This time around we're treated to the tale of Volorius, a devan soldier who makes a pact with an unlikely ally named Gernakul. Gernakul is a dracoloth, and as you can tell from the screenshot above, he's not to be messed with. Aside from decimating a camp of heavily armored soldiers and snacking on a overconfident sorcerer, Gernakul is possessed of a treacherous and nasty disposition, as Volorious soon learns. Read about his fate after the cut.
There are many reasons to fear dracoloths.Their size, strength and fiery breath (inherited from their draconic relatives) are reason enough. But dracoloths are callous, capricious and egotistical in the extreme besides. And they're very, very intelligent.
"A worthwhile partnership," Volorius mused as Gernakul tore a shank from a smoking baraka corpse.
Gernakul chuckled, foot-long teeth gleaming. "If you mean that you do manual labor while I sit back and eat, I have to agree!"
Volorius smiled humorlessly. "Good that you see it that way," he muttered, returning his staff to its harness and hefting a pick axe. "I'd heard your kind could be..." Lazy, he thought. "...challenging partners," he finished.
Gernakul cocked his head at the devan soldier. "Aaah, devan tact," he purred. Gernakul scooped up a leg with his tongue and noisily crunched the bone.
"Devans are always polite to faithful hirelings who don't intrude in our business," Volorius retorted as he drove the heavy pick into the hard-trodded ground.
Gernakul's eyes widened, and he raised his head proudly on his sinuous neck. "How hurtful," he replied. "To suggest I'd be interested in your grubbing around in the dirt!" The great beast laughed, smoke trickling from its nostrils.
A risky plan, relying on a dracoloth, but the potential rewards were great. The artifact he sought, a lost devan weapon from the Divine War,had been far behind enemy lines under a federation base. The commander had dropped his plan to extract it, but allowed Volorius to pursue his own.
And so Volorius had found Gernakul, paid him half a princely sum up front, and flown with him to the camp. The dracoloth's assault had been impressive; he dove from the sky and slammed into the camp's center like an immense fist, scattering federation soldiers like dolls. As Volorius killed those who fled, Gernakul lashed his tail about, impaling an officer and flinging him into a tree to hang like gory fruit.
A castanic Mysterium sorcerer gestured, and a fireblast burst across Gernakul's back. For a terrible moment, there was silence. The castanic smiled. Then a rush of wind cleared the smoke away as Gernakul vaulted his great bulk into the air, opened his jaws and roared out a roiling torrent of flame. When the flames died, there was nothing left of the sorcerer.
"As your faithful hireling," Gernakul suggested, "I should stay alert for returning scouts or patrols!" Volorius nodded curtly and continued digging. Gernakul stalked away through the federation tents, still crunching away on the baraka's leg bone.
Volorius was surprised at the beast's tactics. Gernakul had stood watch each night on the way here, and now he'd thought of nearby troops. But the fighting was done, and Volorius had only dirt between him and glory. Once the dracoloth's footsteps faded, Volorius checked his pockets. A powerful poison bomb was ready at his hip, and a teleport scroll to bring him instantly home was in his jacket. Volorius smiled. Maybe the dracoloth was really loyal. Maybe it was just waiting its chance. No matter; best not to make assumptions.
Volorius had just uncovered the artifact when the tent next to him erupted. A horrified shriek mingled with a dracoloth's roar and the snapping of great jaws. The tent ripped loose as the dracoloth shrugged its way through. Gernakul leaned close to Volorius and spread his lips.
"'Oo I 'avesum'in' b'twn my t'th?" the monster gurgled. Between immense teeth, a pair of horrified popori eyes looked out for a moment. Gernakul chuckled, then his great gullet moved and the eyes mercifully disappeared.
"So, this is the object of all my hard work, is it?" he said, inclining his head towards the artifact.
Volorius gritted his teeth before he spoke. "Yes. Now, if you're done playing, do a final perimeter sweep while I prepare it for transport so we can leave." Though of course I won't leave the same way you do, he thought.
Gernakul raised his head reflectively. "Hmm. No, I think not," he drawled.
Volorius's breath caught in his throat. "I can't pay you the rest of your fee until we return," the devan said, as calmly as possible.
"Oh, but you can," the dracoloth growled. Volorius's hand flew to his pocket for the teleport scroll. Even as his fingers slid inside, a huge foot slammed down on him, driving him into the torn earth and pinning his arm.
"You dare tell me my interests?" The dracoloth roared. "You call me a beast?" With a flick, his great horn tore open the pocket with the scroll. "I don't need the trappings of your feeble civilization, so you assume I can't read?"
Burning slaver spattered Volorius's skin. Those nights you stood watch, he thought. He felt the blood rush from his face, scrabbled desperately with his free hand for the grenade, saw the great wing claw tear away his arm.
Over the roar in his head,Volorius murmured, "Y-you said you didn't want..."
In his ear, Gernakul purred "I never said I didn't want it-just that I didn't want to dig for it!"
Volorius rode a wave of laughter into blackness.