Carefully he hid his dull, leather pack in the crevice of the stone. The sun was still low in the morning sky; its orange glow barely visible over the mountains. He thought of the journey ahead of him and if he would be back before nightfall. He shook his head as he realized he was still concerned about having enough time to get back. He wasn't coming back.
He stood up, shifting in his armor, the metal plates polished to a glistening sheen. The shoulders were trimmed in gold, and a golden sunburst with two white diamonds decorated the right plate, a symbol of his rank and his burden. The red star of Astikar was emblazoned on the left of his breastplate. It was the symbol of his god, his order, and his shame.
He was a soldier and a commander. He was here to do the impossible. A task made all the more difficult by the fact that he was now alone. Over a month ago he had set out with thirty men on a quest that would change the fate of a war and the despair of a people.
He had traveled east all that time. Covering as much ground as he could each day pushing men and horses to their limits. By the second week, they had crossed the common lands and entered the eastern provinces. This was a loose collection of petty kingdoms and territories with weak kings and rulers. He had pushed on through these lands driving further for the dense forests that lay beyond.
When they reached the vast forest known to the locals as the Greenwall his men had to slow down. These lands were sparsely populated, and the forest became dense and hilly.
The only humans who traveled into these lands were loggers. Several rare varieties of tree grew in the Greenwall. Some of them were ancient and highly prized by the lands further west. White knotted oaks, and the impossibly beautiful black onyx maple were found hidden in the dense woods. The logging paths were all they had to travel on now, and these were little more than overgrown, muddy trails.
If he had been further north, he could have taken the farm roads in and avoided the dense forest for another five days. He was coming from the west, however, and the most direct route was through the forest. There was no time to circle to the north.
A week into the forest he and his men had made camp on a hill in the center of a meadow. He posted guards as always since the woods were home to wild animals and beasts. He didn't expect any real trouble, not this far from the bloody battlefields.
They were over a month of hard riding away from the war. The enemy with any luck had no idea he was not present on the front lines. By the time they knew, it would be too late.
Late into the night, he was lying awake in his tent when the first howls split the air. His sense of disbelief only matched the feeling of fear and panic that gripped him as he raced to his feet.
They swarmed over his camp in a wave of flailing death. His men were not expecting a battle. Armor and weapons were stacked neatly outside the tents. Men struggled to grab sword and shield and stood in bare feet against the onrushing tide. They were scattered and out of formation, easy pickings for the dark forms that now raced around them. He reacted as only he could drawing his sword and charged into the fight in little more than his pants.
Despite being caught so off guard, he managed to gather a dozen of his men into a tight circle creating a perimeter in the center of the camp. Around him, he could hear men screaming in the darkness as they were ripped apart. He heard them calling his name, begging him to save them. He was their commander, and all of these men had volunteered to accompany him. All had jumped at the chance to follow the hero of the war on a daring mission. Their heads filled with dreams of fame and glory that would inevitably follow in his wake. Now they screamed like frightened children as they were slaughtered.
The battle raged on for another four hours. The ring of men grew smaller and smaller as they fell. They stepped backward over the dying bodies of their brothers to close the gaps in the line. If they could find just a moment to drop their guard, they could save some of these men. They could heal them and stand them back up, but the wall of death around them would lash out if they dared.
One by one they fell, but as they fell so too did the enemy. They took a terrible toll on the black forms that ringed them. For every man that fell five or more of the monsters went with them. As the suns rays crept over the horizon of the dawn two men still stood. Just five of the dark forms circled them. Exhausted and driven mad with rage they fought on until, by mercy and grace, the two still stood when all else around them were slain.
The mission was over. So too were the hopes and dreams of his people. All that he had gambled on had failed and with it came the shame of defeat. He couldn't understand how this had happened. These were his men! They believed in him, they trusted him, and now they lay in pieces all around him their trust in him misplaced.
He had to report what had happened. His brothers needed to know of this disaster, so he penned a letter and handed it to his only surviving soldier. The foul beasts had slaughtered the horses in the night, so the man with a trembling salute took the letters and vanished into the forest on foot promising to make haste back to Calathen.
Calathen seemed like another world away. The largest city in what was once an empire. Its massive stone walls ringed a small natural mountain that stood in the middle of the rolling plains. The city itself was built around the mountain with the old buildings that once made up the Emperor's palace at the top. The empire had lasted but ten years, formed in an act of desperation when the lands that made up the empire faced certain defeat. It fell to ruin when the man who united the lands was slain. Assassinated some say, but the true story of what happened was lost to time and history.
It was for this city and the kingdoms that surrounded it that he had come all this way. These were the old lands that made up the once great empire. These were the people who once belonged to it. All of these people he considered his people. All of them were threatened by the war that came with no mercy and no warning.
It was these people he had failed.
He stood alone now surveying the result of his decisions. Never had he felt such pain and turmoil in his life. Never had he been crippled by such indecision. The path before him now went in only two directions. Return in disgrace and accept judgment for his failure, or press on and meet his fate. Die a hero in one final battle against a foe he could not possibly hope to defeat. He made his choice and picked up his gear heading deeper into the forest.
For three days he walked through the forest alone. He found the farm road that ran from the north on the morning of the fourth day and followed it south deeper into the Greenwall. The road quickly vanished and became another logging trail.
In two more days, he found the fern covered glen and the stream. A large rock leaned out over a small patch of gravel and stones. It was in the shade of this rock he had made his camp. He was close enough now to the mountains that their shadow cast over him in the morning. He had spent another four days searching the base of the mountains for a passage. When he found the cave, he knew that this was his way inside. One last night of rest and he would set out in the morning. He would face his fate like a man. He would utter one last cry of battle and glory, and die trying to complete his mission.
The morning had come, and despite his foreknowledge, he still prepared as if he was coming back. He wasn't coming back.
With resignation, he took up his sword. It was a typical sword of his order. A straight blade nearly as long as his legs. The crossguard was a red star with its points radiating out. On the pommel was a golden stone to symbolize the sunburst, the dawn of mercy and grace to man through his God.
Over his back, he threw his cloak and adjusted its fit around his neck. He lifted his helmet and turned it over in his hands. It was a simple metal cone rounded on the top and crested with the red star of his god. It fully enclosed his face except for a slit for his eyes. Its edges were decorated in golden coils to symbolize his rank and to make him stand out among his men. He carefully lifted it up and over his head and slid it down. When he opened his eyes, he saw the world through the familiar window of his armor. A sense of protection enveloped him. With determination, he pushed forward beginning the final steps of his life.
Up the broken slopes of the hills at the base of the mountain, he trudged. The ground here was uneven and treacherous, but the cave above was the only way he had found so far that might lead within. Somewhere deep inside these mountains was a valley, and in that valley was his last battle. His last chance to die a hero, and avoid the shame that awaited him back home.
He stood outside the cave breathless under the weight of his armor. He had brought with him two torches, and again he chuckled at the pointlessness of it. One torch was to get him into the valley. The other was for when he came back. He wasn't coming back.
He lit the torch and made his way inside. He felt like a man lost in a storm. He could see but a dozen feet at best in a light that offered little detail. Beyond that was a pitch blackness that threatened to swallow him. With determination, he pushed on. There was only one purpose in his life now, and that purpose lay somewhere ahead.
Slowly he descended into the darkness, the light of his torch his only companion. It reflected off his armor of polished metal plates that acted like mirrors for the dancing flame. The metal of his boots clanked on the uneven stone floor with each step. He felt confined in his armor. He wanted to remove his helmet, wanted the freedom from its restrictive embrace. He didn’t dare, not when death could be a step away. He tried to steady his breathing as he fought the urge to flee. Someplace beyond these tunnels was his prey.
Each long minute of slow progress felt like a lifetime. He was alone; his men were dead, his quest nearly failed. He was the last, the only one left to face the foe, a foe who would rend him limb from limb.
Still, he continued, pushing himself forward against all logic. For an hour he walked his course, winding his way through the empty tunnels of the Ice fang peaks. Now and then the torch would flicker as if in a breeze, and his simple brown cloak would sway. He could feel a cold breath on his skin around his eyes when they did, and its touch was a welcomed relief.
How far in did these tunnels go? When did they open out into the valley? There had only been one lone report that the creature even lurked here. Others had gone out to verify it in the past, but none had ever returned.
He hoped that this fact was the proof he needed. He had argued this point to get permission to come here. He knew he wasn't the first to make this journey, and he probably wouldn't be the last. He shuddered at the thought that his death was waiting for him. The fear of it weighed down his feet, and almost froze his heart. He thought in those brief moments of how he would never see peace in his land. Never know the glory of the empire reborn. Never have a wife or family.
Family, it was all that truly mattered to him. For years now he had thought of laying down his sword and his position in his faith. He yearned for a home and a warm pair of arms to hold him. He dreamed of raising a child or two to share his joy with.
Time and time again he had set those dreams aside. His faith called him to duty and service. He always answered the call. He always set aside his own heart to serve the God he loved. Now his service would end and with it the desire of his heart.
His eyes caught the glint of light. The tunnels of the cave were brighter up ahead. A soft, cold light filled the area just around the next bend. His armor was hot and uncomfortable, so when he felt the cool kiss of a breeze blow through the narrow slit on his helmet, he welcomed the touch. How many long hours had he suffered under this armors oppressive weight? How many times did he wish to be rid of it, perhaps the death that awaited him wasn't a doom, maybe it was a blessing. The breeze grew stronger as he moved toward the brightness.
This is it; he thought as he pressed on toward the light.
The tunnel opened up into the air again. Before him was a mountain valley. Steep rocky walls ringed the valley that was barely more than two miles wide and perhaps three or four long. The walls were topped with snow and ice. In the distance could be heard a faint rumbling noise.
Further up the mountain peaks soared into the sky piercing the clouds. At the far end, a waterfall fell from an ice-capped ledge and crashed down to the valley floor making the rumbling noise. A dark opening could be seen on the wall next to the waterfall. Another cave into a deeper portion of the mountains.
The only report they had of the beast had mentioned the waterfall. It mentioned the creature came out of the cave next to the falls.
Gersius eyed the cave opening with dread. That had to be the lair and his final destination. With a small tremble, he cast the torch aside and drew his sword. He turned the blade over in his hand looking at the shine of the metal in the soft light.
“Many battles have you, and I come through,” he said to his blade nervously. “Let us go and have our last.”
The floor of the valley was mostly barren, comprised of loose gravel, and the occasional larger stones. There wasn't a tree to be seen, and only small areas of yellow scrub grass broke up the otherwise gray color.
Near the far edge of the valley was a stream fed by the ice falls. It meandered across the far side of the valley in a stony bed and exited the valley in a canyon on the southern tip. The valley floor was relatively level around the river but rolled and dipped in hills and depressions further away from the water.
The valley had a serene beauty to it, but it felt lifeless and barren, chilled by the cold mountain air above. Here he felt alone for the first time since he had set out. Here he was sure he would die.
He made his way to the water’s edge, a wary eye always on the distant cave. The water was as pure as fresh rain as it rolled across the stone floor of the valley. Stones polished smooth by eons of water made up the shore and bed of the stream adding to the air of purity and peace.
He allowed himself to pause and marvel at the beauty. Allowed his mind to think of happier moments. He knew he was stalling, knew he was afraid of what could be just moments ahead. He thought about removing his helmet again and splashing his face with the chilled water. He allowed the foolish thought to die away. He may be facing his death, but he wasn’t going to make it easier.
He turned from the stream and looked out over the rolling hills of gravel and dead grass. Carefully he picked his way across the open ground eyeing the cave as he went. Each step forward felt more difficult to make. He knew the beast was here; he could feel it. That sense of impending doom that was common to the men of his order. That guiding feeling from the divine that warned them when danger was close.
He steadied himself as he pushed on. He didn't consider himself a brave man. He only did what needed doing, and he did what was right. He had hoped to bring back a miracle, hoped that he could save the people of the old empire. They were the ones who needed hope now. The war was being lost, and his people driven further and further back. The towns and cities not yet overrun by the enemy were overrun instead with refugees. Already all of the lands outside the border keeps were lost.
In a daring attack, he had led an army out to meet the enemy. He had shattered their force and driven them back nearly a hundred miles. It was then to his shock he discovered the enemy had three main armies and several smaller battle groups. He realized he was overstretched and vastly outnumbered. He had to fall back with haste or risk being encircled and destroyed.
It all came down to numbers now. He didn't have enough men to mount an offensive. He needed the kingdoms that made up the old empire to unite and combine their armies, but the kingdoms that made up Delvarium were fractured and divided. The lords were not willing to work together and put a unified front before the enemy. All of them sent token forces, a gesture of support, but kept the bulk of their armies inside their borders for “self-defense.”
Without those men, he would have to wage a defensive war using the protection of the hills, and the border keeps to make his smaller numbers more effective. He knew a defensive war was a losing war and he struggled to convince the Lords of the surrounding lands. None of them could see the danger. None of them understood the need.
The people of the west, the Doan, were assembling and marching in great numbers. They came in vast hoards and drove monsters before them. The same monsters that had attacked his men in the forest. Already all of the outlying towns had been burned, and one of the great cities had fallen. It fell far quicker than he believed possible inflicting a wound on him that pierced his heart.
This had driven him to strike back, to ravage the enemy while they were complacently looting the city. He gave them no quarter and slammed into their lines with great vengeance. He won, or so they told him, but the Doan fought with a level of organization they had never before possessed, and his losses had been greater than he expected.
Then his scouts discovered the other armies. He knew they were in danger of being overwhelmed. He fled back before they could encircle him and he formed a new plan to win.
The Doan had to regroup after his successful counter-attacks. This bought him the precious time needed to mount this expedition. He hoped it would be two months before they marched forward again. He had left instructions to other commanders on how to harass and delay them. He wanted to buy as much time as he could to complete his mission.
All of it was futile now. His men were dead, and his mission was over. What hope did he have of completing his task alone? He thought of his homeland and his people. He thought of his dreams and hopes for the future. He thought of the family he would never have.
He could not go back and bare the shame of failing in his mission. He could not go back and watch the lands be overrun and burned. If all was lost then at the very least, he could die honorably in one last battle to try and save them all.
A loud cry split the air, and he froze on the spot. His eyes scanned the dark cave opening. From far away it had seemed a small thing. Now that he was closer he could see it more clearly. Ten men could walk side by side in the opening, and it was almost twice as high as it was wide. He wondered how large a creature could be inside it. Certainly one large enough to crush him in a single clawed hand.
Another cry, more like a sob echoed off the canyon walls. There was no movement in the cave opening, so he quickly looked around himself. His eyes scanned every rock, every cliff face, nothing moved but the occasional wisp of snow blowing in the wind from the distant cliffs.
He forced himself to lift his feet, to push forward. He was even more frightened now, there was something here, and he couldn't see it.
His ears focused on listening and he heard more, but it wasn't the roar of a deadly beast, it wasn't the growl of death by tooth and claw, no; instead what he heard was crying.
He ducked lower as he crested a hill of stones and dead grass so he could see into the depression beyond. His breath caught in his throat and his limbs trembled. He fixed his eyes on it, and he knew that death hung over his head.
Its body was covered in deep blue scales that faded to white at the edges. Its head at the end of a long serpent neck sprouted blue crystalline horns from its jaw bones and had a small row of spikes on its head. Two larger horns as long as his arms grew from the back of its head and curled back gently. The face was reptilian, with a long, cruel-looking jaw full of teeth that made his blood freeze. It had eyes of pure blue that seemed to glow with light. Now and then a glimmer of that light almost appeared to dance on the surface like a flame.
It was twice as large as a covered wagon, nearly the size of a small house. It looked lean and muscular, with arms that much resembled a human if not for the scales the mighty clawed hands.
It lay on its side, all four of its powerful limbs seemed to be trembling, and its bluish black claws were dug deep into the stone. A long tail thrashed behind it, almost writhing as if in terrible anger. It had great leathery wings with scaled blue arms and a white membrane. They were twisted and torn, bent at odd angles and clearly broken. It was then that he finally noticed all the blood. Everywhere from the end of its tail to the nose of its snout was a dark almost black liquid. It stained the rocks around it and spotted its wings. There were deep gashes on its side and what looked like punctures on its neck.
This dragon was no fierce angel of death. Instead, this dragon was on deaths very door.
He watched in despair as it tried to pull itself along the ground with one arm, and let out a deep stuttering cry of pain.
“No, no, no!” He cried out in absolute shock at the site. He forgot himself and abandoned his hiding spot on the hill.
The beast reacted to the noise with a sudden twitching terror. Its head struggled to turn to face him, and a mouth of teeth reared up at him. With a sobbing gurgle, it gasped at him and then fell to the ground and started to curl up into a ball as best it could. The effort caused renewed pain in its wounds, and it began to sob and cry again.
He saw everything he had worked for these past weeks burning before his very eyes. Not only had he failed his mission, now he had failed to die.
I came all this way for this? he screamed in his head. A dying dragon!
He staggered over the ground toward it as it continued to sob. He needed to unite the kingdoms. He needed to rally his people. He needed one final heroic battle so he could die honorably. He needed a LIVING dragon!
The creature saw his approach and screamed like a helpless animal caught in a trap.
In all the dark moments of the past weeks, in all his grim thoughts, he had never imagined this. A thousand possible outcomes had played out in his mind, most of them ending with his death, but never had he imagined this.
As the dragon’s tail lashed vainly about he realized it wasn't angry, it was in pain, great and terrible pain.
His face went pale, and he turned his head searching the scene for some glimmer of hope. Everything he had done these past weeks was now in vain. Risks had been taken, lives lost and time, precious time wasted.
Furiously his mind worked at a solution. There had to be a way to save all that had been spent on this mission. He realized in a moment of desperation that he had only one option, one thing worth trying, but he doubted it would work. Still, it offered a new path, a glimmer of hope where there had previously been none. He didn't have time to consider the long-term outcome; he either took his chance now or missed it forever.
Slowly he bent down lowering his arms to the ground where the dragon could see him. Carefully he placed his sword on the ground at his feet. He stood back up again and held his hands open.
The dragons gaze followed every movement, eyeing him with suspicion, then to his utter surprise, it spoke.
“Kill me and be done with it,” it wheezed in pain. “I have nothing left to live for.” Its voice was higher pitched than he expected. It crackled and was full of pain, but it had a strong quality to it. It strangely seemed to echo as if there were two speaking.
He took a step away from the sword and lifted his hands to his helmet. He wanted to show the creature he meant it no harm and wanted it to see who he was.
He pulled the helmet decorated with the red seal of Astikar off and revealed his face. He had deep-set brown eyes that looked like they carried the memory of a thousand pains. His face was clean, shaven and smooth. He had short hair for a battle priest, sandy brown and roughly cut. He took his helmet in one hand and dropped it to the stony ground.
With calm intent, he stared the creature in the eyes and met it face to face. He struggled to look brave though in his heart he was frightened and uncertain.
“You can speak? You can understand me then?” he asked.
“I understand what you want!” it spat in an angry gasp. “But you are too late. He has already taken my hoard!” it added beginning to cry again. “My treasure is gone, gone!”
“Your hoard?” He replied never taking his eyes off it. “I have not come here for your treasure.” He added as he took a slow, cautious step toward the beast.
It seemed to grow defiant as he stepped forward, but could only shift away from him slightly, struggling to lift even its head.
“A trophy then, come to hack off my head and mount it on your wall!” It cried. “Why? Why has this happened to me?”
He continued to walk slowly toward the beast his hands out to his sides and held open.
“If I had come here to kill you, I would not have put down my sword.”
“Then why are you here, to gloat? To watch me die?”
“I have not come all this way to watch anybody die,” he said still advancing slowly. “I came here to find you because I need your help.”
The creature shuddered as it tried to laugh. “Too late for that! Not that I would have helped you, even if I wasn’t about to die.”
“I have come a very long way to find you. I had hoped I could persuade you to help me, but I was willing to use force if necessary,” he said his eyes fixed on the beasts.
“So you would have tried to kill me too? How many more would be dragon slayers are behind you? Why has fate decreed that I must die?”
“I did not want to kill you. I just wanted you to help me.”
“Why should I help you, dragon slayer?”
He felt his blood growing hot at the beasts accusations.
“I am no dragon slayer!” he shouted back. “I am Gersius Knight captain of the Brothers Militarus of the order of Astikar. I am a battle priest of the God of mercy! Holy knight of his truth.” He paused a moment to see if the beast had any biting remarks to make. “I came here because I had to. I need you, I need your help.”
“Ha, you need my gold!”
“I need you to keep silent! Right now I have the only thing you need!” he said angrily emphasizing the word you.
“And what is that?” the dragon spat in anger.
“Mercy,” he said finally arriving within a few steps of the beast.
The dragon eyed him cautiously as he stood there before it.
“What mercy do you speak of?” it asked in a voice full of pain and contempt.
“The mercy of help, the mercy of healing. I am a priest, and I can heal some of your wounds. I can save you from death.”
He wondered just how true his words were. He was a powerful healer able to save men from even mortal wounds, but this was a dragon. It was much larger than a man, and its injuries were many and fatal. The power he would need to draw on would be high. He doubted he had the strength to heal it completely.
The beast glared at him with suspicion struggling to breathe. It felt fear as it looked at the man in armor, why was this rodent offering it help, what did it want? The rodents offer offended the dragon's pride but was pride too high a price to pay for living?
“What do you want in exchange for this help?” the dragon asked.
“I need you to come with me to Calathen, and fight by my side.”
“You want me to go with you to one of your hives?”
“Yes, to Calathen, I need your help there.”
“That is all you need from me?”
“And to stay a while and fight by my side,” Gersius reminded the beast
The dragon's eyes narrowed as it considered the offer.
“I agree. Heal me, and I will go, and fight by your side,” the beast said too quickly.
Gersius was no fool. The dragon would tell him what he wanted to hear. When it was healed, it would kill him without a second thought. There was only one way he knew of that would ensure the dragon upheld its end of the bargain.
“I need to know your name first,” Gersius said firmly.
The dragon’s eyes narrowed and its mouth curled into a snarl.
“Never!” it roared with the first true display of power. “Never will I tell you my name!” It struggled to reach out with a trembling arm and dig its claws into the stony soil. With great effort, it tried to pull itself away from Gersius. The strain only made the pain in its body flare up. It screamed in torment and frustration.
“Just kill me,” it sobbed curling back up into a ball. “Please, just kill me.”
Gersius felt pity in his heart as he watched this once great and mighty creature beg to killed. It curled into a ball like a wounded animal who had finally resigned itself to its fate. He struggled to contain his spinning thoughts. He wasn't going to die here, his mission might still be saved, but he needed this dragon to want to live. He needed it to understand he meant it no harm.
“Listen to me,” he said to the creature as it hid its face from him. “I need your help.” He squatted down on his heels so he could look into the ball of scales to try and make eye contact. “I came here to save my people, to save my country. I need your help to do that. I do not wish to harm you in any way. I will not force you to tell me your name, but I cannot trust you unless you do.”
“You will bind me!” the dragon cried from inside its ball of scales.
“I am sorry, I must. I need to be sure I can trust you,” Gersius said in a soothing voice.
“I don't want to be bound. Kill me, please kill me,” it cried.
Gersius searched his mind and heart for what to say. To be bound was an ancient magic that tied the being's soul to another and rendered them helpless before the master. It was an ancient magic, but it could only be used if you knew the true name of the being to be bound. He knew what he was asking of the creature, and knew that it would probably prefer death to being bound.
“I give you my word as a knight of Astikar that I will treat you with respect and dignity.” He paused and listened. When he got only low sobs from the ball of scales he spoke again. “Please, you are dying, our time grows short,” he implored the broken dragon.
“Then I will finally be free!” it sobbed.
“A year and a day,” he said to the creature. “I swear on my honor as a priest of Astikar to limit your binding to a year and a day.”
“A year and a day?” came a feeble voice from within.
“On my honor, as a priest of Astikar,” he repeated.
There was a long pause then the dragon spoke.
“You must swear to never reveal my name to any other!” it wailed.
“Agreed, I will never reveal your name to another, I will never utter your true name where any other can hear it,” he added.
“You will not renew my bind after the year and the day?”
“I make an oath to you that after the year and a day you may return here and I will trouble you no more. I vow not to renew your bind.”
The sobbing inside turned into a long wailing sound.
“Please, time is short,” he pressed.
“Azure,” the voice broke off in another cry.
“Azure?” he asked questioningly. “Your name is Azure?”
“Azurastra,” came a pained voice. “My name is Azurastra.”
“Thank you,” he said standing back up. “Please be strong Azurastra. I know how much this must frighten you.”
He closed his eyes and began to recite the ancient spell of binding. As he chanted Azurastra began to wail and call out asking again why had this happened. The weave of power began to encircle the dragon in a red band as the spell formed and he started to speak conditions into its power. True to his word he wove a limitation into the spell, binding Azurastra for only a year and a day.
He lowered his hands and looked down at the crying, shaking beast before him. Its wings shattered and broken, its body battered and torn.
The binding gave him a connection to the dragon. He could feel it now, feel faint echoes of the pain as the binding took hold. He could feel fear and hatred, and a sincere desire to die. Inside his own heart, he felt such sorrow for the beast. He had dedicated his life to mercy, and it wounded him to see anyone even this dragon suffering like this.
“It is done,” he said gently. He lifted his hands as he walked over to the creature. “Now let me help you. Let me show you mercy.”
He placed his hands on its shivering form and closed his eyes again. He was struck at how strong its scales felt. Each scale on its side was as big as his hand and felt like a plate of his armor. He could feel an air of cold about them that seeped through the thick leather of his gloves. He called out to Astikar and opened his heart. He felt the divine connection that all priests had. He felt the current of power that flowed from the divine to the mundane, from the immortal to the mortal.
He channeled that power now and concentrated it chanting the tones that shaped the healing. His body became alive with a tingling power that felt like a wind rushing through him as it flowed through his body and soul. He focused it into the dying form of Azurastra and a golden light covered the scales of the dragon's hide.
Azurastra shook and called out as if in pain. A snapping noise was heard as a bone in a limb straightened back out. Crackling sounds were heard as ribs healed back straight.
He struggled to maintain the flow. The dragon was so much larger than he and was so severely wounded. Even to heal a human of injuries this severe would have been difficult.
The large gaping wounds in the dragon's side began to knit back together, and scales began to regrow. A second snapping noise was heard as a back leg suddenly straightened out.
He felt his body begin to ache, and his mind filled with pain. He held on as long as he could channeling every last bit of divine power his body would tolerate. Still more power was demanded of the healing. He felt his very skin start to burn as the great beast demanded more and more. Never had he channeled so much power and felt such terrible agony. All priests had their limits and to go beyond them was to trade their own life for the others in an exchange of terrible suffering as the priest absorbed the wounds back on himself.
There was a sudden series of pops and cracks, and the dragon shook as it's tail suddenly went limp. The holes in its neck were gone, and its great head fell to the ground.
He gritted his teeth as the pain became unbearable. All priests could sense the body they were trying to heal. He could feel that the dragon still needed more, but he was beyond his limit! With a cry of pain, he stumbled away from the dragon's form. He fell over to his back his breath deep and rapid, his hands shaking.
He had spent his power, given the poor beast everything he could call upon and more. He would need a full night of rest before he could heal more than a scratch. He had to take a moment to catch his breath before he could look over at the dragon.
It moved slowly, carefully. It got up first on its forearms, then carefully tested its hind legs. It trembled as if unsteady and still reeling in pain. He caught a glimpse of its eyes and saw tears running down its fearsome face.
He felt hope stir in his heart at the thought that he had done it. He had saved the dragon from dying and by extension saved his people. He closed his eyes and breathed a sigh of relief.
“My wings!” came a horrified wail. “My beautiful wings!”
He fought to sit up and see what the problem was, and his heart sank at the sight. The body was whole, but the dragon’s wings were still broken and torn. He hadn't been strong enough. He couldn't restore such a large creature with so many injuries.
“My wings!” it cried fresh tears streaming from its eyes. It looked up at the sky as if longing to soar up into it. It fell back to the ground and curled back into a ball. “I can't fly!” it wailed. “I can't fly! What point is there to live if I can't fly!”
“I am so sorry. I was not strong enough,” he said trying to crawl towards the beast.
“I want my wings back!” it wailed. “I want to fly again! Please, I am a dragon! It is my birthright to soar in the skies! You can not take this away from me!”
He wasn't sure what to do. He wasn't strong enough to heal the dragon fully. He needed more brothers, needed more people channeling divine power. His power would slowly recover, but not in time. Not soon enough to make another attempt. He looked at the wings. They were a twisted and broken mess. Not only would the dragon be unable to fly, but the wings would hinder the dragon walking on the ground. He realized it was crippled.
“My gold is gone, I am bound to a rodent, and I can't fly!” it cried. “Why didn't you kill me as I asked?”
Gersius wondered if in the name of mercy that might have been a better fate. He had forced his need on this poor creature, and now it was a cripple, a shadow of its former self. He needed the beast, needed the hope it would inspire, but it would take him months to march such a crippled creature back to Calathen. He simply didn't have the time. His mission had failed after all.
“I am truly sorry,” he said walking to stand beside the sobbing beast. “I did all I could.” He didn't know what to do, so he did the only thing he could do. He knelt beside it and put his hand to its side to steady it and let it cry.
For an hour the creature sobbed. It tried several times to move its ruined wings as if maybe they would straighten out. Each effort brought renewed tears and cries of “I can't fly.”
When at last it settled down and started to breathe normally Gersius spoke to it.
“What happened here? What happened to you?”
“He came and took my gold,” was all it said.
Who came?” Gersius asked.
“The red dragon of the black spires,” it sobbed. “He came here and tried to make me join his cause.” It paused to struggle with a series of deep sobs. “When I. When I refused he broke my wings and my legs. He took my gold and left me to die.”
“The red dragon of the black spires was here?” Gersius said in shock.
“Yes,” it replied in a broken wail.
“Why? Why would he do this to you? You are a dragon?"
“I am a blue, an ice dragon. He thinks he is superior to me, to all dragons. He demanded to know my name so his master could bind me,” Azurastra said. “He said all dragons would come to serve the Goramogoth.”
Gersius didn't recognize the name. He struggled to remember if he had ever heard it before, but his mind was blank. He did, however, know of the red. When he searched for a dragon to hunt the red was the first one he thought of. Many people knew the stories of the great red dragon. It lived in the mountains far to the west behind the marching armies of the Doan. It was beyond his reach.
He decided to put his thoughts to better use on the scene before him and what it meant. His eyes took in the crippled form of the dragon that could no longer fly. He realized that he was never going to be able to complete his mission now, he had failed.
“Then I have failed,” Gersius said. “I have come all this way and failed.” He walked away from Azurastra and fell to his knees. “I have lost my men, the hope for my country, my people. I have left you a cripple. How much more can I possibly fail?” he said. “You can not travel like this. You can not fly; you will barely be able to walk.”
“You should have killed me,” Azurastra cried.
“I did what I thought was right. I did what I felt needed to be done,” he said. “Never have I sought to harm someone, out of malice or spite.” He shook his head as if he couldn't believe this moment had come. “Only in protection and defense have I raised my weapon.”
He threw his face to the heavens and called out in a loud voice. “What do I do now?”
Only the distant rumble of the waterfall answered him. He felt a drop of water on his face, carried from the distant falls on the wind. He could smell the scent of the water on the crisp air that rolled down from the mountains above. Here so far from men and war, he should know peace, but the weight of duty, of devotion, prevented him from seeing the beauty around him anymore.
He knelt there on the stony ground his head cast down, his heart heavy with sorrow. He shook his head from time to time as silent thoughts tormented his mind. Tears welled in his eyes as he thought of his country burning, and his people being enslaved, he had time to save them, but where could he find another dragon? The red dragon was out of his reach. Only this blue was within his grasp.
Azurastra watched the man kneeling in the stone shaking his head, He called out to the skies and was answered with silence, and his shoulders sink. He sat there for a long moment saying nothing.
“Do you plan to kneel there all day?” the dragon said in a tense voice.
“I do not,” was all he said in reply.
Slowly he got up and looked across the ground to his helm and weapon.
“I must return to Calathen,” he said after a moment. “I will join my brothers and die battling the armies of the Doan.” He didn't turn, didn't look at Azurastra only spoke as if saying his final words. “You will stay here, and live out your life...” He paused a look of pain on his face. “As best you can.”
Azurastra suddenly felt a new level of fear as it realized it was being abandoned to live a crippled flightless life. It struggled to contain its fear and rage. In a panic, it thought of an option, but it quickly dismissed it and went to guilt the priest instead.
“I am bound to you now priest!” Azurastra yelled. “You can’t just leave me here.”
“You can not travel far with your wings,” he argued back. “I do not have months to limp along the road with you. I am needed back as quickly as I can get there.”
Azurastra realized it had no choice. It would have to humiliate itself even more.
A long moment of silence passed then Azurastra spoke.
“I can walk.”
Gersius became irritated and turned to face the dragon. “How? How can you walk?” He gestured to the twisted wings. “You will trip on those every step, and the pain will slow you down even more.”
The Dragon cast its head down unable to hold his gaze.
“I can walk,” it said again.
“How?” he demanded.
With a sniffle the dragon got up on its legs groaning is it shifted its broken wings.
A white mist crawled across its body shrouding it from his sight. The mist suddenly billowed out into a great swirling cloud obscuring the dragon's form. Gersius heard a rustling noise like leaves blowing in the breeze. He shielded his eyes for a second when a sudden flash of light escaped from the cloud of mist. The sound was gone, and the mist ceased its motion.
“Azurastra?” he called out as the fog began to dissipate.
A shape moved in the cloud and out stepped a woman. Tall and lithe, with big blue eyes that glowed with blue fire. Her hair was smooth and silky, a bluish silver in color and it washed down her back collecting at her waist. Her skin was pale white, and strange blue tattoos of interwoven lines ran across her shoulders and down her back.
She stepped out of the cloud naked with her arms folded over her chest trembling before him.
“Azurastra?” he questioned unable to believe what he was seeing.
“I told you I can walk,” the woman said.
Support "Dragon Knight Prophecy"
- Eastern United States- Thats all your getting.
- newbie writer, wise old story teller.
I am a fan of fantasy and romance stories. I have been writing from a very early age and love to tell stories. I lack a good education in grammar however and I have been struggling to teach myself.
I love dragons and have for years been working on a story where they featured heavily. This is the culmination of that work. I hope it measures up to some kind of standard and that you the reader deeply enjoy it.
I have no awards to brag about. I have no education to brag about. I haven’t written any award-winning books or articles in major publications. I am just an obscure storyteller shouting his story from the void in the hopes that somebody will hear it.
Thank you so much for reading my story. Sharing what I have and finding a way to focus on it for the future is all I ever wanted to do.