The Last Dragon. Part 1

Here is another short story I wrote. If one of the names seems familiar to my other posts, that’s because it is! I leave it up to the reader to try and discover the meaning behind this strange coincidence… Clocking in at just under 2500 words, here is The Last Dragon!

            The old man’s boots made crunching noises as he trudged through the Salt Flats. His ridiculous outfit of animal furs and raven feather cape swished in the breeze, but seemed to fit him somehow, as if it belonged on him, and he to it. The air seemed completely silent of all life, but of course, the old man knew different. The sun beat down mercilessly on his head, likely in a bid for his attention, but he ignored it completely. He had important things to do.

            He ground the bottom of his walking staff into the ground as he examined the strange footprints he had been following for some time. The evidence seemed to suggest that the person who made them had suddenly appeared in the salt flats, as if from thin air. No. Exactly as if from thin air.

            The old man scratched at his prodigious beard, as he always did when pondering a mystery. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the wind. The wind held secrets. Secrets that few knew how to delve. He was the only one whom he knew that had such an ability, and he prided himself in having known a lot of people in his time.

            One minute…

            Two minutes…

            Three minutes…

            The wind finally spoke a name to him.

            Kalgan Lanselius Rhendron.

            The old man’s eyes snapped open. It couldn’t be! Not yet! He gripped his staff as if he were trying to strangle the life out of it, or more like he was holding on to it for dear life. He started walking again, this time not even trying to keep up the illusion of a crotchety old man. Such a thing served no purpose now that important things were afoot.

            He marched down the trail of wavering footprints, putting to lie the image of old man. He walked as if he were a man in his twenties, not the man in his seventies he appeared to be. The footprints weaved left and right, as if the person who made them were injured, or confused, or in shock. Perhaps all three. The old man sped up. If the wind was correct about who this was, he needed to find out what exactly happened. He didn’t know what would be worse: If this Kalgan Lanselius Rhendron was dead, or was still alive, and wandering this world unaccompanied. Neither possibility left very much hope for this world.

            The footsteps suddenly became less erratic, and veered off slightly more toward the North. The old man looked up and smiled. How ironic.

            He stopped as he came to the head of an old, massive statue sticking out of the ground. It was an old representation of the Aureon-The Golden God of ancient Aetillaan. He looked at the ground and smiled. Kalgan had rested here briefly, in the shade of his grandfather’s head.

            The old man had no time to ponder the irony of the situation, and picked up the trail once again. This time, the footsteps pressed into the salt flat with purpose. He followed them until they came to a stop a short distance away. He was surprised to find evidence of horses-at least five of them-intersecting his quarry’s path. It took him a while to find Kalgan’s trail once again.

            This time he was running. Perhaps away from the men on horses. Suddenly, the old man dropped to his knees at the bloody stain on the ground. He reached out a shaky hand toward the dried blood crusting the salt flat, but came just short of touching it. He said a silent prayer to the Three, and even to the Aureon for good measure. He couldn’t be dead. He must not be!

            He examined the ground of the surrounding area, and was surprised to discover evidence of more horses; three this time, but only two riders. The horses continued on, but there were no more footsteps.

            Perhaps there was a chance that Kalgan had survived. Whoever had picked him up may have been able to get him to a healer in time, but he doubted it. There were no people for miles in any direction.

            The old man ground his staff into the ground in anger. He hoped that the people who had injured Kalgan died in this desert, but he doubted that as well. No one came into the salt flats unless they were well prepared for the dangers posed by heat and dehydration.

            He sighed and looked up at the sky, gauging the height of the sun. He supposed that he should be going. He had a long way to go to get back to Korlan before the sun set. It was there that he hoped to find more evidence as to whether Kalgan was still alive, and to also prepare the world for his coming. If only the Empire would hold off invading for a few more months. Something told him they would not be so lucky.

            The old man closed his eyes, and a moment later he disappeared, to an accompanying popping noise. In his place was a large black raven. The raven took off into the sky and circled around once to confirm that the horses were headed North, to Lendal, before wheeling off to the West, and the Northern tip of the Sima Laghda Mountain Range.

 

            The raven looked down upon the small mountain hut. Something wasn’t right. Lorovard should have been waiting outside for him. A hawk screeched a short distance away, and a dark darting object thrust it’s way through the raven’s left wing.

            He plummeted to Earth, and waited to transform until he was safely on the ground once again. There was another popping sound, and the old man suddenly stood where the raven had been before. He clutched at his arm and stood transfixed at the sight of the bloody arrow sticking out. He snapped the arrow off and drew it through the wound and clapped his hand over it to stop the bleeding.

            There was the sound of bowstrings being drawn as twelve bowmen stepped out from behind the trees and from inside the small shack. They all had their bows trained on him, half-drawn and ready to fire at a moment’s notice. Their leader stepped out of the shack next, pushing the hogtied Lorovard onto the ground next to the old man.

            “I’m sorry, Arkelen,” Lorovard said dejectedly. “They attacked as soon as you left.”

            “It’s not your fault, Lorovard,” The old man, Arkelen, replied. “They must have followed me though the rupture when I got here.”

            “Stop talking!” the leader yelled. “You’re both under arrest. For high treason and rebellion.”

            Arkelen laughed. “I don’t think you know what you’ve gotten yourself into.”

            “Be quiet! I know exactly who you are! Spawn of demons. As filthy as the creatures you turn into!”

            Arkelen just shook his head and sighed. “You are a spirit mage, are you not? Have you never heard of druids?”

            The mage lifted his right hand, and Arkelen stiffened as a wave of agonizing pain passed through his entire body. When it was over, he gasped, and found himself on his back, with the mage sneering in contempt above him.

            The hawk screeched again, this time much closer, and the mage lifted his eyes to the sky, just in time to see a brown blur plummeting towards his face.

            He screamed as blood ran down his face in a collision of face and feathers. The hawk had scratched his eyes out. There was a popping sound, and a man in a black cloak appeared where the hawk had been before.

            The mage fell to the ground screaming, and the black-cloaked man unsheathed the two swords from across his back, just as the first arrow started to fly towards his face. He smiled and simply stepped aside, ramming one of his swords under the sternum of the first bowman.

            He ducked as the next arrow came at the back of his head, embedding itself instead in the head of the man he had just killed. The black-cloaked man kicked the bowman off his sword, and flowed across the ground in a blur of swords, cutting three more bowmen off at the legs. He sprinted at the next group, who had just seen how the battle had turned away from their favor, and were heading for the safety of the trees. The first bowman launched an arrow, and the strange man just leaned away from it while still running.

            The man in black reached the first bowman and stuck him in the neck with his left hand blade, while throwing his right hand sword at the next one’s back. It speared the man through the ribs, killing him instantly. He pulled his sword out of the first’s neck, and left him to drown in his own blood, while advancing on the last one in the trees.

           The last of the three bowmen fell to his knees and faced his pursuer. “Please! Mercy! I beg y-” before the man in black took off his head in a single, nonchalant swipe. He then went back to retrieve his other sword, and calmly returned to the shack, where Arkelen was dusting himself off and untying Lorovard.

            “Master, are you injured?” the man in black asked Arkelen in concern.

            “No, Porantus. I’m fine. You missed a few.”

            “No. I’ll get to them later.”

            Porantus walked over to the mage, and savagely stabbed the man in the heart, stilling the man’s pained whimpers.

            The rest of the bowmen had taken refuge in the small hut, and one had nocked an arrow and was prepared to fire it out of the window. Porantus’s back was turned, but he was ready when the man released the arrow.

            He turned around suddenly, and split the arrow down the middle with his sword, completely unconcerned.

            Porantus sighed in disappointment. “I thought of leaving you alive. Oh well. I guess you’ll have to die like the rest,” he said calmly as he marched toward the front door. He kicked it open, and marched inside with deadly purpose.

            Arkelen turned away as the screams started, and focused on untying his friend. They were over soon enough.

 

            “Why are you here, Porantus? I thought I told you to stay at the palace and continue your studies.” Arkelen said once they had set the shack on fire. Porantus had left the place an uninhabitable, disgusting mess when he killed the rest of the bowmen, so they had little choice.

            “They killed Mara as soon as she sent you here, then that mage and his entourage followed the rupture here. I waited a bit, then followed them through as well.”

            “Mara? No!”

            “I’m afraid so.”

            “Damn it! It seems the Empire is catching up with us at every turn. I fear Korlan’s time is near.”

            “We must return immediately. Can Lorovard transport us back?”

            Lorovard nodded. “I think so. The rupture is still there. It shouldn’t take long to reopen it. I’ll just need time to gather my spirit.”

            Porantus nodded and turned back to Arkelen. “I hope whatever you found here was worth risking your life. If I hadn’t followed you through…”

            “I didn’t need your help. Don’t forget, you’re my apprentice for a reason, not the other way around. I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve as well, you know.”

            “Of course, master.”

            Arkelen sighed. “As for my reason for coming here… I’m afraid we have a serious problem.”

 

            “One thing’s for sure: This Kalgan Rhendron must never be allowed to free the Dragon,” Arkelen explained to Porantus. “Doing such a thing will herald the end of the world. The Dragon was imprisoned for a reason, and should stay imprisoned.”

            “But can such a thing even be done? I thought the beast was trapped in magestone, of the unbreakable variety, no less,” Lorovard interjected.

            “What was created, can also be destroyed. Even magestone.”

            The silence continued for several moments. They were all thinking the same thing. The dragon had sworn undying enmity on the human race for exterminating the rest of his race, and if ever freed, would destroy this world, and everything on it. The oldest prophecies even warned that such an event could one day occur. With the help of a descendant of the Aureon.

            Arkelen was going to make sure that that never happened. If it was the last thing he ever did. And it might very well be.

 

            It was later that night before Lorovard was recuperated enough to teleport them all back to Korlan, hundreds of miles away. First, they buried Mara, who had given her life for the cause, and said a short prayer to the Three to see her safely to the afterlife.

            Then Arkelen and Porantus made their way up to the Palace. Arkelen had a plan, and needed all the help he could get, from ALL of his mages, and get a better bandage for his bleeding arm, of course

            The guards at the gate saluted him and he passed through into the palace. No one would be getting any sleep tonight. He summoned his seneschal and ordered him to gather everyone together for an important announcement. Then he turned to Porantus.

            “I have an important job for you. You will be leaving in the morning, as soon as my plan is ready. I want you to bring this Kalgan Rhendron back here, to Korlan, where he can be protected from the Empire, and the dragon.”

            “What? No. I refuse to be an errand boy any longer…”

            “No. You will go. I don’t trust anyone else to bring him back safe.”

            Porantus sneered in annoyance. “What if the empire attacks while I’m gone?”

            “We can protect ourselves well enough here. Don’t worry. There will still be a Korlan by the time you get back.”

            “Very well.”

            “Good. Get your stuff together then. You leave first thing in the morning. Once I’ve given you the details of my plan.

            “I am ready. I don’t need to prepare.”

            Arkelen just shook his head. “Ask the requisitions officer if you change your mind, he will set you up with anything you might need.”

            Porantus bowed to his master and left, without another word. When it came time to do what must be done, he never seemed to have much to say. Arkelen sometimes worried that his apprentice’s upbringing had completely scarred him somehow.

            But who wouldn’t be scarred if they had spent most of their life as a slave?

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