung three Seeking Stones into the air. The sigil-carved lead bullets zigzagged through the air like flies, zooming towards Zarth at different angles.
Zarth swung his hide shield in an arc, batting two the Seeking Stones away. The third Seeking Stone clipped against his cheek, leaving a red mark. Zarth grunted in pain, directing a smoldering glare at Lady Ira; the veins beneath his skin danced like worms.
“Dragon Face, my pal!” Uuco the Witness blurted out as he backed away. “We’ve got this plan!”
“Oh?” Dragon Face asked, stepping backwards in sync with Uuco.
“It’s a darned good plan,” Uuco said, directing his smoldering glare at Captain Zarth, “but I can’t tell you about it because that fellow’s eavesdropping like a cheater.” He craned his head up, meeting Dragon Face’s eyes. “Still, can you watch my back?”
Dragon Face sank into a crouch, clenching his fists by his side and tensing until every single muscle on his chest and arms stood out. “Humph!” He shouted in the positive.
“Great!” Uuco said, lying down on his back, closing his eyes, and falling asleep on the spot. A single, bubbling snore escaped from his flaring nostrils.
“Did you hear me?” Dragon Face asked, standing in a readied posture in front of Uuco. “I, the great Dragon Face, shall stand guard before you! Uuco! Uuco?”
Zarth charged Ira like a stampeding bull, twirling his mace in a full circle.
“No!” V’vendy the Deathweaver shouted, drawing and loosing three white-fletched arrows into the sky. The arrows soared up towards the cloud, then pivoted and fell, swooping towards Zarth’s bare head like hawks.
Zarth raised his hide shield at the last second, catching V’vendy’s arrows. He lowered his great shield just in time to block the eye-searing bolt of light Corax fired from his razor-toothed mouth. Smoke and the scent of roasted leather spread through the air as Zarth’s shield slowly burned away.
Rintha the Roarhunter darted towards Zarth’s side, dropping a clay bullet into his sling’s pouch. “Zarth!” He shouted, shards of brittle clay dropping from the spider-web cracks on his cheek as he grimaced. “I’ll make you pay for mangling my face!”
Rintha swung his arm in a circled, flinging the sling bullet towards Zarth’s ribs.
Zarth twisted mid-stride and raised his smoldering shield to block the bullet. “You won’t get to do anything, Clayborn!” He laughed. “Such is the fate of weaklings–!”
The clay bullet struck Zarth’s shield and shattered, releasing a cloud of pale grey powder. The dust spread through the air around Zarth and his burning shield…and then a stray spark ignited the cloud, blanketing the Gnasher Captain in orange flame.
“Weaklings?” Rintha snorted, tossing an obsidian bullet up and down in his hand. “In my experience, people who blather about ‘weaklings’ are trying far too hard.”
Zarth burst out of the curtain of flames, his hair and his wolf-mantle charred black. Rearing back, he threw his shield like a discus, hitting Rintha in the stomach and knocking him on his back.
V’vendy drew and loosed another trio of arrows. Minus a shield, the arrows flashed past Zarth’s arms and into his chest.
Zarth jerked as the bronze arrow-headed ripped into his flesh. Grinding his teeth hard enough to produce purple-hued sparks, he closed the distance to Ira with one last stride, raising his bronze-headed mace.
“I said I would kill you first,” he said, bringing his weapons whistling down towards Ira’s scalp.
Ira raised her sword to block the blow, knowing even as she did it that Zarth would just smash through her blade.
“Ksshhhhh!” Corax screeched, racing in from the side and sinking his jaws into Zarth’s hand.
“Hnnnggghhh!” Zarth cried out, flecks of spittle and foam flying from his lips.
Eyes blazing, the Saurian shook his head back and forth, turning the flesh of Zarth’s wrist to mulch. Zarth’s fingers fell open, and his bronze mace clattered to the ground.
“Clever god!” Zarth cursed, bending his knees and sinking his weight. “However–“
With a grunt of effort, Zarth jerked his arm up. Corax let out a muffled gasp as he was lifted off the ground, dew-clawed feet kicking helplessly against the air.
“You should be honored, Lady Ira!” Zarth shouted, clamping his free hand around Corax’s jawline so the Saurian couldn’t let go. “It’s not every day that you get to be crushed by a god!”
Faced with death at the hands of a dethroned dinosaur god wielded as an improvised club, Lady Ira lowered her dagger in resignation. “I just wanted to go on pilgrimage,” she whispered in frustration.
Before Zarth could swing, a defiant cry echoed across the rooftop.
Dragon Face rushed forward in a gale of purple mist, every one of his footsteps cracking terracotta tiles into splinters. He raised his arms and grabbed Corax by his ankles before Zarth could swing the poor Saurian around.
“Mmmm!” Corax yelped as two bulky strongmen tugged him back and forth like a wishbone. “Mmmm! Mmmm!”
“Captain Zarth!” Dragon Face roared. “Enough! You have lost this battle, and you are too blind to see it!”
“As long as I draw breath, I’ll fight to win!” Zarth rasped, face turning a deeper, darker red as he called on his battle fury. “Surrender and despair is for the weak!”
Ira decided to back away slowly from this altercation and recover her Seeking Stones. As she bent down to pick up her lead, rune-carved bullets, she noticed that thin lines of glowing purple Mana flowing across the ground, creeping slowly between the cracks of the roof tiles.
“You misunderstand,” Dragon Face said more softly. A single tear, of all things, escaped from the corner of his eye, flowing down the copper shell of his dented mask. “I admire your immense strength, your mighty will! You’ve fought us with everything you possess…!”
Zarth glanced down, finally noticing the puddles of gleaming Mana forming at his feet. His teeth audibly ground against each other.
“…but you’re not the only one,” Dragon Face said. “There’s small Roarer named Uuco who’s also fighting with everything!”
Uuco the Witness opened his eyes from where he lay on the rooftop, purple Mana trickling from the corner of his mouth. He slapped the rooftop and muttered a terrible word.
The puddles of Mana around Captain Zarth sank into the roof and vanished. The rooftop rumbled slightly.
Dozens of stone spikes sprouted from the ground, piercing through Zarth’s feet, ankles and legs, stripping the flesh from his bones.
Unable to stand, Zarth fell forward with a cry of fury and tearful frustration. His grip loosened on Corax’s snout; the saurian warrior released Zarth’s mangled hand and fell into Dragon Face’s arms.
“Easy, my friend,” Dragon Face said, cradling Corax like a farmer holding a calf.
Corax spat and hacked, running his narrow tongue along his teeth to force every single scrap of human flesh out of his mouth.
“Fah!” Corax cursed in disgust. “I used to be a God! Blight and Famine, I used to be the Sickleblade, Hero of the age of Calamity! And now I’m being used for a game of tug-of-war!” The Saurian sighed loudly. “Truly I’ve fallen far.”