The Missing Dragon Ch. 03byLien_Geller©
Author's Note: As usual, thanks very much to Krissta for editing this for me! If this is your first time reading this story then you should know that as well as Sci-Fi/Fantasy, it contains elements from the following categories: Erotic Couplings, Group Sex, Mature, Lesbian Sex, and NonHuman. This particular chapter is also a bit more violent than the last ones. So, if any of that turns you off then now would be a good time to stop reading. If not, then I hope you enjoy!
Ash and smoke: it was all that filled his senses. It had been all that the ring had left. A circle, as wide as a man was tall, had been burned into the grass. The boy who had foolishly placed the ring on his finger was no more. Even his bones had blackened and flaked away to sail through the air on the whim of the evening breeze.
The silence and stillness that had fallen upon the camp made the moment disturbingly serene. All had been there to witness the deranged Freddie Lounds place the ring upon his finger before slowly being burned alive from the inside. Algra's whisper upon seeing the terrible conflagration still rang in Gregory's ears.
Gregory had never seen a dragon, but if that was what their fire did to a person then he was damn certain that he never wanted to meet one. He remained sat in shock as the embers of death still remained heavy in the air. It wasn't until he felt the wet drops of Janette's tears spill upon his bare shoulder that he realised he hadn't taken a single breath since Freddie had slipped the ring onto his finger.
The world seemed to come alive again as he suddenly took in a deep gasp of air. Orcs and humans began running around the camp. Some made hurried rushed toward their tents to get away from the sight of the ring as it glowed hot in the blackened earth. Others started to crowd around to look upon what had happened.
Gregory turned to look upon Janette and found her eyes glistening and her cheeks stained with fresh tears. She wept in horror at the sight she had just witnessed. Freddie had once been with her before she'd come to her senses. Although she did not mourn his loss, she cried for the pain and the fear she'd seen in his face before it had been engulfed by the flames.
It was the sight of that beautiful face laced with such sorrow that finally tore Gregory from his own reserve and made him suddenly realise that he should be trying to find out what the hell had just happened.
"Algra!" he raised his voice and found it surprisingly strong.
The orc female turned from the sight of the scorched earth to look upon Gregory. He found that she was obviously taken aback by the power of the ring but the sight of a man being incinerated didn't bother her in the slightest. She was a warrior. She had seen men burn before.
Upon hearing her name, she rushed over to make sure that her human master was alright. She found him unharmed except for a few swollen knuckles. Shortly before Freddie had put on the ring, he'd been lying in the dirt getting his face re-arranged by furious Gregory. The sight of her master beating his enemy had given the orc a powerful urge to ravish him once again. Now it seemed that there were other matters to deal with.
Gregory was lifting himself to his feet and helping Janette to hers in the process.
"Take Jan back to the tent and make sure Valise sees her."
Algra nodded in the affirmative and he slipped the weeping redhead from his arms and into the welcoming embrace of the orc. He then turned to look back at the ring. Its glow had faded considerably, though it still glimmered brightly in amidst the ashes.
"No one touch it," he growled.
A few of the orcs had been stepping toward the object and suddenly jumped back at the sound of Gregory's voice. He walked over to Torren's tent where he found the blacksmith had been watching from behind its canopy. It didn't take him long to find what he was looking for as the pair of iron tongs came into view next to the smith's anvil. After snatching them up, he walked back over the blackened circle and caught the ring in amidst the pincers. He carried the thing to the cooling trough and allowed it to drop in the clear water. It made a small hiss as the hot metal hit the liquid and a tiny wisp of steam lifted into the air.
"I need some string."
Torren had been watching whilst rooted to the spot in fear of what the ring might do next. At Gregory's words, he snapped out of the fearful trance and fumbled about in amidst his tools to emerge with a long piece of string. It was taken with a small nod of thanks from the younger man before he reached into the water and took hold of the ring itself.
"Don't do that!" Torren made to move forwards in fear that Gregory would be the next one to erupt in a blaze of fire.
"It's fine. I've held it before." Of course, that didn't mean he was stupid enough to put the thing on his finger.
Torren hesitated and watched as Gregory looped the string through the golden band and tied the ends together before lifting it over his head. He wasn't going to forget about it ever again. The ring hung there upon his bare chest, still glinting but otherwise doing no harm to Gregory. After a moment's wait to see if anything happened, Gregory left the smith's tent to walk outside to see Grolfir had appeared in Bolut's camp along with five of his guards.
The crowd had quickly dispersed at the sight of the great warchief. Gregory couldn't blame them. Right about then he'd have paid good money to have had the ground swallow him whole. This wasn't helped by the fact that Grolfir saw him and his eyes narrowed in anger. Gregory would have felt more comfortable trying to stare down an erupting volcano.
"What, by the First, has happened here?" Grolfir's voice rung through the air like an oncoming avalanche.
"I will explain." Algra's voice. She had left Gregory's tent upon seeing the arrival of her uncle and was moving to head off any undue rages that might follow.
"No." Gregory held up his hand and Algra halted immediately whilst casting a questioning look over her shoulder at him. "This is my fault."
The female orc growled in quick defiance at her master's assessment of the situation.
"It is not-" she began.
"It is. I had Freddie released here. Into my care. He escaped because I didn't think to post a guard and I was too caught up in other things to even realise that I'd left the ring practically out in the open. It was stupid. It was my fault." Gregory looked up to the big warchief whose eyes had fallen upon his chest where the ring now hung.
"What happened?" The great orc curled his lip over a large tusk and folded his arms across his massive chest as he regarded Gregory.
"Freddie escaped. I don't know how he got free. I changed my clothes and forgot I'd left the ring in my pocket. He found it and put it on. He thought that because it brought us here that it would send us home... or at least send him home. I lost control of myself." Gregory felt Algra's hand upon his shoulder and realised that he was talking too fast. His breaths were becoming difficult as he relived the horrifying sight of Freddie igniting from within after being beaten bloody by Gregory's own fists. He stopped and closed his eyes tightly to keep from losing control and then when his gaze settled back upon Grolfir it was calm and steady. "I beat him. He was saying awful things about what he'd do to Janette and I couldn't hold myself back. I felt his face breaking on my fists and I couldn't... I couldn't stop it." Algra's hand squeezed reassuringly against his tight muscle. "I realised what I'd done and scrambled to get away. Freddie managed to put the ring on and he..."
"The ring has great power. It burned the mad child to nothing but ashes before our eyes." Algra's voice cut in so that Gregory did not have to finish. Her words were cold and clinical. A soldier's report.
Gregory found himself suddenly very grateful to the beautiful orc.
"Show me where the fool was bound," Grolfir ordered after a moment of thought. His eyes never veering away from Gregory's.
The words sparked a sudden clarity of focus in the young man's mind. He too wanted to know how Freddie had managed to free himself. The last time he'd seen the disturbed boy, he'd been chained up to an iron post. Freddie didn't exactly strike him as the most adept of escape artists and so the question of how he gained his freedom was definitely relevant.
Without a word, Gregory nodded to the warchief and turned to lead them along the tents of Bolut's camp to where Freddie had been shackled. What he saw when he came to the iron post made him freeze in his tracks. Torren, the young blacksmith, was stood in front of the post whilst scratching his chin. He hadn't noticed the approach of the others as he regarded what once had been a very long length of iron embedded into the earth.
Instead of the smooth iron post, there was nothing but a badly rusted heap of iron shavings. It was as if the post itself had been almost wholly disintegrated.
"Sorcerer," Grolfir growled.
"No." Gregory shook his head. "There's no way that Freddie could have done this. He didn't know anything about magic. He was just about the most un-magical person you could imagine."
Gregory took a few steps forwards and crouched by the crumbled remains of the post. There was a strong smell of sulphur in the air close to the ruined iron. He didn't like that one little bit. He then turned to look at Torren, who had by now noticed that he was in the presence of his master and the warchief himself. His face suddenly paled at the realisation.
"Do you know anything that could have done this to iron?" At Gregory's words, all eyes turned to the smith.
"N-no! No sir. I couldn't do this m'self if I wanted to. I forged that post. It was a simple job. Used the same stuff I forged this shield from." He quickly stepped inside his own tent for a moment before emerging with a perfectly fine looking iron shield. He looked over the metal to see if there were any signs of sudden decay when a thought occurred to him. "Unless..."
Torren stopped himself as the ramifications of his train of thought suddenly became clear. The many sets of eyes resting upon him suddenly made him become very nervous to the point where he lifted his shield up to his nose.
"Torren, what is it? It's alright if you made a mistake." Gregory meant it. Though he would have been somewhat shocked if that had been the case. Torren might have been a little bit of a shy klutz but it was obvious that he knew his trade well.
"Master it's..." he hesitated yet again, glancing nervously to the warchief.
"Speak boy!" Grolfir suddenly bellowed and made half of those in attendance jump with fright.
"I remember I have seen something like this before. I'd got this chunk of metal jammed in a frame I'd worked up for a cart. Couldn't budge the thing. So I went to Valise and she had this potion. It just ate through the metal so I could get it out. When the chunk broke free it looked a bit like..." He nodded toward the rusted scraps of the metal shaft.
"Valise. The witch? Where is she?" This was spoken by a member of Grolfir's company. An orc whom Gregory had seen sitting upon the high table in the orc's feasting hall.
"She was with me the whole time. She couldn't have done this." Gregory turned to Algra for support.
"He speaks true uncle. I was with them. Before she arrived at the tent she was in the middle of camp playing with her bottles," Algra quickly affirmed.
"The witch must be brought before us regardless." The orc elder quickly interjected.
This was getting out of hand. The looks upon some of the faces of the surrounding green giants suggested that perhaps a witch burning might be in order. Valise had told him that the orcs were wary of her alchemical talents. If suspicion was cast on her then it would be difficult to wash away, especially with mistrust already thick in the air. Gregory's thoughts naturally turned to what could happen to the beautiful woman whose company he'd been enjoying only minutes before. Human slaves were treated decently overall, but he didn't like to think what would happen to one that took to freeing potential murderers.
"No." Gregory finally found his voice again. All fell silent as he stepped up to Grolfir. The orc elder beside him seemed somewhat stunned that a human would dare challenge his words. Still, Gregory stood firm. "This is my fault."
The tension in the air thickened and only Grolfir and Algra remained silent. The beautiful emerald skinned woman stepped up to Gregory's side and placed a hand upon his shoulder. He turned to look upon her to find her dark eyes seemed angry and that anger was focused upon him. Being stared at in such a way by any orc would have sent chills up the spine of any human but Algra managed to put her own uniquely vicious edge to her gaze.
"You are not at fault." She quietly but firmly stated.
"The hell I'm not. I forgot about the damn ring! I left it out there for anyone to pick up. I got too distracted. Then when I could have pulled the thing out of Freddie's hand I didn't. I sure as shit didn't let him go, but he couldn't have done this without me. Everyone was in danger. Imagine if we hadn't seen him and he'd slipped into someone's tent to put it on. Half the camp would be on fire by now." Gregory was somewhat surprised to find his own anger boiling up from within to match the intensity of Algra's.
"Boy, should you take responsibility for this then the price to pay is a dear one." The elder's tone was ominous.
"No it isn't." Grolfir had been watching Gregory the entire time. His words brought a fresh wave of silence over the surrounding orcs.
"What? Master, the entire camp has been endangered. If this child accepts that he is at fault then-"
"Then the child must grow up," Grolfir finished.
The words brought the orc elder up short for he had clearly not been expecting to hear that. Gregory thought that he was pretty grown up already and had to damn near bite his tongue to hold back a sarcastic comment on the matter. He might have been angry but he wasn't insane enough to openly talk back to the warchief.
"Gregory Hopkins, you have been made one of us by the right of Algra's challenge. Yet you are not of our people and you have not earned the right to walk among us as a true orc. Therefore I deem you to be a child and submit you to the proving. All that you have is now mine, and your former property is to care for you until you are blooded. Do you submit to this?" Grolfir's tone had a distinct note of you'd better bloody do as I say or else that Gregory had often heard from his own father.
"Then so be it. You shall appear on the proving grounds and find your pack at first light tomorrow. And you shall turn that thing into my care immediately." He pointed at the ring hanging upon Gregory's chest. "It shall be returned to you when you have proven that you are up to the task of keeping such a thing safe."
This matter did not remotely seem like it was up for debate. Gregory therefore did as he was told and lifted the ring over his head. It was the elder who reached out to take it from him, but he instinctively pulled back. The act of defiance was not taken well as the craggy, lined face of the old orc twisted into an enraged snarl.
Gregory quickly affixed his position and handed the ring out to Grolfir directly. There was little that the elder could do then, for Gregory had only done what he was told. Grolfir met his gaze and then snatched away the string loop that held the ring. With the strange metal band that had caused so much damage in his possession, the great warchief turned and took his leave. His guards and the elder soon accompanied him.
Gregory let out a long, slow breath.
"Ok, so what the hell just happened?" He turned to Algra.
"I do not speak to children!" Algra growled before turning and storming off toward their tent.
Gregory felt the distinct sensation of a very cold foot hitting him in the guts. Had she left him? Was that it? Instinct cried out for him to follow her but at that same moment he saw Emmet trying to catch his attention. The sudden realisation that he could speak to someone who would have an idea of what the hell had just happened quickly deterred him from thoughts of following Algra for the time being.
He approached the old man who bowed his head kindly in greeting.
"Emmet, I really need to know what just happened there."
"Well, it would seem that the warchief has lit a fire beneath your feet." Emmet did not address Gregory as "master" for the first time. "The punishment for Freddie's escape would undoubtedly have fallen on Valise's head had you not stepped forward. It was a brave thing to do. The punishment for freeing those who have been cast to the pits is a public beating and lashing. It is a humiliation for orcs and a painful one to be sure but for humans the act is nearly always fatal."
Gregory could immediately see why. Orcs were incredibly tough by nature and their greater size and strength would have made them more resilient to the punishment. A human facing what would take an orc to within an inch of his life would be a damn certain death sentence.
"You almost faced such an ordeal yourself. It seemed that Elder Wren was ready to order it when the warchief spoke up. All orcs must prove themselves as warriors in a ritual that is aptly named the Proving. Before this, all orcs are considered to be children. Children cannot be held accountable or responsible for what you were to be punished for."
"So he saved my ass?"
"Indeed. Yet children are also not allowed the responsibility of owning others until they have faced the Proving. Therefore Grolfir has taken Bolut away from you, along with me and the rest of what you owned. Including Algra. I expect that your possessions will be returned once you have passed the Proving."
"And what is it? The Proving I mean."
"It is a challenge of battle. You will be made a part of a pack and you will fight against other packs until you are proven worthy to be deemed an adult."
"I have to fight orcs? Lots of orcs?"
"I think I need to go lie down." Gregory lowered his face into his hand. " Then I'd be grateful if you'd hit me over the head with something hard and blunt."
"I'm sorry, my friend. I'm afraid you cannot give me orders any more." Emmet reached out and gave Gregory's shoulder a consoling pat.
"So I've lost everything? Algra, too?"
"Not exactly. The warchief commanded that we remain to care for you. Therefore you can avail yourself of anything in the camp and we're obliged to help, but you cannot actively order us to do things any more. Though, I'm sure that most of us would be happy to help you anyway. Just don't ask me to bludgeon you to death in your sleep." Emmet smiled. "As for Algra, I would say she is worried for you. She lost her last mate, you know? She believes that it was her fault that he was killed."
"And I just nearly got myself executed."
"I doubt that she approves of the idea of you being beaten to death," Emmet conceded.
"Well I'm not exactly crazy about the idea either y'know. Fuck, this day has just taken a god damn nose dive. I thought Freddie was a pain in the ass when he was alive..." Gregory suddenly stopped himself. Someone was dead. It was hardly the time to make jokes about it.
"I would suggest you go to her and apologise. Such distractions as nearly getting yourself killed cannot stand in the way of her affection for you."
Gregory looked back to his tent. "Thanks Emmet."
"You know, I'd just gotten used to everyone around here calling me master." Gregory's mouth curved into a slightly ironic smirk.
"Perhaps you would settle for friend for the time being?" Emmet suggested.