The Demon Beneath the Dragon's Shadow
Everyone in Irkalla knew that the prince was demon-touched.
The heinous rumor began where most do, in the Church of the Eternal in the capital city of Anglafalla.
The prince of the realm was brought before the priests a week after his birth, as is tradition for any new babe in the Irkallan royal family. Swaddled in the deep blacks and reds of his house, he was pink-cheeked and healthy, a vibrant babe with his mother’s nose and his late father’s pronounced chin.
He was welcomed warmly. Hopes were high that this next generation would have a deeper bond with the church, and thus a more direct line between the church and the throne could be established, but it would be a wish quickly snatched away.
That fateful day, his mother, the good dowager Queen Marienne, passed the babe into the arms of one of the priests, who brought the princeling to the dais and the delicate golden bowl of holy water placed atop it. There, he dipped his wrinkled fingers into the tepid liquid and brought them to the child’s head. Ancient words of blessing floated from his mouth as the priest traced the sacred crescents on the babe’s skin.
But as soon as the holy water made contact, it sizzled, a small cloud of steam rising up from where the priest's fingers had lain.
To the horror of the Queen and the priests, the babe began to laugh gleefully as the rest of the water boiled off his skin, and he continued to laugh during the rest of the trip back to his crib in the castle.
Priests are not known for having loose tongues, but the deacons watching the ceremony from the pews were not so tight-lipped. The very next day, the seeds for the prince’s demon ties were sewn among the common folk who frequented the church.
After, away from the prying eyes of the court and the holy men, the prince was given the name Gabriel Eligor, the first of his name, and the heir apparent of the Irkallan throne.
He would never again return to the Church of the Eternal.
A few months later, a serving girl found the infant Grabriel chewing on an object in his room. Concerned that it was not one of his toys, she rushed to remove it from his grasp, only to scream out in horror when she saw luminescent feathers sticking out between his teeth.
The prince had somehow acquired one of the messenger hummingbirds and shoved it fully into his mouth.
The poor girl ran out screaming, her skirts covered in tiny splatters of the creature's blood. She sent for a folk healer who struggled to free the corpse from Gabriel’s hold. The man had to remove the bird piece by piece, with Gabriel giggling during the entire encounter.
Later that day, the entire court was a buzz with the news of the prince’s unusual appetite, with the final nail in the coffin being the quiet removal of the servant girl, who was seen leaving the castle with a hefty coin purse.
From then on, no one doubted that something was terribly wrong with the princeling.
Then, at the age of three, Gabriel began vanishing from the castle grounds.
The first time, the entire court was in a panic. Despite the rumors, Gabriel was the only living heir to the late king. As such, the initial culprit was kidnapping. A prince of the realm would fetch a hefty price from the crown and would cause utter chaos in the line of succession.
Others who fully bought into the demon influence upon the prince began to wonder if it was a demon possessing him that forced him out of the castle, or even worse, that the prince was a demon himself, and had used unholy powers to walk through the walls.
He was found hours after his vanishing, unharmed, sat atop a wheat barrel in the city square. The common folk had thought him to be an abandoned child, so no one alerted the city guards until a royal guard from the castle recognized the prince’s bright blonde hair and freshly washed clothes.
None of the theories among the court were to be answered. Instead, they only grew as month after month, and year after year, Gabriel Eligor would vanish, leaving his wet nurses, his guards, and his mother the Queen in a state of confusion, fear, and paranoia.
He was nicknamed “The Vanisher Prince” by the common folk. It was all for a good laugh at the local taverns, but for the court, the church, and the High Council, the prince’s abilities and demonic symptoms were becoming worrisome.
Two years after the first vanishing, a new disappearing act swept the court up in a gossiping frenzy.
“They’ve sent out twelve of the royal guard! Did they find him?”
“I’ve heard from my servant that they discovered him on the other side of the city wall...apparently alone with some vagrant.”
“Communing with his demon no doubt.”
“That doesn’t require half of the royal guard though...it’s something else this time.”
The whispers hushed as the massive doors of the throne room were pushed open, revealing two royal guards in their red armor and silver cloaks. They marched purposefully through the long, arched space, parting the lords and ladies to reach the stone platform which seated the Irkallan throne.
It was an old thing. Nothing large or magnificent like the castle that housed it. The throne gave off a slick sheen, like the cracked rock that made up the chair had been dunked in oil.
Queen Marienne sat atop it, her white knuckles flexing over the armrests while her black and red skirts flowed effortlessly into a pool around her feet.
“Your Grace, I have come bearing news on the prince’s situation,” one of the guards said.
The Queen leaned forward. “Approach the throne, commander O’Connell.”
The commander of the royal guard bowed and then stepped up onto the platform with the Queen, lowering his voice. “I’m afraid we are unable to bring the prince home.”
The Queen sighed, closing her dark eyes briefly. “What is it this time? Another farmer? A traveler? A wandering troupe? At least tell me he is safe.”
“He is safe...as can be in his current location,” O’Connell assured her. “The problem, however, is that there is...an obstacle barring the men’s way to the prince.”
“Speak plainly. I highly doubt it’s worse than what the sheep of the court have come up with.”
O’Connell paused, swallowing before responding. “It’s...it’s a dragon, my Queen.”
Horror washed over the Queen’s features, her skin paling and her knuckles tightening to the point of nearly bursting through the skin of her hands. Several of the lords and ladies who had inched closer to the dais to eavesdrop retreated at the sight.
“Where is my son, O’Connell?”
“In the eastern woods, your grace. We found him sitting under the beast’s shadow.”
“Has he been injured?”
“No. The prince is...giggling.”
The Queen rose, her skirts falling in place around her legs. “Take me there.”
The court noticed the Queen standing up from her throne. Many began to whisper again in earnest.
The second guard who still stood at the bottom of the platform raised his brow at the Queen’s command, looking to O’Connell who looked like he wanted to shove the Queen back into her seat.
“My Queen, it’s too dangerous. Let the men-”
“My child is in danger, Commander. Dragon or no, I will have him safely returned to me. Unless you think you and your men will do the job instead?”
The commander lowered his head in shame. He did not have the heart to out his men on feelings that at this point he believed were valid. Most were not willing to risk their lives for a prince they believed to be tainted by evil.
And so, the Queen swept out of the throne room, followed by the two royal guardsmen and three of her personal guardsmen. She ordered her handmaidens to bring her a set of her most fire-resistant armor and to have a fresh horse prepared for the journey to the wall.
Within the hour she departed the castle with O'Connell and the other men, galloping headlong through the crowded streets and dark cobblestone pathways. At the eastern gate, the guardsmen there lifted the iron-wrought fortification and let the Queen through. Many of them marked the holy crescents over their hearts as she passed.
The woods beyond loomed dark and misty, like the many shadows cast by the gothic towers of the castle behind them. It immediately set the Queen in a tilting unease, which only heightened as they crossed onto the dirt path that cut through the heart of the forest, and she saw the twelve guardsmen that had been sent out scattered in a disorganized array.
Three were sat apart from the others. Two lay still, their armor smoking, their flesh unrecognizable on the inside. The third clutched his un-armored face and eyes and wailed quietly.
Marienne quickly dismounted with O’Connell and the others followed suit. She hurried straight to the outcasts, kneeling next to the wailing man and the smoking corpses.
“Shh, shush, my child.” The Queen whispered, laying a hand on the soldier’s plated shoulder. The man, a boy no older than eighteen years, flinched, then relaxed at the Queen’s expression. “Please, rest now.”
“Take these men away,” O’Connell ordered the others standing nearby, their shocked expressions at seeing their Queen in person wiping away at their commander’s request.
As the bodies were picked up, Marienne turned her attention to the darkest part of the woods before her, where one massive hulking shape cast a shadow on the entire party.
The Queen had never seen a dragon, despite their common sightings outside the city among the small farming villages. No doubt it was the combined work of the church and whatever mysterious power each monarch had carried since the beginning of the Eligor Dynasty that had kept the beasts from wandering the skies above the capitol.
Her husband never bothered to explain the visions or his strange abilities. She was simply met with silence whenever she asked, or when she insisted on an explanation when he would wake up screaming in the middle of the night.
Now she wondered if one of those nights he had seen his unborn son in the shadow of a dragon such as this.
“They’ve attempted luring it away with fresh meat from the butcher’s market, but it did not stir,” O'Connell said, interrupting the Queen’s disturbing thoughts.
Her eyes tracked the curling shape of dark, glittering scales and cracked leather skin, hoping to spot the small, blonde boy that was her son. But the dragon cast such a dark shadow that not even her child's bright curls could be seen. The large oak trees surrounding them did not help either.
“Did those men go in?” She asked, referring back to the ones now being loaded onto a cart, soon to be taken back to the city to be buried.
O'Connell nodded, his dark skin glistening with sweat despite the cool, misty air. “That’s what I was just told. They walked up, and the dragon turned on them and... well, you know the rest.”
She could see it then, the long scorch mark on the forest floor, and two human-shaped spots where the fire had not burned the grass and leaves beneath.
“Forgive me, for earlier...” Queen Marienne said. “Your men have tried their best. I cannot expect them to risk their lives in such a horrific manner.”
O’Connell bowed his head. “It’s our sworn duty, your Majesty. Now it’s my turn to attempt where they have fallen.”
The Queen turned, her armor clanking. “No, O’Connell. You are too important to the crown to be risked. As his mother, it’s my turn now to retrieve him.”
“You think a Queen is less important than a commander?”
“Don’t argue, please,” she snapped, gathering her red cape up onto her arm, preparing to use it as some sort of cover from the flames. Surely anything was better than nothing? She did not like the idea of being cooked from inside her armor.
Stern hands grasped her by the shoulders, straightening her to look directly into the commander’s brown eyes. “This is not an argument, Marienne, this is a plea!”
The two stared each other down as a loud sigh and a distinct reptilian hiss echoed beyond them.
The Queen’s eyes looked sideways frantically, looking for her boy, then back to the man that held her in a death’s grip.
“The boy needs a father, Michael.”
The commander gave pause at his given name, his hands loosening on her armored shoulders.
“And he needs a mother.”
Marienne shook her head, her eyes becoming watery and distorted. “I have failed him, O’Connell. More times than I can count. Let me do this. It will be okay.”
Michael O’Connell tightened his grip once more, fear and sorrow hardening his face. He doubted he could let go, but somehow, he did.
He watched as his Queen and dearest friend turned and walked away from him, and slipped into the dark shadow of the dragon.
Marienne Eligor, Queen of Irkalla, had never known darkness quite like this.
She realized quickly that the shadow cast by the dragon was not its actual shadow, but rather some sort of strange covering or protection it was letting off, for, on the other side of the void, she found the dragon to be much, much smaller.
It was nothing more than a hatchling with two small curved horns that pointed backward away from its face. Its wings, horns, and extremities were a dark and ruddy red, with tiny black scales outlining the rest of its little frame.
The strange shadows lingered around the hatchling, however, warning her from getting any closer to the small creature that had seemed so terrifying on the outside.
The Queen jerked in place at the sound of a voice splitting the darkness. She spun around until she saw her blonde-haired boy standing a few feet away from the dragon, his little hands reaching out toward her.
“Gabriel!” She gasped. She ran to him and scooped him up in her arms, grasping his small frame tightly. “Oh, my sweet child, you have worried me to the bone!”
The boy felt cold but otherwise seemed unharmed as the guards had reported. As she pulled away to look for other possible marks or injuries, she saw his grey eyes, blind since birth, roam around before settling off to one side beyond her shoulder. “I’m sorry, papa was calling me.”
The Queen froze, pulling further away from him. “Your father? My son, you know he’s no longer of this world.”
“But I heard him!” Gabriel cried. “I always hear him. He said he needed help!”
The Queen gathered the boy to her chest, looking around the space with a more critical eye. There were no symbols, no scratched or painted circles, and no signs of demonic summonings in the area.
She was told early on in her short marriage to the King of Irkalla, that once he had passed, he would never truly be dead, at least not to the demons that still tried to influence their world.
His voice could be used, and his visage mimicked. Only temporarily, but enough to cause a young boy to become confused and experience something that he thought was his father.
“We need to leave, Gabriel. Your father is not here. You’ve never met him, never knew his voice. You must promise me to block out that voice now, do you understand?”
Her son shook his head, tears welling up in his eyes. He was nearly five, but now he seemed no more than a crying babe. “No, no! I don’t believe you! He’s here! He found me when I got lost in the woods.”
“Where, Gabriel? Where is this monster you are calling father?”
To anyone on the outside, asking a blind toddler to point to a physical object or figure would seem ludicrous, but for an Eligor child, born blind or not, they always seemed to know when an enemy was nearby.
He pointed over her shoulder where his eyes had been, back to the curled-up shape of the hatchling dragon.
That’s when she saw the circle, gouged into the grass haphazardly, as if someone had been in a rush or compelled by force, directly beneath the hatchling. Seven smaller circles curled within the boundary, and the unmistakable letters of the demon language were carved further in.
“What? But, Momma-”
“I said, run, Gabriel!”
His mother’s shout silenced the boy, and he turned and ran away from her, vanishing through the dark curtain of shadow and fog.
A cold, slimy presence trickled down her spine then, and a voice she recognized as her late husband's echoed in her ears.
“Tsk, tsk. A poor little lamb has lost her way...has your God abandoned you to the wilderness like all the others?”
The Queen was a block of ice. She refused to move, refused to look behind her as the sounds of shuffling and wings beating became increasingly louder.
“The boy will never escape my shadow, Dowager Queen. No matter how many times you try to steer him away from me.”
Marienne’s breath shuddered, her chest rising and falling sporadically. “Silence, Demon! Your words have no power here!”
An annoyed snort blew strands of her hair next to her cheek. “Spoken like a true follower of the faith,” it spat.
Then she was kicked, her body rolling helplessly until she slammed into a nearby tree trunk.
She struggled to look up, finding the fires of hell gazing back at her wearing the late King’s face.
It turned from her, a pair of half-formed wings raised behind its back, the same coloring that had been on the hatchling now on its bare skin and wicked appendages.
The shadow of horns grew tall over its skull, curling upward, reminding the Queen of the gentle grazing animals that roamed the plains, or perhaps more fittingly, of a twisted crown.
No, not my son. You can’t have my son!
She grunted, rolling up onto her feet. Her ribs were broken, but she hobbled after the demon as it walked toward the path her son had taken. She was ignored as she reached out, grasping at one of its wings, and tore into the surprisingly delicate membrane.
It shrieked, clearly surprised to see that she was still moving. But instead of anger, she saw a ghost of a smile and a spark in its sightless eyes.
“You will regret this choice, mortal queen.”
Several tense minutes later, the prince emerged from the shadow of the dragon unharmed.
The commander and several guards ran up to the prince, surrounding him as they escorted him away from the shape of the beast that was suddenly beginning to dissolve.
The Queen was spotted soon after, kneeling limply in the flattened circle of grass, absent of any dragon, or demon. Her hands rested in her lap, dripping with blood. Within their grasp, she held her eyes, pried from her skull seemingly by her own hands.
She gave no explanation to her guards. She simply requested calmly that her removed parts be burned, that her son be swiftly returned to the castle, and that a priest be summoned from the Church of the Eternal.
All of her requests were met, except one. Her eyes turned to smoke in her hands as soon as they left the woods, much to the shock and horror of the commander and the guards who witnessed it.
In the following days, every single guardsman was interrogated, blessed, and cleansed by a priest, and then sworn to secrecy. Should they ever speak of what happened in the eastern woods that day, they would be executed for treason.
A month later, the Kind Queen Marienne Eligor would pass, leaving her young son in the hands of her sworn protector and companion, Michael O’Connell. Most of the court would say her death was from the stress of dealing with the infamous "Vanisher Prince" and the demon influence upon him, but the ones who attended her and who had seen the wounds would know that it was a fiery infection that had taken her.
Many years later, once the prince was sixteen, he was crowned king before his people, the court, and the High Council with many foreign nobles in attendance, including the commander of the Royal Guard who had become the boy’s sworn sword and protector.
That day, as the crown was placed over his eyes as was the custom for every Eligor sovereign, the commander noticed with horror the smoking visage of horns above the boy’s head. It was brief, but it was enough to convince the commander to hang his silver cape and leave the castle walls behind.
The boy was named King Gabriel Eligor, the first of his name, protector of Anglafalla, and ruler of Irkalla. He would no longer carry the nickname “Vanisher Prince”, but instead would come to be known by a new name in the years to come by all who would treat with him.
King Gabriel Eligor, the Demon Crowned.
About the author
Book hoarder, fantasy author, gaming goblin. I love all things fantasy and have a lot of thoughts on today's stories in anime, books, tv, and games. Subscribe to my free newsletter at amandastarks.com for monthly updates!