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Chapter One - Of Dragons and Valleys

By Ash TaylorPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 11 min read
Photo by Tengyart on Unsplash

There weren’t always dragons in the Valley. They appeared one day in history, the skies turning dark with their shadows, and claimed the Valley for their own. Until they were driven out. The dragons fought with incandescent rage, raining fire down upon the Valleyfolk with a vengeance that none had seen for an age. Many stood and fell against their wrath, until the Valley was little more than a burnt husk, blackened and charred in the sunlight. Bodies of man and dragon lay buried beneath the ash, alike in death. The last dragon perished mere decades ago, at the hands of human soldiers. Its death cast a pall over the Valley, tainting it. No one dared to enter the cursed place – until now.

Weathered floorboards creaked beneath the weight of a travel-worn man, protesting as the uninvited visitor began to unceremoniously drag kindling towards the ramshackle hearth. Dust lingered in the air, which hung heavy with the rich scent of rotting wood as disturbed critters scurried back to the safety of their holes. George muttered something under his breath, gloved hands clumsily striking flint and steel together. Sparks flew and missed, fading into nothing against the rotten wood. He swore, striking until a spark took hold. Sighing wearily, George took a seat, leaning heavily on his pack. Something squawked from within.

“Ah hells,” he grumbled, shifting his weight to pull it out.

‘Something’ was a long, thin creature, reptilian in nature. It had four legs and a whiplike tail, with two underdeveloped wings that lay flat against its back as it tumbled out of George’s hands and skidded across the floor. Its scales were a pale, creamy white – the shimmering opalescence of a juvenile dragon. The dragon writhed on the ground, twisting as it playfully tried to catch its own tail and tumbled dangerously close to the coals in its excitement.

“Watch the fire,” George warned, tugging it back by the tail. Pack now free of anything living, he lent back once more, arms cushioning his head as he stared through a crack in the ceiling. Night had begun to fall, stars flickering to life in the quiet dusk. It was peaceful – for now.

“What are you doing, George?” he muttered to himself. “You can’t keep going on like this, you’ll get yourself killed. Better to leave the thing to fend for itself, or just sell it to the highest bidder…” he paused, watching as the dragonling chased bugs around the room, and a soft, small smile snuck across his face. Sensing George’s gaze, the dragonling paused in its hunt, turning to chirp curiously at him.

“We’re safe here,” he promised, ignoring the guilt that began to settle deep in his gut. It was nearing its twentieth year, and still depedent on him. How could he abandon it? “No one would follow us into the Valley.”

The dragonling trilled uncertainly.

“We’re safe,” George repeated, unsure whether it was for his benefit or the dragon’s. No one entered the Valley – not without good reason. Great swathes of it were still blackened and burnt, hundreds of bodies buried deep beneath the undisturbed ash. Even animals avoided its heart. Instead, scavengers and mercenaries stuck to the edge, where the trees grew green and lively, and the birds sang songs instead of warnings.

George threw another log on the fire, sending sparks spiraling upwards amidst the smoke. Both trailed through cracks in the damaged roof, thick and visible against the dark, night sky. The dragon – he’d have to name it at some point, he thought to himself – curled close against his body, burrowing into the warmth. He glanced down, humming a soft lullaby, and soon both fell into the deep sleep of exhaustion.

Flames. Yelling. Thick, acrid smoke blocked his vision. He could smell burning flesh, could taste the boiling blood that had sprayed across his lips and covered his body, but saw nothing - felt nothing but searing heat. Pandemonium reigned supreme as body after body fled, forcing their way past and knocking him to the soot-stained ground. The screams faded, until the only sound remaining was a pitiful squawk. He crawled, following the noise. It grew louder and louder – louder and louder, until –

George woke with a start, the dragonling’s cries penetrating deep into his nightmare. The fire had long since died down, leaving only a handful of coals winking in the darkness. His eyes had barely adjusted to the gloom, but he could just make out a cloaked figure violently stuffing the screaming dragon into a sack.

“Hurry up!” One of them hissed, glancing around with a nervous twitch. “Before the bastard wakes up.”

George reached for his sword, rolling swiftly to his feet. He unsheathed the blade in one swift motion and – CRACK!

Pain blossomed in the back of his head. The ground rushed to meet him, and the last thing he saw was three figures climbing through the window with a writhing sack.

He heard someone urging them to leave; then – only darkness.

Morning broke with a crack of thunder, which echoed cruelly in George’s aching head. Rain dripped through each crack and hole in the old cottage roof, pooling on the floor and drenching him. George groaned, rubbing the throbbing bruise that had been his assailants’ parting gift.

No trill, chirp, or squawk greeted him when he rose; only silence met him that morn. Something cold and cruel hooked its claws into his heart, tugging angrily as heat flared within his gut. Someone will pay for this, George snarled inwardly. It doesn't matter who. He grabbed his sword, furiously buckling it to his belt, and then swung the pack across his broad shoulders. There was a ‘town’ nearby, on the edge of the valley. If he made haste, he would reach there by midday.

The ground outside was a mess of footprints and mud, each set branching off in a different direction. There would be no easy way to track last night's 'visitors' – not after the rain. George clenched his fists, breathing so heavy it was more akin to a growl. Raindrops sizzled against his bare skin, evaporating in the burning heat he now gave off, steam rising from his clothing as it began to dry.

The taste and feel of blood pooled in his mouth, metallic and hot, but it wasn’t his. It was only a memory. The nightmare of last night had yet to fade; it burned clear and bright, that moment forever seared into his mind. George shook his head, struggling to clear it. There was a fire beneath his skin, hot and heavy in his stomach, and it threatened to break free. For a single moment he felt huge. Then he was George again, standing alone in the rain.

He started to walk.

There were no signs in the valley, no roads that led to any particular destination. Game trails meandered through the sparse forest, sometimes ending abruptly, or splitting in two and circling back on themselves. With the morning sun still rising above the horizon, George turned his face to its warmth and headed east, striding with renewed vigour and purpose. It was still, but not quiet. Birds sat high in the branches of nearby trees, staying warm and dry as they warned each other of the intruder; George paid them no mind, nor the deer that froze and watched him pass. He ate as he walked, the rough jerky and few nuts doing little to fill his stomach. There was no time to stop.

He arrived as the sun reached its zenith, hours later and covered in mud. A crude sign named the town as Waypoint, pointing helpfully towards the scattered cluster of buildings where a few columns of smoke trailed skywards, the only sign of life in the otherwise deserted town.

George surveyed the area briefly, noting each and every house, every door, and every vantage point; he would not be surprised again. There was a brief flurry of movement – George’s hand hovered warily over the hilt of his blade – as someone stumbled onto the porch of one wooden shack. She slung one arm across the empty hitching-post, waving to George with a two fingered salute.

“Won’t need that here, soldier,” the woman called.

“Not a soldier,” George replied gruffly as he approached. “Not anymore.”

She was close in age to him, although her hair was considerably greyer and much shorter, cropped close to her skull. Tanned skin suggested a life spent in the sun, and the repeatedly broken nose suggested she had seen her fair share of fights.

“You look like one,” the woman laughed. “I’m Jack. Buy you a drink?”

“Not after a drink.” He paused, remembering his manners. “George. But thanks.”

“Not after a drink huh? What are you after then?” She leaned forward curiously, eyes sharp and fierce.


“Information… Got a lot of men into trouble, that has. What sort of information?”

George reached for his coin-purse, holding it up with a heavy clink. “Group of people ambushed me last night. Stole something important. I want it back.”

“I’m not easily bought,” Jack warned in amusement. “Tell you what though. You let me buy you that drink, and I’ll see what I can do.” George squinted suspiciously, sizing her up. She was tall and wiry, built for speed and stealth over strength. Clad in simple clothes and a leather breastplate, she radiated confidence, and more than a little danger. George relented, following her inside.

Blinking as his eyes adjusted to the change in light, George glanced around. The tavern was empty this time of day, populated only by a bored looking man tending the bar. It was bare within, all dark wood and the occasional potted plant, with serviceable lanterns hanging from the walls. A fire crackled at the far end of the room beside a worryingly haphazard staircase which led up to a second floor. Another smaller staircase led down into the darkness of a basement. Two brimming steins of ale awaited both guests before they had even taken a seat, the bartender sliding them along the length of the bar. Not a word was spoken, though from the corner of his eye George noticed his companion make a discrete sign with one hand. He tensed, hand twitching at his side.

“So, you’re looking for some people who stole some shit,” Jack recounted, taking a long swig. “Lotta thieves around here.”

“Takes one to know one, does it?” George asked, turning to eye her.

“Barely been in town ten minutes, and you’re throwing accusations around? I’d watch yourself if I were you. But no, it’s not that. We’re a small town on the edge of this valley – not much law enforcement out here. We get a lot of unsavoury types.” She ignored the way George’s eyes burned into the back of her skull, and polished off her drink with a loud belch. “What did they steal?”

George hesitated, eye twitching in the gloom. “Something… important to me. Draconic in nature.” It was vague enough without admitting the truth of what he sought, but George still saw the way Jack’s eyes gleamed with hunger and curiosity.

“Draconic huh…?” Jack glanced over at the bartender, who now stood like a brick wall behind the bar, arms crossed. He inclined his head.

“I don’t want trouble,” George warned, hand reaching properly for his sword now. “But I’ll make trouble if I have to.”

An uneasy silence fell between them.

One breath passed, then two.

The door slammed open, breaking the silence and tension as three others barged in, yelling and joking amongst themselves.

“A round for me and my friends here!” The leader yelled, falling heavily into a chair by the door. They pushed their hood back and threw a pouch down on the table, which landed with the heavy jingle of coins. “We’re celebrating.”

Heat rose within George at the oddly familiar voice. The back of his head began to throb again and though he tried to still his breathing, his heart hammered angrily against his chest.

“What,” he asked, voice violently calm, “are you celebrating?”

“None of your fucking business, old man!” One of them shouted to the jeers of their companions. That voice was also familiar, echoing through his mind.

“I’ll ask you again,” George repeated, stalking towards them. Each lantern he passed beneath flared, the flames responding to his anger. “What. The fuck. Are you celebrating?”

He grabbed their leader by the front of their vest, pulling them first to their feet, then clear off the ground. “Where is it?” He hissed, eyes burning vividly. “Don’t fuck with me kid, or I’ll ruin your day. You took something from me, and I want. It. Back.”

Smoke rose from where George gripped the thief's shirt, and their eyes grew wide in terror. They stuttered in fear. George slammed them against the wall, pushing them higher and higher until they began to choke. His chest heaved with each breath; nostrils flared in anger. Nearby lanterns shattered from heat as every lit object in the tavern roared to life. George’s shadow grew longer and longer on the ground, spreading until it filled the room.

He snarled.

“W-we sold it! We sold it to some c-collector who was interested. He had s-some kind of fucking zoo or something, I don’t know! P-please – oh gods please don’t kill me!”

“Where is he?” George took a step closer, inhaling their scent. It was rich with fear, sweat, and piss. “I’ll know if you lie.”

“H-he was from Cormoran! That’s all I know, I swear!” They were crying now, thick ugly tears that spilled down their cheeks in great heaping rivers. George’s anger wavered, replaced by guilt. He dropped them, disgusted with himself.

The others had risen to their feet with weapons bared, but George ignored them, shoving past and out of the door into the painfully bright light. His hands itched beneath his gloves, fingertips aching. Residual heat rolled off his body, the air around him dancing with it. He gulped down fresh air, eyes closed. Without the heat of his anger he felt empty. Cold. George squeezed his hands into tight fists, anchoring himself with the sensation. Cormoran, they had said.

The grandiose city of Cormoran was a long way from here, nestled in the heart of Glaswyn Lake. The nearest ferry was weeks-worth of travel by main roads, and it would be days until he reached a town with caravans or horses. He could cross the Valley again, dive back into its bloodthirsty heart, but it had changed him enough. George stood silently; his brows furrowed in a deep ravine as he ran through each option. None sounded appealing.

“You should probably leave.”

George turned to find Jack standing behind him. “I am,” he assured her.

“I’d avoid people for a while, and keep your hood up” she suggested, not unkindly. “You don’t look well.”


About the Creator

Ash Taylor

Lover of fantasy and all things whimsical. Currently studying Writing and Publishing at UNE in Armidale, Australia. Living on Anaiwan land.


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Comments (3)

  • L.C. Schäferabout a year ago

    But what happened next?? Did he find him?! WRITE ANOTHER CHAPTER CURSE YOU 🤣

  • Amelia Mooreabout a year ago

    fucking love dragons, your writing gives them justice. it's got a really good tone to it, seems like it could be a book.

  • Isaac Haldeman about a year ago

    This was a fun read! Keep going! Onto chapter 2…3…4…more;)

Ash TaylorWritten by Ash Taylor

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