by Sir Various
The last dragon is found. *WINNER* Round 9 Fantastic Fantasy Contest
|Author's Note: For some strange reason, I intended this story to be concurrent with "The Cyclic Ruse" in my portfolio. I realize that I probably had too much backstory that I developed in my mind, and that short stories in general should be independent. I won't change this story, but in the future I plan on making sure that I keep short stories their own beast. Just one of the many things I've learned from WDC.
by Sir Various
This was the stupidest, most idiotic decision he had ever made. Sure, he wanted to prove himself, but trying to find the last of the dragons just to be considered a man was not the smartest idea.
Venn wrapped his fur and wool wraps tighter. It could not possibly get any colder, he thought. However, it would, if his brother failed. Deric, his oh-so-perfect humble brother, would be dead soon. The thought of his brother not being around to ruin his life was comforting. He should be at the castle now, if not already inside, trying to reset the endless winter churning from the Cyclic Orb.
The wrapped horse pushed forward, its head down. The gale was biting, with sudden gusts forcing the icy pinpricks of snow and sleet into the horse and rider. The previous mile had been wooded, and the wind, while still sharp, had been slowed by the skeletal forest. Now, a long flat stretch of land, with nothing to deflect the gusts, allowed the wind to reach its full speed, battering against the magician and his mount. All detail and shape of the land had vanished, and now only a white desolate desert surrounded him.
The magician wanted his brother to fail; he desired it, craved his brother’s failure. Then, they would see that Deric was not the honorable and valorous warrior they thought he was. His brother deserved his frozen death. The winter never ending would be worth it.
A sharp stabbing breeze cut through the magician’s wool mask, and the exposed skin burned around his eyes. He had prepared a warming spell, but he did not want to use it yet. It would be weak anyways, as the Cyclic Orb was in its blue winter mode; the magic it provided to the elemental magicians favored ice now, not fire. When the Orb reset, the masters of fire and flame would begin to gain strength, and the power that the elemental mages that controlled ice and cold would wane.
The Cyclic Orb's origins were unknown, but its power held the kingdom of Alacion in a vicious grip. It was an undulating cycle. Elementalists would strive for more power; even as their strength matured and grew each season, although the threat of that season obliterating life was brutally apparent.
Venn did not care about any of Alacion's political issues. He only cared about showing up his immaculate brother. The strong, muscular, yet quiet and business-like Deric was the favored one in the family. Even his brother’s looks rewarded favoritism. Venn's thin body and intense mannerisms unnerved the family, and they shunned him however they could. When he had told them he was going to study elemental magic, they essentially disowned him.
It was entirely his brother’s fault.
So now, he had volunteered to find the last winter dragon. The dragons had been increasingly rarer as of late, and the weapon needed to reset the previous summer was forged barely in time. Alacion's searchers had found a sun dragon to the south, dying of some sort of disease or illness, lying motionless in the shifting desert sands. The search for it had been long and tedious, and hope had almost been lost. All would have been destroyed in the fiery heat of summer if the searchers had failed. They extracted the barely burning sun coal from its belly, fortunately, before it died. When they sent word of its finding, the go-ahead to reset the summer form of the Orb was given.
That had been over eight months ago. Without the fiery coal or icy pearl in the dragons, the weapon used to combat the Cyclic Orb’s guardian could not be created. They would have the previous Orb’s power, but not the raw material for the blade. So, the seasons had been getting later and later, increasingly more intense as the delays lengthened the winter and summer cycles. The dragons had been plentiful, but now, they were almost if not completely gone.
These were terrible times. Nevertheless, Venn would find a winter dragon, and they would see he was just as capable as his brother was. He had to, but not for salvation. He would find it for himself. He would find the dragon and destroy it. Then all “warriors” like his brother would not have all honor reserved for themselves.
Deric would die in vain, and that was how the magician wanted it.
His horse reared suddenly, and Venn was launched off the mount. He had been lost in thought, letting the horse lead itself. The snow broke his fall, but the surface layer was frozen, and the impact was painful. The horse had been paying more attention than him, but not by much. It had caught sight of the approaching dragon only as it neared. The horse galloped away and vanished into the infinite whiteness.
That was that, the magician thought. There was no other choice for him now. He must confront the last dragon alone.
The dragon was not white, as he expected, but almost pitch black. It’s body was large, round and muscular, the four leathery legs driving it powerfully forward. The head was flat and broad, with frost tipped ridges lining the eyes and skull. Short spines snaked down its back to the end of its narrow rough tail, and they were all tipped with icy excrescence.
It seemed to not notice the horse or rider, and why it had not attacked him or the horse was startling. The gale and snow did not affect it, unsurprisingly, and it continued in its singular focus of moving forward.
Venn pulled out the scroll with the words he must speak if a dragon was sighted. It would warm the dragon, putting it into a type of hibernation. He was to then wait as the magic sent a beacon to the other searchers. Of course, the dragon would be dead by the time they arrived, but his part would be easy and done. His heart was racing, and he could feel it pound in his ears even through this wind. He held the paper carefully, but as he tried to bring it up for a closer read a sudden gust of wind grabbed the written words of magic, and it disappeared into the whiteness.
Very well. He would do it the hard way. His mastery of heat was weak, but it should suffice. Venn could feel his hands shake, and he told himself it was just the intense cold. He shoved them under his arms and trudged after the dragon. At least it was moving slow. Venn's magic would be too weak to harm it while it was moving. With the horse, it would have been possible, but now he must wait for a better opportunity. His head down, he followed the dark shape into the white nothingness. The trek was tedious, yet the wide body of the dragon pushed aside the snow readily. It continued to ignore him, and the magician took advantage of that by blocking the wind with the dragon’s bulk. Time had no meaning, as the wind, snow, and glaring whiteness had no beginning or end.
Eventually, the dragon did slow. Venn looked up from his numbing trudge. Gray stone had appeared from the starkness, and the dragon paused as it reached the rocky barrier. The magician prepared a quick spell; perhaps his chance to strike would be here, although he had little advantage. However, he paused as the dragon began to breathe on the stony wall. Layers and layers of frost formed on the stone, and a round portion became white as the landscape. After several minutes, the dragon stopped, and then pushed forward with its broad head. As if glass, the stone shattered, and a black edged maw opened into the stone face.
The dragon turned then, swifter than it had the entire trek, its tail sweeping aside a large amount of snow. The power of the beast was astounding, and Venn wondered at how he ever could have thought he could destroy it. The dragon’s sharp blue eyes stared directly at him, and the magician knew without a doubt that this was where he was going to die. He did not prepare a spell to combat it, as he now knew his weak attack would be fruitless.
However, the dragon did not attack him. It backed itself up to the cave it had created in the stone, and it lifted its tail to squat at the entrance. It shuddered, and powdery snow fell of its body as it shook. The dragon continued to stare at the magician with unnerving intelligence, and Venn could not move. After several moments, the strange intense scene ended, and the dragon dropped to the ground. The sudden rush of air forced snow and ice outward from the torso, and the magician was knocked to the ground.
Venn stood up slowly, pushing the powdery cold snow off as much as he could. The dragon appeared to be sleeping, although that seemed a strange thing for it to do. He warily approached the dragon’s inert form. Wind began to pile the disrupted snow on the far side of the dragon, and it made no effort to adjust or shift its position.
The magician stopped several feet from the head. Drifts had already begun to cover the dragon’s skull, and he could see no telltale signs of breathing from its wide nostrils.
The dragon was dead.
The magician glanced at the hole in the stone face. It had come here for a reason, and it had created the cavity for something specific. Venn wrapped his arms tight and trudged over to the cave, cautiously avoiding the wide clawed feet of the black icy beast.
The tail lay across the hole, blocking a large amount of the wind. The gale and snow made it hard to see into the shallow cave, and the tail did little to help. There was only one way to get a better view, and that was to climb the tail and enter.
Venn swallowed hard, then reached across the tail to grab an icy spine. It provided good leverage, and he clambered over the tail. He imagined the dragon waking up and launching him into the row of sharp points on its back, and he panicked at the last moment. The magician tripped and fell, the hard ground knocking the breath out of him.
He took a moment to calm down before sitting up. There was plenty of room for him, and he grudgingly admitted the tail blocking the entrance was actually welcome. Venn's eyes adjusted to the darkness, and as they did, he noticed the egg.
It was brilliantly white, as white as the winter outside. It glistened from the reflections of light on its moist surface. That had been the dragon’s purpose. It needed a safe haven for its progeny. The magician stared at it, lost in amazement at the rarest of rare sites.
The magician looked up sharply as the wind abruptly died, and the frigid temperature immediately warmed several degrees. That meant his brother, the martyr and hero, was now dead.
Venn's face tightened. He would not let his Deric's victorious death become the glory of the family. He had his own glory, and it was time.
The magician stood, and wrapped his arms around the frozen egg. He recited words well familiar to him, and his arms burst into a light flame. The egg sizzled as the moist shell dried; as he reached the culmination of the spell’s embrace, a bright flash filled the cave, and the egg crumbled into fine ash.
Venn sat back heavily, and stared at the pile of still warm gray dust. Somehow, he did not feel glorious at all.
But now, no one would. Let the summer come, he thought.