The story thus far:
Nathan Ransom (age 15), A.E. Clipson (age 45), & Traroth the dragon (ageless) are on their way to rescue Nathan's mother, Nicole Ransom, and their friend Jonas Work from the evil 'Dark Order'. To-day, we join our heroes on an unusual encounter, which serves in a way as a world-building exercise for the story.
'World-building' is a phrase much in use, but little understood. It's become a popular sport since the days of Prof. John Ronald R. Tolkien; but very few authors are good at it. Prof. Tolkien himself, who seems to have originated the practice (as a distinct process, from writing the story), died trying. In my opinion, it's mostly a red herring, and we're better to let the story build its own world. But here we go:
Our heroes continued for three more days; and on the third, found their way blocked and their campsites invaded by a small gang of highwaymen:
Rough-faced fellows, of rustic mien;
Crooked-toothed creatures of the country-side:
With stinking mouths and stooping shoulders;
Their hands were heavy with hard-cutting edges,
Their girdles sagged with guns and goat-shot.
The foremost and fiercest among these fiends said to our heroes: ‘If you want to pass, you’ll pay us a toll’.
Said Clipson: ‘What has become of the rule of law in this country, that men like you roam the land?’.
The robber answered: ‘Now that National Defense and Homeland Security are no more, nothing stops us going where we will and taking what we want. Our ancestors lost a great deal in the Civil Wars, and we are not content until we have five times as much as they lost’.
Said Clipson: ‘If you are not content until you have five times as much as your ancestors lost, you will be hunting and gathering for ever!
Their estates had the distant stars for neighbors;
Their fields extended as far as they could see.
Their monies exceeded the mass of the Earth;
Their slaves outnumbered the cells in a body.
Who can aspire to have so much?
No mortal may hope to amass such a marvel!’.
The robber answered: ‘Tha’s where y’r wrong; we’re gonna ‘cquire moe’n they eva’ had, starting now. Toin out y’r pockets!’.
Said Clipson: ‘If you want our travelling-funds, come and get them, you big stupid coward!’.
The robber, so addressed, tried to do so; but his dirty hands met only the empty air! Wherever he grabbed, his soiled fingers closed only upon the hollow of their own palms.
The clumsy road-agent tried to clasp the sun’s blood;
The head of the robbers but shook hands with the wind.
One was the thuggee, on wealth intent;
The other the mage, the enemy of evil.
Back and forth, like boxers they quarreled;
To and fro, on the tips of their toes.
They fought for three rounds, until Clipson won, and said: ‘Now, you other highwaymen: look here! Your chief is wearing my footmark on his brow, instead of the ochre mark. Will you let us pass, or must you go back and suffer instruction at your old academy: the School of Hard Knocks? For I am a visiting lecturer there, and can teach you!’.
The second robber answered: ‘Your heathen gods may settle things one-on-one; but we don’t do that here. Prepare to die!’, and all his men raised their guns.
They fired; but Clipson threw up an invisible wall between the shots and their intended victims, and every shot missed entirely. The robbers said: ‘This is no man, but one of the followers of Prometheus, who were cast out of Heaven; or else, he has their aid. Retreat!’, and fled. Our heroes laughed at that, and continued on their way.