Ch5-4: Dracolich

Ben’s green eyes narrowed. They reflected the hints of twilight that had begun to flush across the silent sky. The first pale stars peeked from their daytime coverings, unnoticed by the Master Wizard. His mind was focused below their ship, into the darkening stretch of forest.


Something that should not be there. Something that had passed from life to death to unlife. A stain upon the balance of the living planet.

Surrounded by the pulse of the vast Troian forests, it was hard for Ben not to notice it. The feeling of wrongness wafted up from the sea of leaves below, a death stench.

The closer we’ve come, the more pronounced this feeling has been. I don’t think we should take this route.

Ben turned his head, face grim as he made out the shapes planted across the deck. Captain Silver paced behind her pilot, a constant expression of discontent on her pinched face. A few sailors were bent over their last tasks for the day – net mending or deck scrubbing. The rest of the passengers seemed to have retired below decks. There was no sign of the Paladin King.

“Where’s Cecil?” the tall Half-Lunar asked, approaching the blue-haired woman inelegantly. Her stern expression reminded him that he was addressing the Captain of the ship and that his speech should have reflected it.

“Last I’ve seen he was pacing the aft,” Silver replied bluntly. Her manner reminded him of someone that was in the process of constantly sizing up everyone around her. Obviously, she didn’t like what she saw in him and she didn’t bother to hide it. “Chances are, he’s probably put down for the night.”

“Put what down?” Ben asked.

“Put down – gone below decks for the night,” she grumbled up at him.

“Oh…” he shifted from foot to foot under the weight of her glare. Working up his courage, he told her, “I’d alert your men, Captain. There’s something in the forest below us and I don’t think it’s very friendly.”

“Of course there’s something in the forest,” Silver grated back at him. “There’s always something in the forest. And the point is being that we’re up here and it’s down there. Which is how wes likes to keep it.”

“With all due respect, Captain,” the Half-Lunar forced himself into politeness, “I can’t promise that it’s going to stay that way. I’m telling you… put your men on alert, they should be ready for anything tonight.”

The nearest group of sailors had dropped their tasks, watching the exchange between the tall white-haired stranger and their Captain. Some offered Ben glances of amused pity. A few others seemed genuinely disturbed by his words.

Silver just looked all the more annoyed. “You’re telling me how to do my job, eh? Just who is the Captain of this ship here, matey?”

“Yeah, well… What sort of Captain doesn’t heed a given warning when it could spell disaster for the whole ship and crew?” he felt himself losing patience. Very quickly.

“For all we know, you’re probably the one staging an attack… Mr. Dark Lord Golbez!” she spat, jabbing a finger towards his chest. If there was any fear for him, it certainly didn’t show.

“N-no… you misunderstand!” Taken aback, Ben floundered with both hands spread. He saw he was getting no where fast.

Sheesh! Human women are even more stubborn than humans in general!

“Um, excuse me, if you’d please?” a soft, young voice piped up from the other side of the deck.

Both the Captain and the Master Wizard stopped, eyes turning at the gentle request. There stood a young Mysidian White Mage.

The girl that they called Porom, I believe?

Though she was merely a girl-child in Ben’s eyes, he knew that she had been one of Cecil’s companions during his climb to the summit of Mt. Ordeals. The fact that the Paladin had again chosen her to accompany their group on this expedition spoke volumes of credit.

Her face was smooth with youth, yet set with a sense of maturity beyond her years. Deep brown eyes seemed to gently chide the two bickering grown-ups. When she finally spoke, Ben was stunned to discover it was in his defense.

“Most esteemed Lady Silver,” the girl gave a low bow. “Not to question your good judgment… however, Master Golbez has been known to possess uncanny knowledge about things that other people can’t see.”

Does she actually believe me?

The Captain’s eyebrows shot up. It was hard to tell if it was from surprise or amusement. “Is that so, lassy?”

“Yes, ma’am. I doubt he’d say such a thing if there wasn’t some sort of threat,” Porom’s eyes flickered over to observe the Half-Lunar’s face. As if she wasn’t really certain of the validity of her statement. But there was hope.

“No… of course I wouldn’t!” Ben replied quickly. “I’m on the same boat as everyone else… I certainly don’t want to see it blasted out of the air!”

“Aye, and it won’t be,” the Captain frowned, buckling a little. “Fetch Cecil here. We’ll discuss air defense for a possible attack.”

The Half-Lunar wanted to argue that there wasn’t a lot of time for talk. But all he could do was watch the retreating back of the little White Mage as she darted down below the decks with the Captain’s message.

I suppose that’s the best I can get… considering who I am.

Ben fought the grimace that rose to his face.

I guess my warning must seem out of place. After all, the forest has been really silent this whole time. If I didn’t feel what I do… I’d never know the difference either.

When Cecil emerged from below the deck, his white hair was disheveled with the look of one dragged out of a nap. His sword was strapped at his side, step never faltering even through the hazy look of groggy eyes.

With a droll face, the Paladin addressed his brother first, “What did you do this time?”

“Cecil… I–”

“He’s demanding a red alert and spooking up my men,” Silver grumbled, eyeing the young King. “These forests have enough sailor legends stuck to them without having doom-sayers on the ship to stir things up.”

“Is this true, Golbez?”

Ben caught his brother’s gaze with his own and held it. “Cecil… you’ve got to believe me. There’s something down there and it could be a potential danger to this ship.”

“Do you know what it is?” the Paladin seemed moved, if only a little, by the sincerity of the Half-Lunar’s concern.

“I… No. I don’t,” he admitted with a frown.

“See there?” The Captain grimaced at the King, “Do you really expect me to act on his feelings with nothing else to back them up?”

Cecil’s face grew pensive and quiet, green eyes fixed on his brother. After a short moment he nodded. “Yes, Captain Silver. Put your men on alert.”

“Eh!?” Ben drew in a quick, surprised breath. He couldn’t help staring at the Paladin’s back as the young King addressed the irritated Captain.

Porom gave him a small, victory smile.

A moment later, Silver began barking out commands to the men closest. Word spread as quickly as sound – helped by the fact that the Captain’s piercing voice could easily be heard even through the thickest wooden floor planks of the ship. All around him, the sailors were in motion, scrambling to their weapons, securing loose nettings and seeing that the cannons were warmed for firing.

Not that any of that will really help. Whatever it is I’m feeling down below… is going to take a lot more than just a ship of humans to put up proper defense against.

The Half-Lunar’s eyes strayed to observe the faces of the crew as they jostled by him. Humans, every one of them. But still.

At least… maybe a warning can give them a fighting chance…

Though he had to admit that sometimes the humans held a resourcefulness that was simply astounding.

It must come from their overwhelming weakness. Creatures that have to strive against powers so much greater than themselves… often develop such ingenuity out of the need to survive.

The creaking of the masts grew stronger as the night air took on its chill. Silence swept over the ship, all eyes cast warily down upon the tops of the darkening trees. As the sun began to slip into its final descent, the Captain’s face had grown more and more unconvinced. And she had begun to spear Ben with an evil glare every chance she got.

Cecil stationed himself on one of the lower lookouts, a spying glass in one hand. Despite having been away from piloting for so long, the Paladin had deftly taken to climbing the ropes and balancing the masts as if no time had passed at all. Had the Baronian officials seen their King-reverted-Pilot, no doubt they would have pitched an endless fit.

It was a sailor on the aft that first heard it. He raced up towards the Captain, face ashen white, hands spread as he babbled in a total state of panic.

“Calm down, mate!” Silver demanded, face growing heated with rising anger. “Calm down and make us some sense, will you!”

“I heard it…!” he grasped at her lapels in a manner not befitting a sailor to his captain. Wild face. Wild eyes. There was no room for decorum in absolute terror. “I heard death screech!”

“See there,” Silver turned her dagger eyes towards the two Half Lunars. “You go getting them all wound up and they go popping their tops! Now do you see why you don’t just go sounding false alerts when there’s nothing to be see–”

The whole ship suddenly bucked, dropping out from under them as if some giant hand had come from above and swatted them down. The sound of ripping wood and squealing metal shattered the blanket of tension that had muffled the decks. Shouts of alarm went up, men scattering in all directions as one side of the ship began to buckle.

Jolting hard against the cabin wall, Ben managed to catch hold of Porom as she stumbled backwards. Without a moment of thought, the girl instantly clutched at his cloak. Brown eyes staring and wide, she watched in mute fear as a blur of ghastly grey shot up over the far railing.

“What the hell is that thing!?” the Captain shouted above the roar of the failing engine. A streak of oily smoke spewed skyward as the ship trembled on the verge of a spin-out.

“I don’t know!” Cecil replied, now down on the deck and struggling to keep the wheel steady. The Paladin had instantly replaced the panicked first mate, who had bolted the moment the ship lost control. “We’re losing altitude! It went for the engine!”

“A Dra..gon..?” Porom whimpered, face tinged green in revulsion.

Huge bone claws were hooked around the groaning wood of the ship’s railing. With a strength born of a thing that felt no pain, the beast splintered the ship side, pulling itself to perch upon the deck.


Once a Dragon, now a beast of the undead, it no longer possessed a body of scale or blood. It had become a rotted husk of stained bone, dripping decayed flesh from the bristled maw. A grisly impossibility invading the living world from the realms of death.

Only thin flaps of tattered skin remained upon the outstretched bone of the wings. But it had been enough for the Dracolich to have launched a final flight up to their ship. Sparks of red burned within the hollow sockets of its eyes. It seemed to have no trouble focusing on the scurry of human fear below.

“All hands on deck!” Silver’s voice boomed, allowing no room for argument.

Ben stared down at his hands in stunned confusion. “What does that mean!?”

“She’s telling all the sailors to come up to the deck!” Porom translated quickly.

“What? No!” the Half-Lunar protested with his own bellow. “Captain, get your hands off the deck!”

Silver turned on him with a cold stare.

“There’s nothing that you or your men can do to scratch this thing,” Ben shouted. “Clear your people out before they get ripped to pieces!”

“And what do you expect me to do? Stand here and watch this monster bank my ship?”

“No… Cecil and I have fought one of these before – we’ll handle it! Just keep the men out of the way!”

She muttered under her breath. “Great… Now I’m trusting Golbez to protect my ship!”

Cecil’s sword was already in his hand. His feet were planted steady, eyes focused on the Dragon, despite the crazy motion of the deck.

“You owe me big time, Paladin!” Silver hissed as she took the wayward wheel, struggling to keep the reeling ship steady under the loss of the engine. Then she raised her voice again, calling to the men, “Clear the decks! Secure the below!”

“Go..!” Ben nudged Porom in the direction of the cabin with a gentle push.

Much to his surprise, the girl turned around with a choke of protest, “Master, no! Let me help! White Magic is good to fight against the undead!”

A strange flicker of emotion trickled through his mind at the vision of unexpected courage.

Just one mere girl-child… but she is so determined to fight. Even if that means standing her ground next to Golbez?

Ben shook himself out, giving her a gentle, yet unyielding frown. “Normal undead, yes. But this creature isn’t your common reanimated, child. There’s no doubt it’s one of the Elemental Dragons.”

Porom’s mouth opened in shock. “Like the one that attacked Mysidia?”

“Yes,” the Half-Lunar grimaced, pulling his own blade from its sheath. “That can only mean that the Crystal of Earth has been destroyed…”

Cecil’s breath came in a sharp hiss. His green eyes glittered across the darkening haze at his brother. “You’re positive?!”

“I don’t see that it could be anything else,” Ben caught hold of the cabin wall as the ship took a dizzied turn. Being so close to the doorway, he once again ushered Porom towards the below. “Go on, now. And save your magic. No doubt some of the men are going to need your help once this is over with.”

With a pained glance over one shoulder, the young White Mage stumbled through the door, disappearing below the deck along with the stream of rushing sailors. The ship gave another lurch as the Dracolich threw its weight across the deck, heading for the line of main propellers.

Eh… curious… he ignores the men and wants to ground us?

“Shiva! He’s trying everything to take us down!” the Paladin swore.

Leaving his last observation hanging in the air behind him, Cecil launched towards the oncoming beast. His sword glittered, catching the last rays of gold that spanned the undersides of the clouds.

“Cecil!” Ben’s voice rose in his throat. “Watch yourself! There’s no telling wha–”

The red blazing eyes caught the Paladin’s motion, turning on the young King with a ghastly screech of putrid breath. A stream of dark spray erupted from the Dracolich’s maw, leaving an oily trail of black upon the wood as Cecil sprang just out of reach. The deck hissed as the patches of ooze spread over its surface, instantly turning the wood grey… then white… then flaking away in the force of the wind.


“Odin’s Blade!” the Half-Lunar wheezed, backing away from the pungent reek. “Its breath can cause accelerated decay!”

By the look on Cecil’s face, the Paladin was realizing how close he had come to finding himself within that spray. Covering his nose with the edge of his cloak, his voice was a muffled groan, “Golbez, we’ve gotta keep it away from the engines. That spells a bottom-out crash for sure!”

“I know,” Ben grimaced, trying to keep his footing as he moved along the swaying deck.

The shadow of ragged wings spread over him only a moment before the huge boned claw swooped down from above. With a hoarse shout, the Half-Lunar attempted to dodge, finding himself scrabbling up an impossible slope of slick wood. The ship shuddered as the impact shattered through a whole section of the deck.

Below, cries of terror could be plainly heard.

Mouth wide open, Ben rolled over on his back, hooking one arm around a piece of the railing. The demon eyes were now focused upon him, more aware than an undead thing had a right to be. Struggling with his free hand, the Half-Lunar pulled his blade in front of him in the best defensive position he could awkwardly manage.

The Dracolich had other ideas. The huge maw gaping wide, the initial blast of grave-reeking air left Ben blinded with watery eyes. The bone-plated head reared back to follow up with the oozing breath spray.

A flash of white light intercepted, so dazzling that Ben almost lost his grip on Onyx. Cecil’s shout sliced the air, as he thrust the Crystal Sword between the beast and his brother. The glow intensified, emanating from the bare blade, the whistle of speeding metal filling Ben’s ears.


The wizard recoiled violently, this time, from the burning sensation of the blade’s holy light. No doubt, Cecil hadn’t thought of what effect his Paladinly aura might have upon his once Dark Lord brother.

Cecil! St-stop!

A frigid howl rent the air as the Dracolich responded similarly. The sound of scraping of bone on bone as the massive head lurched back, away from the brilliance of the young King’s holy radiance. Jerky motions sent it staggering backwards, one hissing step after another, tendriled wings outstretched as if for shielding.

The burning sensation in the Master Wizard’s throat began to lessen as the light grew more and more concentrated upon the creature alone. Regaining his vision, Ben’s mouth opened in surprise as he focused on the wavering image of the Paladin standing before him. Vivid light and soft color swept around the shimmer of pristine armor, Lunar-white hair casting around a face absolutely poised and illuminated with the strength of protection.

He looks like…

Image overlapping upon memory, Ben felt something in his throat tighten.


The ship lurched, sending Ben scattering out of his thoughts and sliding away from the railing of the deck. Straight towards the underside of the Dracolich. The beast was still writhing within the scald of the white light, the shrieks of outraged pain sending jolts through the planking.

“Ehhhh!” Sliding down the slant of deck on his back, Ben suddenly found himself directly under the creature. He felt a retch churning within his gut as he stared up into the gaping hollow of flesh dripping from bone.

Hands tightening around the grip of Onyx, the Half-Lunar rolled into a side-crouch as his own blade took on a green-flamed glow. With a tremendous bellow, Ben struck out at the nearest point that he could – the Dracolich’s leg. Bone shattered, sending a spray of gritty dust into his face. Much to Ben’s surprise, the flaming sword easily sliced through what seemed to be absolute solidity.

Honing in upon the opening in the battle, Cecil sprang forward, an arc of glimmering illumination. Blade first, the Paladin slashed upward, straight through the chest cavity into the lower skull of the beast. A howling rasp ripped through the air as the Dracolich’s form reeled off balance, toppling backwards against the wooden frame of the cabin.

Odin’s Blade!

Ribs cracked with the impact. Vast wings caught within the nearest propellers, sending bone chips raining across the decks. Metal squealed to a stop, twisting out of shape, the ship responding in a spiral of its own.

“We’re going down!” Silver’s voice just barely rose above the rumble of the dying engines.

Flame had already sprung up along the top of the cabin and the paper-dry flesh of the Dracolich’s wings. Pinned against the wooden frame, unable to lever itself to stand, the glare behind the blood red eyes began to fade.

With the beast’s dying shriek, the Barnburner plummeted into the darkness of the forest below.