There weren’t always dragons in the valley. There had not been dragons born of scales and flame since the 1st age. But tonight a dragon of Ngarna had returned, and with her she brought a vengeance stronger than death.
Two cloaked riders passed through on horseback along a dry canyon riverbed, the first stars winking dimly overhead. Twilight was a thin blade of blue over the pass, the mountains black mammoths on every side. The first rider, a hooded woman on a black thoroughbred, kept forward at an unrelenting pace, a gray staff secured to the saddle at her side.
Her companion, a broad man on a gray horse, stayed closely behind. His eyes were continuously scanning their surroundings, face drawn tight beneath his hood. He too had a staff at his side, its handle tan and less opulent in design than the woman’s. He drew it from its tie on the saddle and spoke something indiscernible, the triangular tip of the staff bursting forth with a pale golden light. He wore a leather chest plate, the emblem of a three-peaked mountain glimmering in gold across the center of his chest.
The woman drew back on the reins abruptly, her companion trailing to her side.
“Are you certain we are still on course, Milady?” He asked, the staff casting long shadows in every direction.
The woman’s eyes were shadowed by her hood as she peered sideways at him.
“They’ll be waiting for us at the end of this pass.” She paused, noting his silent expression. “Is something wrong, Sir Rihan?” Her voice turned cool and low.
At first Sir Rihan glanced silently toward the mouth of the narrow pass where they were headed, then back at the woman, his pale mount side-stepping impatiently.
“Only that it is nearly midnight and these passes hold many hiding places for evil things.”
Indeed this pass had been unnaturally dark even with the moonlight, further shadowed by the narrow passage and evergreens above. A perfect hiding place for thieves and other ill-willed individuals. Or worse.
The woman released her own staff, illuminating it as well.
“Then we better carry on quickly, yes?” Her voice vaguely hinted at a dry amusement.
Turning the reins, she whirled back toward the dry path.
The narrow pass gradually widened and melded into an open valley, their staffs like trailing points of starlight into the expanse. A fully rounded moon was nearly at its peak in the sky now, curtained by a thin veil of mist and clouds and painting the valley in a pale glow. The valley was beautiful and eerie all at once, devoid of civilization but teeming with quiet energy, the grasses rippling like ocean waves.
Just ahead, the smooth expanse was broken by what remained of Ngarna, a city lost to the ravages of war. Tall stone arches and walls had all but crumbled away, homes and great halls hollow shells overgrown by grass and brush. The city itself was all but rubble, the dry creek bed winding around it through low mounds. But on the far mountainside the Hall of Kings still remained, an empty and gray memorial of what it once was. Although its pillared walls were only dimly visible in the moonlight, its hollow presence loomed large on the horizon.
Sir Rihan drew back on his reins sharply as the woman continued ahead.
“You mean to say they are waiting inside the ruins?” He asked, his face contorted in disbelief.
There was a reason that this place had been long untouched. After a takeover had reduced it to rubble and scattered all but a few of its people, it was believed to be riddled with dark curses. Some had returned after the war to scavenge any leftovers, but they returned with addled minds, speaking of things no one could understand.
The woman turned toward Sir Rihan, her cloak rippling around her.
“Is that going to be a problem, Sir Rihan? Or shall I tell them you were too frightened to join us?”
Sir Rihan looked agitated at her provocation, a line forming in his jaw.
“No Milady,” he finally spoke, voice deepening. “But this is a cursed place.”
She was silent for a moment, and then she gave a mirthless grin.
“Not cursed, Sir Rihan. Perhaps just misunderstood.”
They nudged their horses forward toward what was once the main gate.
Sir Rihan remained deathly silent, gripping his staff until his knuckles paled.
The woman trailed slender fingers along a fallen arch as they passed by, as if grasping at a long forgotten memory. Returning her hand to her reins, she lightly brushed the dust between her fingers.
Stones lay at haphazard angles, shells of homes and halls vaguely discernible. Many were blackened from fire or overgrown with vine and brush, several trees grown up through their centers. Even the cobblestone that once lined the streets had been long covered by grass and moss.
Shadows danced across remains of broken statues and abandoned carts. Occasionally bats or birds would scatter from dark corners when the light touched them, their flaps and screeches startling. Ngarna had become home to wild things now, humanity only vaguely remembered by fragments and memory.
But there were still a few who remembered.
When they came to a rounded opening surrounded by fragments of pillars, they halted. This had been the city center and a marketplace, once bustling with merchants and townspeople. In the center there was the remains of a stone fountain, the statue of a rearing dragon perched on top. One of its wings had been shattered and the base was mostly concealed by vines.
The woman dismounted her horse at the edge of the round, gripping her staff in her left hand.
“Here.” She stated simply, motioning for Sir Rihan to also dismount.
Sir Rihan dismounted slowly, both hands gripping his staff.
The air was still, not a soul to be seen.
“There’s no one here.” Sir Rihan whispered, his voice growing strained with tension.
“They will come,” She said, holding her own staff with its base planted on the ground in front of her, the pale light at its flame-like head dimming slightly. Inside its white pronged head was a glowing silver stone, pearl-like in its iridescence and the center of its magic. The head connected to the slender handle by carvings of two intertwining wings.
A few moments of heavy silence passed. Sir Rihan strode forward a couple paces, dark eyes tracing every corner of the shadows.
“I question the intentions of anyone that would choose a place like this to deliver a message. At night, no less. We shouldn’t have come.”
He turned as though he was going to remount his horse when he was stopped mid-stride by the woman’s staff on his chest.
At first he glanced down at the staff, then back up at the woman. Her once shadowed face was barely illuminated by the light of their staffs, pale eyes unflinching. She held her staff firmly at his chest for a moment, then lowered it slowly.
“You’re right. You should question intentions.” She turned the staff in a circle before planting it between the toes of her boots. “Perhaps then, you might not fear what you do not understand.”
Just then there was a deep rumbling that began from beneath their feet. It was soft at first, like a distant stampede approaching. It then grew in intensity until the rocks around and beneath them trembled.
Sir Rihan wheeled in all directions, confusion painting his face. He pointed his staff in front of himself ready to strike, throwing his other arm out in front of the woman as a guard. He had been trained to protect higher orders at all costs, even above his own life.
“What in God’s name…” he started. The rumbling turned into the sound of cracking and tearing all around their feet. Stones could be heard tumbling from their tilted perches.
The woman remained still, the golden light on her staff melting into a deep blue. Suddenly the ground began break all about in small bursts, long fragments of something unknown rising from the earth. The fragments hurtled into the air and seemed to float there, all suspended by an invisible force. Some were as larger, while others were only the length of a forearm. But they all emerged from the ground, twisting and floating haphazardly in the air around and above them.
Sir Rihan’s eyes widened in both confusion and shock.
“This is a cursed place indeed! We need to get out. Now.”
As he began to turn he suddenly stopped, a grunt of air forcing out from his lips. He doubled over, looking down in shock at a dagger that had just cleaved through his middle. At the hilt of the dagger stood the woman, the dagger in one hand and her staff in the other.
“Yes, Sir Rihan. But before you go, I’ll be needing this.” With not so much as a blink she wrenched his staff from his hand, Sir Rihan dropping heavily to his knees. Shock covered his face, mouth agape and eyes wild. He gripped at the dagger, blood soaking his hands through his tunic.
“Why…?” He rasped, expression pained and disbelieving.
“I’m sorry it had to be this way, Sir Rihan. But rest easy knowing your staff energy will have been essential in the dawning of a new age.” She thrust her arm back and released the dagger from his belly, another gasp of air rushing from his throat. With a low grunt, he fell forward to his face, dead. “And also because you serve the wretched man that calls himself King.”
She wiped from the blood of the dagger on the grass and sheathed it in its place beneath her cloak. Her face blanched and twisted as she looked upon Sir Rihan. His face lie buried in the grass, blood pooling beneath him.
Sniffing once, she wiped her hands on her tunic and stepped around him.
All of the fragments still hung in the air, so numerous they clouded the sky.
They were all bones. Bones of all who had died here in the invasion and many more.
The woman closed her eyes, gripping her staff in one hand and Sir Rihan’s staff in the other. At her neck hung a thin chain with a spherical brass pendant, the size of the ball much larger than it ought to be for the chain. The necklace began to hum, a deep vibration rattling against her chest. Light from both staffs streamed out in all directions, clinging to each bone and enveloping them. All of the bones that hung in the air turned and twisted, magnetizing toward each other in the center. There were thousands of them, all swarming together in a writhing cloud.
Eventually they began to cluster and take shape, the shape crude and monstrous. But as they locked together and formed the shape became clearer; a beast with four legs, a serpentine neck, and two arching wings.
This was a dragon, a dragon made from bones that were not its own.
It had a wedge shaped head with two straight horns, eyes igniting like blue lanterns inside its skull. As it formed with greater detail it began working its jaw, razor-like teeth lining its mouth. It seemed to move of its own accord, even as light from the staffs filled its growing body.
The streams of light from the staffs stopped until the light from Sir Rihan’s staff winked out completely, like an extinguished flame. She opened her eyes, discarding the staff to the side as though it were a simple branch. It landed with a dull thud, the yellow gem still remaining. Though now it had lost its gleam, dulled and lifeless as it’s owner.
The dragon stretched its head into the black of the night and released a guttural roar, hinged jaw bared wide. Blue light glowed from within every notched surface of its body, glowing brightest within the chest.
A small spiral of blue smoke curled from its nose as it angled its wide head down, lowering until it was nearly level with the woman.
“Why have you awaken me?” Said a voice like thunder and dry sand, though the dragon’s mouth remained motionless.
The woman stared up at the dragon, unyielding.
“I have come to fulfill my purpose. Arise and avenge the blood of Ngarna.”
The dragon rose on its great haunches, stretching barred wings so wide they nearly brushed the pillars that surrounded them.
It roared again, this time so loud it shook the stones.
The woman raised her chin in quiet gratification, her pendant humming in response. She gazed up in thoughtful silence at the Hall of Kings and the emptiness that pervaded it.
“Come, beast. We have work to do.”
About the Creator
Very well written. Keep up the good work!
Original narrative & well developed characters