Carefully he hid a 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 and if he would be back before nightfall. Why was he still concerned about having enough time to get back? He wasn’t coming back.
His armor shifted as he stood, the metal plates polished to a glistening sheen. The right shoulder was trimmed in gold and decorated with a sunburst. Two white diamonds were painted over it as symbols of his rank and burden. The red star of Astikar, the symbol of his God, was emblazoned on the left of his breastplate.
He was a soldier and a commander here to do the impossible. A task made all the more difficult by the fact that he was alone. Over a month ago, he set out with thirty men on a quest to change the fate of a war and the despair of a people.
He traveled east away from the war, covering as much ground as he could by pushing men and horses to their limits. By the second week, they had crossed the common lands and entered the eastern provinces. These were a loose collection of petty kingdoms with weak kings and rulers. He pushed on through these lands driving 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 trees 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 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 take the farm roads in and avoided the dense forest for another five days. Easier as it may have been, he feared to take that route. Too many eyes would see him pass, and too many questions would be raised. Better to head directly west through the sparsely populated farmlands and go through the forest.
A week into the forest and he 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 trouble as most animals avoided a large force. The real danger was in the west beyond the green plains, but that was many weeks away. This far from the bloody battlefields, he should be able to find peace. 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, and their fate would be sealed.
Deep into the darkness of the night, he lay awake, staring at the ceiling of this tent. When the first howls split the air, his shock and disbelief held him in place. Fear and panic gripped him as he fought the sensation aside and rose to his feet.
They swarmed over the camp in a wave of flailing death. His men were not expecting a battle, so armor and weapons were stacked neatly outside tents. They struggled to grab sword and shield to stand 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. Gersius reacted as only he could, drawing his sword and charged into the fight in little more than his pants.
Despite being caught off guard, Gersius managed to gather a dozen of his men. They formed 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. They called his name, begging him to save them from the doom that had come on them.
All of these men were volunteers, eager to accompany him. They jumped at the chance to follow a 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 in bloody chaos for another four hours, the ring of men growing smaller as they fell. They stepped backward over the dying men, shortening the distance and closing the gaps. To leave an opening would spell the doom of them all, but that meant the wounded and dying had to be abandoned. 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 up, but the wall of death around them would lash out if they dared.
One by one, they fell, but so too did the enemy. His men took a terrible toll on the black forms that raced around them. For every man that fell, five or more of the monsters went with them. As the sun's rays crept over the horizon, two men still stood. Just five of the dark forms remained; the rest laying in heaps about them. Exhausted and driven mad with rage the men fought on until, by mercy and grace, they still stood when all else were slain.
The mission was over, and with it, the hopes and dreams of his people. All that he gambled on had failed, and with it came the shame of defeat. He couldn't understand how any of this had happened. These were his men! They believed in him, they trusted him, and now they lay in pieces all around, their trust in him misplaced.
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. It was the largest city in what was once an empire. Its massive stone walls ringed a small mountain that stood in the middle of the rolling plains. The city itself was built around the base of 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 faced certain defeat. It fell to ruin when the man who united it was slain. Assassinated some say, but the true story of what happened was lost to time and history.
The lands may have fractured, but the people still remembered the stories of the once glorious empire. Tales told of the heroics of its champions and of dragons who aided men. It was for Calathen and the people who made up the lost empire that he'd come all this way. He considered every person from every province to be his people, and all of them were threatened by war. A war that came out of the night with no warning or mercy. It was these people he failed.
Now he stood alone 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 faded to a muddy track, and then an overgrown trail before vanishing completely.
Days later, he found the fern-covered glen and the stream. A large rock leaned out over a small patch of gravel, providing a crude shelter. 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 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, uttering 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 hiGodod.
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 hiGodod. 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 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 and invulnerability enveloped him. With determination, he pushed forward, beginning the final steps of his life.
He trudged up the broken slopes of the hills at the base of the mountain. 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 chance to die a hero, and avoid the shame that awaited him back home.
He stood outside the cave, breathing heavily under the weight of his armor. He brought with him two torches and again 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 into the darkness of the cave. He felt like a man lost in a storm who knew he would never find his way home. 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 and wanted to remove his helmet to be free 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 fate.
Each long moment of slow progress felt like a lifetime, the twisting cave making his passage a labor of doom. He lamented the fact that he was alone, his mission failed. So much was riding on him, and he was the only one left to face a foe that would rend him limb from limb.
Still, he continued, pushing 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, his cloak would sway, and the torch flicker as if in a breeze. He could feel a cold breath on the skin around his eyes; its touch was a welcomed relief.
Still, he had to wonder how far these tunnels went? When did they open into the valley and the lair of the beast who lived there? He found only one report of the creature from many years ago. Some additional writings indicated that others had gone out to verify it, but none had ever returned.
That was all the proof he needed, and he argued with his superiors for permission to come here. They mocked his evidence and cited that even if it was true, he would only add to the list of failed missions. How prophetic those words seemed to him now.
He knew he wasn't the first to make this journey, and 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 was all that truly mattered to him. For years he dreamed of laying down his sword and position in his faith. He yearned for a home and a warm pair of arms to hold him and help him raise a child or two.
Time and time again, he set those dreams aside. His faith called him to duty and service, and he always answered the call. He always set aside the desires of his heart to serve the God he loved. Now his service would end and with it those fleeting dreams of warm arms, and a child’s love.
His eyes caught the glint of light as the tunnel grew brighter ahead. A soft, cold light filled the air just around the next bend. The kiss of a cool breeze blew through the narrow slit of his helmet. He savored the sensation, closing his eyes to bask in its touch. It helped to relieve the heat and discomfort of his armor. How many hours had he suffered under this armor's 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. He opened his eyes, and 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 into the cold air of a mountain valley. Steep rocky walls rose on all sides, hemming in a rolling floor that was barely a few miles across and perhaps twice as long. The cliff walls were crowned with snow and ice that glistened in the sunlight. In the distance came a faint rumbling like the charge of a hundred horses.
Further away were mountain peaks, covered in white and soaring so high they pierced the clouds. To his left was a distant cliff face with a narrow waterfall spilling from an ice-capped ledge. It crashed some sixty meters to the valley floor, causing a spray of mist and foam. Besides the falls, some twenty meters up the cliff was a dark opening to another cave. The report mentioned the waterfall, saying the beast came out of a cave nearby.
Gersius eyed the cave opening with dread. That had to be the lair and his prey and his death. With a 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 barren, comprised of loose gravel, and the occasional larger stones. Nothing grew here except a hardy yellow scrub grass that clung to the poor soil in clumps.
Near the far edge of the valley was a stream fed by the falls. It meandered across the valley in a stony bed and exited in a canyon on the southern tip. The valley floor was relatively level around the stream but rolled and dipped in hills further away from the water.
It all had a serene, peaceful beauty, but felt lifeless and barren, chilled by the cold mountain air. During the last few days, he felt alone, but here he felt truly isolated. Cut off from the world where no one would find his body.
He made his way to the water’s edge, a wary eye always on the distant cave. The stream flowed across stones polished smooth by ages of flowing water. It was pure as the rain and clear as the sky, and he couldn’t help but cast his helmet aside and cup his hands to drink.
He allowed himself to pause and marvel at the beauty around him while thinking of happier moments. He knew he was stalling, afraid of what could be moments ahead. He splashed his face with the icy water before putting his helmet back on. He beat back the foolish desire to throw it aside; he would need it for the danger ahead.
His gaze turned from the stream and looked over the rolling hills of gravel and scrub grass. Carefully he picked his way across the open ground, eyeing the cave as he went. Each step forward felt more difficult to make. 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 and pushed on, ignoring the fear. He didn't consider himself a brave man. He only did what needed doing, and he did what was right. He hoped to bring back a miracle, that he could save the people of the old empire. They were the ones who needed hope now. The war was lost, and the people driven further and further back. The towns and cities not yet overrun by the enemy were overrun with refugees. Good people fleeing an enemy that came on relentlessly.
In a daring move, he led an army out to meet the enemy. He shattered their force and drove them back nearly a hundred miles. It was then to his great shock he discovered the enemy had three armies and several smaller battle groups. He realized his army 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 against so many. He needed the kingdoms of the old empire to unite and combine their armies, but the kings that made up Delvarium were fractured and dived. 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 struggled to convince the Lords of the surrounding lands. None of them could see the danger or understood the need.
The people of the west, known as the Doan, were assembling and marching in great numbers. They came in vast hoards and drove monsters before them. The same monsters that attacked his men in the forest. They overran the green fields between the river and hills, burning the towns in their path. The only large city in the region fell, far quicker than he believed possible, inflicting a wound that pierced his heart.
This drove him to strike back, and 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, but the Doan fought with a level of organization they had never before possessed, and his losses had been higher than expected.
Then his scouts discovered the other armies. He knew they were in danger of being encircled and destroyed, so he fled with all the speed he could muster. He retreated to the border keeps, giving up the ground he'd won. It was time for a new plan, with a new objective, if only the order had understood.
The Doan wouldn’t risk a direct attack on the fortified hills of the border keeps. They paused a safe distance away, regrouping the shattered army. Every day his scouts reported their numbers growing as they massed for the final assault. He hoped it would be two months before they moved forward again. He 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 this 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 bear the shame of failing. 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 sudden roar filled his ears, freezing him on the spot. His eyes darted to the dark cave, certain the beast would be there but saw nothing but shadow. His heart raced as he watched the tunnel, thinking perhaps it was just inside. He began to take note of just how large the cave actually was. Ten men could easily walk side by side through that opening, and the ceiling was taller than it was wide. He wondered how large the beast really was. Certainly large enough to crush him in a single clawed hand.
Another cry echoed off the valley walls, muffled by the sound of the falling water. There was still no movement in the cave, so he began to walk, looking all around. His eyes scanned every rock, hill, and cliff face; nothing moved, but the occasional wisp of snow blowing in the wind from above.
He forced himself to move forward, lifting feet that wanted to flee. Knowing the beast was here, but not being able to see it only terrified him more. He resorted to the one sense that could detect the monster, his ears focusing on any sound they heard. Slowly he began to hear more, but it wasn't the roar of a deadly beast, or the growl of death by tooth and claw, no; it was crying.
He ducked low to crawl up a hill of stones and dead grass to see into the depression beyond. His breath caught in his throat as his limbs trembled. His eyes went wide as they gazed on the creature below, and he knew death now hung over his head.
Its body was covered in deep blue scales that faded to white at the tips. Its head at the end of a long serpent neck sprouted blue crystalline horns from its jawbones and had a small row of spikes down the center. Two larger horns as long as his arm grew from the back of its head and curled gently downward. The face was reptilian, with a long, cruel-looking jaw full of teeth that made his heart race. It had eyes of pure blue that seemed to glow with a light that danced 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 resembled those of a human if not for the scales the mighty clawed hands.
It lay on its side, all four of its powerful limbs trembling, and its bluish-black claws dug deep in 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 broken. It was then that he finally noticed 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 and spotted its wings. There were deep gashes on its side and what looked like punctures on its neck.
His mind struggled to understand what he was seeing. This dragon was no fierce angel of death. Instead, this dragon was on death's very door.
He watched in despair as it tried to pull itself along 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 face him, and a mouth of teeth reared up. With a sobbing gurgle, it gasped at him and then fell to the ground, curling into a ball as best it could. The effort caused renewed pain in its broken body, and it began to cry again.
Everything he had worked for these past weeks was 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 the dragon 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. It was helpless before him, unable to offer him any threat.
In all the dark moments of the past weeks and all his grim thoughts, he never imagined this. A thousand possible outcomes 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 as 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 salvage 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 consequences; 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 the sword on the ground at his feet and stood up with his hands open.
The dragon’s 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 to see who he was.
The helm came away, revealing his shaven face, and deep brown eyes. His sandy brown hair was roughly cut and fell to his shoulders in wild tufts. He had strength in his eyes and a jaw to match, always appearing to be a man who bore burdens. He dropped his arm, tossing the helmet aside as he prepared to bargain. With what measure of calm he could muster, he stared into those eyes of blue fire, meeting the dragon face to face.
“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 away. “I have not come here for your treasure,” he added as he took a cautious step toward the beast.
“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 slowly walk 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. “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 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 dragon slayers are behind you? Why has fate decreed that I must die?”
“I did not want to kill you. I wanted you to help me.”
“Why should I help you, dragon slayer?”
The strain of marching to his death, coupled with the failure of his mission, boiled up from inside. The dragon's condition and its insults ignited that strain, causing an outburst.
“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 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. I can heal some of your wounds and save you from death.”
He wondered just how true those 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 enormous. 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 to fight by my side,” Gersius reminded.
The dragon's eyes narrowed as it considered the offer.
“I agree. Heal me, and I will go with you to 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 to 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 made the dragon cry out in pain and frustration.
“Just kill me,” it sobbed, curling back into a ball. “Please, just kill me and end my pain.”
Gersius felt pity as he watched this once high 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 as the situation changed. He wasn't going to die here, his mission might still be saved, but he needed this dragon to live. He needed it to understand he meant it no harm and trust him.
“Listen to me,” he said to the creature as it hid its face. “I need your help.” He squatted down 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 could only be used if you knew the true name of the being to be bound. He knew what he was asking of the dragon, and knew it would 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, hoping that would make some difference. 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 in a sudden burst of inspiration. “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 anyone 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, hopefully. “Your name is Azure?”
“Azurastra,” came the 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. There was fear and hatred as well, and a sincere desire to die. He felt tremendous sorrow for the dragon. 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 closer to the creature. “Now, let me help you. Let me show you mercy.”
He placed his hands on its shivering hide and closed his eyes. He was struck at how strong the scales felt, each as big as his hand and like a plate of armor. He put the marvel of those scales aside to focus on the task at hand, calling out to Astikar while opening his heart. The familiar flow of divine power that all true priests knew coursed through him. He was bathed in its embrace as he established the link between the immortal and mortal.
He channeled that power, concentrating it by chanting the tones that shaped the healing. His body became alive with a tingling sensation that felt like a wind rushing through him as it flowed through his 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 leg suddenly straightened. Cracking sounds were heard as ribs healed back straight. All across the dragon's body, numerous gashes and holes began to close, ceasing the flow of blood.
Gersius struggled to maintain the healing. The dragon was so much larger than a man and was so severely wounded. To heal a man of injuries this severe would have been difficult. To heal the dragon was like healing thirty men near to death.
The large gaping wound in the dragon's side closed, and scales began to regrow. A second snapping noise was heard as a back leg suddenly straightened out.
His body began to ache, as his mind filled with pain. He held on as long as he could, channeling every last bit of divine power his body would tolerate. He felt his very skin start to burn as the great beast demanded more and more. Never had he channeled so much and felt such terrible agony. It was the price of going beyond your limits, pushing to where men were not meant to go. The priest could press on, but they exchanged their own life to maintain the channel, often absorbing the wound back on themselves.
There was a sudden series of pops and cracks, and the dragon shook as its tail 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. Through the channel of healing, he could sense the body on the other side. He felt the dragon's injuries still and knew it needed more, but he was beyond his limit. Everything he did from here was a risk to himself. With a cry of pain, he stumbled away, falling on his back, gasping rapidly for air as his hands shook.
He gave the dragon everything he could and more, spending every last shred of his power. He would need a full night of rest before he could heal more than a scratch. He took a moment to catch his breath before finally looking to Azurastra.
The dragon moved slowly, carefully. It leaned on its forearms, then carefully tested its hind legs. It trembled as if unsure but finally managed to stand on all four limbs. He caught a glimpse of its eyes to see tears running down its fearsome face.
Hope stirred in his heart as the dragon rose to its full height. He did it! He saved the dragon from dying and, by extension, saved his people. He closed his eyes and breathed a sigh of relief, praising Astikar for his mercy.
“My wings!” came a horrified wail. “My beautiful wings!”
He fought to sit up and see what the problem was, and his heart sank. The body was whole, but the dragon's wings were still broken and torn. He hadn't been strong enough to 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. 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 alone. He needed more brothers to work together, channeling divine power. His power would slowly recover, but not in time. Not soon enough to make another attempt.
He gazed on the wings as his hopes fled again. They were a twisted and broken mess that would drag on the ground and get under foot. Not only was this dragon unable to fly, but it was crippled on the ground.
“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 forced his need on this poor creature, and now it was a crippled shadow of its former self. He needed the dragon, and the hope it would inspire, but it would take him months to march 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 and pleaded for him to restore its wings. It tried several times to move them 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,” 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 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 found. It lived in the mountains far to the west behind the marching armies of the Doan.
He decided to put his thoughts 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 was never going to be able to complete his mission now; he'd failed.
“Then I have failed,” Gersius said. “I have come all this way and failed.” He walked away and fell to his knees. “I have lost my men, the hope for my country, my people. I have left you crippled, unable to fly. 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?”
The rumble of the distant waterfall answered him, and he felt a drop of water on his face. With eyes closed, he listened to that rumble, and took a deep breath, smelling the scent of water in the air. 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 with a head cast down, his heart heavy with sorrow. His thoughts tormented him, causing his head to shake as if to deny them. Tears welled in his eyes at thoughts of his country burning, and the 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, as his shoulders sank. He sat there saying nothing for longer than it wished to wait.
“Do you plan to kneel there all day?” the dragon said in a tense voice.
“I do not,” 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 realized it was being abandoned to live a crippled, flightless life. In a panic, it thought of an option, but quickly dismissed it and went to guilt the priest instead.
“I am bound to you, priest!” Azurastra yelled. “You can't leave me here.”
“You can not travel with broken 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 with 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 stood, groaning is it shifted its broken wings. A white mist suddenly crawled across its body, shrouding it from his sight. The mist billowed out, forming a great swirling cloud completely engulfing the dragon's form.
Gersius heard a rustling noise like leaves blowing in the wind. He shielded his eyes for a second when an intense flash of light escaped from the cloud of mist. Then all at once, the sound was gone, as the mist ceased its motion.
“Azurastra?” he called as the fog began to dissipate.
A shape moved in the cloud and out stepped a woman. Tall and lithe, with blue eyes that glowed with 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, 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.”
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.