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The Fall of Valongard

by John Moore 4 months ago in Short Story · updated 4 months ago
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Fantasy Prologue

There weren't always dragons in the Valley. At least that’s what the village elders claimed. The old men couldn’t say when the dragons had first made their way south to the verdant valley. All they could say for sure was the dragons arrived in a time far beyond living memory. The people of the Valley called it Kidron after their name for the hot springs that bubbled up from the ground, warming and nourishing the valley floor. The Valley dug long furrows, deep and green, on the surface of the continent which was otherwise nothing more than drab desert. Kidron wound its way for hundreds of leagues, following the hot spring rivulets. The great canyon walls rose miles above the Valley floor, touching the sky in rocky crenellations. It was along these outcroppings that their ancestors first saw the dragons.

Lights in the sky heralded the dragons’ arrival, or so the stories said. The powers that fueled the creatures pulsed along the length of their bodies during flight, disappearing only when the dragons were on the hunt. At dusk and dawn, when the dull red glow of the sun began to light the sky, the dragons would sing and the rim of the Valley danced with light. Brilliant blues and greens bit into the sunset as the creatures took to the air to hunt or tended the nests of their young.

Though the stories described the creatures as closely resembling the reptilian desert monitors that would occasionally tumble into the Valley, the dragons sported broad, membranous wings on their front limbs. They rose elegantly into the air, graceful in a way that belied the true strength of the creatures. The body of a young adult dragon was slightly larger than the draft horses the people of the Valley used to tow the ore from the mines and farm their narrow fields. The largest of the great beasts ever seen in the skies above Kidron was said to rival the size of a small house.

The old stories told of these things and many more. What they never said was why the dragons had come, or why they had left. So much of the history of the world had been lost to time, yet the dragons were present in all of the stories. At least, they were in all of the important stories. As is the case with so many of the ancient tales, separating fact from fiction proved all but impossible, but even the old men found it hard to believe the dragons of old to be anything more than fairy tales to keep the children from scaling the walls of the valley and venturing into the desert beyond.

— — —

The new year was coming soon and with it the spring. Yuri loved this time of year more than anything else. Not only was it the beginning of the brief handful of warm months, but with every new year the elders would recount the story of the Founding. Yuri would sit with his family and the rest of his village around the great fires as the elders recounted the Telling of the World. The stories varied with the teller, and even with the night should one of them be well into his cups, but they all came back to some common threads. Namely, the Tale of Foundation and Fall.

Old Symo began with the tale of the sailors who crossed a vast, dark ocean from their homeland. A great storm blew their ship off course and took them far from the lands they knew. So powerful was the storm that eventually its cyclone would swallow the entire ocean. Such a storm had never been seen before nor since. Their navigators were skilled sailors and rode the mighty tempest, but as they came within sight of land, the storm drove their ship onto rocky shoals. When the storm finally passed, their ship lay broken on the shore, never to sail again. But her crew and passengers were safe.

They found themselves in a desolate land, far away to the north. The ocean they had so recently sailed was gone, replaced by a shallow and stagnant sea. Whatever reason drove these ancient mariners to sail from their native lands, the way home was closed to them forever. In the place of green countryside, only desolation greeted them in this strange country. Desolation and the dragons who dwelt there.

Now these ancient men and women wielded weapons of immense power, weapons capable of harnessing the strength of the earth itself. With this magic at their fingertips, they drove the dragons and the great desert monitors from their ancestral nesting grounds into the great northern peaks. As the human warriors conquered this new land, the Order of Lifebringers followed in their wake. The land had long been desolate; but as the humans drove the native monsters deeper into the desert, their Lifebringers wove threads of vitality throughout the lowlands and valleys. They called deep into the ground and brought forth water. With water, the first crops could be sown, and the herds brought with them from their far flung homeland could graze.

Symo danced around the fire, still nimble for an old man, as he told the tale of the Lifebringers. His sing-song voice floated through the cool night as a flute played in gentle accompaniment. He pointed to the great Alma tree at the center of the village and declared this the greatest gift of their ancestors. Yuri knew this to be true. Wasn’t it the Alma trees that pulled up water from the deep places of the world? The elders claimed the Valley was one of the few places where the trees still grew. Wherever an Alma tree stood, life was sure to be close by as well.

As Symo sang the tale, he came close to the base of the great Alma, the largest in the Valley, and placed his hand upon its mighty trunk.

“Were it always to be,” Symo said sadly, for the first time a hint of his age creeping into his voice.

Tyri stood from among the crowd as Symo sank down to sit at the base of the tree. A much younger man than Symo, Tyri only recently assumed his family’s seat on the elder council. The flute faded and a drum began to beat as The Tale of Foundation ended and the Tale of the Fall began. Yuri sat with rapt attention as his father began his song.

The men of old raised a great citadel in the north which they named Valongard in honor of their long lost native land. From this bastion, the green fields of the Lifebringers spread in all directions. Plant life sprang forth around their towers as the magic they weaved took hold of the land and spread. In the way that a festering wound spreads and brings death, so did the towers spread their influence and bring life. In these days of expansion and growth, the Lifebringers transformed the Alma trees from the scrub bush of its beginnings into the verdant, life-giving tree upon which Kidron thrived. Where the Lifebringers could not build a tower, they planted an Alma tree.

The beat of the drums sounded to the rhythm of a beating heart, beginning slowly as Tyri picked up the tale of human expansion into the desert. The pace quickened almost imperceptibly until everyone around the bonfire leaned forward in anticipation. Every beat of the drum was a footstep of mankind ever deeper into the wilderness they meant to tame.

“The Lifebringers did not walk alone!” Tyri’s voice raised high into the night as stars and embers mingled overhead.

The Knights of the Citadel marched forth in defense of the Lifebringer's towers. For a land so long devoid of water and life, the oasis around each tower proved a tempting buffet to the creatures of the desert. The desert monitors of old were fearsome creatures, each the size of a barn, or so Tyri proclaimed. Yuri had hoped his father would keep that part in his story. He liked the monsters to be big. It made the heroes that much braver for fighting them. The monitors descended on the towers in a frenzy, devouring the outermost settlements entirely before the knights could arrive and drive them off with their fiery swords.

After this slaughter, oaths were taken, and the Knights rode out side by side with the Lifebringers. Fire and water conquered the desert for humanity, and the kingdom around the Citadel grew. This was all in the faraway north, and mighty as the kingdom was, her Lifebringers were too few and her Knights spread too thinly to venture far afield in force. Certainly, they could not have reached as far south as Kidron without great loss.

The monitors struck back from the depths of the desert, and the dragons swept down from the heights of the mountains. Stymied in their advance, the men and women of the kingdom consolidated their gains as the monsters of land and air chipped away at their holdings. But at least for a time, humanity held dominion over the land and the kingdom prospered. The King, long beset by beasts on every front, set a great plan in motion that would once and for all conquer the entirety of the earth for humanity.

The drum beats came to a stop with a great flourish, and Tyri continued on alone in his strong baritone.

“The Old King sent forth his servants, Lifebringer and Knight together, to the four corners of the world. Two by two they went across the Grey Sea and Ash Wastes. From the North, they went East and West and South. They carried with them the seeds of humanity’s domain.” Tyri cast an arm wide, gesturing to the great Alma under whose branches Symo sat in rapt attention. “They sped across the face of the earth, on horses that trod the desert sands and the clouds of the sky beneath their hooves. They sowed the remade Alma far and wide. So numerous would they be that the great monitors would drown in the waters brought forth by their roots.

“Alas,” he continued woefully, “the great dream of humanity was not to be.”

The Tale of Ending poured forth from Tyri as the drums resumed. Only now it wasn’t the rhythm of a heartbeat but the drums of war. The dragons flew out of the great mountain ranges of the north. With them flew something far larger, far older and far more deadly. Drakes, born in the heart of the mountains, descended upon the Citadel from on high spewing fire from their snouts and unleashing vortices with every flap of their mighty wings. With his forces spread thin and so many Knights abroad, the King led what remained of the Citadel garrison into battle against the great monsters. He unleashed the full arsenal of his greatest fortress on the invaders: sword and spear, fire and water, steel and magic. Every weapon at his disposal turned towards the sky.

Drake and dragon fell to the ground, tearing great rents in the fields in their death throes, but more rose into the sky for every beast that fell. The King’s Knights were hard pressed to stymy the advance of the great beasts, and their blood watered the fields the Lifebringers had toiled for so long to make green.

The drakes and their dragons were too many for the armies of Valongard to fight off. At the height of the battle, the King rose to meet the largest drake in the skies over the vast fields surrounding the Citadel. Fires lit the earth as King and beast met in furious battle. He struck the beast with sword and light, his spear flashing with the power of the sun as it slashed into the belly of the beast. But he could not land a killing blow. The furious drake blasted balefire onto the King as a shimmering bubble of water steamed to life around him. The fires abated and the King was falling, steam and smoke trailing from his armor, his steed broken and lifeless as they plunged to the earth.

The King’s body was caught by smaller dragons as he fell. They tore into the dead monarch, cracking his armor to eat at the cooked flesh beneath. With a roar of triumph, the great drake led a flight of smaller beasts directly into the heart of the city. The King’s eldest son and the remaining Knights retreated into the Citadel for a final stand, hoping their mighty walls would allow them time to regroup. Blade and magic might yet carry the day.

It was not to be. The great drake shattered the highest tower and dragons flooded into its halls, slaughtering as they went. Tyri paused then as the drums shifted their cadence once again. This time they played the rhythm of the funeral dirge known throughout the Valley.

“Who can say what happened in that ancient fortress? Who can speak of the deeds of those heroes in their darkest hour? In the end, they chose to meet death on their own terms. With his father dead, the Prince held the full power of the Kingdom, and he unleashed it all to destroy their attackers…and in so doing, destroyed the great city itself. Those far away from the battle, told of a second sun rising that day. When it vanished into the sky, the gleaming towers of the Citadel of Valongard were gone without a trace.”

Tyri bowed his head and drifted back into the crowd as Kharvl stood and began the story of the survivors. Yuri knew that story well, and beautiful though it was, his favorite had just been told. All his life, he wished he could be a Knight, wielding sword and flame at the front of mankind’s armies as they pushed the monsters of the desert back. He crouched and scurried away from the bonfire, earning himself no small number of scowls from the villagers he disturbed. Yuri didn’t care, he always sat with his father during the New Year’s feast, and this year would be no exception.

He slinked through the crowds and eased himself beside his father, who gave him a silent smile and pulled him into an embrace. Tyri turned his attention back to the story, as an elder he needed to know the tales in all their forms. Yuri had many years ahead of him, he could learn them all and still be a youth. Instead, he turned his eyes to the inky black night and the stars piercing the darkness.

A shimmer caught his eye, green and blue against the black expanse of night. Visions of dragons danced in his imagination. Were they back? He wondered as he scanned the sky for another flash. But no creatures of myth descended from the skies. The stars shimmered as they always did, without so much as the shadow of a bird to blot them out. Stars fell periodically over Kidron, it must have been nothing more than that.

For as much as he loved the old stories, he didn’t want to actually meet a dragon face to face. At least, not unless he became a Knight, then it would be his job. It occurred to him as the story of Kidron was retold that the dragons came to the Valley after the Fall of Valongard. But they never mentioned the dragons actually attacking the people in the villages. They were always just there. Until one day they weren’t. They just disappeared and became nothing more than the legends he knew.

Kharvl continued the tale, but Yuri wandered in his thoughts of lost dragons. Where had they gone? Why had they left? Were they still out there? Maybe his father knew the answer. Yuri would have to wait until after the new year’s feast to ask him though. They would have plenty of time soon as Yuri neared the age of manhood. Soon he would be accompanying his father to the mines as he learned a trade. He just had to be patient, something that doesn’t come naturally to a boy of the Valley.

Yuri sighed and turned his attention back to Kharvl as the story of the Valley, their home, was woven into the night. His questions could wait, at least until tomorrow.

Short Story

About the author

John Moore

Engineer who wants to go pro at writing. Lover of all things sci-fi and fantasy.

Catholic trying to balance faith and reason in my work and build something beautiful along the way.

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