Juniper sat up on a tree branch using one of her daggers to peel an apple. She carefully used the blade’s edge to cut the skin from the apple. The peel spiraled and then fell off to the forest floor below. All around her were large trees with sturdy trunks and thick foliage way up high. Small pockets of sunlight break through the treetops and light up the forest. It would have been a fantastic sight for someone just taking a walk in the woods, but Juniper wasn’t just some Elf in the woods. She was on a mission to find her brother in The City of Xylon, but currently she was lost in the forest.
“Stupid forest,” Juniper grumbled as she peeled her apple. “I’m an Elf. We’re not supposed to get lost in forests.”
Piakol flew down from one of the upper branches landing on the end of Juniper’s branch.
“No sign of anyone or anything out there,” Piakol spoke in his dragon tongue. “Can’t even find those hunters we met up with.”
“Well it has been a few days since we’ve seen them,” Juniper spoke the same dragon language. “They are probably long gone by now.”
Piakol stretched out his long, bat-like wings and tucked his red, scaly tail underneath his body.
“Well what is the plan then?” Piakol asked.
Juniper took a bit of the apple.
“I’m not sure Pickle. I’ve never been lost in the woods before.”
“Do not fret. We will find our way to Xylon,” Piakol said. “Maybe we should try to track down the hunters and ask for directions. Or…”
There was a moment of pause.
“…we could always try to backtrack to the Werebear’s house,” Piakol suggested.
Juniper shook her head.
“No way are we welcomed back there. Besides, that’s at least three days travel out of our way. We can’t backtrack that far.”
“Fair enough,” Piakol said laying his snout on his dragon claws.
Juniper laid her head back against the trunk of the tree.
“If Julian could see me now. And Elf lost in the woods. What an idiot I am.”
“Do not beat yourself up. Like the hunters said. This is no ordinary woods. This is The Ollick Forest. A mystical place. The Dwarf even mentioned that there may be connections to the Fey Wild in these woods.”
“You heard all of that?” Juniper asked. “I thought you were hiding out in the trees?”
“I’ve never too far way from you. I don’t want to break our oath to one another. I promised you protection,” Piakol let out a small yawn. “Plus I have pretty good hearing.”
Juniper studied the small dragon.
“Pretty good for a creature without ears,” Juniper said.
Piakol raised his head.
“I have ears.”
“I know. I was just kidding you.”
“I see. More Elvish humor,” Piakol said laying his head back on his paws. His wings now close to his body.
“Yeah I’m not very good at it I guess,” Juniper said letting out a small yawn.
She looked out and could see the sun beginning to set and the light slowly leaving the forrest.
“Well I guess we should get to sleep. More wandering around aimlessly tomorrow,” Juniper looked back to Piakol.
The small, red-scaled dragon was already fast asleep with its eyes closed and its body wrapped up into a ball on the end of the branch.
Juniper let out a small laugh.
“I guess I will take first watch.”
Juniper finished her apple and laid her head back against the tree trunk. She placed her longbow across her lap and just looked out into the darkened forest. Even with her Elvish darkvision, it was tough for Juniper to see anything more than 60 feet away from her. She was about 40 feet up in the tree, so she could see the forest floor and some of the other neighboring trees, but not much else. Of course she could make out the shape of her dragon companion Piakol on the end of the branch resting.
Some might think Piakol was a psuedodragon, but they would be wrong. Piakol was a full-blooded dragon. He was just very small. Juniper would fondly recall the memory of when Julian and her had first met Piakol. He was no bigger than a single gold coin. Now he was about the size of a psuedodragon or small hawk.
Juniper smiled thinking about the early days when she was trying to figure out how to keep a small, fire-breathing dragon in her room without her parents finding out or her brother, Julian, ratting her out. It lasted a few years before Piakol was found out. Normally it would be impossible for a child to hide a pet like that from their parents, but Juniper and Julian’s parents were always very busy. Never giving either of them much attention. Juniper and Julian kind of raised themselves. They relied on each other for everything.
That’s one reason why it hurts so much. The fact that Julian just ran off one day without saying anything. Leaving behind both his wife, Poppy, and Juniper without saying anything. It just didn’t make any sense. The Werebear Monk Juniper and Piakol had met, and briefly, fought spoke about Julian as if he was a Warlock. That was Juniper’s assumption as well. When Juniper had investigated Julian’s house, she found remnants that could be connected to Demon worship or even summoning. But that didn’t make any sense to Juniper. He wasn’t some demon worshiping cult member. He wasn’t a Warlock. He was a regular Elf. A businessman. A husband. A brother.
Juniper took a deep breath and shook her head shaking off the fog clouding her brain. She reached up one hand and brushed tears from her eyes.
“I have to find him,” Juniper whispered to herself.
She looked up and saw a small pinprick of light in the distance near the edge of the treeline.
She pulled herself up into a crouching position on the branch. She readied her bow and notched an arrow.
“Pickle! Pickle! Get up. I see something,” Juniper said in a loud whisper.
“Huh? What? Is it those hunters? Or a fey creature?” Piakol said with a yawn.
“I can’t tell. I just see some sort of light,” Juniper replied.
Piakol opened one eye.
“You woke me up over a light. It could just be a firefly or a star,” Piakol said.
“Come on, let’s check it out. It could be a group of hunters or maybe a travel performance group,” Juniper said.
“All the more reason to stay here,” Piakol said.
“They might know how to get to Xylon,” Juniper said narrowing her eyes.
“What if it’s a group of thieves and murderers?”
“Then you can breathe fire on them while I steal whatever goods they have on them,” Juniper said.
She proceeded to sling her bow across her back and climb down the tree.
Piakol stretched out his wings and then shook his body like a dog shaking water off its fur.
“Fine. I’ll stay up high,” Piakol said.
He flapped his wings and jumped off the branch. For a moment he fell towards the forest floor and then flew up into the air. Do to his ability to fly, Piakol was able to move much faster than Juniper. He scouted ahead while Juniper moved slowly and stealthily across the ground.
As Juniper approached the light source, she noticed that it was a small campfire. Sitting around it was three individuals. One was a human man about her size with short hair wearing some basic fur armor. The other was a tall, green-skinned man with sharp, white tusks protruding from his mouth. The third was a girl that looked to be a little younger than Juniper. She had gray hair and was looking down at the ground. Between the girl and the green man was a heavy set of iron chains linking the two together.
Juniper neared the edge of the campsite and hid behind one of the nearby trees. From here she could obverse them and could pick up parts of the conversation.
“Come on H’larg. It’s going to be all worth it when we get this girl to Perralyth. We’re going to make out like bandits when we sell her to my connection there,” The human man said.
“She is a thorn in our sides. Better to kill her now. Not worth the money,” The green man said.
The girl flinched at this which rattled the iron chains. She remained looking at her feet.
“Oh leave the girl alone, H’larg. That’s your orc side talking. Just think about all the money we’ll get for her. She’s one of those angel-blooded girls. Worth her weight in platinum,” The human said.
The green one, H’larg, folded his arms.
“You better be right about this, Lyon,” H’larg said.
“Have I ever steered you wrong?” Lyon asked.
“Plenty of times.”
“Well this time I’m not. Now get some rest. I’ll keep first watch.”
“What about the girl?”
“We can always chain her to one of these big trees. She won’t run away, will she?”
Lyon looked over to the girl. She remained silent.
H’larg tugged on the chain making her fall forward.
“Hey, he’s talking to you.”
Lyon stood up and then knelt down to the girl. He grabbed her chin with one hand while resting the other on his sheathed sword.
“You won’t try to run, will you?” Lyon asked.
The girl shook her head.
“No,” She said.
“Good. If you try anything I’ll find you and I’ll have to use my blade here. I’ll start with your tongue. And then maybe I’ll go to each individual finger,” Lyon said holding her face close to his. “Understood?”
“Yes,” She whimpered.
“Great,” Lyon smiled a cruel smile and then let go of her.
The girl dropped her face and looked down at the ground.
“H’larg, find a nearby tree,” Lyon said.
H’larg let out a huff and then stood up from the fire. He pulled on the chain and the girl followed him.
Juniper panicked and ducked back behind the tree trunk. She thought there was a chance that H’larg would pick her tree to chain the girl to. Juniper pulled the longbow off her back and notched an arrow. She then slowly peaked her head out.
Lucky for her, H’larg found a closer tree on the opposite side of the campfire. He undid the manacle attached to his arm and then attached it to a longer iron chain. He then went around the tree and chained both ends together. It basically looked like the human letter ‘Q’ with the round part around the tree and the line part connecting the long chain to the girl.
H’larg then returned to the campfire. He removed the scraps of leather armor he was wearing and laid down in one of the leanto-like tent.
Juniper glanced up into the trees and saw one of the branches moving up and down slowly like something just landed on it. There on the end was Piakol overlooking the campsite. They couldn’t talk from here, but Juniper guessed they were on the same page. They were going to free the girl and kill the bandits if necessary.
Juniper slowly backed away from the campsite and made her way around to the opposite side. She took her time making sure not to alert Lyon or wake up H’larg. Her first instinct was just to jump into action with her bow at the ready, but figured it might be more successful if she tried freeing the girl first. Juniper wanted to maintain the element of surprise for as long as possible and didn’t want them harming or killing the girl during the rescue attempt. Plus they might try to use her as a hostage to get Juniper to surrender he weapons. That wasn’t going to happen.
Juniper looked up and saw that Piakol was still waiting up in the trees waiting for Juniper’s signal. He watched her like a hawk and tracked her progress as Juniper neared closer to the tree with the chain around it. This had to be executed precisely if they were going to succeed. And neither of Juniper or Piakol’s styles were “precise.”
Juniper approached the tree closest to the chain tree. There was just a big enough gap, that she could not make it to the chain tree without being noticed. She would have to attack from here.
She took a deep breath.
“Ok. 1…2…3…now,” She whispered to herself.
She turned from being behind the tree trunk and then then unleashed her bow string. Before Lyon could react, Juniper had unleashed her arrow and it struck him in the left side of the torso.
“What the….ahhh!” He yelled jumping up from his seat.
Juniper unleashed another arrow which struck him in the chest and then pulled a third arrow from her quiver. As Juniper readied her next attack, she moved quickly towards the chained tree keeping an eye on Lynol.
“H’larg! Get up! We have intruders!” Lynol yelled while ripping the arrow out of his chest. The wound was bloody, but pretty shallow. The one in his side was deeper.
Lynol pulled his shortsword from his side sheath.
“I don’t know who you are lady, but you just made a big mistake,” Lynol yelled.
Juniper locked eyes with him.
“Pickle! Now!” Juniper yelled out.
Before Lynol knew what hit him, Piakol descended from the tree tops and let out a stream of fire. The fire encased the central part of the campsite catching both of the tents on fire as well as Lynol and his armor. His hair was singed and he was covered in burns. The stench of burning flesh filled the air.
Lynol screamed out in paid dropping his blade and he stumbled back away from the fire.
H’larg burst out of the tent tearing the singed fabric in two. If Lynol’s yelling didn’t wake him up, then the dragon’s fire certainly did. He looked like he was in the middle of putting on his armor before leaving the tent, but now decided that the burns weren’t worth the time to put on the rest of his armor. In his hands he wielded two hand-axes.
H’larg turned and saw Juniper making her way towards the girl chained to the tree.
He took a step forward pushing aside the flaming remains of his tent. He let out an Orkish curse Juniper didn’t understand and made his way towards Juniper.
“Not today, girl. You messed with the wrong people.”
“Pickle!” Juniper yelled out looking up for a brief moment to locate the dragon, but Piakol was nowhere to be found. He must have been circling back after his firebreath attack.
Juniper looked back towards H’larg and unleashed an arrow. It struck him in the right side of the chest. He looked unfazed by the arrow as he drew closer.
Juniper pulled another arrow from her quiver, but before she could pull back the bowstring, H’larg was right next to her.
He swung down with one of his hand-axes and Juniper managed to sidestep it just in time. Part of her cut sliced from the blade. Then H’larg used his other hand-axe. He swung sideways and cut a long slash across Juniper’s forearm and stomach area. She stumbled backwards into the tree trunk and the chained girl let out a little yelp.
Blood poured from her wounds and Juniper became dizzy.
“Foolish girl,” H’larg kicked Juniper in the chest sending her back into the tree trunk where she struck her head on the tree trunk.
Her head was pounding, but she couldn’t give up. She wouldn’t let this girl die here. She wouldn’t die here.
H’larg charged forward with his handaxes, but Juniper thought quickly. She ducked under H’largs arms and rolled away from his strike. As she rolled past him, she pulled her hunter’s knife from her boots and slashed him across the back of his leg.
H’larg tripped forward and faceplanted into the tree. He then quickly turned around revealing that his nose was broken and blood streamed down his face. H’larg let out a guttural growl.
Juniper heard another sound. A dragon growl.
Piakol flew down and unleashed another torrent of fire at the Half-Orc. The fire nipped the chained girl as she tried to get out of the way of it singeing her right arm. The rest of the fire enveloped H’larg.
He screamed and did his best to put out the fire, but it was covering him from head to toe as well as the nearby grass and tree trunk.
Juniper raised her bow once again and shot an arrow. This one pierced H’larg through his left eye socket. H’larg stood there for a moment. His screaming stopped. He swayed and then fell forward plunging the arrow deeper into the skull cavity. H’larg was dead.
Now Juniper had a new problem. The nearby area was on fire and it was starting to catch the tree.
Juniper looked around the campsite which was a mix of burnt ash and burning flames.
“Pickle! Free the girl. Break her chains. Don’t hurt her,” Juniper shouted.
She ran over to one of the destroyed tents. Lynol laid there barely breathing covered in third degree burns.
He reached out a hand towards Juniper.
She took a step back and then pulled an arrow from her quiver.
“Selling people is messed up,” Juniper said before unleashing the arrow.
It stuck into Lynol’s forehead and fell back dead.
Juniper pulled the arrow from Lynol and slipped it back into her bag. There inside the remnants of the tent sat a waterskin. She reached into the tent sustaining small burns on her hand and forearm grabbing the waterskin.
Juniper then uncorked it pouring the water on some of the nearby fires. It put out the small fires still burning where the tents were, but they were not enough to put out the larger fire still burning near the tree.
“Pickle! How’s it going?”
Juniper looked over at Piakol.
He was down on the ground concentrating his fire breath on the part of the chain that connected the girl to the large chain around the tree. Hit lit up the chain using his fire breath and then chomped down the heated metal denting and damaging enough where the link was no longer completely in tact.
“Pull!” Piakol yelled to the girl.
She didn’t argue. She pulled as hard as she could and after a little bit of effort, the chain snapped making her fall back onto her but. Half of the chain was still attached to her wrist, but she was free from the tree.
“Piakol, the fire!” Juniper yelled.
“I’m working on it!” Piakol yelled back in Draconic.
Piakol flapped his wings spraying up dirt and ash, but it didn’t do much to put out the fire. The tree’s bark was pretty hardy and seemed to be partially fireproof, but the grassy area around the tree was still burning strongly.
“Cover it with your body!” Juniper said running up to the burning tree.
Piakol did his best to shield the fire with his wings and body, but he wasn’t very big. It took a few different attempts, but eventually Piakol and Juniper were able to quell the fire leaving large scorch marks where the campfire once stood.
Off to the side the girl just stood there paralyzed with fear. She didn’t know what to do.
After the fires were put out, Juniper sat down in the ash and dirt and wiped her brow.
“Well that could have been worse I guess,” Juniper let out a small chuckle.
“Yeah we almost set this whole forest on fire,” Piakol said. “Then we would have had some fey creatures show up to kill us.”
“Excuse me, but you are the one with the fire breath. You almost set the forest on fire,” Juniper pointed out.
“My fire did a pretty good job taking care of those bandits. You’re welcome.”
“I got the final kill on both of them.”
“Yeah after they got burnt to a crisp. Again. You’re welcome.”
“…excuse me,” The girl spoke up.
Both Juniper and Piakol turned their heads at the girl. Due to the fire being an immediate problem, Juniper forgot about the girl and was speaking Draconic to Piakol.
“Oh I’m so sorry,” Juniper said changing back to speaking common. “I almost forgot.”
Juniper stood up and walked over to the girl. Instinctively, she took a step back.
“Don’t be afraid. We’re not here to hurt you. We rescued you,” Juniper said with a small smile. “It wasn’t pretty, but we did rescue you.”
The girl stood there not convinced.
“My name is Juniper and this is Piakol. He’s a dragon. What’s your name?”
The girl looked down at Piakol and then back to Juniper.
“My…my name is Grace.”
“Nice to meet you, Grace,” Juniper smiled. “Can you tell me how you ended up here in this situation?”
“Yeah I guess I can do that,” Grace said.
“Great. Then we can figure out what’s our next move,” Juniper said.
Other Dungeons and Dragons inspired pieces:
Header Photo Credit to The Guild of Ambience’s YouTube video titled “River Campfire – Nature Sounds | 2 Hours”