The druid Acacia stood before a dozen four-man teams in the pre-dawn hours of the morning. She surveyed her fellow druids impartially, knowing many of them would die in the next few hours. She had never led so many initiates into battle before, and she would probably not survive to do so again.

Nevertheless, her order was resolved to make the taking of Parnassus as costly to the dragonborn of Delphi as possible.

“Many of you have been on dragon watch before, and you know our usual methods for dealing with such foes: you run or you die. In the few weeks since our esteemed leader Rhea, had returned to us, she had advised us of how we might combat the aerial menace.”

Acacia gestured to a pile of weights, connected by lengths of steelvine.

“You have been selected because you are among the most advanced druids in our order, having mastered wild forms that enable you to fly. This will be the key to our victory.”

She picked up a pair of weights for effect.

“You will each carry one of these with you as you shape-shift. Working in the groups you have already been assigned to, each of you will target a dragon in-flight. Timing will be critical. You are to fly above the dragon, return to your normal form, and drop onto the dragon’s back.”

A disquieting murmur traveled quickly through the groups.

“If you shear a wing, the dragon will begin to fall, so the ideal time to strike is when the dragon is as far from the ground as possible. We believe the dragons will circle and strafe, so watch as they withdraw from the mountain–try and hit them before they catch their breath for another run.”

“If you can drop the weights on its neck however, you stand a good chance of killing it outright. There are four of you per dragon, which means you have four shots at taking down your mark. Watch out for each other, and don’t try to be a hero. If you can create the opening that enables your teammate to take down the dragon, do it.”

Acacia paused to let her words sink in.

“We will have monks on the ground to act as decoys–they will attempt to draw the dragons away from our other initiates who are responsible for delaying the ascent of the enemy forces marching up the mountain. Every dragon you bring down will save lives.”

“Once you’ve dropped your weights, shift into another flying form and withdraw. Help on the ground if you can, but remember your primary objective is taking down your dragon.”

One of the initiates motioned for Acacia’s attention. She gestured in his direction and bade him speak.

“Ma’am, in the event we survive our mission and fallback as instructed–what then? Do we hold the mountain?”

“I’m glad you asked,” replied Acacia. She took a deep breath.

***
Hours later, the enraged citizen army of Delphi had started its ascent of Parnassus. Dragonborn men and women turned out en masse to take revenge for the earthquake unleashed on their city by druid magic.

The paths were narrow and rocky, and in some places only a few could pass at a time: but the trail was clear for the many, many feet that trod it down.

Halfway up the mountain, the dragonborn people encountered little in the way of resistance. Here and there half a dozen to a dozen would seemingly wander off the trail at random to plummet to the bottom of a fissure. The cleverer citizens saw through the druid tricks and warned each other away from hallucinatory perils.

In some places, stony caltrops erupted from the ground and hobbled many: but no matter how many were crippled or maimed in the ascent, the dragonborn kept coming.

At a gathering point before the last leg of the climb, dozens of the enraged people stopped to catch their breath before pushing on to the stronghold near the summit. Thus far, the citizens had yet to encounter the real terror of the druids’ defense: earth elementals.

The elementals could swim through earth like a fish through water, and therefore could strike without warning and largely without fear of reprisal.

But the druids were holding back their elementals for some reason. The dragonborn gathered their courage and pressed on for the assault.

Almost immediately they were accosted by a flurry of magical hailstones that stunned and wounded them. A dozen or more were frozen in place by stinging sleet.

The dragonborn attempted a retreat but most of the force was caught in the spell effect: the few who escaped made it only so far before they were catapulted into the air by the sudden appearance of an earth elemental’s fist.

The druids had won an easy victory in the initial skirmish, but their celebration was short-lived as a half-dozen dragons appeared quite suddenly in the sky overhead and breathed upon the mountain.

A few unlucky druids were engulfed and died instantly, but most made it safely under cover before they could be scourged by the dragons’ flame.

Seemingly in response to the appearance of the dragons, dozens of tiny birds took off from the mountain at once–filing the sky with sounds of their wingbeats.

Meanwhile, more of the dragonborn citizen army arrived and gathered at the clearing before the summit. They looked with horror upon the ruin of their fellows, but cheered the appearance of the dragons in the sky above.

Before the citizens began their next surge forward, their attention was arrested by the cry of a dragon plummeting to the ground. Alongside its fast-falling form was that of a man, possibly a druid. The suspicion was confirmed a moment later when the smaller shape became a bird and sped away from the falling dragon.

The beast failed to recover before it struck the earth. From there, it crawled along miserably for several dozen feet before it was surrounded by earth elementals on all sides: beating and breaking the monster. Its death-rattle chilled the citizen army to the bone.

High above, tiny birds were transforming into men and dropping onto the backs of dragons. After a few moments, a second dragon feel to the earth, this one practically held down by four druids with their complement of weights. A third dragon suffered a grevious injury to one wing and began a slow, soaking decent toward the earth.

It was around this time the citizen army found its lens again and resumed their march on the stronghold of Parnassus.

Almost immediately the druids were upon them again with magic. Before the spells had time to run their course and rout the mob, the battlefield was bathed in dragonfire and the druids’ magic was broken.

Screams of those suffering burning deaths were drowned out by the roar of a dragon intent to drive away tiny, meddlesome birds. Many fled the dragon’s fearsome presence, but others remained in formation and prepared to dive-bomb their target.

Then the squad of tiny birds was awash in dragon’s breath: apparently squandered until four druids dropped several dozen feet to their deaths: not only singed, but startled. None had a chance to shift back into a flying form.

Throughout the skies, several more dragons appeared suddenly as if unveiled, using their breath on clustered groups of birds and sending many more druids plummeting to their deaths on the rocks below: or at the hands of the citizen mob.

Then, the monks arrived.

Arriving amid a flurry of leaps and flying kicks, numerous small squads of martial artists made their way among the citizen mob and delivered punishing strikes from foot, and knee, and fist.

Almost as soon as the monks arrived, they vanished again: disappearing into the nooks and crannies of the mountain to leave only a few, bewildered survivors among the clustered dragonborn citizens.

But still more dragonborn arrived at the top of the mountain: and among these were now soldiers in armor and carrying spears and shields. Before too long, they had amassed a considerable force to push again for the stronghold.

Now battle was joined by elementals, monks, and druids among the defenders–with dragonborn volunteers supported by soldiers and airborne, fire-breathing war engines on the offense.

Throughout the struggle, as dragonborn fell, they were quickly replaced by more citizens who massed at the clearing before the summit. Now and again, a dragon would drop out of the sky, but more often a druid or druids would fall, charred and smoking, to ground.

Citizen conscripts would rush a druid as a mob, and a druid would shift into a more durable form to do combat, or a swift beast to escape. Soldiers would use the advantage of their spears’ reach to pin down monks and ultimately wear them down.

Once the druids’ spells wore down, the advantage quickly turned, and the monks attempted a fighting retreat.

Many surviving druids fell back to the caves, but the monks remained behind to fight and protect the druids of Parnassus.

As the final group of monks closed into a circle, withdrawing from the spears of the enemy soldiers. The dragonborn soldiers then unleashed their own breath weapons upon the monks simultaneously, bathing the ground in more than three dozen different, overlapping blasts.

When the dust settled, fourteen perfectly-formed human statutes of the human defenders remained where previously there had been living warriors. Since were in defensive stances, others were in poses of supplication.

After taking a few minutes to observe the bizarre phenomenon, the dragonborn renewed their assault on the stronghold.

Less than thirty minutes later, the dragonborn had broken through into the stronghold and begun fortifying the position while they organized teams to pursue the escaped druids unto the caves. Others began collecting and moving the corpses of their fallen kindred. Over a dozen dragons remained in the sky, circling and searching for survivors to pick off.

The battle was ended and the mob had emerged victorious. The sun set on a dragonborn Parnassus.