Original Prompt: “The world’s tiniest dragon must defend his hoard, a single gold coin, from those who would steal it.”
Check Out Part 1 Here
Juniper and Piakol walked through the forest. The trees seemed to stretch for hundreds of feet into the air and were as wide as five people standing shoulder to shoulder. This forest was thick with trees and looked almost identical in all directions.
“I think you’ve gotten us lost,” Piakol said.
“I know exactly where I am,” Juniper said looking to her right and then to her left.
Piakol climbed up on to her shoulders and looked about. He was no longer the size of a single gold coin. He had grown alongside Juniper for the past fifteen years. He was still considered small compared to other red dragons, but he was now two feet long from the tip of his snout to the tip of his tail and had a wingspan of three feet. He had even improved his fire breath and was a stronger flyer. Juniper had continued to uphold her end of the bargain. Piakol was originally given one gold coin a month, but now was responsible for 10% of all spoils of war and money won in gambling or by more noble tasks.
“Maybe I should fly up and see if I can find the cabin,” Piakol said.
“You know what, Pickle? That’s a smart idea,” Juniper said. “I will stay down here and track.”
Piakol nodded his head and flapped his wings. He launched himself into the air and then soared up into the branches of the trees. They had heavy foliage that blocked the view from Piakol’s keen dragon eyes. He landed on a branch and looked around, but he was unable to see the cabin that Juniper and him were looking for.
“I’m going to try to climb above these blasted leaves,” Piakol yelled down in Draconic.
“Don’t get lost,” Juniper yelled back in the dragon’s tongue.
Juniper knelt down to examine the ground. She was looking for tracks. Human or bear. She had heard from people in the nearby town of Ty’rria that there was a lone monk in the forest’s nearby that had a specialty in curses. Juniper was seeking him out for his knowledge. Of course there were also superstitions surrounding the monk and his connection to bears in the forest. Juniper thought that she could track his footprints of the paw prints of bears to find the cabin. So far the trail had lead her here, but she had lost his path.
Juniper wandered amongst the large trees staying in earshot of Piakol. They had become great friends and allies in combat. There had been a few times where she had saved his life and many more where he saved hers. An elf traveling with a small dragon raised suspicions, but she had been able to handle herself up to this point.
“See anything?” Juniper yelled in Draconic.
For a moment there was no response. Then Piakol flew down from the branches and landed on Juniper’s shoulder.
“There is a cabin about five miles East from here,” Piakol said. “Smoke rising from the chimney.”
“Good eyes, Pickle,” Juniper said.
She reached into her pack and pulled out a strip of salted meat and fed it to Piakol.
“Thank you Juniper,” Piakol said snatching the meat from Juniper’s hand.
Juniper then continued to walk Eastward. The forest was dark even though the sun was high in the sky. All of the heavy leaves blocked out most of the sun but there were a few spots where the light flickered down onto the forest floor.
Juniper could almost relax as she walked through the forest. She’d always loved nature. She played in mud, chased flying insects, and collected flowers. She spent a lot of time in the forests outside The City of Perralyth. Her brother was much more of a city boy. He tried to be proper and pristine like her father and mother. He studied books while Juniper preferred her classroom to be outside.
Piakol nipped at her eye affectionalely.
“Do not worry Juniper,” Piakol said. “We will find him and save him.”
“Thanks Pickle. I appreciate it,” Juniper said.
They walked through the woods among the giant trees. Piakol curled up on Juniper’s shoulders. Juniper noticed that along this path there were large bear prints in the mud and crumpled leaves. She followed the paw prints and tracked this beast’s path towards the cabin.
She came to a clearing where the sunshine wasn’t blocked by the thick canopy. There in the middle of the clearing stood a small cabin made of stone and lumber. Thick white smoke poured out of the stone chimney.
“I wonder if he is home,” Juniper wondered out loud.
There was a snap of a branch and Juniper turned to see the source of the noise. However, it was too late to react. A large shape slammed into her knocking her to the ground. It felt like a cobblestone wall. When Juniper hit the ground, the air was knocked out of her and she gasped trying to catch her breath.
Standing above her was a large, brown bear.
The bear roared and it echoed throughout the forest.
Piakol fell off Juniper’s shoulders and hit the ground with a loud thud. He immediately began flapping his wings. He let out a stream of fire which scorched the bear’s fur across its snout. The bear swiped his claws at Piakol, but he was already out of the bear’s clutches.
Juniper rolled over on her stomach and tried to get up from the ground.
“Run to the cabin, Juniper,” Piakol yelled.
The bear let out another roar and then focused its eyes on Juniper.
Juniper turned around and pulled the bow and arrow off her back, she reached for an arrow. The bear lashed out with its claws and slashed a deep cut across Juniper’s torso. Juniper stumbled back, but remained standing.
Juniper notched an arrow and then shot it at the large, brown bear. The arrow lodged itself in the bear’s shoulder. It let out a growl and then approached Juniper.
Juniper reached out her hand and the nature’s power was infused into her.
“Help me out, vine,” Juniper said in Elvish which made it sound more elegant than the common translation.
A vine erupted from the closest tree and lashed out at the bear. The vine wrapped around its back leg and then dragged the bear towards the tree. The bear dug its claws into the ground, but the vine was strong enough to pull the bear away from Juniper and Piakol.
“Let’s go Piakol,” Juniper said.
Juniper ran towards the cabin while Piakol flew behind. The bear gnawed at the vine and then roared out at Juniper and Piakol.
“What’s the plan, Juniper?” Piakol asked.
“Get to the cabin,” Juniper said. “Then we can barricade the doors.”
The bear let out another roar and Juniper turned her head to see the bear had freed itself from the vine. It was now running full sprint towards the cabin.
“Better hurry,” Piakol said.
Juniper stopped and knocked another arrow. She shot one at the bear but it soared over its head. She then knocked a third arrow. This arrow flew straight and landed in the bear’s front leg. However this did not slow down the bear.
“I’ll slow it down, you get to the cabin,” Piakol said.
“Be careful, Pickle,” Juniper said.
Piakol gave a little nod and then flew towards the bear. Piakol circled the bear and nipped at it, but the bear seemed to be focused on Juniper. Juniper ran into the cabin. She slammed the door behind her. There was a loud thud as the bear slammed into the door. It splintered but held against the bear’s might.
Juniper stumbled back and fell to the ground. The door shook again as the bear slammed its weight against it.
Juniper readied her bow and pointed it at the door. Any minute a bear was going to break down the door and get inside. She had to be ready.
There was a brief moment of silence and then the door was slammed open. The force was so much that it almost flew off its hinges. Juniper unleashed an arrow at the beast, but instead of striking the bear, the arrow was caught out of the air by a man.
There standing before her was a large man, easily the size of a barbarian. He was tall and muscular with tattoos running up and down his body. He was covered with a mismatch of fur which covered him from the waist down. The man had a big, fluffy beard and a hairy chest.
He crushed the arrow in his grasp and just stood in the doorway. He stared down Juniper as she readied her next arrow.
“What are you doing here intruder?” The man asked.
“I…I…” Juniper stumbled to find her words.
The man entered the cabin. In his hands was a large, woodcutters ax.
“Speak or lose a hand,” The man demanded.
Juniper stood up and slowly moved backwards.
“Pickle!” She yelled in Draconic.
The man seemed to be taken back a little but continued to move forward.
“I took care of your pseudodragon,” The man said as he raised his ax.
Juniper knew that there was very little she could do to overpower the man and close quarters was not a good battlefield for a ranger. She had to talk her way out of this.
“Look I’m not here to fight you. I…I… I was just defending myself from the bear,” Juniper started.
“You were tracking me through the forest,” The man replied.
“You…you… knew I was here?” Juniper asked.
“You are not as sneaky as you might think. I could smell you from a mile away,” The man said.
Juniper was pretty sure that that was an insult, but she brushed it off and continued to speak.
“I’m just trying to find a monk who has knowledge of curses. I did not mean to start any fight with you or your bear…friend,” Juniper pleaded.
The man stopped approaching and lowered his ax.
“You have found him,” The man said with a sigh.
“You…you…are a monk? I thought monks were peaceful people,” Juniper said.
The man let out a small growl.
“Sit!” He said pointing his ax at a chair in the corner.
“What about Piakol? The dragon?” Juniper asked.
“Sit,” The man reiterated. “I will fetch the dragon.”
The man turned and left through the door. Juniper was in panic mode. She wasn’t sure what to do. She could run or try to fight. But she could not leave Piakol behind. They had been through too much together. Altogether she was still in pretty good condition and was still able to run if she needed to. She decided to sit in the chair, but she still held her bow in her hands.
The man returned holding the woodcutter’s ax in his right hand and a red mass of scales in the other. He laid Piakol on the dining room table. Piakol laid there bloody, but Juniper noticed that he was still breathing. It seemed like Piakol was under some kind of magical affect.
“What…what did you do to him?” Juniper asked.
“Sleeping potion,” The man said. “I was tired of his firebreath. Very strong for a pseudodragon.”
“He’s a real dragon. He’s just small,” Juniper said.
The man looked Juniper up and down. He didn’t believe her, but he didn’t really care.
“So what is your purpose here?” The man asked.
“My name is Juniper – ” Juniper began.
“I did not ask for your name. I asked for your business,” The man slammed his fist on the table.
Piakol did not stir from his slumber.
“I’m seeking a cure to a curse,” Juniper blurted out.
The man smiled a little, but it was obscured by his beard.
“What makes you think I have the knowledge you seek?” The man asked.
“I…I…don’t know. But I was told you were familiar with curses,” Juniper said.
The man laid his ax on the table next to Piakol and took a seat himself. He seemed worn out and tired. Blood trickled from a cut on his left arm and scars on his chest.
“I am familiar with curses,” The man said in a calm voice.
He looked down at his hands like he was studying them.
“I am inflicted with my own curse. I am a werebear,” The man sighed.
“A were…what?” Juniper asked.
“The bear you fought out there was me. I can change myself into a bear. Or my werebear form. A beast which is half bear and half human,” The man explained.
“That’s…intense,” Juniper said.
The man nodded.
“That’s why I live out here by myself. Once I was inflicted with such a curse, I knew that I could not live among common men anymore. I had to exclude myself. I came out here to be alone.”
“Sorry,” Juniper said in a whisper.
“You are quite a tracker to find this place,” The man said.
“Well Pickle helped,” Juniper smiled a little.
“Pickle? The dragon?”
“Yeah. His name is Piakol. I call him Pickle. I’ve known him since I was a child,” Juniper explained.
“Is he some kind of polymorph gone wrong?” The man asked.
“No, no. Piakol is a real dragon. Always has been. When I met him, he was no bigger than a single gold coin. He is still small, but he is growing,” Juniper said.
The man scratched his chin and beard.
“So what kind of curse are you here for?” The man asked.
Juniper shuffled in her seat.
“It’s my brother, Julian,” Juniper explained. “I believe he has gotten himself into some trouble with a demon. He has become a Warlock.”
The man shifted and then leaned back in his chair.
“I believe that Warlock’s and the pacts they make with their patron is voluntary,” The man said.
“I believe that he was somehow tricked into accepting the patronage of a demon,” Juniper said.
“What makes you think that?”
“My brother, Julian, would never willingly give himself to a demon. He was a good person. A righteous person. He was married to a woman who was a descendant of powerful political family in Perralyth. He loved her. Then one day he just gets up and leaves. Not a word.”
“Then how do you know that a demon was involved?”
“I had to investigate,” Juniper said. “I tracked his location to Ty’rria where a Cleric told me that there were strange happenings going on involving demons and dark magic. Many people in the town confirmed that an Elf matching my brother’s description was in the city.”
“I had a run in with some cultists in Ty’rria,” Juniper continued. “There I found my brother. He was somehow mixed up with these dark magic thugs. I wasn’t able to save him before he left through some kind of portal. I believe it was to one of the demonic planes. Possibly a level of the Nine Hells.”
The man just focused on Juniper’s words as she talked.
“I need some kind of cure to this. He has to be cursed or inflicted by some kind of dark magic,” Juniper finished.
The man gave a deep sigh.
“I can tell that you are telling the truth. I wish I could help you, but I do not know anything about demons and the pacts they might make with Elves or Humans,” The man said.
“You can’t help me?” Juniper asked.
“I’m afraid not.”
“Because you can’t or because you won’t?” Juniper asked as she rose to her feet.
A guttural growl came from the man.
“Do not push me, Elf girl. You are in my home. Do not forget that,” The man stood and towered over Juniper. “I cannot help you. It has nothing to do with my effort.”
“But what about your…your lycanthropy?” Juniper asked.
“The condition I have to change between man and beast has nothing to do with demon deals and Warlock magic. That is outside my realm of knowledge. You need to find some kind of Arcanist,” The man said.
“Do you know where I might find someone with the knowledge I seek?” Juniper asked.
The man scratched at his beard again.
“I would head to the City of Xylon. It is a large mining city South of here. It has many diverse people. Some of which focus on the magical arts,” The man said. “There are also adventuring guilds there.”
“I’m not some kind of errand girl,” Juniper said.
The man shrugged his shoulders.
“Just trying to help,” The man said. “I’d probably ditch the dragon though. A city like that will not take kindly to a fire-breathing beast in their midst. I’m pretty sure Dragonborn are barred from the city.”
Juniper stashed her bow on her back and picked up Piakol.
“I’m not abandoning Pickle,” Juniper said.
“Again, just trying to help,” The man said in a flat tone.
Juniper left the cabin and the large man stood in the doorway.
“Do me a favor and forget this place exists,” He said as Juniper walked back towards the forest.
She turned and looked at the Werebear Monk.
Juniper gave a nod.
“Thanks for the help. Sorry again,” She said.
“Just don’t come back,” The man said.
He entered his cabin and shut the door with a slam. It was crooked and did not stay completely shut. There were large claw marks across the door.
“What did I miss?” Piakol said with a yawn.
He shook himself out of it and immediately searched for danger.
“Where is that thing? Juniper, it can change shape,” Piakol began.
“I know, I know, Pickle. It was a Werebear. That was the monk we were trying to find,” Juniper explained.
“What happened? Wasn’t he trying to kill us?” Piakol asked.
“Don’t worry about it, Pickle. I’ll explain everything. Just know we had a helpful, but brief conversation and now we’re getting out of here as fast as we can.
Piakol climbed up on Juniper’s shoulder.
“Was he able to help with Julian’s curse?”
Juniper shook her head.
“No, but he did give me a tip on where I might be able to find out. We’re heading towards the City of Xylon. Apparently there are Arcanists there who have the knowledge we seek.”
“As long as we can get out here, I’m all for it,” Piakol said.
“Agreed,” Juniper said as she walked back into the thick forest now with a mission to reach the city of Xylon so she can save her brother.
Header Photo Credit to Anne Stokes