It was stunning how quickly the battle was joined. The invading armies were moving quickly through the forest, trying to take as much land as possible before the local defenses could organize. As such, they were moving with incredible haste, and the adventurers quickly decided that they would slow the invaders down as much as possible, even if ultimate victory wasn’t an option alone.
The adventurers were able to ambush the first scouts, but after that it quickly became a pitched battle. Salek crouched in a tree and fired arrows, his location protected by the chaos on the ground which prevented anyone from scanning the branches above for too long. Kah was drawing most of the attention, thundering through the battle as he was wont to do, while Celestra sniped soldiers with lightning bolts and Fror crept stealthily through the underbrush picking off stragglers. Even Gavin was helping, smashing enemies left and right with fists like flying boulders. (The rest of Gavin’s friends were a short ways off, though none of the travelers had the heart, or the interest, to check on how they were doing.)
They fell back and fell back, slowing the enemy down slightly but not even attempting to stop them outright. The adventurers were beginning to wonder if they should retreat entirely, rather than risk getting encircled, but before they could turn and run Salek caught sight of a most welcome surprise:
The army of Q’art Hadash, marching from Tevesta, was moving up to join the battle!
With the arrival of fresh troops, the battle became much more evenly matched. The invaders were powerful, and still more numerous than the defenders, but the locals were more familiar with the terrain and they were fighting for their homes. It was a brutal battle, but with the help of the adventurers it looked like they might just hold the line.
Then, a deafening roar split the sky.
It was so intense that for a moment the battle simply stopped. Soldiers scanned the skies, and for the briefest instant a shadow passed over the forest. It moved fast, propelled on powerful wings.
Then, before anyone below could react, it crashed down through the canopy.
It was a dragon, forty feet long with orange eyes set under scales of black that shimmered green in the sunlight. On its shoulders was a harness, and in it was a woman wearing black and red armor. She surveyed the battlefield with detachment, coldly marking the enemy lines as her dragon reared and blasted fire at the defenders of Q’art Hadash. Sixteen men and women died in an instant, before some had even realized what was happening.
Salek quickly surveyed the enormous beast, but he could see no obvious weaknesses. Its hide was thick, and he knew from experience that dragon scales were all but impenetrable. Its eye was open, though, so he took careful aim and loosed an arrow at the beast. Unfortunately, even hitting its mark exactly did little to hurt the monster: blinking like it had dust in its eye, the dragon turned and set the tree in which Salek stood ablaze. Only a desperate leap onto an adjoining tree’s branch kept him from burning alive.
“Attack the rider!” the elf shouted. “The dragon is too tough!”
Celestra, hiding behind a thick trunk, loosed three lightning bolts at the rider. Two of them connected, but under her armor the rider seemed unfazed. Indeed, she angrily fired two magical fire bolts back at the shaman, more to make her stay back than as a real attack.
Seeing an opportunity, Fror turned to Gavin the troll. “Can you throw me up onto it?” the dwarf asked.
The troll eyeballed the distance earnestly, and then nodded. “Crazy dwarf,” he murmured. But then, without any other statement, he lifted Fror in his hand and hurled him toward the beast. The dwarf landed hard on the tail of the monster, and for a dizzying moment he scrambled to grasp anything that might help him stay onboard even as the ground fell vertiginously away: the dragon was rising up into the air.
Kah, who had been charging the beast’s legs with his sword, had to jump out of the way of another fire blast as the dragon leapt into the air. The battle had turned into a rout, and as the defenders fled in terror the attackers advanced unopposed.
Regaining his balance, Fror looked up to find an unsettling sight: the rider had turned to face him, holding an empty bow with the string pulled back. “Get off,” she snarled. As she spoke, a burning arrow of flame appeared notched in the bow. It was aimed straight at Fror’s chest. “Now.”
Quickly calculating his odds, Fror nodded politely. “Nice to meet you, ma’am,” he said. “I look forward to killing you another time.” With that, he let himself fall into the waiting arms of the barbarian below.
As he fell, though, he shouted to the troll, “Gavin! Give that rider a companion!”
Gavin wasn’t the smartest of beings, but he understood what the dwarf meant immediately. With a big grin on his lopsided face, Gavin scooped up an invading soldier and hurled it toward the dragon, now dozens of yards in the air. The hapless man, desperately trying to save himself, grabbed hold of the beast’s wing as he soared up and over it, which in turn dragged it to the side as it was trying to fly.
The dragon’s head impacted a large tree, and for a moment it fell to the ground, stunned.
“Get the rider!” Salek shouted, firing an arrow down at a soldier who was closing on Celestra.
Kah knew his cue when he heard it, and the barbarian wasted no time in leaping up onto the back of the staggered beast and charged the rider. He could feel the blood rage building, feel the anger in his veins pulsing like a living thing, and in his mind he could already feel the rider’s dead body beneath him.
Kah was almost there, raising his sword for the killing blow, when an explosion of fire sent him flying backward through the air. He landed on the ground, hard, coughing and dazed at the unexpected maelstrom of flame.
The rider, her eyes glowing a furious orange that mirrored that of her mount, closed her fist and the flames dissipated. With a kick of her feet she urged the dragon into the air, and three powerful beats of its wings sent it soaring off into the distance.
The adventurers watched it fly away for a moment, stunned by what they had just witnessed. Before long, though, they were reminded that the enemy lines were advancing rapidly, and they were forced to fall back.
The day had been lost. The enemy continued their march deeper inland, burning all resistance as they went. The adventurers knew that they needed to do something to turn the tide of battle, but they didn’t know what it could be.