A High Fantasy Adventure in 10 Pages (5,000 Words)
|Dragonriders of Mu
A High Fantasy Adventure
By David Daniel Ducker
A wild boar roots among the rotten detritus of the forest floor searching for fat juicy grubs. Above her is a canopy of green creating endless twilight within the woods despite the noontime sun high above. From the edge of the forest a chain of white-capped mountains is just visible in the distance, a small white line rising up from the heart of the forest, a forest which stretches from horizon to horizon. The sky above is cloudless but a wedge of blurry shapes is coming into view, flying from the direction of the mountains, greater than any bird, vast scaly wings in every colour of the rainbow, long serpentine bodies writhing sinuously through the wind, gleaming talons capable of tearing a deer to shreds in an instant glistening with natural oils. A flight of dragons!
As they draw nearer their strange harness becomes visible, elaborate leather saddles holding fragile human riders. These riders each are tall and fair for their species, grim-faced and bearded, clad in shining scale armour that matches their mounts and girt with long double-edged swords, dragon-horn bows slung in saddle-holsters within easy reach. The dragon riders of Mu!
The man at the centre of the wedge is lanky and blond, with large blue eyes and a scruffy golden beard, his armour is the same deep ruby-red as his mount and the horns on his helm mimic those of his beast as well. His gaze never rests as he scans the edge of the forest, nervous tension is in his every movement. He is Harold of Mu.
There! Just half a mile outside the forest stands a line of giants clad in lacquered armour, each one twelve feet tall and each armed with a pole-arm befitting its size. Axes, spears, glaives, and tridents reflect the bright sun. They stand still as statues, the strange sloping surfaces of their armour baking in the noon brightness. No trace of flesh is exposed to the sun's rays however, nor to a dragon's flames.
Harold makes a hand signal and the wedge wheels over, spiralling gracefully down to the edge of the forest opposite the metal giants. Seven dragons land in turn and seven great bearded warriors dismount, making their way to their crimson-clad captain.
'Well Lawrence there they are, just as their message said' Harold says dismounting and removing his helmet, his optimism clearly forced
'It feels wrong to be on the ground so close to them. Perhaps we should approach mounted?' Lawrence was clad in green, his beard was brown, his eyes black
'We'll meet them halfway.' Harold said cheerfully
'And if they attack?' Lawrence asked nervously
'Then we run and rely on our scaly friends here to save us.' Harold said patting his own great red dragon on the flank affectionately
'Some plan' Lawrence said with a roll of his eyes and a nervous glance towards his own, much smaller, mount
'You don't trust Calibrex?' Harold said with a joking smile
'It's them I don't trust' Lawrence said pointing across the expanse of steppe towards the unmoving armoured figures
'They've never lied to us before' Harold said with a shrug
'An honourable enemy is still an enemy' Lawrence said with a scowl
'According to their message they don't want to be our enemies anymore' Harold said still gazing across the steppe at the distant figures, as if trying to measure their intent, even from this distance
'Can't afford to be you mean.' Lawrence said cynically
'Same thing' Harold said with another easy shrug
'You go first. You do the talking. If things go bad I'm heading back to Calibrex as fast as my feet will carry me' Lawrence said resignedly
'Sounds like a plan' Harold smiled at his friend's cynicism
Harold began to walk forward across the steppe. Six armoured men followed him, some gripping their hilts, others with helm in hand, all nervous about what was about to happen. The dragons watched them go, some uncaring as to their master's fates, but most just as anxious as the warriors themselves.
Halfway between the dragons and the giants Harold stopped, he drew his sword from it's sheath and held it's pommel to the sky, the ruby mounted there glittered in the sun, then he stabbed it into the earth in front of him and stood back with arms crossed, clearly unwilling to move forward another step. His men did likewise, each sword had a gem matching the colour of it's wielder's armour; an onyx, two sapphires, two amethysts, and a small emerald for Lawrence.
For a moment silence reigned, the wind stirred the grass around them, a vulture wheeled overhead, and then a command issued from the line of giants
At this there was a series of mechanical clicks, like some great vault being unlocked, and the armour of the giant's slowly opened like a row of monstrous clams exposing their innards to the bright sky. Standing inside the chest of each giant was a man, silk robed and carefully shaved. They clamoured down from their massive suits of armour with exceptional grace, each man being careful not to dislodge the long curved sword thrust through his belt-sash. The row of men contrasted marvellously against the dragon riders, each golem pilot being short and swarthy rather than tall and fair, and each man wearing a long robe of intricate patterns rather than the tight riding-leathers of the hill-men.
The seven pilots walked forward across the steppe at a signal from their leader, tentatively leaving their golems behind them, unguarded and exposed to the wilderness. The leader wore a short moustache beneath his narrow brown eyes and his robe was blue and covered in delicate white water-lilies, like the others his hair was jet black and worn in a single topknot. Each group eyed the other suspiciously, tense for any sign of hostility. Soon fourteen warriors stood in line, eye to eye, filled with curiosity and trepidation.
'On behalf of his divine majesty the emperor of Lemuria I greet our honoured enemies the dragon riders of Mu. I am the emperor's humble servant Rajura, come with a message delivered into my hand by the emperor's own, as he sat upon the jade throne at the centre of the world.' Rajura pulled a lacquered scroll case from deep within his voluminous sleeve and handed it to Harold
'Uh, greetings. I am Harold. And, on behalf of the dragon king of Mu, I am here to hear your message' Harold was somewhat taken aback by the formality of Rajura's message, he opened the scroll-case and glanced in confusion at the foreign characters on the roll of silk
'His divine majesty writes to say that we have a common enemy. The behemoths long thought extinct have returned. Only together can we destroy them before they spread across both of our lands ushering in a second dark age for all men.' Rajura's speech was well rehearsed despite his thick accent, Harold wished he'd had the knowledge of forethought to help him maintain some of the foreigner's poise
'The behemoths?' Harold's mind reeled and raced. Horror battled implausibility in his head.
'We have located their mother. If she can be destroyed before she births another queen this threat can be ended before it begins. But we cannot reach her by land... We must go at once!' Rajura seemed ashamed to admit that his golems couldn't fly, it was the only time real emotion slipped through his rehearsed diatribe
'Rajura, let me speak with my riders a moment, please excuse us...' Harold stepped back and his men clustered about him, leaving Rajura a bit confused but standing just as patiently as his golem back across the steppe
'It's a lie. It's a trap.' Lawrence said as soon as he was sure Rajura couldn't hear him
'But what if it's not? Remember Albert and Bastion? They were sent to investigate some destroyed villages along the border, they never came back. And there were rumours of a giant monster.' Harold was thinking out loud, trying to puzzle out this scenario with the help of his trusted lieutenant
'There are always rumours Peasants love rumours' Lawrence said cynically as he too exerted his brain to picking apart the possible Lemurian stratagem
'So where are Albert and Bastion? And their dragons? They're too long overdue. Something is up.' Harold seemed more certain this time
'It's a trick. Some treachery of the Lemurians. They probably destroyed those villages and set a trap for Albert and Bastion. Just like they're leading us into one now.' Lawrence glanced back at Rajura suspiciously
'Even if they could destroy the villages without being seen, and kill Albert and Bastion without one of them escaping; what would be the point? Just to draw us seven into a trap? And why seven? Too many to kill us all without anyone escaping, too few to make any kind of strategic difference. It just doesn't make sense. Think about it.' Harold's increasing certainty also increased his dread
'I know they're trying to trick us. I just don't see how.' Lawrence had frustration written across his face but spoke coolly
'I don't see how either.' Harold said confidently
'You're really going to trust them?' Lawrence's last weapon was feigned incredulity
'Hey I was counting on you to have a reason not to...' Harold was almost smiling
'And I don't' Lawrence pouted
'Well then it looks like we're going behemoth hunting.' Harold's excitement was only half feigned
'I'm gonna keep my eyes on them every step of the way though' Lawrence said with angry resignation
'Please do. And keep an eye on my back for me as well, you know if it's really going to be peace, we need a blind-idiot poster-boy, and that, unfortunately has got to be me.' Harold knew well that as a leader of men he had to take on a role, a role that in this case might get him killed
'No it doesn't' Lawrence also seemed aware his friend was willing to die for the cause and it twisted his guts with worry. His response was sad and reticent.
'We're in' Harold said turning back to Rajura
Across a narrow channel a grey island sleeps in the afternoon twilight. It's rocky crags silent, it's deep valleys filled with shadow. The dragon riders and golem knights had built their camp in a small copse of trees opposite the island. The golems arranged in a large circle their backs to the darkness. The dragons roaming freely within eyesight of the camp but careful not to enter the waters of the channel on Rajura's orders.
'That is the island there' Rajura said pointing across the channel
'I can see why you're having trouble with it' Harold said noting the steep shore and deep valleys
'The valleys are already swarming with behemoths as is the channel. We've poured an army onto the island already to little effect' Rajura replied sullenly thinking of the men whose lives had been wasted so badly in the attempt
'So we'll air drop you right into the queen's lap' Harold said with a confident grin
'The local fishermen said there is a great cave, they told me it is haunted. That's likely where she is' Rajura scowled at the thought of facing down a giant monster in the depths of a black cave
'Well we'll air-drop you to the cave-mouth at least' Harold said consolingly
'And make sure it stays open for us' Rajura said with a commanding gaze
'What do you mean?' Harold asked
'They say the queens have the power to command the other behemoths. Once she realizes we're there she'll doubtless call for help' Rajura explained
'That could complicate things' Harold sighed
'No. It's not complicated. We'll either kill her or we won't. And then we'll either escape or we won't.' Rajura said stoically
'Well then let's say it will be messy. Not complicated. But messy'
'Messy is our business' Rajura said seriously
'Crazy seems to be our business' Harold groaned
'Crazy?' Rajura seemed insulted by the word
'Yeah, well no offence, but, I don't mean that you are crazy! I just mean this situation is crazy! The behemoths were supposed to have all been killed off a thousand years ago by the very first dragon riders. How could they reappear?' Harold said consolingly
'They were killed by the first golem knights.' Rajura corrected
'Yeah well whatever, but how are they here today?'
'My people believe the behemoths are nature's fury given form. In ancient times Atlantis mined too deeply, and logged too greedily, they polluted the sea with filth, and the sky with smoke. And nature lashed back. Destroying Atlantis and plunging humanity into darkness.' Rajura said gazing into the depths of their campfire
'Until the coming of dragons' Harold's turn to correct Rajura on history
'Until the invention of golems!' Rajura said again
'Don't be so dour! You act as if we'd already lost.' Harold said growing frustrated with the subject
'We have. Our lives are already forfeit. Only on the battlefield can we reclaim them.' Rajura's gloom intensified
'That's a pretty grim philosophy. We dragon riders fight with joy in our hearts! We live each day like it's our last!' Harold said with a smile, looking for his wine-skin
'There should be no joy in war.' Rajura scolded
'I can see why the peasants like you' Harold said toasting Rajura and taking a long swig of wine
'I was a peasant' Rajura said defensively
'What?' Harold was genuinely shocked
'My father was a doctor in the service of a golem knight. The man who once wore the armour i wear now. He had no children of his own and so made me his heir. But I was raised as a peasant until that time.' Rajura spoke of his predecessor with reverence
'And you call us barbarians.' Harold said disgusted with the thought of a peasant riding a dragon
'Born in a castle. Surrounded by slaves. You cannot see the suffering of your own people! That is why we must invade you! To free them from bondage!' Rajura spoke with conviction but without anger
'As if the peasants in your land are any happier!' Harold groaned
'They are' Rajura said, again with conviction
'Happier with you brooding over them than with us soaring above them? At least we know how to smile and sing.' Harold said taking another swig of wine and flashing his bright smile towards Rajura
'We stand among our people not over them. That is what it means to be a knight.' Rajura said seriously
'Then I'm glad I'm not one. I'm glad I can still sing and enjoy my life while I'm alive' Harold said passionately
'Selfish' Rajura muttered shaking his head
'Fuck you! Lets have it out right now then!' Harold jumped to his feet and drew his sword, it's ruby flashing in the firelight
'You'd endanger the mission?' Rajura said standing to face him, his face set like stone
'Absolutely' Harold said dropping into combat stance
'You see how selfish you are.' Rajura said wagging his finger at Harold in anger
'Ill kill you!' Harold said, becoming frustrated that Rajura had not even drawn his sword
'Go ahead! You'll miss me tomorrow when you're fighting those monsters over there!' Rajura said angrily, his stance daring Harold to kill him
'Bastard!' Harold sheathed his sword angrily and stormed off
'What happened to being a blind-idiot poster-boy?' Lawrence teased as Harold lay down nearby, on the dragon rider's side of camp
'Shut up' Harold said pulling his blanket on and rolling sullenly away from Lawrence
The golems stood side by side along the cliff overlooking the channel their armour once again bathed in noontime sun. Inside the armour the knights found it cool despite not feeling the breeze from the sea. The golems raised up their pole-arms and held them overhead parallel to the ground. Spears, Axes, Glaives, Tridents and stranger weapons glinted in the sun.
Swooping down onto this line of iron-clad titans came the dragon riders. Dragons of red, green, blue, purple and black mounted by warriors armoured in those same scales. The dragons dove briefly, riders clutching tightly to their backs, before spreading their wings wide and launching their massive talons forward.
Each dragon's claws closed around the shaft of a titan pole-arm and with a powerful jerk the iron giants were lifted off of the ground to go soaring over the cliff. The dragons strained and struggled with their massive burdens but kept their course smooth and true, making for the precipitous valley across the channel.
Rajura's eyes opened wide as he looked down at the sea passing by beneath his feet, he broke out in a cold sweat as he looked up to see the belly of the dragon just above his head. If there was a time for betrayal from the dragon rides this would be it.
Harold squinted through the wind as he navigated his great red dragon through the twisting, sharp walled canyon-valleys of the island. Far below he saw deep forest and black cave mouths but as of yet no behemoths. Could this yet be a Lemurian trap?
There! The great cave Rajura had told him about, it could be no other. The massive mouth of the earth was so large a dragon could even fly into it a short distance if needed. Fortunately it would not be needed today. One by one the dragons strained to slow down without crashing and deposited their titanic burdens on the rocky ground before the cave.
'Wait for us dragon rider!' Rajura called to Harold through his thick armour pointing his spear at the young captain
'We'll be here Rajura' Harold called back while unholstering his dragon-bone bow
The waiting was interminable. Rajura and the other golem knights had disappeared into the cave almost an hour ago and still no sign of them Harold sat atop his great red dragon bow in hand gazing down the length of the valley, watchful for anything which might be coming to rescue the queen behemoth. But so far there had been nothing but the whistling of the wind and the patter of a few dislodged rocks.
'What's a behemoth supposed to like like anyways?' Lawrence asked, sounding bored
'Big.' Harold replied
'Teeth. Lots of teeth.'
'The histories were a bit vague then right? Its not just my memory?' Lawrence asked
'Yeah they were a bit vague.'
A titanic howl boiled up from deep in the cave at their backs, shaking the very earth and rattling their teeth
'What was that?!' Lawrence yelled trying to calm his frightened mount
'You know' Harold said glancing around the valley for signs of reinforcement
The bellow issued again, Harold felt his pulse quicken, standing with his back to the cave was now requiring some serious willpower. Who knew what was down there? Or how close it might be?
'Oh crap! That means they're real! The Lemurians were telling the truth?!' Lawrence sounded afraid
'You really thought this was all some wild goose chase eh?' Harold asked with a sarcastic smile, he had every confidence in his friend's mettle
'Hoped. I really hoped it was' Lawrence was calming down now, his eyes also scanning the valley for monsters
'Well sorry to burst your bubble... but here they come!' Harold urged his great red dragon into the sky as he heard the stampede, it sounded like an earthquake and he could easily guess what was behind it.
Just as he cleared the ground they came boiling into the valley, massive nightmare-beasts no two alike. The wellspring of every myth of chimera, tarrasque and manticore. Hybrid-spawn of nature's fury. A fused collection of every beast living beneath the sun, and of some only dreamed of on other worlds.
But being made of flesh and sinew; they could still burn. Dragon fire rained down on them as Harold fired his bow again and again, his flanks covered by two other soaring dragons. Behind him at the mouth of the cave the remaining four stood guard bathing the floor and walls of the valley in flame whenever one of the behemoths drew too near. The smell of burning hair and cooking meat quickly joined with that of reptilian musk and sulfer.
Leaping chimeras, gliding manticores, and even a soaring griffin assailed the three vanguard dragon riders as they swept the walls of the valley, poisoned arrows pin-cushioning the creatures in a vain effort to save their dragons. There were too many of them!
The dragon on Harold's left dropped beneath the weight of an entire pride of manticores each one stinging lethally with their scorpion tails trying desperately to find a chink in the steel-like scales of the black dragon. It smashed into the valley floor and began fiercely clawing and swiping with it's talons and tail, Harold could see it's rider draw steel and begin to cleave the creatures from it's ebony back. But soon he was overwhelmed! And then it too went down to ruin, a tarrasque crushing the life out of it with a bear-hug
The purple dragon to his right was tackled by a flying griffin and bounced off the valley wall twisting it's wing into a ruined pulp. It clung to the steep cliff of the valley and desperately scratched and smashed at the chimeras dancing catlike towards it up the incline with claws flashing and horns gouging as they drew close enough to strike. Then one slip and it was over, the purple dragon went careening down to the valley floor where it was pounced upon by a hungry ammit it's death-roll sealing the doom of the purple dragon
Harold wheeled back towards the cave seeing Lawrence and his green dragon besieged and being forced backwards into the cave by a titan tarrasque. Harold swept flame down the length of the valley as he flew to his friend's aid the red dragon disgorging fire onto the thick shell of the tarrasque. Stunned with pain the beast turned on Harold giving and Lawrence's mount an opening to tear out it's throat
Now the two dragonriders found themselves pressed in close by wave after wave of bestial doom, all they could do was hope that Rajura's mission had been a success...
Rajura and his six lone knights climbed down into the depths of the earth, ever downwards The cave seemed to have no bottom and often it was a vertical shaft, albeit one with many crags to grip. Their way was lit only by small magical lanterns on the helmets of their golems casting a pale blue light out into the darkness. But every dancing shadow seemed to hold menace ready for them.
Every dislodged rock echoed in the vast cave freezing their blood as they knew stealth would be their only way to succeed. Rajura found himself holding his breath in tense expectation of what might lie around every corner, eternally waiting for an ambush of monstrous shapes down here in the dark and gloom that spawned the hellish horde in the first place.
Several times they had to divide their party as the cave branched in opposite directions. Speed was more important than numbers down here, and with luck any noise could bring back reinforcements who had split off earlier.
The air suddenly became rank and foul with musk and excrement and Rajura felt certain they drew near to the lair of the queen behemoth. That hell-spawned mother of this hateful brood of monsters that now menaced mankind.
There ahead of them in the darkness a glow seemed to spread. A Green miasma of warning which illuminated a tremendous vault, with doubtless tonnes of earth and stone supported here by the cave walls. The light spread like a poison across every wall and boulder, and across a vast undulating form of coiling scales. It was like a sea of gigantic snakes, but Rajura knew it to be one being. The hellish primordial inspiration for every snake monster ever whispered of from basilisk to hydra.
'Attack men! Kill her!' He found himself shouting as he leapt forward, propelling his giant spear with all the power of his magically mobile armour
A great bellowing filled Rajura's ears and numbed his mind but beyond it he could hear screams for help; his men were under attack! He heard a sickening crunch as one of the golems was crushed beneath the queen's weight and a strangled cry was cut off to his left as another of his comrades was squeezed to death in her seemingly endless colossal coils
Again and again he stabbed seeing hot blood gush from the creatures side and watching it boil on the surface of his armour. Reinforcements arrived but he saw them too go down to destruction against this vast, seemingly endless foe. Her heads bobbed up occasionally to spray poison or crush a comrade of his in her unstoppable jaws
Yet despite their being dwarfed by her mass they fought valiantly, hewing and cleaving, hacking and rending, soon her entire sinuous bulk was slippery with her own blood. Rajura stabbed again and again as he danced out from between her crushing coils
the beast cried out again and Rajura screamed with it
'Die you spawn of hell!'
Serpent fangs flashed before his eyes and he realized the creature was biting into his armour, the left arm of his golem was smashed and twisted into a useless wreckage by her fangs, stronger than steel! Her hot breath flooded his cockpit, choking him and then he saw her throat looming before him like a bottomless pit. Rajura was being swallowed alive!
'Choke on this!' Rajura screamed half-suffocated with rancid breath and gastric juices
He extended the blade concealed in his golem's gauntlet, the standard sidearm of a golem knight, and began a mad whirlwind of stabbing and slashing from within it's very throat. Rajura cut and ripped and clawed deep into the flesh of the beast and eventually a blast of cold air hit him in the face, he'd cut his way free!
He staggered out, his golem smoking in the cool air, covered in gastric juices and blood. All around him tendrils still writhed and he put the last of his energy into slashing and severing them. But their movement stopped before he did. He found himself standing amidst a ruin of scales, blood, and crushed golems. The queen was dead!
Rajura began his stumbling ascent out of the cave. Hopefully the dragon riders still held the cave mouth, hopefully they had not abandoned him...
Harold and Lawrence had their backs pressed up against the back of the cave. Their dragons took turn sweeping the entrance with fire, but the space between breaths grew longer as the dragons wearied and the horde of teeth and horns advanced with each passing minute. Soon Harold realized his dragon could not blast again and readied himself for one last charge into the enemy ranks. If he was going to die he would die fighting! Charging Forward!
Just as Harold was about to spring forward a maimed giant sprung past him into the midst of the enemy! Rajura had returned! He threw himself into the hoard with his one-armed golem swinging and stabbing it's tiny forearm blade into fur and fang alike, cleaving a clearing around the exhausted dragon riders.
'Rajura!' Harold cried out joyously at the sight, the mission must be accomplished the queen must be dead!
Harold prepared to leap forward himself ready to die alongside his once hated enemy but Lawrence held him back
'Wait! Look! Rajura look! They're not attacking you!' Lawrence pointed at the nearest beasts, they were cowering! They seemed in deathly fear of Rajura and were retreating before him even as the back ranks tried to press them forward
'What?' Rajura stopped short and watched his animalistic enemies flee before him
'They're not attacking you! They're drawing back'
'The queen's blood! I'm covered in the queen's blood they smell it on me, they must think I'm her!' Rajura said looking at the green blood and bile still staining his battered and burned armour
'Back them out of here and give us room to take off!' Harold called
'I've lost my spear you'll have to grip my shoulders' Rajura said while moving forward and clearing them more space inside the cavern
'Look at our dragons Rajura, they can't bear the weight solo, you'll have to leave your armour.'
'Leave my armour! Never! Just go without me then!' Rajura said resignedly
'Don't be a stubborn fool. Leave the armour and you can make it out of here!' Harold yelled at him
'This armour was a gift!' Rajura said stubbornly. He seemed perfectly content to die in the armour if he couldn't leave in it
'Rajura we need you to come back with us!' Harold yelled
'Without you how are we supposed to make peace?' Harold's voice was quavering with passion
'As if you care for peace!' Rajura said scornfully
'That's the whole reason I'm here Rajura. This war has been going on for a thousand years. We have a chance to end it. But with two heroes not one! Think of your people. This is bigger than you.' Harold threw his battered helmet down to the cave floor and gazed at Rajura with tears in his eyes
'Lets go' Rajura said after a long pause, and a long look into Harold's face
Rajura turned his back on the mewling army of monsters and opened his cockpit. Running forward he leapt to the back of Harold's dragon and the three heroes took off into the clear blue sky having averted the apocalypse and won a lasting peace between their nations.