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The Legend of Vashilov

By Scen

Theirs was an odd fellowship. All told, the band was comprised of a group of not more than sixty peasants. Some of them were mounted on Grimfowl; most were not wealthy enough to even own a Grimfowl. True to form, for a mob of angry peasants, the balance of this small militia were armed with torches and pitchforks.

They had gathered from a number of villages across the Scandian plain to a rise overlooking the town of Ulen, there to strike a blow against the Titans that would not be soon forgotten.

Two of the men at the head of the huddled mob seemed a least a touch more soldier-like than the rest: they wore armor, in bands of worn leather and tarnished, dented steel, and pointed-dome helmets with chain fringes that dangled down to cover the backs of their necks. One of them was betrayed of his farmer's hertiage, however, by the weapons that hung off his belt: a smith's hammer and a sickle. The other, a serviceable pike, improvised from a rake that had been broken and its head re-cast over a forge by someone who was less-than-a-master smith.

"I've not seen him yet," said the man with the hammer and sickle, crouching behind a row of shrubs and peering down over the rise into the canyon below. "Damned but if he comes into the valley now he'll spot the torches and that's it."

"Calm yourself, Ilya," said the man with the pike, smiling broadly and stroking his beard. "I, for one, am not about to tell the mob to put out their light. They'd react unpleasantly, I think, if they could not play at dice while we wait for our opportunity.

"Opportunity?" Ilya said, still looking down over the rise. "What opportunity? I see nothing down there but villagers, just like the ones we have up here. No Gorinych, no treasure hoard... We'd best start praying the Gryphon doesn't pass overhead and spot us."

"You heard the mystic," the pikeman said, "Gorinych is here. We'll never have a better opportunity to strike him down."

"The mystic," Ilya said, spitting off to the side. "I tell you, Dobrynov, we were better off before the 'mystic' and that newcomer showed up."

"Were you, now?" came a voice, predictably, from behind them. The two militiamen turned to see one of the new peasants they had picked up in the decimated village of Oprichnia. He was a mountain of a man; a full head taller than Dobrynov, which made him the tallest of all. His beard was close-clipped, his mustache thin and long, and of the few men in the mob who were wealthy or distinguished enough to own armor, his was clearly the best made and gave off a pleasant shine. Yet for his distinguished-looking armor, his weapon was as humble as the rest: a simple grain flail.

"No, no of course not Vashilov," Dobrynov said, with a chuckle. "Ilyavicz was just letting off some steam before the great battle, yes?"

Dobrynov elbowed Ilya, who grunted.

"Ilyavicz is right about at least one thing, however," Vashilov said, as he turned to the mob of peasants. "Douse those torches. Do it now."

The men listened to him, like they always did ever since he joined up. Ilyavicz grumbled to himself indignantly.

"Brother Alexey has told us that we will find a dragon here in Ulen," Vashilov said to the peasants, as the torches were doused. "Poor as they are, your pitchforks will make excellent lances for sticking this beast. You should spend your time sharpening them, and steeling your courage, before we ride down into the canyon."

"Your 'Brother Alexey' may have been misinformed, Vashilov," Ilyavicz said, pointing with his hammer down into the canyon. "Dobrynov and I have been watching Ulen ever since we arrived -- while you were away doing Bleu-knows-what, leaving the rest of us to sit here exposed. Have a look yourself, Vashilov: no dragon."

Vashilov crept up to the ledge. Indeed, the village looked quiet, save for the common house. The lights were on, and men were gathered within, drinking and feasting. Such was common enough in Ulen, for this village over all other in the region was favored by the Gryphon and its minions. They did not bear quite as many of the hardships as the men from the other villages, who had become so desperate as to form an angry mob to strike back at the Titans.

"He is there," Vashilov said, "Inside the tavern. Revelling with those who betray their own kind to the Titans."

Ilya glanced down at the inn, and chuckled. "Of course he is," Ilyavicz said. "How silly of me, of course a dragon could fit in there. I apologize for doubting you."

Vashilov had not heard the rebuke, or else he didn't care enough to pay it mind. Instead he had gone to one of the peasants who had not yet snuffed his torch, and snatched it from his hand.

"Re-light your torches," Vashilov said, as he mounted his grimfowl and urged it to the edge of the rise.

"... You cannot be serious..." Ilyavicz said, but it was too late. With a screech from the great bird, Vashilov and his mount had sprung off the ledge and down into the canyon below. Vashilov's grimfowl beat its vestigial wings futilely, kicked its legs against the open air as it descended. In one hand Vashilov clutched both his flail and the reins, and in the other he held his torch aloft. His eyes remained fixed on the thatch roof of the tavern, and when he was close enough, he hurled the torch ahead of him, toward the roof.

Following suit, the few peasants that still had lit torches threw them en masse down from the ledge and toward the tavern. Others quickly mounted and raced down toward the canyon floor, streaming down the paths that lead to either side of the village. Ilya and Dobrynov, not wanting to be left behind, found their own mounts, and followed after Vashilov's leap.

By the time the rest of the mob had descended on Ulen, it was a mass of chaos and confusion. The tavern was on fire, and a pair of Vashilov's men were standing by the door armed with spades to cut down the villagers that were fleeing.

Ilyavicz and Dobrynov came standing alongside Vashilov, who watched patiently as the tavern burned down and their men engaged the Ulenites shovel-to-shovel.

"Not that I don't enjoy bringing a little blood and fire to Ulen, Vashilov," Ilyavicz said, "But I still do not see Gorinych. And, I almost hate to say it... without dragon's blood on our hands, I worry that this excursion will not be worth the wrath of the Gryphon we will surely have to face later."

No sooner had Ilya spoken, then one last man came out from the tavern's doorway. He caught the weapon of the first man who tried to strike him, turned it round and gutted the wielder with it. Then he grabbed the poor peasant's bleeding carcass and turning him over in his hands, swung him head-first at the second, sending both men hurtling back into the burning common house.

As this new survivor of the tavern turned back around to face the angry mob that was sacking Ulen, Vashilov and the others noted that he had three heads and brightly glowing green eyes.

"Ilyavicz," Vashilov said, as he clutched either end of his flail each in a hand, "You talk too much."

"Who dares?" the three-headed man bellowed, his voice filling the canyon. "Who dares such an affront against Razboynik and those who are loyal to him!?!"

"Vashilov of Oprichnia," the leader of the mob said, striding forward. Ilyavicz and Dobrynov followed, branching out to flank the man with three heads. "That is who dares."

The three-headed man smiled. Then, all at once, he began to expand, bursting his human skin and unfurling from deep within his true form. Vashilov, Ilyavicz and Dobrynov were showered with gore as Gorinych, the mighty three-headed green dragon, exploded out from his human disguise.

All the fighting in the village stopped instantly, as the men on both sides turned to watch as the leaders of the mob were confronting the dragon.

"Insolent vermin," Gorinych said, its voice echoing through the maws of all three of its draconic heads, and reverberating off the canyon walls. "You are the ones who burned Tsengrad, Marrecz and Ulbyon. You are the ones who have been such an annoyance to my master these many months -- and do not dare deny it, for I can smell the lies on your tiny, louse-ridden bodies."

"To be fair," Dobrynov called out, "Most of our old band was killed at Marrecz. It's hardly the same group now as put that village to the torch."

"Almost like giving the new batch credit for all our hard work," Ilyavicz chuckled, casting an eye in Vashilov's direction.

Gorinych's right head snorted. "Your witticisms betray your hubris, humans, and it insults me." With that, the right head reared toward Dobrynov and unleashed a spiralling stream of flame in his direction.

Artfully, Dobrynov wheeled away just in time, and both Vashilov and Ilyavicz took this to be their opening. They raced forward, along with a number of braver peasants, weapons raised and prepared to strike the dragon. The other two heads were alert, however, and both sprayed simultaneously with their own breaths in the direction of the rushing warriors: one head with a stream of toxic green gas, the other with a spray of boiling acid.

Many fell to the spray, but both Ilyavicz and Vashilov were able to save themselves by leaping aside. Vashilov made good use of one of the men who had been taken by the gas, taking his pitchfork and giving it a good hurl in the direction of the right head's gullet.

The fork struck home, its three tines burying themselves in the dragon's scales. The dragon screeched in surprise -- humans were not supposed to be so strong to pierce his scales. In fact, he did not think he had ever been wounded by a human before, ever.

Enraged, the right head turned toward Vashilov, and called forth its fire again. But the fork wedged in its throat had damaged whatever it was the dragon used to conjure its breath, and instead the right head of Gorinych reeled in pain as one of the beast's paws scraped futilely at the farm tool that jutted out of its flesh.

Another wave of peasants gave their charge, but they were reduced to so many bubbling pools as the left head's acid breath liquefied them. Ilyavicz used this distraction, dashing forward and under the beast's belly, where he smashed a toe on the dragon's right rear foot with his hammer, and hamstringed its left rear leg with his sickle as he passed.

With a roar, Gorinych's rear legs dropped out from under him, and its belly struck the ground with a crash that shook the earth for miles around.

Enraged, Gorinych spun its left head out and bashed Vashilov, sending him crashing into the canyon wall. Mostly unfazed, Vashilov regained his feet -- but as he did he saw the center head preparing to spit another stream of poison gas in his direction.

It surely would have been the end of the legend of Vashilov, right then and there, had not Dobrynov appeared then. Standing in the saddle of his grimfowl, he raced it full-sprint in Gorinych's direction, then leapt. Carried by momentum, with his pike raised over his head, he soared through the air.

Gorinych had seen the brave warrior only too late. It would have moved to snatch him out of the air in one of its sets of jaws, but as Dobrynov flew he issued a sky-rending battlecry that gave even the mighty dragon pause -- for, already so confused at being faced with men who could not only fight back, but fight back well enough to wound a dragon, Dobrynov's battlecry truly terrified Gorinych for reasons he could not fahtom.

With all his strength, Dobrynov buried his pike deep into the dragon's chest -- and, against all possibility, against all that the people of Scande had been taught was the unshakable, immutable order of things, it pierced Gorinych's heart.

Dobrynov himself smashed unceremoniously against the dragon's scaly chest, then toppled to the ground and rolled away. Gorinych screamed violently, from all three heads, and stagged backward. His rear legs crippled, a pitchfork in his throat and now mortally wounded, the great three-headed dragon who was the Gryphon of Scande's lieutenant, toppled over into the still burning tavern. Dead.

 

-----

 

There was much rejoicing then, in the light of the burning tavern. The peasants hailed their three heroes: Dobrynov they called the Dragonslayer, whose strength had driven a spear so deep into Gorinych that it pierced his burning heart. Ilyavicz, they called the Swift, whose cunning and skill allowed him to pass like wind beneath the Dragon, to wound without being wounded. And Vashilov they called the Wise, for it had been his insight that had lead them here, to this opportunity, and with it mankind's first ever victory against the Titans.

As the tavern ruins smoldered into glowing embers, and the scent of scorched dragonflesh was still thick in the air, Vashilov's mob had gathered together all of the survivors from both sides: those that had been with the mob, and the remaining Ulenites.

"This is my favorite part," Ilyavicz said, brandishing his sickle and approaching one of the Ulenites. "On your knees, filth. I will do this quickly."

"You will not," Vashilov said, interceding.

Ilyavicz glared at Vashilov incredulously. "Silence, newcomer! You will need to have shed a bit more blood alongside us before I'll abide you barking orders while I'm executing prisoners."

Vashilov indicated the remaining members of the mob. "We've taken heavy losses. There are a good number of villagers here. We can use them to replenish our numbers."

Ilyavicz grumbled. "You are stupid. These men serve the Gryphon! Before we attacked they were feasting with one of his lieutenants!!"

"Surely, they served the Gryphon out of fear," Vashilov said, "For the Gryphon and its agents are large, and can kill a man by stepping on him."

Dobrynov nodded. "Ilya, he is right. Was it so long ago you and I were compelled to obey a Titan's will?"

Ilyavicz stared at Dobrynov, dumbfounded. "Only now, after so many men we have burned and bled, are you possessed by such wisdom, Dobrynov?!?" he sighed. "Fine, do as you like, Vashilov. We will take them, make them fight with us. Aye?"

"I will make them do nothing," Vashilov said. Then, turning to face the Ulenites, he extended his weapon-arm and pointed at them with his flail. "Tonight you have seen the beginning. In the days to come, more acts like this one will be laid at the Gryphon's feet. And when we are ready, we will rise up as one clenched fist to knock against the very gates of the Obelisk itself. You have been on the losing side of this battle, but I know that it is not by your will. All of us were once like you: pitiable wretches little better than cattle within the domains of the Titans. Now, no longer: we are warriors, we are free. If you will join me, you will be free too."

"Free?" one of the Ulenites scoffed. "Free indeed... There are only so many monsters in the world that can be felled with farming tools. You were lucky tonight. You will not be so again. And I, for one, would rather go someplace safe than join you."

Ilyavicz raised his hammer to smite the man for his insolence, but Vashilov caught the man's arm.

"If that is how you feel, sir," Vashilov said, "You may go. Go to this 'safe place', and take all those with you who feel the same. But the rest of you... if you saw something here tonight that you would like to see repeated, then join with me. Join me and together we will unseat the Gryphon and liberate Scande."

The next few moments, the Ulenites sorted themselves out in total silence. Former neighbors barely looked at each other as they parted ways, roughly half staying to join with Vashilov, and the rest (a slightly larger number) leaving the decimated village on foot.

The new recruits were embraced by the growing army. An inventory of the resources remaining in Ulen was quickly begun, the effort lead by Dobrynov.

However, before anyone had too much of a chance to get settled, Vashilov called Ilyavicz forth.

"Get to your bird," Vashilov said, "And take all our riders with you. Follow those who left Ulen tonight... and cut them down. No mercy."

Ilyavicz was, at first, unsettled by the command. But then, with a smirk: "Well now. That is more like it, Vashilov."

The men around him -- both those that had followed him before, and the new recruits from Ulen -- just stared at Vashilov, as Ilya and his riders set out.

"Any who do not join us in throwing off the Titans' shackles are our enemies," Vashilov said, "And poor as we are, we've barely enough mercy for ourselves, and so shall spare our enemies none."



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