Champions of the Cosmos – Episode 1 – Duel in the Sky

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The sound of clashing metal rang out down the mountainside. On a narrow ledge jutting out a few hundred feet below the mountain’s peak two combatants were locked in single combat, battle axe against sword. The two muscular men were bare chested, and gleaming with sweat despite the chilly air. The sword wielder, whose face was covered by a grotesque demon-faced helmet, stabbed at the other man’s belly. Gracefully the man stepped aside and swung his double bladed axe at the swordsman’s head, barely giving him enough time to bring his sword up and block the blow. Both men stepped back to catch their breath and look for an opening.

“Face it, Artur,” the swordsman hissed, his nasal voice muffled slightly by the helmet, “you cannot defeat me. I am your better in every way.”

Brushing his long brown hair from his eyes, Artur barked a laugh which echoed down the mountain.

“You’re deluded, Demogor. I will end your evil once and for all atop this mountain.”

Demogor snarled and lunged at Artur again, the eerie blue-tinged metal of his sword glinting in the sunlight as he swung. Artur blocked the blow with his axe, taking another step back which brought him dangerously close to the edge. Another attack forced him back once again, and this time he could hear displaced gravel slide down the mountainside. Demogor let out a weird hissing, coughing noise, and it took Artur a moment to realise that the helmeted man was laughing.

“You celebrate your victory too soon, fiend!” Artur exclaimed as he crouched down and leapt at Demogor, driving his shoulder into the other man’s chest and knocking him to the ground. Demogor snarled and scrambled back, getting to his feet.

“I will feed you your heart for this indignity.”

“You’ll have to take it from me first.”

And with that, Artur swung his axe over his head in a heavy blow that Demogor managed to block only with grunting effort. Again and again Artur swung, driving his enemy back step by step until it was the helmeted man standing inches from a deadly fall.

“Yield now, villain,” Artur said, “and I’ll merely bring you back to the capital in chains and throw you in the king’s dungeon where you belong. Persist, and you will suffer a long tumble to the valley floor.”

“Fool!” Demogor screamed. “I make my own fate.”

Before Artur could react, Demogor took a step back, dropping off the ledge. He dashed forward, expecting to see his old enemy falling to his death. Instead he had to rapidly jump back as a winged monstrosity rushed up past the ledge, carrying Demogor in its massive talons. The thing was covered in gray and purple and slimy green scales, sharp spikes protruding from its hide. It circled around the mountaintop once, cocking its elongated, irregularly shaped head towards Artur and opening its fanged mouth to let out a piercing cry. As it beat its massive wings and started to fly away, Artur could hear Demogor’s grating voice:

“You’ll never catch me now, hero.” The last word was uttered with dripping disdain.

“We’ll see about that,” Artur muttered to himself.

Keeping his eyes on the rapidly disappearing beast, Artur whistled a complicated melody which echoed through the mountains. Then he waited for long minutes until he could hear the beating of great wings behind him. He turned with a smile on his face to see an enormous eagle landing on the ledge, folding its wings and giving him a questioning look.

“I’m glad you could come, my friend, “ Artur said. “I desperately need your help. Demogor is escaping with the aid of some winged beast. Can you help me catch him?”

The eagle merely bowed its head in consent.

“Thank you, Ander. I owe you a debt of gratitude, as does the whole kingdom.”

Artur climbed on top of the eagle’s broad back and held on as the giant bird leapt off the ledge and soared into the air. The mountaintop rapidly disappeared behind them as the eagle set off in pursuit of the evil Demogor and his monstrous steed. Ander’s speed easily outmatched that of Demogor’s mount, and it was only a question of minutes before Artur could spy it as a rapidly growing dot against distant snow topped peaks.

As they closed in on their prey Ander started to climb higher, until they were flying straight above Demogor. Artur clung on tightly to his friend’s back as Ander dropped into a headfirst dive. They fell towards their quarry at blinding speed, with Ander pulling up at the last possible moment, scoring the ugly beast’s hide with his talons. The beast screeched in pain, and Artur could hear Demogor fling frustrated curses at them.

Ander swooped around for another attack but this time the beast was ready and managed to evade the giant bird, its powerful jaws snapping shut mere inches from Ander’s tail feathers in an attempt at retaliation. While knowing full well that his feathered friend could take care of himself, Artur couldn’t in good conscience let Ander do his fighting for him.

“Get above them again, Ander!” He had to shout to be heard over the rushing wind.

The great eagle did as Artur asked and, when they were again flying above their foes Artur gripped his axe tightly in his hand and leapt off the bird’s back, plummeting towards Demogor’s mount. Suddenly a strong gust of wind buffeted the falling hero, knocking him aside and causing him to nearly miss his target. But at the last possible moment the scaly beast’s tail whipped around in his direction and he managed to grab it, yanking it hard as it stopped his fall. The beast screeched again and attempted to dislodge him by whipping its tail around. However that only caused it more pain, and so it ceased its thrashing while Artur fastened the axe to his hip and started to crawl up towards its back..

Demogor had turned around to face his hated enemy, and was somehow managing to keep his balance standing on the beast’s broad back. Instead of his sword he was holding a curiously carved short staff in his hand. It looked to be made of either stone or dark ancient wood. Its surface was completely covered in twisting, veiny carvings, except for its smooth rounded top. Demogor’s helmet was bent over it as if in prayer and he seemed to be utterly absorbed by whatever he was doing, ignoring the hero clambering slowly towards him. Finally he looked up and pointed the staff at Artur.

“Your pathetic life ends here. Prepare to be skewered by the rod of R’Ham.”

Sickly green and purple light blasted out of the tip of the rod towards the hero who just barely managed to fling himself aside, nearly losing his grip in the process.

“Keep still and accept your fate, little man.”

Again the light stabbed out, and again Artur narrowly avoided its touch. This time the beam didn’t lance harmlessly through the air beside him, but instead dug into the winged monster’s hide. The creature screamed in pain and lurched in the air. Where Artur had been a moment before there was now a deep gash which gave off a smell of burnt, putrid meat. The muscled hero rapidly resumed his climb along the monster’s back, and before Demogor could release another blast Artur had reached him. He rose to his feet with lithe grace before the helmeted man and gripped the other’s wrists to keep him from using his arcane weapon.

“You dare lay your hands on me?” It was difficult to tell if Demogor was more outraged or surprised. “A swift death is too good an end for you.”

The two struggled atop the beast’s back, attempting to wrest control of the rod for long enough to either use it or, in Artur’s case, fling it to the rocky ground far below. In superb physical condition though they both were, the movement of the beast’s muscles beneath their feet and the buffeting winds made it nigh impossible to keep their balance. In the end it was Demogor who lost his footing first, falling back onto the monster’s scaly hide. Artur took full advantage and applied his full weight to drive the rod of R’Ham at his opponent. The short staff struck the villain’s shoulder and, with a flash of green energy that flung Artur backwards, pierced it. As he desperately clung on to a spike protrusion on the screeching monster’s back to keep from falling to his death Artur saw Demogor fall over the beast’s side, clutching at the rod in his shoulder, and disappear from sight. A moment later Artur realised why the monster was screaming so; the rod’s blast had burned through its hide. Burned deep, to its heart. Spasms ran through the creature as it drew its last breath, beat its enormous wings a final time, and started to fall. Realising the futility of clinging on any longer, Artur released his grip on the spike and fell free, facing the distant but rapidly approaching mountainside.

But before he had time to fall more than a few dozen feet a dark shape rushed up from below to meet him, and Artur suddenly found himself once again clinging to Ander’s feathered back. He rested his face against the back of his friend’s neck and let out a long, shuddering breath. After a few moments of silence, he spoke:

“So… Any chance of a lift back to the castle? Demogor seems to have left me stranded quite far from home this time.”

The eagle’s hoarse cry echoed through the mountains.

“That is true, my friend,” laughed Artur, “but I’ll settle for having rammed it into his shoulder.”

While Artur chuckled to himself Ander veered round and started back for home.

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