A Curse and a PromiseMature

A young man is caught between friends and family when his father unexpectedly rises up and takes the crown for himself. The newly crowned prince struggles with new found abilities, gods, evil plots, and a dragon or two.

Prologue

             The Ruins of Sarys stretched out for miles, a great city laid to waste many years ago.  Few dared venture near its tainted soil, and even fewer still walked upon it.  Galan Novia had no such qualms, however.  Each year he traveled back to the ruins to pay his respects to his fallen brother, slain in the very war that had created the tremendous ruins.

            He made for a peculiar sight, this Galan.  He was no man, in truth, but more akin to a creature.  Where his skin should be, he had shimmering green scales.  Where his fingernails would be, he had fine razor-tipped claws.  Galan’s face and shape were human enough, despite the two curving horns sprouting magnificently from either side of his forehead.  The horns were remarkable to say the least, carved completely over with runes and seemingly etched in gold.  However, the most important difference between Galan and a regular man was most likely what lay folded upon his back.  Two great leathery wings grew from each shoulder blade, unfolding and flexing from time to time as he walked.

            It was extremely hot in the Ruins, Galan noticed, but that was not unusual.  The afternoon sun had a large part to play in such factors, but that was not all.  It had become a desert of sorts since the Divine War, with its cursed ground refusing to allow the flora and fauna of Eadd to re-inhabit it.  Galan did not particularly mind the heat however, for those infused with dragonsblood were a bit used to it.   Even his leather breeches suited him well in this climate, even though his twin axes on either hip had been dragging them down a bit during his walk.

            He strode on, taking in the sights of the destroyed city as he had many a time before.   He passed the old Citadel of the Gods, which was now reduced to a courtyard of leaning statues and one crumbling wall.  Yser’s statue alone remained intact, having been restored as a last monument to the fallen god.  Galan stopped to gaze upon it for a moment, and then continued on his journey.  As he continued, he realized that he had forgotten the names of most the streets and areas in Sarys. It has been hundreds of years since there was a sign on any street or square, Galan told himself. At least I have not forgotten my brother and brothers-in-arms.

           It took him another hour to reach his destination, refusing to fly and lessen the length of his journey. I need to see it all again.  Some lessons cannot be forgotten. Galan finally stopped and sighed, looking sadly ahead.  The ground ahead of him was rent asunder as if some heavenly force had maimed it from above.  Huge scars and craters dented the surface, crisscrossing this way and that.  Of all the things he could remember, he remembered this much vividly.  He could see the battle of the gods playing out in his head, down to each blow that tore each hole in the face of Eadd.  He remembered which blast took Yser, the God of Tel’aran, and which one brought doom to Gwylin, his older brother.  Gwylin was no god, but Galan had revered him as one.

            “You are the only one who still visits this graveyard, Galan.”

            Galan swung around, startled.  His grey eyes sparkled as he squinted through the bright sunlight to try and recognize the speaker.  “It seems I am not the only one, if you are here as well.”

            The man who spoke was of a medium height, garbed in a drab grey tunic and a cloak that may have once been called black.  He cut a stark, foreboding figure against the surrounding rubble.  The desert wind blew his cloak’s tattered strings about him, and a gust revealed a dueling sword sheathed at his hip.  His long hair was jet black and his face was pale. Much too pale for a man found in this desert, Galan thought.  Stranger still, he could not make out the newcomer’s eye color.  He could see only black. 

            “I did not come to chase ghosts, Galan,” he smiled through bloodless lips, his thin black eyebrows arching.  “I came here chasing you.”

            Galan looked at him quizzically.  “I am sure I do not know of you, human.  I daresay I’ve not had much interaction with your kind in the last hundred or so years.  Please, tell me why you would chase me here.”

            “Oh, you know me.  Not just of me, but personally.” The bloodless smile remained, seeming almost puckish.  “The years have changed me a bit more than you, I’d say.  They’ve been kind to me, those years have.  Given me all sorts of tricks, they have.”

            “Say what you want and be gone, I don’t care who you are,” Galan complained, his grey eyes flashing.  His temper was short already, and this was surely not a day he would like to be accosted with such nonsense.

            “You’ve not seen me since the day this piss-hole technically became a ruin and that’s the greeting I get?  It’s been a long time, Dragonslayer.  How many times will you visit this place before you realize that Gwylin isn’t coming back?”  The man stood with his hands upon his hips, ever smirking.  His cloak was pulled back, as if he was making ready to draw his sword.

            Galan did not bother to respond with words.  In the blink of an eye, he tackled the arrogant bastard to the ground and roared savagely.  Sand and rock flew as he skidded across the ground atop the stranger.  “What game do you play at, human?  You seek to enrage me on the anniversary of my brother’s death?  To what end?”

            “Toyourend, Galan,” the man choked, Galan’s clawed hand around his throat.  He managed a sly wink from his position, further infuriating the Dragonslayer. “Things are not quite always as they seem.”

           He’s mad, Galan thought.  He got to his feet, sighing and trying to control his anger.  “Go, and do not provoke me again.  There are no humans that could possibly have lived long enough to have been there on that fateful day.   If you wish death, you will not find it through me.  There has been enough blood shed by my hand throughout the centuries.”

           The madman stood, still wearing that insane smile, and dusted himself off.  He drew his sword from his scabbard, looked at it as if it amused him, and then flung it to the ground. “I do not fear death from your hand Galan.  I never have.”  At this he ripped off his faded cloak and undid the buttons on the front of his tunic, exposing his pale tattooed chest.  “Do you recognize this, Dragonslayer?”  He gestured to the large tattoo of a black dragon that covered the majority of his torso.  The design was intricate, from the glistening ebon scales to the mouth that breathed death and decay.

            “Maridus,” Galan breathed, anger once again rising in his chest.  “Perhaps I should kill you after all.  No good ever comes of a man who worships at a dragon’s altar.”

            “Oh, I assure you I do not worship any dragons,” the malicious madman replied, cackling.  “I am one.”   At that, the man literally burst apart, his flesh exploding all over the nearby ruins.

            Galan took a step back, gazing at the growing darkness that formed where the man had been standing.  It swirled this way and that, enveloping the area they stood in, nearly blocking out the sun.  The Dragonslayer took another step, this time rolling to the side and clear of the black fog. This is not happening, he thought, shuddering as he noticed what shape the darkness was taking. A fucking black dragon, and it really does look like Maridus.

            “Run Dragonslayer,” a horrible voice cried from the darkness.  “Run, so I can play cat-and-mouse with you before you die!”

            “You are naught but an illusion.  I can sense a dragon from miles away!” Galan shouted, although not entirely sure of himself. How had I not sensed his presence? I am a Dragonslayer, by the gods.

            “Mayhap you grow old my friend, or perhaps I have learned a few tricks over the centuries that have passed,” Maridus rasped, his voice deep and throaty.  “I doubt you’ve ever seen a dragon wearing a human skin before either.”  The dragon laughed at that, or what passed for a laugh from a dragon.  It came out as more of a deep raspy clicking sound.

            Galan did not dignify the black dragon with a response.  He rolled out of the way of a jet of black flame and tried to size up his enemy.  There was no doubt to be had, the beast was real.  Galan felt the stench of decay from the black flames as he moved.  Maridus was as large as he remembered, and seemingly as strong.  The dragon moved with considerable ease for its size, whipping its huge spiked tail at Galan and swinging its neck about to aim for deadly breaths of black flame.  One could almost consider it a thing of beauty despite its malevolence.  Maridus’ black scales shone radiantly in the sunlight, flashing with each movement.  He danced gracefully around Galan, his great black wings beating at the air for stability.

            Again and again Maridus struck at Galan, and time and time again Galan dodged out of the way nimbly.  Debris flew as each attack struck crumbling structures, or just the ground itself. Must I be forced to replay this event again, here? Galan thought. We are making fresh scars to join the old ones, but there will be no one here to tell the difference.

           “No Dragonslayer has ever bested a dragon in single combat, you know,” Maridus taunted as Galan dodged another powerful blow.  “Despite your damned names.”

            Once again Galan did not respond.  He knew the truth of it, of course.  The Dragonslayers had been created to combat the dragons in the Divine War, but they could never match up to one alone.  They had always hunted in packs of three or more, safer numbers against such legendary beasts. 

            “You have no idea how sweet it is,” the black dragon continued, “to finally know that the hunters have become the hunted.  All of you smug Slayers have split, looking for peace or something better.  All you and your brethren will find is death, one by one.”  The dragon cackled noisily at this, shaking his enormous head and striking at Galan again.

            Galan grimaced.  Some of the other Slayers still traveled in packs, but more out of fellowship than safety reasons.  The Slayers were not like to fit into normal society, and besides, they long outlived any human friends they would make. Everything he says is true, Galan thought. That bastard.

           “It must have been hard, hiding out all those years, knowing you had fled the battlefield a coward,” Galan spat, still dancing between tail jabs and dragon bites.

            “Fled?  There was little point in staying with the battle lost, although I do regret only killing your brother before I was forced to make my retreat.  I desired ever so much to gut you and your other brother Gramm as-” 

            Maridus’ response was cut short as Galan launched a lightning fast attack at his throat, both axes spinning.  He jerked to avoid the hurtling Dragonslayer, but Galan managed to secure a hold on his snout momentarily.  Before the dragon could remove him from his perch, Galan swung the axe in his free hand down in a steely blur, dead into the dragon’s right eye.

            The black dragon howled and flung Galan from atop his head with a mighty twist of his neck, and caught the Slayer with a savage sweeping tail blow as he fell.  A tail spike cut Galan from his hip to his shoulder, fairly deep.  Galan cursed as he hit the ground, bleeding profusely. If I could have just hit his throat, he thought. I should have waited for a better opportunity.

           “Stings, doesn’t it,” he shouted at the seething, wounded dragon.  “Don’t worry, it won’t heal.  My enchanted blades can vouch for that.”  Maridus only roared again in response. Galan picked himself up just in time to avoid another tail attack, this one only inches from his torso.  He ignored the bloody mess of his chest and tried to regain his dancing rhythm.  In and out of the dragon’s attacks he moved, over and over again.  Maridus’ attacks were sloppier than before, Galan noticed. Courtesy of me putting out one of those hideous black eyes, he thought to himself.  Galan knew that he could not dance forever though, not while losing as much blood as he was.  Normally his wounds would heal quickly, but even a scrape from the tail of a black dragon would soon fester.  Such was the peril of fighting a black, even if he won this fight he might still succumb to his wounds.

            On and on they fought, Galan striking back as often as he dared.  He was an experienced fighter with hundreds of years and kills to his credit, and among those kills several were dragons.  Fighting dragons is different from men; his old sergeant-at-arms had told him.  That statement seemed laughably obvious at the time, yet it held true.  There would be no parrying and no blocking when fighting a dragon, as you could a man.  You dodged, or you most likely died.  Few could withstand a tail swipe or the roaring flames of a dragon.  Bringing a shield would only weigh you down.  That was why Galan had grown to love his one-handed, double bladed axes.  He could parry and block against a soldier’s attacks with them, and they were easy to move with against greater foes.

            Those axes shone bright blue in the sun now, one spotted with Maridus’ blood, the other one clean and begging to be coated as well.  They whirled about, nicking the black dragon’s tail as it flew by him, longing to bite at its throat.   Sparks flew each time the steel collided the black dragon’s armored hide.  Most of Galan’s attacks were not strong enough to pierce, being only counter maneuvers and feints. 

            The fight had gone on too long, Galan knew.  His wound was exhausting him, yet he knew if he took another offensive risk against the massive dragon it might well prove fatal. What choice do I have though? He thought. I cannot out run this devil beast, and I cannot avoid his freakish tail forever.  At least the wretch has stopped talking.

           As Galan ducked yet another attack, he flew upwards as if to make a wild attack at Maridus’ throat again.  However, at the last second he stretched out his wings and turned sharply towards the dragons exposed underbelly, narrowly avoiding its gnashing teeth.  His axes at the ready, Galan readied himself to strike. My blades hunger, monster.  They’ll spill your insides all over these ruins and warm the grave of my fallen brother.

           His shining azure blades cut unhappily at only air.  Galan was stunned at the blinding speed with which the dragon had moved, and could not recover from his headlong charge in time.  Black fire engulfed him from behind, and he lost his senses.

            Galan had no concept of how much time had passed before he opened his eyes again, but when he did he saw the stranger once again.  Maridus stood above him in his human form, leering down at him.   Galan did note to some satisfaction that the devil’s right eye was scarred and colorless now.

            “How lax have you grown, to be caught unawares like this, Slayer?  How many of your kin will I be able to kill this way?”  Maridus taunted him, putting a boot on his chest and his sword to his throat.  Galan longed to throw him off and fight once more, but he found his strength would not come.   His once glamorous scales were now crusted and grated with rot, and he felt his wings broken behind him.  The dragon’s breath had done its job well. 

            “Have you no response?  No well-timed quip or threat? Such is not the Galan Novia I knew.  You are not so great without your friends, it would seem.”  Galan could only croak in response as the dragon-man abused him.  “Very well then, I see we are done here.  I will be sure to tell your remaining kin hello for you.”  Maridus’ grip on his sword grew tighter.  Galan felt the steel pressing at his neck, then only blackness. A black dragon in Tel’Aran, and one of legend in human skin to boot.  Worse yet, no one knows. His final thoughts drifted off with him into the abyss, unheard.

 

           

The End

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