The dwindling daylight of the outside world crept into the quaint pub as the old door creaked open. A pair of shadows intruded on the last rays of dusk as the two made their entrance. The door once more came to a screeching close, returning the room to darkness. It always seemed like this was the kind of place their adventures and troubles began; it certainly was where they all ended.
The man pulled back his hood, revealing a mess of dark hair that fell over his face. Unbeknownst to the patrons, his hidden eyes searched over the filthy establishment.
"Remind me again why we are here?" muttered his short companion, certain to ensure that none could hear him. "It's like you're just askin' for someone to collect on that bounty on our heads."
"Because," the man in the drab, blue tunic told, "if you want something done right..." At a distant corner table, the conjurer saw the one they came to meet. Geirrek motioned for his draconic familiar to follow. "You gotta do it yourself."
The informant sat uneasily, his eyes darting nervously about the bar. He only became more startled when Geirrek made his sudden and silent appearance.
"You the guy?" the unkempt man asked, but the hooded one made no reply. He only pulled out a chair and rested his weapon on it before doing the same himself. "'Cause I see the spear and gauntlet and all, but how do I know you ain't no imposter?" The summoner slowly brought up his unarmored arm and brushed his greasy locks aside, fixing a cold stare on the man sitting opposite him. The informant no longer shook but froze; solid cerulean eyes gave off a dull glow, and in them, he saw something. "The cursed runes," he whispered.
"Well, it's good to know you saw 'em," Entropy spoke up from his keeper's side.
"What else would I see?" posed the informant, who desperately tried to regain his composure.
"Prophecy," Geirrek said in a flat tone, shaking his head slightly to conceal the eyes once more, "of how we're going to kill you."
"What'd make me see that?" the confused rogue spat out. The Nidhogg returned an uncomfortable stare from the floor. "Oh, right... if you were going to kill me," he realized, quite relieved now.
Wishing to end the transaction as soon as possible, the informant produced a scroll and slid it to the waiting conjurer. It was unrolled for a brief moment before the rogue reached over and snatched it away.
"That's enough," he snapped at the summoner. "Pay up, and you can read it all you want," bargained the informant, waving the map toyingly. Geirrek did nothing, emotionless as usual, until he reached into a pouch and removed a small vial, which he set before the scoundrel. "Is... is this the payment we agreed on?"
"This," the summoner explained with a smug air, "is the potion that will make the writing on the map to the Key of Ages visible." The ruffian immediately broke into a nervous sweat; his fake had been found out. "Now, you could still be of use to me. Just tell us who sent you, and you can walk away," Geirrek offered. "Otherwise..." It was not just fear on the rogue's face now; it was horror. He had heard tales of what the Terrible Summoner could do, ghastly things, many of which he found difficult to believe.
Fear makes people do foolish things, though. The rogue kicked over the table and unfastened a flintlock he had hidden there before firing a few rounds. Geirrek spun out of and around his seat, grabbing his war spear with one hand, and with his other, called up a magical barrier from his brazen, banded gauntlet. The enchanted bullets shattered through the heavy, wooden table but fizzled away in the invisible wall. Entropy coiled around behind his master's defense, growing into its full, awesome size. By now, most of the patrons and even the barkeep had fled.
"So what do you think?" the drake growled in a guttural, almost unintelligible voice. "Was he sent after us, or is he just some local scum?"
"Even if he is," the summoner pointed out while focusing all of his might into the magical shield which continued to come under fire, "he's scum that's shooting at us."
[A standard Battling Dragons story, medieval fantasy (yes, guns did exist back then!), and no, the Key of Ages is not from any myth; it is made up for this story.
As the duo hid behind the barrier, the spell caster studied their predicament and their attacker. There seemed to be no break in the rain of bullets. His analysis was not aided by his ally.
"This is why you don't go into shady dealings without backup," bickered the wyrm.
"He said to come alone," the keeper grumbled. "They generally do."
"What? I don't count?" retorted the devourer. "What am I? Trash? Garbage? Celphie?" The unhelpful banter was drowned out as Geirrek focused more on his adversary. While watching for an opportunity, he noticed something else. The gunner's gaze shifted, just slightly, from his targets as though looking behind them.
"Entropy, rear!" shouted the sorcerer. The Nidhogg was assaulted amidst turning by a snarling stalker. Defeating the hybrid would be easy, but doing so without leaving the shield's safety would not. Their struggle went without pause until the door slammed open. In a situation where panicked people fled the tavern, it came as odd that anyone would enter. All feuding participants temporarily stopped their battles to peer at the doorway. Odd it was indeed.
"Sorry I'm late, secret meetin' guy," loudly shouted the new arrival in the least secretive manner possible. His torturous voice alone would have been enough to draw attention even if the word "secret" was not tossed out, or his gaudy, purple apparel. "Some jerk tried loadin' me with hot lead an' ... Where is everybody?" The deserted state bothered him more than dueling pairs. "Dag, I hope the guy who wanted this didn't leave."
"The map!" gasped the fraud. At the sight of parchment, his fire redirected. The few rounds fired were preceded by a cowardice yelp and ended with thuds. The entrance, which was scarcely blocked by the stranger's scrawny and short stature, was wholly filled by a green mass. The sudden event puzzled the gunner. He drew but a step closer to study the bizarre wall, like a standing field of wilted grass with a slanted row of tooth-like spikes cutting across. As the portion of what he was seeing became realized, the false blades turned rigid, pointing outwards, and sprung forward. The liar fell backwards with his front loaded with green quills.
"See?" Entropy began, still holding the air where a familiar once was. "I told you it'd be easy." The summoner let down his shield. The volley of barbs it caught clattered upon the floor.
"Yeah, easy," Geirrek griped, pulling one of the few spines that were not blocked from his arm.
"So-" The spearman cringed at the shrill sound. Behind him, unexpectedly, stood the surprise savior, reaching little above his waist. He could understand the silent approach, with bare feet save sparsely wrapped cloth, but how the smell went unnoticed was a mystery. "-seeing as the guy what tried to kill me was also tryin' to kill you, I take it yer the guy. Eh?" The shorter one barely seemed interested in the blue clad vagrant and glanced about the empty bar.
"Uh, yeah. I'm... I'm 'the guy'," coldly stated Geirrek. The Nidhogg poked out from behind its master.
"What about me? Can I be the guy, too?"
"You ain't even a," blew off the true rendezvous as he tossed over a rolled scroll. "You can't be the." The sorcerer questioned the trusting act with a baffled stare. "I don't think stagin' a fight an' dyin' is on anyone's sneaky moves list." He downed what was left in the half-drank tankard before resuming business. "Wouldn't you agree? Besides, after gunny there tried his hand at gettin' the sucker from me, I took some extra measures."
"What Monsieur Bimblesnaff means," spoke an elegant tongue, "is that the map has been divided in two. What you hold is proof to our word." The speaker struggled the doorway. His wide body cracked the surrounding wall even when turned nearly vertical. Through it all, the Peluda maintained a dignified composure. "The rest is elsewhere to insure your end of the agreement." The shaggy beast flipped hanging strands from out of its eyes, which promptly fell back into place, as it introduced itself. "I am an advocate of Monsieur Bimblesnaff, Abad-"
"Spiky," cut in its master after draining a third tankard and the gas from his stomach.
"-onne," the exile finished after a disgusted pause, leering fiercely at the halfwit the whole time. Its heavy feet had finally plodded up to the group, and here it saw the damage done to the summoner's arm. "Oh dear. Pardon moi," it begged. "The aim, she is not so forgiving when blind."
"Zip it, Spiky, the grown-ups is talkin'," belched out the lunatic. "Now then, seems this thing is a lot more valuable than I thought. A blank sheet. Hah. Who'da thought?" posed the fool from a boisterous position atop a table burdened with empty glasses. "You can keep yer gold. I don't want it. I'll even take ya to the rest of that map free o' charge. However, I want in on this booty." He looked up from beneath his hat's brim for the first time to reveal a face that deserved to stay hidden. His twisted visage wore a more twisted smile. "Yer takin' me with ya.