The beginning of the story reminded me of "Game of Thrones", the middle, Tolkien.
| The Secret of the Last Dragon
(A short story by Stanislav Melnikov)
(Translated in English by Invir Lazarev)
An ordinary dragon kidnaps an ordinary princess in an ordinary kingdom. And the ordinary knight must perform an ordinary deed. It's a pretty common story. Not! That is not how it turns out!
The beginning of the story reminded me of "Game of Thrones"; the middle, Tolkien; and the end, "The Witcher" (remember that golden dragon, accompanied by two warrior women?).
The old king gave the young knight a tired look. The knight bowing before him was full of life and ambition, exuding confidence. Aged wrinkles furrowed the king’s frowning face. Some recent troubling events had only added more grey to his already whitened head. The king’s trusted advisors and his guard, like stone walls, stood on either side of the throne. They waited patiently for their lord’s reaction.
“Rise now, valiant knight, Elurian, son of Patrick the Fearless! That's my answer to you... Amen to that! If you can free my daughter from the monster’s clutches, if she is still..," the old king did not finish, as his voice trembled. But a second later, his voice regained its former strength and kingly power.
"She will become your wife! This is the highest prize I can offer you. Now rise, Elurian the Fearless, son of Patrick the Fearless!"
The knight held his head up in front of the king and looked straight into his eyes.
“Either I save Princess Mora or die trying. There is no other way for me.”
“Well, off you go!" The king covered his face with his hands wearily to hide the glistening tears in his eyes.
The young knight had everything he needed to face the dragon: all the magical artifacts of his father and all the knowledge contained in the two volumes of his memoirs. But the knight had no experience at all. In ancient times, dragon baiting was an endeavor undertaken by whole armies, and even then, victory did not come easily. His father had cemented himself in history as one of six lone dragon hunters. They were the real dragon killers: masters of their craft, who lived in a different time and in different lands. Each of the dragon hunters had dozens of monsters’ heads to their names. His father was rightly one of the best. He fell in battle with the last dragon; as it seemed in those remote times -- the last. A huge black creature, the King of the Night Sky, as they called him. His mighty strength was without equal. He took under his wing hordes of other dragons and ruled for a very long time. The King of the Night Sky was used to waking up from a deep sleep, from hibernation every few decades.
His power ... his magic ... he was too dangerous for humans.
Elurian was still a young boy when his father told him about his exploits, and he wasn’t much older when his father fell in battle with the last dragon. The King of the Night Sky had killed so many people and the reign of the human king, who was now a very old man, had almost ended. The people, brewing with rebellion, were on the verge of overthrowing the monarch from the throne. But the King was aptly named "Sly Fox" for his ability to navigate such situations. The state coffers had been left almost empty due to compensation for the victims – the people had calmed down and only cried for their dead loved ones. The smoke of the war’s fires was barely cleared where the funeral pyres burned. They burned the bodies of those who escaped the fire of the King of the Night Sky, but inevitably met a gruesome fate from his lightning strikes or sharp claws.
The entrance to the throne room of the palace was marked by the huge dragon skull; the huge mouth with huge teeth was like a hallway. Horns harder than the steel crowned the dragon's skull.
In that last war, King Mordok Sly Fox himself took part. He shamefully retreated with the remnants of his soldiers when Elurian's father volunteered to buy them time in a one-on-one battle with the monster. It is said that their battle shook the earth and even the sky trembled. The dying dragon's roar mingled with a cry of Elurian's father's agony. Elurian knew all that. He was the son of a hero. And now, nineteen years later, he himself was destined to become a hero. He had been dreaming of this since he was a child.
The ladies of the court, the nobles, and even the servants were watching him with mixed feelings of anxiety and curiosity. The bloodthirsty courtiers understood that if the hero's son could equal his father, he would become their new king.
The princess was kidnapped on the eve of her eighteenth birthday, when the matchmaking of the nobles was to begin. A dragon appeared out of nowhere - crushing and killing with the sole aim of getting the princess and taking her with him. According to the soldiers who remembered the past, he was inferior in strength and size to the King of the Night Sky, and was golden in colour. The soldiers and townspeople were accustomed to a peaceful life and it cost them their lives. The princess's bedroom was burned to ashes; even the stones of the walls were melted. The dragon did not take an ounce of gold or jewelry from the underground treasure chamber. Capturing princess Mora was his only aim. Well, that was what was weird as dragons love gold. They just can't walk away from gold, as for them it is like catnip, they are hoarders of gold.
“Only humans can match the dragons in their greed for gold,” Elurian thought as he walked toward the exit of the palace. According to the memories of Elurian’s father, he used this passion for gold to defeat them. He was leading them into a trap, using gold as bait. The dragons’ yellow eyes sparkled madly when someone dared to touch their treasures.
Elurian also knew that he was in a wicked swirl of palace intrigue. The old king was ill and the queen had died when giving birth to the sole heir of the throne - this happened half a year later, after the murder of the King of the Night Sky.
“Now the princess has been kidnapped. Most of the good suitors had already turned to ashes in an attempt to save her. If the princess does not return in the next few days or if she is already dead, then King Mordok’s days are numbered. His political associates will not miss the opportunity to contest the throne. If I return empty-handed, I’m facing the guillotine. But even if I slay the dragon -- the young upstart on the throne would benefit no one. It's good that I did not immediately volunteer for the battle. All the previous heroes have served me well. They have found the dragon's lair - an ancient mountain, the former home of the King of the Night Sky," Elurian smiled at his thought, as if it really amused him.
Elurian the Fearless dismounted from his horse. The path ahead was too steep and dangerous for riding and going through the mountains was better on foot. He was carrying with him everything he needed: magic artifacts and his father’s weapon. Elurian was delighted– he was so close to realising his own destiny.
“This is the site of my father's final battle, where he won a victory at the cost of his life. My name too will be legendary, but I don’t intend to lose my life," Elurian thought as he made his way to the cave. His father's shield was almost weightless and did not feel heavy on his left arm. All its value and strength lay in its magic power as it absorbed flames. The shield absorbed flames. When he was a child, Elurian used to play with it, observing how the flames from a fireplace or a candle were drawn to the shiny metal, as soon as it was brought close to the open flame. However, this did not save his father's life - his body was so badly burnt, and the shield shone with a golden glow for several months. The power of the King of the Night Sky was too great and the shield was unable to absorb all the flames.
A curved sword with a thick blade hung from Elurian's back scabbard. It was made of dragon’s tooth, especially treated, with an unusual green metal fusion. There were not that many artifacts that could pierce the scales of a dragon. The required metal was extremely rare and you could rarely find a blacksmith, who could forge it into a sword. The witchcraft that gives the sword its piercing ability began to weaken over time. There were too few wizards and too many charlatans. The world went into a state of decline.
The chain mail Elurian was wearing was unusual as well, as it was made of dragon scales. It was a mail shirt, which did not cover his entire body, but it was enough protect him. He did not wear armor. In the battle with the dragon, it would not save Elurian, but only slow down his movement and a second of delay or hesitation could cost him his life. All this equipment was worth an untold fortune, or to be more specific, it was priceless.
Elurian was reminded of the old-timers’ stories about the King of the Night Sky. The dragon was so large that when he appeared, the stars seemed to disappear into the sky. He attacked only under the cover of darkness.
Peoples' fear was fueled by the fact that the dragon who kidnapped the princess was the only one who could become invisible. It was the only reasonable explanation. It was a weeks march from The Kingdom of Sun Plains to the nearby mountains. There were no forests or no gorges. There was only steppe as far as the eye could see. The dragon had nowhere to hide, but he attacked the kingdom from dusk to dawn, over and over again but never in sunlight. It was more than odd that the dragon has enough strength to attack for weeks on end without rest and he had nowhere to hide.
Some said that he could make himself invisible in the sun's rays. But it was absurd, because then nothing prevented him from attacking and taking even more lives. Others said that he could fly so high into the sky that he would become invisible to human eyes. And yet, after a month of attacks, the dragon flew into its grotto and lay low until the army of Mordok itself went to him.
The recent attack lasted only a few hours. The raging flames, dozens of guards and servants burnt to ashes, mutilated and torn to pieces. Walls destroyed and the room of the princess scorched.
Elurian reached the entrance of the grotto by the end of the day. Even after nineteen years, the surrounding area remained scorched. Only ground and rocks, no grass or flowers. Fresh traces of flame were visible on some of the boulders – traces of recent failed attempts to save the princess.
First, the king sent his personal guard. Then the heroes, one after another, rushed of their own accord into battle. Judging by the tracks, most of them managed to get inside the cave, but the fire-swept armors and charred bones lying at the entrance to the cave made it clear that this marked the end of their journey.
Elurian felt a little tired. His state would not have prevented him from immediately rushing into battle with the dragon, but foresight and common sense told him to wait and rest.
He seated himself downwind so that his scent would not give his presence away as the dragon had an extremely sensitive nose.
"Although my attack will not surprise the dragon, I shouldn't warn him that a new hero is near, ready to slay him. Of course, if the dragon came out on its own, then I would had the surprise advantage, but I suppose it's too much to hope for," Elurian reasoned.
The sun went down and night was not the best time to attack, because the dragon's yellow eyes could see perfectly in the dark, which cannot be said about human eyes.
"And though it will be dark in the cave regardless what time of the day it will be, great things must be done while the sun is overhead. It would be best for me to attack at sunrise when I will be rested and at full strength. No one can remember how to navigate the network of tunnels and caverns, and I have no way of knowing what could be waiting there for me. Well, I'll just have to improvise," Elurian thought to himself.
Elurian had a quiet and dreamless sleep. Nothing disturbed his blond-haired head, but his sharp hearing alerted him that there was something wrong. The birds did not sing, and no animals stirred in the night and not even the insects made a sound. He was all ears. He lay in wait. Finally, he opened his eyes and rushed into the grotto like a beast. The air whipped against his face hard, as if he was not running, but galloping on a horse. He drew his sword that was made of dragon tooth and he was ready to kill. The first ray of the rising sun flashed behind him.
Elurian was running through the long and wide cave. His eyes adjusted themselves to the darkness and he saw his way well. Sometimes fragments of swords, arrows, and armor appeared under his feet. He avoided these obstacles, stepping soundlessly on the stones but he would be a fool if he thought that the dragon did not know about his arrival. Elurian had no doubt, the dragon smelt him the minute he came in. At the crossroads, he turned sharply to the left – the stench was stronger from there. Elurian held his sword against the wall forcefully and sparks flew all over the place, illuminating the cave for a few moments, leaving a long furrow in the cave wall. In his youth, he used to play with his father's sword and learned that it easily cuts both paper and stone. Without slowing down, the knight continued to run forward and he struck sparks again with his sword and saw another turn. He almost fell head over heels. He staggered but remained standing.
There was no longer a tunnel in front of him. A huge throne room with giant columns carved from stone was before his eyes. The entire hall was carved into the rock and burning torches were located on the walls with unusual paintings. There was enough space for a dozen of stables. The very high ceiling disappeared from view in the shadows, so the light of torches was not enough to illuminate it.
Elurian was a little shocked as he had never expected something like this. In all the stories of the old soldiers about the dragon, there was nothing like this.
Suddenly, another strange detail came into his view- a huge throne made of stone could be seen near the opposite wall. It was made for a man, despite its size.
An idea flashed through Elurian’s mind. He thought about killing the dragon and making this place his own. He could rest here from time to time and take a breather from his royal business. A little more to the right of the throne, a huge gate was visible - too big for a human and too small for a dragon. He did not understand what this could mean. The stone gate with the same fine carvings as on the throne. The dragon could not get through it as it was too narrow.
The dragon was not in the hall, which meant one of two things, either Elurian missed the ancient monster and the dragon was on his way to the kingdom, or ...
Elurian leapt aside and crouched down, sensing danger. He had put out his shield, trying to hide his whole body behind it and then, moments later, flame rained down upon him with an awful roar. The knight was pressed into the stone floor, but he kept himself on his feet, as the magic shield absorbed the flames that spewed out from the dragon.
A huge shadow drove down from the ceiling, falling upon Elurian.
He felt the flow of air and jumped to the side, to a stone column. He stood there under the cover of his shield and did not dare to look up. The cave shuddered at the movement of the huge monster. The flame stream split into two-- the column took all of the impact. The heat was overpowering. There was not enough air. But Elurian wore dragon-scale chain mail wich did not let the heat of the fire pass.
The flames disappeared and after taking a deep breath, the dragon roared and slammed his paws hard on the column. The knight turned and crouched down under the protection of his shield. Fragments of rocks scattered in all directions. A huge stone hit the shield and threw Elurian against the wall.
Elurian was out of breath, but he jumped up and raced to another column. He hid behind it and burst out laughing. He really was his father's son and could anticipate the intentions of the dragon. The walls shook with the angry roar of the beast. Elurian waited. The dragon began to inhale noisily for another blast of fire. Now! The knight came out from behind the column and rushed at his enemy.
The enormous monster sparkled with his golden scales in the torchlight. His webbed wings were spread out and took up a quarter of the hall space. The dragon was long-necked so his mouth with sharp sparkling teeth rose so far up. All along the dragon's ridge were huge spines from the horned crown to the tip of his tail, which was like a mace. His mouth opened and his sharp-clawed forefeet scraped the stones.
Elurian kept fearlessly running towards the dragon. He had enough time to get to the dragon before he could breathe fire out. Understanding of what was happening flashed in the yellow, evil eyes of the monster. The dragon reared up and flapped his wings sharply. The air stream blew the knight like a leaf, but the dragon misjudged his wings’ strength and almost fell on his back. Flames blazed from the dragon's mouth, but the fire missed Elurian. The knight, overcoming a pain in his back, jumped to his feet and sheathed his sword in its scabbard on his back. He slipped his hand into his belt pouch. A handful of gold. The moment the dragon recovered his balance, Elurian threw him gold coins, which landed the monster’s feet. The dragon remained indifferent to the gold coins. Elurian drew his sword and angrily clenched his teeth. It seemed that the stories of the dragon’s greed had been greatly exaggerated. In his father's memoirs, he read that such a trick with gold coins could confuse the monster and he could gain a few moments. The dragon should have been instinctively distracted by the gold. Well, apparently the dragon was not greedy.
Elurian only had a few seconds to avoid getting hit by the dragon, but the knight's feet slid across the smooth stone floor and he lost his balance. The dragon's claws were right above his shield, which covered his chest. He was struck against the stones for the third time. He would probably have been splattered all over the cave floor, but he put his sword forward and it went in the clawed foot like butter. There was a roar and flames burst out. The dragon waved his mouth in all directions in pain. The monster jerked back his foot instead of flattening the knight.
The knight jumped to his feet and staggered to the dragon. Elurian was seeing double and had a lump in his throat. The dragon could not take off because of the many columns in the throne room. The knight found himself right under the dragon's belly, but he could not jump high enough to plunge his sword in. So he swung his sword as hard as he could at the toes of the dragon's hind foot. The dragon jerked his foot again, but Elurian was ready for this and the claws did not catch him. He rushed to the second paw and thrust his sword into the flesh, and then he jumped back to the dragon tail with speed of a lightning. The enraged dragon did not waste time on fire--he lowered his mouth to tear the knight with his teeth. The long neck curled flexibly, so the dragon was able to extend his mouth under his own belly. The monster snapped his teeth, but the knight was already on the side of his hind leg and struck another blow with his sword at that foot, and then another blow to the neck. Elurian hit a glancing blow to the dragon's mouth just below his yellow eye. The dragon made an ear-splitting roar and suddenly struck Elurian in his left shoulder. The shield rang, and the knight flew across the hall. There was a deep dent in the magic shield--it was not designed to withstand heavy hits. The dragon's tail waved dangerously.
Elurian’s ears were ringing after the roar of the monster. The knight got back on his feet again and took a fighting stance. The dragon hissed angrily, and went racing towards the knight. The monster finally realized how the magic shield worked, and it really aggravated him. Where could this small-minded pygmy have obtained such a powerful artifact? The dragon roared, losing control, and went racing towards the knight. He sprayed Elurian with the jet of flame again. It seemed to the knight that his magic shield had become weak in absorbing fire. His chain mail was no longer so good at saving him from fire and in some places the scales had fallen off. Elurian’s feet slid across the flat, rocky floor. The sweat was dripping all over his face. There was a pounding in his temples and in the back of his head. His back ached from the falls. Elurian rested his shoulder on the shield and with his fading strength, tried to resist the flow of fire. His nose was bleeding.
The dragon was approaching the knight. His mouth was wide open and he continued to exhale a golden-scarlet flames. When the pressure of this infernal adversary became unbearable, Elurian did the only thing he could... He jumped up into the air, defending himself with his shield. The monster's mouth was so close, only an arm’s length away. The flame, like a stormy wind, hurled the knight back and a little to the side. This was enough to get him out of the line of attack. Elurian threw his sword into the face of the beast --its point went into his left eye, which was shining with gold.
The dragon roared with pain and the flame was cut off. The monster began to shake his head. He reared up and sank down again. His wings flapped, brushing against the columns in the underground hall. The dragon tried to catch the knight with his teeth, but he could only grab at air or stone columns with his mouth. Elurian backed away and hid behind the throne. He watched the agony of the beast. The dragon blindly banged against the walls, trying to get the sword out of his eye, but he only hurt himself more. The knight realized that if the beast did not calm down, they would both end up pinned down behind the rocks. He rushed towards the dragon, who bending his head, and was trying to get the sword with his front feet.
Elurian threw his shield aside and jumped on the dragon's head. He reached for the small thorns growing all over the monster's snout. The dragon bucked his head sharply in an attempt to throw the man off. The knight was thrown up in the air as if someone had given him a good kick. He grabbed the handle of the sword in flight and yanked it out of the dragon’s eye. He landed directly on the dragon's horned head and kicked into the wound, which was the dragon's left eye. The dragon began to rush about with pain and lost his balance. Elurian grabbed the horn with one hand, groaning in pain and with his other hand, he drove his sword into the dragon’s neck, right between the first vertebra and the monster's skull. The dragon immediately stopped and collapsed with a crash on the stone floor. The knight rolled head over heels down the dragon's neck. The dragon's nostrils twitched and blood flowed from his wounds. The beast's single eye rotated viciously, and the mouth opened and closed. The dragon was paralyzed.
“Thank you, Father! Wherever you are now, thank you! Your wisdom and weapons were really beneficial! Now I’m king, and all the people shall be under my rule,” Elurian thought and smiled smugly. He limped slowly towards the defeated dragon and stared at the silent agony of the beast. Pain changed to anger and hatred in the dragon's single eye.
Elurian addressed the dragon, “I am Elurian the Fearless, son of Patrick the Fearless who killed the King of the Night Sky! Answer me, you heinous beast! How many more like you are left?"
The dragon was silent. Something like laughter or joy appeared briefly in his shining golden eye and he widened his nostrils and shrouded the knight in his hot smoke.
“So be it!” Elurian said arrogantly. He climbed onto the dragon's head. He was exhausted, and now he didn't care if there were more dragons or if this was the last one. He just wanted to finish it and rest. Elurian lunged with his sword and it easily entered the dragon’s crippled eye. Deeper and deeper, until his hand disappeared into the eye socket, followed by his arm up to the shoulder. The dragon did not growl or even try to jerk his head. He took his last deep breath and the light was gone out of his golden eye, as if a candle had been sharply extinguished.
“That's all. I AM KING!” Elurian shouted. His voice echoed off the walls and ceiling of the cave hall.
Suddenly, it struck him that he should have asked the dragon about Princess Mora first, and only then kill the monster. He glanced at his hand stained with dragon blood and swore. Then he added, “guess I’ll have to find the princess myself..."
He walked with a limp on his left foot to the huge stone gate, which was not far from the throne. The pain in his leg grew more intense with each step. The air in the hall was dusty and it became more and more difficult to breathe. There were almost no torches left. The dragon's fiery streams had turned them into ashes. His dragon-scale chain mail hindered his movements. Elurian undid his harness and took the unnecessary weight off.
The knight was not sure if the princess was still alive, but according to his father's records, dragons rarely kidnapped people. The kidnapped ones usually were young virgin girls. The monsters needed them not for food but as servants. The dragons took care of these girls and they fed and raised them. The dragons had an amazing influence on their wards and when dragon hunters came, the girls would attack people like harpies and defend their kidnappers at the cost of their own lives, so no one could ever capture “the dragon girls” alive.
The golden dragon had, no doubt, kidnapped Princess Mora to humiliate her father, King Mordok. The King's daughter, whom everyone was bound to serve, had become a servant herself. And whose? She had became the servant of one of the very creatures on whom the king had once declared war and whom he had thought he had destroyed. The servant of Mordok’s archenemy. Elurian’s only hope was that the princess' mind and soul were not damaged, and that she still realized who she was. Otherwise, he would have to drag her back to her father by force.
“To imagine, my wife would be a crazy queen. Well, for kings there are always ladies-in-waiting and concubines, and for crazy wives, chambers and monasteries," Elurian reflected on his future life while he was moving towards the giant gate. Nevertheless, he did not want to start his reign like this.
Elurian, naked down to his waist, push himself against the huge door and tried to open it. The cold stone of the gate was cooling to his burning body. The door would not budge. The knight held his breath and continued to push against the door until he started to see spots.
The door was creaking and started to open very slowly. Elurian stopped for just a second to catch his breath, and then redoubled his efforts. Step by step, he opened the door just enough to squeeze in.
Behind the door was another passage leading into the cave. Elurian touched the walls with his hands, just like a blind person and felt the same carving patterns as well in the throne room. There were no torches here, so there was no way to see the walls with more detail. Suddenly, Elurian realized that his sword was in the dragon's head, so he could not strike a spark with the sword on the stone, but he did not want to return for the torch. He just wanted to lie down and sleep.
“Probably that’s exactly what’s about to happen, and in the arms of Princess Mora herself,” Elurian thought yawning.
The underground passage was straight and short. There were no surprises. Elurian wondered how the huge King of the Night Sky had been able to hide there. But he immediately remembered the fork in the tunnel. There was also a right turn. The knight noted to himself that he would definitely examine that part of the grotto later. He wanted to find the place of his father's death and honor him. His father's weapon and his tales of the dragons had saved Elurian's life.
The passage ended at a small wooden door. A bright yellow light shone from under the gap below. Elurian pushed the door cautiously. It opened with ease and without a sound. The light hit his eyes-- the light of hundreds of torches and candles on the walls of a hall, which was even larger than the hall that was behind. There were no columns in the hall and it was absolutely round, but this was not the only thing what made it different. The entire hall was filled with gold-- gold bars, coins, jewelry, and golden dishware. All this reflected the light and seemed to glow from within. A mountain of gold was heaped from floor to ceiling, ten meters up. There was everything that was ever made of precious metal.
Elurian did not know how long he stood in amazement, he just stared at the treasure. His attempt to distract the dragon with a handful of gold coins seemed stupid to him now. Who would covet a handful of gold if he already had so much? And how long had it taken the golden dragon to collect such a hoard of gold?
“The gold of the King of the Night Sky was divided among the nobility who took part in the war against dragons. Although the victory of the people is only because of my father. One tenth of the King of the Night Sky’s gold was given to the people to calm them down. King Sly Fox never gives anything for no special reason, and never from his own treasury,” Elurian thought with anger.
Suddenly, he saw something strange among the piles of gold. Oh yes, Princess Mora. Princess Mora?
He noticed the silhouette of a sleeping girl. Completely naked, she was sleeping on a pile of gold coins as if on silk pillows. Golden light washed over her and it seemed that she herself was made of gold, if not for her heaving chest.
Climbing the hoard of treasures was not so easy as gold was flowing down in small avalanches beneath his feet. Gasping for breath, Elurian made every effort not to fall and not be buried under the golden stream. He kept crawling on his hands and knees, and eventually got to the sleeping girl. It was the princess. She was identical to the portraits in the palace, only she looked more youthful, like a teenager. Her nakedness turned Elurian on.
“In truth, she’s a queen on a bed worthy of her beauty”, Elurian thought sweetly. He came close to the princess and whispered in her ear, "Wake up, Princess Mora."
The girl, without opening her eyes, stretched and smiling slightly, continuing to sleep.
"Princess ..." Elurian repeated a little bit louder. Suddenly the girl opened her eyes and, like a frightened beast, jumped away from the knight. There was disbelief and fear in her eyes.
"It's okay. It's okay. It's over. Now, calm down! I came with your father’s order to save you. And I did it. The monster is dead. Do not be afraid,” Elurian said in a soothing tone.
"What?" the princess asked in surprise. It didn't seem to bother her that she was naked.
“Seems like she's in shock. She must have heard all the previous attempts to save her,” Elurian thought. He confidently approached the girl. She was very young, and a head shorter than the knight.
“I saved you! The dragon is dead!” Elurian exclaimed.
An understanding of everything that had happened began to appear in the princess’ eyes. She put together all the information that Elurian had given her.
The girl's beautiful face contorted into a grimace of horror and anger. She grabbed the knight's neck with her hand. The fragile girl squeezed Elurian's throat and with supernatural force lifted him into the air.
“You murderer! Fuckwad!” she roared so that the flames of the torches quivered and the walls trembled. Pebbles started falling from the cave ceiling on the treasures. Elurian's ears began to bleed from her powerful voice. The girl sharply punched Elurian in the stomach with her other hand -- her fingers pierced his flesh and grabbed his spine from the inside. She crushed his vertebrae like rotten wood in her fist. Then her hand moved down, and the knight's body was torn in two. Elurian felt a moment of pain, and then it all stopped. His neck bone cracked, and he was faced the same fate as the golden dragon-- he was paralyzed and did not feel his body. Elurian saw the girl's eye. Princess Mora's eyes were supposed to be blue, but her eyes were shining with an evil yellow light.
“You bastard! Murderer!” she bellowed in her non-human voice.
She threw Elurian’s mangled body to the floor of the cave that was full of gold. He was still alive and fell near her feet.
Elurian looked at the princess with a very strange feeling… It was some kind of...Peace. She was beautiful and terrible. Gold illuminated her naked body exactly to the waist. She was like a golden statue, which was brought to life - a girl on top, and a golden statue below. The princess's face contorted with rage and black scales began to appear on her beautiful face. The last thing Elurian saw was the girl's open mouth. Her mouth was open too wide for a human. A jet of red flame burst from the princess' throat.
"A burial fit for a king. My body will be covered with melted gold. I did not rule, but I will be buried like no king has dreamed of," Elurian thought, just before he lost consciousness.
The burning gold blanketed Elurian's body and only chunks of his organs were lying around. His blood was spreading over the treasures.
Mora ran to the hall in fear and anger. “Oh, please, no! Please don't let it be true!” she whispered. She just didn't want to believe it. Her body was being transformed. In an instant, she had passed the passage, and flung the heavy stone door wide with a sweep of her hand. The door slammed into the wall, and then cracked and fell apart.
Her lover was dead. He lay there breathless and motionless. He had a huge gaping hole in his eye.
“You’re such a dumb donkey! Idiot! Why didn't you listen to me?
What did that get you? I'm asking you! Answer me!” Mora shouted while crying.
But the dragon's body remained motionless. He was dead. Mora's face twisted in anger and pain. Tears were flowing down her cheeks. How could he do this to her? He swore that there was no one left who could destroy them. No one. The girl turned sharply to the tunnel and rushed to the exit of the cave. She ran back to the palace. Her body continued to change - it grew and became covered with scales. Webbed wings began to come out of her back.
The very first and most powerful dragon, nicknamed the King of the Night Sky, went into his last hibernation. His time was running out. He had to turn to stone without waking up. Gold covered his body and warmed his soul. He was about to slowly go into another world, slipping into death.
King Mordok, nicknamed the Sly Fox, had his eyes set on the gold of ancient monsters with greed and envy. Each of them had more gold than any of the people.
The King of the Night Sky was the only reason keeping King Mordok from going to war against the race of dragons. Sly Fox's father also wanted to replenish the treasury at the expense of the dragon’s gold, but the ancient scrolls said that people lost the first and only war with dragons. The King of the Night Sky united all the dragons and no one could resist their power. Sly Fox's father needed to wait for the next hibernation period of the King of the Night Sky, but in his lifetime, this did not happen. Only his son King Mordok was able to make his father's dream come true. The first dragon had fell asleep, and a quiet but mean war began. One by one, dragons were cowardly killed and their heads adorned the halls of the palaces as trophies. The royal treasury was full with their gold. The Sun Valley kingdom got rich. This had gone on for years until one day someone attempted to kill the sleeping King of the Night Sky. He woke up weaker than ever, but still stronger than the others. But, there weren’t any other dragons anymore. He was the last one. He called on his kin, but no one answered.
This was the last and most terrible villainy of the human race against dragons.
The dragon king realized that he would not be able to defeat the humans by force, as it could have been done in the old days. He decided to act with cunning, as well as his enemies. He attacked the Sun Valley at night, but not to kill, only to wreak havoc, so that people would not know what to expect.
The biggest secret the dragons kept, the secret that cost them their lives, was their ancient magic, which gave the dragons the ability to take human form.
Long ago, the first and the powerful dragon put a taboo on revealing this secret. People knew that the dragons had always been able to wield magic, but did not know what exactly it was.
The King of the Night Sky could take the form of any of the people. His subjects could only take one human guise. The dragon’s king in his human form learned rumors about the king, that for many years he had no heir. King Mordok did not even have illegitimate children, and his royal line had to die out.
The King of the Night Sky had terrorized the kingdom at night in the form of a dragon, and in the daytime, when the chaos had not yet subsided, he had been coming to the queen’s bedroom transformed to look like King Mordok.
This went on until he felt that the queen had new life in her womb. Only then the King of the Night Sky flew back to the mountains. His child was to destroy the kingdom from within.
The King of the Night Sky was exhausted and very close to entering his last hibernation. He knew that people would come. Wave after wave. Waiting for his death, he thought about his deed, and about whether the race of dragons would be reborn. Half-bloods from the union of dragons and humans were rare and never had families. Some of them did not live up to the age when they could face their true dragon self. And still, the king of dragons hoped.
The dragon fathers used to leave the half-bloods to live with humans. They lived like ordinary people, but as soon as half-blood girls reached the age of their first moon blood, their dragon fathers returned and kidnapped them. They revealed to their daughters the truth about who they really were.
They taught them to reveal the dragon nature that had slept in them until their first moon blood appeared. That was why all the kidnapped girls always attacked the heroes who came to save them.
Half-blood boys were born very rarely and were doomed, as they were born with tails, scales, and horns. People, in their stupidity, considered them the curse of the gods, and killed them immediately. Few of the boys were saved and raised to the age of adulthood, when they could fully take the form of a dragon or a man.
The day before the people came to the King of the Night Sky, a golden dragon flew in. He answered his call, but he was too far away to come at once. The King of the Night Sky had no choice but to order him to become a servant in the palace and watch over the princess. The Golden Dragon was supposed to tell Princess Mora about everything and initiate her when it was time.
Princess Mora took on human form again as she approached the city. She wore nothing but a shawl to hide her nakedness. She showed up at the palace like that. Court servants, guards and nobles watched the heiress of the throne and could not find words to express their amazement.
Mora kept trying to keep her anger in. She could not forgive the Lightbringer for his mistake. He had been teaching her so many years to control her power. He warned her about the danger, but then he died just like that. Why wasn’t he careful?
The Lightbringer offered to stage her kidnapping. The golden dragon explained his plan to the princess, “let King Mordok believe that his daughter, who should rule, became the servant of his enemy. The king is weak and sick. As soon as the heir of the throne disappears, the nobility will immediately try to overthrow him. All his bloody wealth that he had made over all these many years will be held by anybody else. He will have no life!”
This is how it was supposed to happen. There were no any dragon hunters left, as well as the dragons themselves. But it turned out that his whole plan was one big mistake.
Mora headed to the man who destroyed her entire family. King Mordok plundered her nestmates and killed her father—the King of the Night Sky. He killed her lover. She opened the door to the throne room. Amazed sighs were behind her. Behind the blue of her eyes, one could see yellow lights if anyone looked closely.
"Mora?" the astonished king half-rose on his throne.
“Hello, Father!” Mora said in a sweet voice.
The king hugged and pulled her tightly to him. Tears flowed down his elderly cheeks and hid in his beard. Mora hugged him back.
“And farewell,” Mora added in a whisper in his ear, while the old bones of the king began to crack with a crunch from her suffocating embrace.
Translated from Russian by Invir Lazarev-- 2021