"Alright, that's fine. Just the top lamps up the lane, and you can go home to your highsupper."
Constable Turnleaf strode down the street slowly, motioning for the Fallowear boy to complete his duties. The three lasses from the temple had been dogging his steps the entire time, one of them urgently whispering to the others before the constable finally stopped and clapped his hands together smartly.
All four halflings stood outside Old Guv's Shop, wherein the fat proprietor could be seen within bundling up his wares for the night.
"Right then. What is this terribly important matter that makes us all late for our highsup, eh?"
Libby Downspout frowned deeply, the cloth ornaments decorating her Yondallian garb incongruous to her expression now.
"Edvin- er... constable", she stammered, "The rede, constable! Doom is falling to us!"
The other two templefolk nodded and whispered in agreement, all three's eyes wide and white and fearful. Constable Turnleaf frowned.
"Here now, you haven't been sipping at the tipple, have you?"
The night, at that moment then, exploded brightly.
* * *
Through the trees they heard and saw.
A blast of golden light, something rending and tearing like a mountain screaming, and then a breeze of hot air and red cinders.
Wokojance jumped up first, shouting.
Knack reacted slower, as usual, taking time to have up his crossbow and a bolt and joined his companion just in time to see Aerik Silvertane, a glowing arrow in his hand, darting down the path back towards Threefar.
"Come on!", he snarled grimly, setting the bolt even as they ran.
* * *
Pik fetched up hard as the village exploded with fire ahead of him, one of the buildings vaporising in the intense blast.
Bits of flaming litter began to rain down, and a high-pitched wailing could be heard coming from beyond the roiling wall of dark smoke.
Cursing brightly, the dwarf called upon some personal magic, and he vanished mid-step. Cloaked in sightlessness, he darted to the first outlying building he came to, a grain storage, and peered all around.
Two more buildings were standing whole, but aflame, near the blasted-out fiery cellar that had once been a halfling home. Beyond them, smoke plumed high into the darkness, tangling among the stars and drifting cinders and-
The enormous silhouette moved suddenly, rising, and two shimmering lanternlights of colorless fire drifting among the darkness flashed brilliantly.
"COME FORTH, LITTLE sSSLAYER." The creature drawled awkwardly, as if its mouth would not move correctly.
Halflings ran everywhere, now.
A streamer of them could be seen up the way, filtering out of the stone temple to Yondalla and down into the crossroads, where another clot of them were fashioning up a defense. Something in one of burning buildings gave a sharp whimper, then, and the top storey collapsed suddenly down onto the first.
"COME FORTH AND I sSSHALL sSSHOW YOU MERCY."
Pikkolo swallowed tightly and glanced back the way he'd come. It was dark. Very dark.
He edged toward the huge red dragon, now revealed fully as it stepped grimly into the wall of flames it had raised with its breath.
Many heads turned to look as a silver-haired elf sprinted down from the far end of the village, coming to a stop aside the enormous dragon and clutching a glowing arrow that hummed and bucked in his hands.
"Greetings, Lord Ollinflamm!"
The second building suddenly succumbed to the fires then, collapsing in a billow of flame and hot ash, limning both the elf and the dragon fully.
Some gasped, some screamed, most faltered at what was revealed.
The dragon's crimson scales wore thin and stretched aside the beasts huge muzzle, but beyond that its face was a grinning mask of bone and parted sinew, both eyes black empty pits from where the two ghostly lights shone. The flesh of its neck was worn and slashed, and most of the rest of the beast had fallen to time and trial, and was but sheer bones clasped here and there by weblike strands of muscle and fibrous material... a cage of unlife and utter ruin.
Constable Turnleaf stood afore his company of wardens, shortblade held aloft with both hands in challenge.
The dragon's heavy head turned to look, as Aerik did.
Flame engulfed the halflings entirely, so hot and horrible that even the stones alongside the road they had been marching along turned color and sputtered. The shops all along that way roared into flames, and windowglass began bursting all up and down.
Aerik threw both hands in the air and roared out triumphantly.
A thin sizzle of greenish light curled through the air from somewhere below then, striking the elf fully, as a crossbolt shot from out of the night to skip off the breastbone of the dragon and away.
All at once, Aerik began coughing fitfully. He gasped and turned.
"Who are you?!"
Knack and Wokojance stood at the curve of one lane, the sorcerer's arm raised where he'd just sent out magic and voiced his question. The spell pulled at the elf violently then, and Aerik fell down onto the road, his precious arrow spinning away into the brush. Spasming and red-faced, the elf ballooned in size and shape, becoming a frantic-eyed older woman with short dark hair and a heaving bosom. She struggled in the grip of Wokojance's spell, her blazing eyes promising him death should she free herself.
Ollinflamm's rictus twisted into a smirk, his massive jagged teeth showing the limp remains of a flaccid black tongue beyond.
"Where's Pik!?", Knack hollered next, realising there were probably more hard truths coming.
The undead dragon threw itself forward then, rolling just over the struggling woman and onto her attackers, crushing both before slamming through a large one-storey shop and a window-walled inn beyond.
Ekari stood, spitting blood from where she'd bitten the inside of her mouth and realising she'd dropped the arrow somewhere.
Glass and fire exploded out as Ollinflamm breathed directly into the path of a line of halflingfolk who were charging down the road from the temple, a few having struck out at the creature's exposed neck. The small handwagon one of them had been trailing burst aflame, sizzling, as the clay vials it held burst apart, the contents boiling and vaporising in a streamy haze. The new flames licked out and caught to the buildings across the way, and as the dracolich righted itself from its deadly roll, more javelins and bullets flew through the air, seeking their marks.
"Why're ya huntin'mes!"
Sharp pain stabbed through Ekari then, and she doubled over once more. Bruising steel-strong fingers found her throat, wrapped against a firmness there, and pressed. Hard.
"Pi- pi-" The woman gasped and flailed, trying to dislodge the dwarf, who had taken the opportunity of both surprise and shock to confront his old accomplice.
She clawed at his hand, but those thick fingers were unyielding. Relentless. She could feel the false Harper sigil pinned to her collar digging into her flesh...
Blood seeped out suddenly from under Pikkolo's hand, ran lightly down the front of Ekari's torn leathers.
Beyond them, the dracolich was using its tail to swing around and batter at the burning buildings. The rest of the mustered wardens were forming up a sally at the other end of the village, where someone was screaming endlessly. Pikkolo turned and saw Wokojance's torn and shattered body laying limp across the smoking stones. Of Knack, there was no sign at all.
He turned back to the woman he was choking, the cause of all this ruin, and much more beyond.
She'd stopped struggling, her eyes bulging grotesquely and her face a dark purple.
"Meet yer end'n the hells!", he snarled, throttling her.
Flame exploded all around them, tossing Pikkolo high up into the air. He shot into something hard and wooden, felt the world splinter all around him, and then hit something else rough and unyielding. The stink of burnt hair engulfed him, along with char and smoke.
More voices raised out in a cry, and the names of Yondalla and Arvoreen were invoked by heartful, fearful halflings. Steel clashed against bone, and one of the weapons bearing a strong enchantment sheared through spellward and protections, piercing the undead dragon deeply. A scream deeper and louder and the worst sounded yet rolled out of the dracolich's snapping maw, and one of its lanternlight eyes was dimmed forever. Fire blasted out again, fitfully, and ancient claws the size of armorplated menfolk tore furrows through the halfling host and the buckled road beneath, tossing ragged limbs and weapons and pavingstones in all directions.
Pikkolo rolled to his side and sat up, patting at the remains of his charred beard, eyes narrowing, and stood unevenly upon the remains of the hanging wooden sign that had broken his flight.
He cast about for Ekari... he would see that wench done and done... if it were the last thing he ever saw again.
The dwarf stood and a golden light suddenly was spread all across the battlefield, as though the skies themselves had caught to fire.
Heads everywhere, and a deadlight eye too, turned skyward.
* * *
Monty stood behind the tree's exposed roots, watching the flames in the distance.
He knew home lay in that direction, but... Pikkolo had insisted he remain here.
The small hin shivered under his leathern poncho, though it was not the weather that made it so. Small sounds were carrying up the dell, and on an unpleasantly-scented warm breeze.
He made up his mind.
Adventure or no, he had to-
Montimblanc Toadstoolie stopped dead in his tracks, looking up.
High above the burning horizon, among all the dark and playful stars, something was happening.
At first there was just the one... a single golden star that drifted past, something of a musical tinkling along in its wake. It soared by so far away that it was soon blotted out for the distance.
Then, came another.
Closer and brighter, these, and then one so near that Monty could plainly see it was no star at all but what appeared to be a woman, hairless, and curled up into a ball in the middle of a golden liquid fire as she shot though the night, a weird jangle of musical notes and screaming rushing past and away over the treetops and to a part of the hinlands he'd not known.
The boy teetered at madness, could feel himself tottering upon its edge.
He clamped his small hands over his ears, screaming out if only to quiet the unheavenly music that assailed his every sense.
Monty turned toward home and began running.
* * *
For a moment, just a moment, all he could do was stand and stare.
The stars were falling.
By all the gods and goddesses above and below...
A great golden ball of something shot past the village, arcing over the horizon.
Where the village wasn't afire, bodies lay everywhere. Some had been trampled as survivors sought to flee the devastation and, now, starfall. A hinmaid stood screaming, holding something out as the dwarf dashed past her.
Tiny hin ran in all directions, and the dracolich could be heard still tearing up the road and the buildings astride it, hunting noisily.
Pikkolo then did something that he would regret all the years he had left to after.
He turned and fled.
Down a lane that ended in furrows and bloodied armor bits, past a now-flattened grain silo and...
Monty stood near one of the only things to have survived the dragon's devastations this end of the village: an unseemly waterbarrel that was leaning and leaking.
The dwarf ran for Monty, just as the boy stepped around the barrel and saw.
Constable Turnleaf and his wardens had not left their post, but had stood to fight and defend their homes. All that remained of them on the road were their boots: pairs and pairs of them, some smoking, some shredded... most still sprouting remnants of the brave flesh that once filled them and had been scorched away to nothingness...
Montimblanc stopped and his mouth opened, screaming, though no sound came forth.
Pikkolo grabbed him and forced his head down and into his chest, the ghastly sight blocked momently.
All around them, fires licked at the night while the golden stars still fell, streaming across the darkness like godsent dooms.
He gathered the limp child into his arms for the second time in as many days.
They turned into the woods beyond all the ruin and fled.
Godsfall was upon all of Toril, and they knew not who was fated to perish, nor who would be spared.
All they could do was run.