by Sean Conklin
A man slays a dragon but the wizard who commands it has a secret weapon.
His armor rattled as the beast’s spike tail swiped at him, smashing clear through the stone column beside him. He so shocked to avoid the decisive swipe with his encumbering armor slowing him down that he simply stared at the decimated remains of the spot he stood in moments before.
It was true, then. There was a dragon in this cave. If it really did belong to the old man, why did he let it slip? If he truly intended to destroy the village and kill the king, why would he let anyone know? He said it so passively. “My dragon’s coming from the caves for an attack,” he said, like it meant nothing to him.
The dragon lost sight of him, but if he moved the clash of his armor would alert him. Its frilled head swayed from one side to another as its eyes searched for him. It would be a perfect moment to strike if his sword hadn’t snapped under the beast’s foot just a few moments ago. He didn’t even know what he was thinking, fighting the thing. Ordinary people couldn’t kill dragons.
That wasn’t the goal, though. The goal was to stall the creature long enough for Lacey to get to the village and warn the King about the wizened old man. If the beast found its master, destruction would ensue.
“I know you’re here, boy! I can smell you!” the dragon roared with a tone of levity, like it was all some game. Crint rolled his eyes at the concept that the beast could smell anything over the revolting stench of death that seemed to surround it. If he wasn’t fighting for his life and the lives of the village, it probably would have caused him to vomit.
The slick beast finally turned to him. He dove for the hilt of his broken sword, recently freed from under the monster’s clawed foot. It was broken, but it was all he had. His mind raced. If Lacey ran, she should have arrived in town by now. It would be a few more minutes before she could warn anyone there, and they would need time to prepare. The only hope for that village was the entertainment value he had to the dragon.
He managed to avoid two stomps and another slamming of the beast’s tail. The spikes stuck into the ground for a second, granting him an opening. He swung lunged toward the dragon’s side, attempting to find a weak point in its scaly, black armor. The broken end of the blade met with the scales, but only managed to break a few off.
The beast slammed its body into him, disengaging them, before turning to him and swiping at him with its front claws. Crint’s armor rent at the joints and fell off of him as the claw pulled him to the ground.
Amazed that the dragon’s attack only caused him to fall over, Crint stood up, now unencumbered by the breastplate. He was sure that the faster he moved, the more entertainment he would provide. Crint avoided a few more tail swings by jumping and rolling, something his armor made difficult earlier.
“I have a few minutes to play with you!” the dragon said with enthusiasm as it swung its claws.
He led the dragon in a circle, leaping off walls and columns to avoid nasty swipes. It was only a matter of time before the dragon stopped playing and just killed him, no matter how fun he was. The moment the dragon’s words of encouragement changed to words of agitation, he knew the time was soon to come.
“Enough!” the dragon shouted, rearing its head back and opening its mouth wide. The back of its throat began to glow red and fire burst out into the cave. Crint dived behind a column as the fire turned into a stream.
He knew it was time to end this. If he played with the dragon any longer it would roast him in seconds. The dragon was blocking his escape, however. He glanced up at the fire slamming into the column, watching the rock melt and drip, letting the fire draw closer. He needed to do something quickly.
The front of his breastplate was lying on the ground nearby. It was dented and bent, but still intact. With no other options he ran for it, picked it up, and held it up by the broken straps, and put it between himself and the dragon. The dragon turned its fire to him and it slammed into the metal, superheating it in mere seconds. He made his way toward the cave’s entrance, dropping the breastplate as the straps caught fire.
His impromptu shield gave him the edge he needed to escape the cave, but the dragon was close at his back. He moved down the rocky mountainside quickly, just barely avoiding concentrated blasts of fire from the dragon.
The silhouette of the castle could be seen in the distance against the night sky. Some lights were visible, but it was unlikely that they received their warning just yet. They would light the beacon if there was a dragon sighting.
The dragon slammed down into the path before him, cutting off his escape. There were large boulders on either side of him and nowhere to hide. He knew now that it was his time to die.
The dragon reared its head back and the red light appeared in the back of its throat, but no fire came. Instead, the dragon turned to look at the castle. Crint looked to give silent thanks to whatever had saved him.
The beacon was ablaze, illuminating the wall. Soldiers were lining it, scrambling to their positions. The dragon turned to him, huffed, and soared off. He was glad it was finally over. Now the dragon was their problem.
He let out a long breath of relief. He did all that he could. He got Lacey to go warn them. Then his jaw dropped. Lacey was at the castle. He sent her into danger. A rattling explosion jerked his attention back to the castle.
The dragon, much more wicked-looking by the light of the beacon, just destroyed a section of the wall. That thing was there, killing people, and Lacey was there too. He had to go save her.
Without a thought he ran toward the village. There were a few places she might hide, but he was certain she would have stayed at the castle. It was the safest place to be, especially in this situation.
In the few minutes it took for him to reach the village, most of the buildings were burning. Large chunks of the castle walls were missing and scorched corpses lie scattered in the street. Crint stepped over the bodies, cringing at the scent that they and the dragon brought to this once quaint little town.
A mass of people were pouring into the castle gates, despite the soldiers trying to get the group to dissipate. Crint stopped at the dragon swooped down on them, entirely aware of what it was about to do. AS it went over them it let down a sheet of crisp, hot fire, igniting them all.
Crint sped passed the burning villages, ignoring their pleas for help, and up the steps to the castle walls. The throne room was in front of him, parts of its cuboidal walls missing. The tops of the walls were here, though most of the ramparts were destroyed already. All but one of the turrets were littering the ground in chunks of stone and metal.
The old man in robes as black as the dragon’s scales was standing on the side of the castle that looked into the plains beyond. The battle about him didn’t seem to be an issue. He wasn’t Crint’s concern, though. He just needed to get Lacey out of there.
He checked the destroyed towers for an intact staircase until he found one. He headed down into the castle, wondering where Lacey might be. There was a sort of bunker down there for this sort of attack, so he went directly there.
It was overcrowded with people, so he called her name out in search of her. As the castle shook around him, he lost hope in the idea that she was down there. There was no trace of her anywhere.
He started searching every room he passed. Most were completely empty, and he didn’t really take in what else was down there since none of it was really important. It wasn’t Lacey. He searched until he got back to the roof. The only other place she could have been was in the throne room.
When he stepped form the ruined tower he saw her on the walls. She was slinking up behind the old man, who still stood where he stood before. She had a knife in her hand. She raised it to strike him down, but she never got the chance to connect.
The dragon barreled down on her, its claws out and ready to rip her to pieces. Crint tried to run to her, but it was too late. The beast’s claws dug into her and forced her to the ground. An audible snap reached Crint’s ears, though he was unsure if it was her or the stone beneath her. The dragon roared angrily and ripped its front arms out.
The image of her body being ripped in half burned into him like a brand. He shouted angrily and charged at the dragon. If he couldn’t have her, he would die avenging her. Without so much as a weapon or a hope, he let out a war cry and charged.
His valiant attempt to avenge Lacey’s tragic dismemberment was interrupted as a highly armored man wielding a finely crafted sword charged at the beast. On the man’s white head was a golden crown. He wore a billowing crimson cape and his armor had a blue, crystalline hue.
Everyone turned to watch the king engage the dragon except the old man. He continued to stare off into the plains as if nothing was happening. The king charged in, swinging his blade with perfection. It glanced off the beast’s scales harmlessly.
The dragon began to play with him, as he played with Crint just a few minutes before. Their battle raged all over the wall, the king showing his battle prowess, the dragon its viciousness. King Rhames was known for having killed a dragon almost forty years before, and he seemed to still have the skill.
Age seemed to have caught up to him. His skills would most likely have slayed the monster, but he could not keep up with it. His swings got sloppy and soon the dragon was able to knock the sword from his hand. He was able to use his kite shield to keep it back for a few more exchanges, but soon the dragon knocked him to the ground.
At this the soldiers charged into the center of the wall in an attempt to save him. A decisive burst of flame from the dragon destroyed the first line of men and halted the second. They knew there was no saving their king. He dragon stepped on the king’s shield-bearing arm, letting another crack reverberate over the wall.
The king did not squeal in pain, as any other would. He stared the beast down as it leaned in closer, his wrinkled face betraying no fear. The dragon used its tongue to flick the crown from the king’s head and then took the white-haired mass into its mouth. The dragon’s jaws closed and the headless body of the king fell flat on the wall.
Crint’s heart began racing faster than he ever imagined it could. He started breathing heavily and sweat started to drip from every possible place. The king’s sword was on the ground between him and the dragon. He could grab it and avenge Lacey and the king, or die trying.
He decided suddenly. With a trembling body he ran forward, scooping the blade from the ground. The dragon turned to him and laughed. It reared its head and burst fire through its bloody, wicked teeth. Crint slid along the ground, the fire missing him entirely. His slide stopped just beneath the dragon. He looked quickly for a weak point, found a spot that was missing scales, and jammed the blade as deep into it as he could.
The dragon roared with pain, its body jerking away violently, and in a moment it was lying unmoving on its side. Crint crawled away, amazed he was still alive. For a moment he considered that this was the afterlife, but the carnage around him reminded him it wasn’t. Soldiers on the wall began to cheer for him. He realized that the area of missing scales was from when he charged at the dragon with his broken blade while in the caves.
“Finally!” the old robed man said excitedly, popping his hands into the air.
“Finally?” Crint asked, his victory fueling audacity. “Wasn’t that your dragon?”
“Oh, yes it was. I was waiting for some white knight to come along and kill him. I was almost certain my brother would have bested him, but I suppose were getting a bit old.”
“Your brother? The King? You’re Prince Alhast! The Exiled One!” Crint realized. Everyone knew of the treachery of Prince Alhast.
“Yes! The magical brother banished for attempting to take the throne all those years ago. Now I have much bigger plans for this kingdom. I thank you for aiding me in my conquest. This is just what I needed.” The old man kneeled down beside the dragon’s body and produced a tiny bag from under his robe. He reached in and grabbed something too small to notice.
He slowly moved his hand over the dragon’s body, sprinkling the contents of the bag over him. “From the clutches of death shall be woken, a heart not beating begins. Eternal shall be life that was broken, rise from the grave, my undead kin.” He chanted as he moved.
The dragon let out a great huff of aid and leaped up onto its legs. The sword was still protruding from where Crint stabbed it, but the dragon was alive. It wasn’t alive, Crint knew, it was undead. It did nothing else but stand there, giving the impression that it may have been unable to do anything.
“Kill the white knight,” the banished prince demanded.
The dragon looked suddenly at him, as if everything else in the world meant nothing. Crint realized why the wizard wanted the dragon to be undead. It was under his complete control. The dragon shot a burst of fire at him, but it wasn’t the same anymore. This fire had a dark tinge to it, like it was corrupted. Crint managed to avoid most of it, but his left arm got burned as he moved.
The dragon opened its wings and pumped them repeatedly, sending blood and dust up at Crint’s eyes. He couldn’t help but cover them, giving the dragon an opening. It spun around in a circle, swinging its tail at him. A spike stuck into the calf at the tail slammed into him. The manner of his fall caused the spike to pop out, completely disconnecting the muscle form his body.
The pain was excruciating, and Crint was shocked that he was somehow still alive. While on the ground he saw the hilt of the sword protruding from the beast. He grabbed onto the dragon’s foot and pulled himself forward enough to reach it. He pulled it free and stabbed up at it again.
The old man laughed watching him. He kneeled down beside him, “Are you forgetting that the thing is already dead?”
With the exile in reach, Crint jabbed the blade at him, but he was faster than he looked. With a quick whisper he stuck his hand before the weapon, sending a magical force that knocked the blade from Crint’s hand. Weaponless and loosing focus, Crint rolled away.
He rolled up next to a ruined piece of the woman he knew as Lacey. He pushed it away, holding back the urge to vomit. It was once the woman he loved, and now was a piece of barely distinguishable flesh. He only knew it was her because no other corpse on the walls was dismembered in such a way.
The exile came around the dragon. It seemed that he told the dragon to stop, since it hadn’t made a move since Crint foolishly tried to stab it. Crint could barely tell what was going on at that point, but he felt something pulling on his hair. The old man was dragging him somewhere.
“Pay attention, hero. You’re going to want to see this,” he said, slapping his face to keep him from falling into his eternal slumber that he so badly desired. He popped his eyes open and he saw the plains that the old man was staring into during the whole battle. “Let’s leave the hero for last. Kill everyone else.”
The dragon let out a roar and moved around behind them. The soldiers cried out in fear, some attempting a valiant but worthless last stand. The wall was sundered as bolts of the unholy fire slammed bodies into it and exploded. It wasn’t long before the sounds on the roof ceased and sounds in the streets resumed.
The old man moved his view to the castle courtyard and the village. The dragon was destroying everything that moved, even if it was not living. It tossed animals at people, burned everything, and ripped a few people into pieces. It the pain in his leg wasn’t making him numb to everything else, it would be impossible to bear.
When the dragon seemed convinced that everyone was dead, it returned to the wall and stood stoically behind them. The exile turned him back to the plains and said, “I was imagining what these fields would look like burned and destroyed by me and the countless who are sure to follow once they discover my dragon’s unique properties. It will be what the rest of the kingdom and the rest of the world will soon look like. You’ve helped to bring on a new era of fear. Normally I reward those that aid me, but unfortunately you lost that privilege. Now, Tharth, it is time for your dinner.”
He felt the dragon’s jaw wrap around his head. Its teeth cut over his skin, but he did not bleed. Most of his blood leaked from his leg. His vision began to fade, and the last thing he saw was a bright light forming at the end of a tunnel.
Word Count: 3,133