There weren’t always dragons in the Valley.
They’ve come from the East where their lands are vast and their mountains are mighty. Since the beginning of time, they’ve thrived within their homes of towering trees and deep in their ocean depths. They’ve stayed hidden in the mountains overlooking Armenia and burrowed deep into the earth, unbothered, unshaken.
Dragons, ancient creatures who bow to no man and heed not the laws that govern mortal lives. Their massive figures, covered in rough black scales, are more durable than any shield and strong enough to protect them from any blade.
Their wings span the length of Narin Plains, their fangs like the sharpest blades. Their fighting prowess has known no equal, some even say that this is a dragon's world, and we just live in it.
Yet, still, every creature knows fear and not even dragons are above such things.
So why have they come to the Valley?
Why have they left their homes of endless terrain and unquestioned rule, what could be drawing the dragons away?
Or… what could they be running from?
“What’s that you’re writing, dear?”
Her train of thought is split and she swiftly lifts her head, smiling at her mother’s adoring look.
The Royal carriage has been humming along peacefully since the early hours of the morning. The sun is now high above their heads and her legs are getting sleepy from sitting for so long, but it's bearable thanks to the plush satin benches.
Eagerly, with all the energy of a twelve-year-old, she thrusts the intricately designed journal from her lap into her mother's hands, where she peers at the neat handwriting curiously.
“I’m writing of our journey, mother!” The young girl exclaims, nodding fervently when her mother lets out a soft “really now?”
“Mhm! Byron has been letting me read the stories of the Legendary Heroes so I thought I would write one about Alessor the Great so that his greatest deed can also be recorded for our history.”
Her mother, the Queen, looks up at her with a smile that doesn’t quite reach her eyes. “That’s very sweet of you, Irene, but you aren’t letting those stories get in the way of your proper studies, are you?”
Irene feels a frown tug at the corners of her mouth and hides it with a brighter smile. “Of course not mother, see, look at how much my writing has improved!” She leans forward to point enthusiastically at the journal still in the Queen’s hands.
“What’s this you’ve written at the bottom here?” The Queen asks as the journal is passed back to her daughter, but Irene already knows what she’s referring to; her ominous and ambiguous ending.
But it’s only the ending of the prologue, she hasn’t even started writing the real story yet, and if there’s one thing she’s learned from reading tales of past Heroes, it's that every story starts with a bit of thrill and foreboding.
“What makes you think the dragons are being chased out?”
Irene tilts her head, humming thoughtfully. “It’s not actually real, mother. Byron said that all the greatest tales are sprinkled with a bit of fiction, so… I thought it would help make Alessor’s tale seem more daring.”
Her mother smiles and nods gently, then leans forward to point near the top of the page. “As long as we get some of the facts right. Dragons grow no bigger than the cottages outside of the City.”
Irene heaves a sigh. “I know, but that’s so dull! All the best stories have great, big dragons who breathe fire and have teeth that can cut through anything!”
“But it’s still important to separate the facts from the fiction, isn’t it, dear?” The groan comes from her father who has been slumped on the bench beside her mother with his chin in his hand since the morning.
They’ve been on the road for four days and he’s spent the majority of the trip somber and miserable, like a child that’s been denied an extra pastry.
A fortnight ago, a great tremor shook the world and was cause for a wide panic throughout the City of Aramore, and her father, the King, was quick to send out a small group of scouts to identify where the tremor had come from to quell the rising alarm.
When they returned, days and three mild tremors later, they were breathless and terrified and told the King that it was the ancient dormant volcano, Domon, that caused such movement.
Irene had been spying on her father and his advisors in the council chambers after the news of Domon reached them and heard the advisors urging her father to call upon Alessor the Great, one of the last Sorcerers in Aramore, to stop the eruption.
“Think of the response, Your Majesty,” they told him. “When word spreads that it will be Alessor the Great who saves us from the threat of Domon, everyone in the neighboring countries will know that there are still powerful Sorcerers in our lands.”
“It would be impossible to doubt our power then, Sire.”
So her father heeded their words and sent a letter to the old Sorcerer, and that was that.
Afterward, Irene had begged and begged and begged her father to let her accompany the Sorcerer, to see with her very own eyes the act of real magic performed by one of their greatest mediums.
Her father refused, but her mother thought it was a splendid idea and chose to accompany her, which led to her father begrudgingly agreeing to go along and witness Alessor the Great’s expert display of magic as well.
The rest of the City was urged to join too (Irene can imagine the advisors whispering to her father “the more witnesses, the faster the news will spread”) and soon it turned into a grand event, with Lords from all over Armenia arriving with their retainers and Knights.
Those among the common folk who could afford the trip decided to join the procession, and Irene knew that there would be food and games and other festivities all throughout the journey.
She couldn’t have been happier.
Irene looks to her father who has now shut his eyes, his unruly curled brown hair always a mess in the mornings, something she inherited from him.
He hasn't bothered to tidy it when the sun rises, saying “no one can bloody see me while we're trapped in this damn cage” when her mother asked about it.
That gave Irene all the confidence she needed to convince her mother that her own hair didn't need to be done until later in the day when they would actually be in the public eye. When her mother reluctantly agreed, Irene allowed herself a small celebration.
No more brushes being forced through her hair at the crack of dawn, so she could focus entirely on her writing.
“Father,” Irene starts again after a moment. “Do you think we’ll actually see any dragons?”
Her father grunts. “There’s always a possibility,” he answers half-heartedly. “And if we do, you're not to bother any of them, no matter how harmless they may be.”
She is disappointed, of course, but nods all the same.
She’s heard so much and read plenty more about all things magical and supernatural, and now she will be able to witness the first real display of magic for herself.
Even her father’s grump can’t dampen her excitement.
With a smile, she dives back into her journal.
. . .
“Perhaps you should stop drinking.”
His eyes are smoldering when they reach her, and she has to force herself not to falter under his gaze. “What will they think? Seeing you like this?”
“Like what?” The man asks, his tone clipped, his eyes unsympathetic. “Like the joke that I’ve become?” He takes another long swig of his wineskin and lets the red drip down into his beard.
“Better they see me now than when we’re at the foot of that wretched volcano.”
Zazz scowls, resentment turning her stomach.
Four days and three nights she’s been dealing with this: Alessor drinking day in and day out, grumbling about the past and cursing the King and Domon alike.
Well, truthfully, she’s been dealing with her “joke” of a mentor for years now.
Alessor the Great had stopped being great fifty years ago when the last of the Legendary Heroes left this world, and when sorcery started to be seen as less of a marvel between magic and man and more of a means of “getting things faster and easier.”
The age of sorcery and Exceptional Mortals is coming to a close and Armenia is opening a new chapter, one where its engines are powered by wheels and steam of a different kind of magic. The world is slowly abandoning the idea of sorcery, and it's abandoning those like Alessor the Great with it.
“We may reach the end of the Valley by sundown.”
He says nothing.
“We’ll be able to see Domon, what if the King asks you to make a speech in front of everyone?”
Alessor lifts the skin to his mouth again and coughs into his fist, ignoring her.
Zazz huffs and turns away.
Sorcerers these days are old souls who can’t seem to find jobs outside of selling potions whose effects barely last twenty-four hours, or becoming an exhibition for rich Lords before they eventually wither away and die.
Alessor wasn’t like them, he had lasted through the steady changing of the times, which was the whole reason she sought him out for mentorship in the first place.
Zazz stares out the small window of their carriage, graciously provided for their comfort by the King. It’s hot despite the fact that they’re well protected from the sun, and she has her long hair tied up in a high ponytail.
It’s the color of a red sun. Years ago, her mentor told her that her hair was a lucky color – being identical to Narin Reed’s, or as she’s more well known, Narin the Windbender.
She was one of the Legendary Heroes of old, an Exceptional Mortal. Alessor said that she would grow to be like Narin in time, a remarkable Sorcerer in her own right.
He had been bright and eager in her early years when he first took her under his wing, teaching her all that he knew about magic and the supernatural wholeheartedly.
It was when Zazz turned sixteen, her fifth year as his apprentice, that he shot her a steely gaze and told her that she would never be a Sorcerer, that “her kind” was the reason why magic was fading from the world.
She remembers how ashen Alessor looked when the King’s messenger arrived at their door with an order. She remembers locking eyes with her mentor and seeing years of fear, guilt, and shame flash across his face.
She took his stunned silence as an opportunity and stepped up to face the messenger. “We would be honored to answer the call of our King. Please let him know that we will be ready to depart by dawn.”
He had been livid with her and for the next few hours, their shop was an uproar of heated voices and insults thrown both ways.
She knew, as well as he did that there was no more magic in the old man's bones, that no potion he brewed would be able to achieve what the King wanted from him.
She had no intention of making Alessor do anything. It would be her who quelled Domon and saved everyone, and Alessor would finally see her as the remarkable Sorcerer he made her believe she was.
Alessor chugs another few gulps from his wineskin and Zazz has had enough. She reaches for it and flings the skin from the carriage window, meeting his glare with one of her own.
“You’re going to drink yourself to death,” she hisses, feeling a rising disgust growing within her. “I’m ashamed to call you my master.”
He lets out a short bark of laughter that holds no joy. “Master?” He snaps, practically spitting the words through his thick white beard. “Now you choose to honor me with such titles?”
Zazz frowns, leaning away.
She used to call him master all the time, in her first five years of apprenticeship. Her pride in being his pupil, as well as her respect for him, dwindled as the years went on, much as he said the magic did with her arrival.
Zazz has heard him tell her how talentless she is for years, and she has fought hard to not let that deter her, not allow his hatred to keep her from her dream.
“I remember a time when you said that I was a prodigy, that my very being was bursting with magic, and that you would gladly help me to harness it, bend it to my will.” Her reminiscing seems to have put a bad taste in his mouth, and his face twists with loathing.
“Your kind,” he starts, and she knows what he’s going to say, having heard it time and time again.
“Have taken it all. You absorbed it, the magic, and no matter how hard I tried, I could not teach you to wield it. You could not produce the power you stole.” He shakes his head and turns.
“Five long years I spent hoping, praying that something would come of my teachings. While all the other Sorcerers gave up and turned their apprentices away, I still tried, because I believed that I could do something great.”
“I was Alessor the Great, the most magnificent Sorcerer since the days of Madreem the Sage.” There’s a moment of silence and Zazz thinks she sees a flash of pain on his face. “How foolish I was, and now the rest of them get to see it, and I’ll be made into Alessor the Fool.”
She says nothing, arms crossed over her chest as she stares at the man she once looked up to, reduced to a pathetic husk of his legacy.
Despite everything, all his hatred toward her and his refusal to teach her after her fifth year, she stayed with him, determined to prove him wrong, to show him that she could wield magic.
She turns, her heart clenched, and says nothing.
. . .
When they slowed to a stop beneath the afternoon sun, Irene practically burst from the Royal carriage in desperation to get out and stretch her legs.
Her mother's warning to not go far was almost lost as she ran down the path, feeling refreshed at the breeze in her hair and the sun on her face.
Having arrived two days prior, they’re now deep in the Serpent’s Valley.
The Valley itself is a long and winding mountain pass that, with desirable conditions, takes at least three days to travel through. The mountains that border the Valley on either side are Scyla and Sylar, the twin Giants that the Serpent beheaded in an intense battle that was said to have lasted a fortnight.
Over time the earth grew around the giant corpses and formed the vast, sloping mountains that help make the Valley what it is today.
Irene looks up at them now, awestruck, even though she saw them all yesterday, and the day before that. The deeper into the Valley they venture, the more beautiful it becomes.
There are flowers of vibrant colors that crowd the base of the mountains and pine trees that grow in small groups all up and down its height. The very top of the mountains seems to touch the sky, their snow-capped peaks promising jarring weather compared to down below.
There were many Knights that had come along on this journey, a few of them from the other Lords, but most of them her father’s. She could see the Lords themselves as well, their carriages, which weren’t quite as glamorous as the Royal carriage, choking the Valley.
Beyond that, she knew the common folk had settled, and she could hear telltale signs of children running about, playing. She dared not venture over there in fear of what her parents would say.
Irene has walked far enough that she’s passed the Sorcerer’s carriage.
Her father gave Alessor the Great and his apprentice the honor of riding at the head of the caravan, charging boldly towards their destination.
When she was walking by, the very knowledge that a real Sorcerer was a mere two feet away from her made her fingertips tingle and her heart race. She had wondered, for the moment, what he was like in person.
Although she has never seen him for herself as he always seems to disappear into his tent the moment the procession stops for the night, she’s heard many different things about him. He used to be good friends with Madreem the Sage before the Legend passed due to a mysterious illness.
She entertained the thought of knocking on his carriage door and showing him her journal that was tucked securely under her arm. She thought of asking him to give her some knowledge about being a great Sorcerer and what this journey meant for him, to help her achieve a more accurate description.
But then the moment passed and she thought better of it.
Alessor the Great was probably busy, after all. It was no small order, what her father had requested of him, and she was sure that it was going to take more than just a swish of his staff to silence a beast like Domon.
So she moved on, past the Sorcerer's carriage and further into the Valley.
The day is hot and the breeze is fleeting; sometimes it's too warm to do her any good, and other times it’s far too short to cool her. Most of the time though, it whispers through the pine far above her head and avoids the inner Valley altogether.
Her eyes are trained on the overgrowth of grass and fern climbing the twin mountains, searching for any signs of dragons.
The thought of seeing one had her eyes darting to anything that moved on the two giants, whether it was a brush of the wind through the trees or an insect scurrying beneath the flowers.
Even though they had arrived in the Valley two days ago and it wouldn't be long before they saw the exit, no dragons have been spotted anywhere and people had started losing hope of ever seeing any.
But if Princess Irene is one thing, it’s stubborn.
A flash of something on her left catches her eye, and her head snaps towards it. There’s a lone tree standing where she had seen the movement, but she knows it wasn’t the wind this time.
Scyla is more sloped than Sylar, so it would be easy enough to climb, and the tree isn’t that far up either. She lifts her skirts just enough so she can pick up her legs over the wildflowers gathered at Scyla’s base, and slowly begins to make her way up, her full attention on the tree.
She jumps and whips around just in time to see Byron, her tutor as well as the Royal librarian, making his way over to her, and she huffs at getting caught. She retreats back down the mountain, preparing herself for a scolding.
Irene smiles at the man as he approaches her, brushing off her dress.
“What are you doing?” He asks, finally standing before her.
Irene shrugs innocently. “Nothing.”
Byron’s expression suggests that acting cute and innocent isn’t going to get her out of trouble that easily. “It’s dangerous to go exploring alone, Princess, what will your parents think?”
“They can’t think anything of it if they don’t know,” she tries, tilting her head. But his gaze is unwavering and it dawns on her that he actually intends to tell her parents what she had been doing.
Her eyes grow wide “Byron, you wouldn’t!”
He doesn’t respond and for a terrible moment, she thinks he really might do it. Then he smiles, and she hits him on the arm. Of course he wouldn’t tell.
“That was mean.”
“Forgive me, Princess,” he says without looking the slightest bit apologetic. “Is that yours?”
Attention effectively diverted, Irene beams as she opens up her journal and shows him what she has so far of “Alessor the Great and the Threat of the Fire-Breathing Giant.”
“That’s a lengthy title.”
Irene pouts at him as he takes the journal into his hands. “There are worse titles, like that obnoxious one you made me read… ‘Simon Solomon Silverback’s Guide on What You Should Do When’…”
“Approached By a Horde of Man-eating Orges and Creatures of the Like.” He glances at her and she smiles at his swift ability to fill in for her forgetfulness.
“That’s it, and it was rather boring, too.” He gasps dramatically and she crosses her arms, nodding with a stubborn “mhm!”
Byron lets out a soft chuckle and finally directs his attention to the journal, adjusting his round spectacles. “Fire breathing giant,” he hums. “Domon?”
“Yes!” She nods, proud of her own wordplay. “Volcanoes are practically fire-breathing giants, right? And it makes the whole story sound a lot more daring and exciting!”
Byron smiles at her fondly, his eyes returning to the pages yet again. “You’ve made dragons seem like ferocious beasts.”
“The other stories do it.”
“I suppose you have a point,” he chuckles again and hands Irene her journal, and as she’s about to dive into how she’s planning on making Alessor the Great’s story full of action and adventure, a loud noise draws their attention.
It’s come from Alessor the Great’s carriage, the apprentice seems to have slammed the door on her way out. She’s standing there now, her back towards them and a hand in her hair.
They can see the heavy rise and fall of her shoulders from where they’re standing.
“Is everything alright?” Irene asks Byron. She knows that he’s just as confused as she is, but it seems an appropriate question. The apprentice is unaware of their presence until she turns around.
Irene offers a gracious smile and a wave, and Byron nods in acknowledgment toward the young woman. She looks between the two of them and Irene thinks she can see the shock on her face at being caught. But she’s too far to know for sure.
The apprentice eventually nods at the two of them stiffly, then turns and walks off.
“The weight of having to stop Domon must be heavy on them,” Irene says once the apprentice is out of sight. Byron doesn’t reply, and she looks up to spy on his expression.
But he turns to look at her in the same motion, smiling again.
“Why don’t we go see what we can find to snack on before we get back on the road, hmm?”
. . .
They did not reach the end of the Valley by sundown, but they’re nearly there.
They stopped at a bend in the Valley that gave them a clear view of Domon looming in the distance, outlined against the blue of the night. After, there had been a short celebration full of wine and laughter.
Tomorrow they’d reach the volcano, and the Queen had wanted to celebrate a little early. The chefs had cooked up a marvelous feast, considering what they still had in store, and the King made a toast that everyone, even the common folk, was present to hear.
Zazz alone had attended while her master stayed in the darkness of his tent.
She hadn't participated in the festivities but shared meat and mead with the delighted company.
It’s late now, outside has been silent for hours, everyone tucked away in their respective tents, fast asleep.
She’s been awake for some time now, listening to the sounds of the night.
Her thoughts are a whirl. Tomorrow, in front of everyone, she will have to prove to Alessor, as well as herself, that all those years of training weren’t for nothing. She just needed the right opportunity to unlock her full potential.
She sits up and feels around her small tent until she finds it, bringing it close to her form.
Her staff, the one that Alessor had made for her when she arrived at his doorstep. It’s made of oakwood and is not quite the length of her body. The gem held in safety by the twined branches at the top is a dull purple, unlike the dazzling gold of her mentors.
She knows, deep down that there is still magic in her, in the earth. She’ll prove him and all the other doubtful Sorcerers wrong.
She gets up to leave her tent and is met with cool air that chills her instantly. Her eyes are first drawn to the stars, then towards Domon, a black mass in the distance. She cannot doubt herself come sunrise, there is simply no room for failure.
Zazz turns and looks down the length of the camp, numerous small shelters outlined in the dead of the night. Her heart jumps when a cry from above breaks the silence and she drops into a crouch, wide eyes focused on the sky.
She can’t see anything aside from the blinking stars, and she wonders if it had just been a bird.
But that screech was far too savage to be a bird.
As her eyes scan the length of the sky, she begins to believe that it was just her imagination. But then more of them appear, and her heart stutters at the very sight.
Real, actual dragons.
Some of them are flying over the tops of the mountain peaks, others are emerging from the tall grass. There are so many of them, most of them tiny, but some of them are easily the size of a cottage.
They’re gathering on the mountains, landing near the top where the pine trees hide most of them almost entirely.
Even though she can only see their silhouettes against the dark terrain, she’s stunned as she watches them, her heart filled with awe.
Then they’re rearing their heads and parting their jaws wide, and one by one they let out a steady stream of fire.
It’s practically silent from where she’s standing, but beautiful all the same.
Their flames are all wonderful shades of azure, indigo, and violet. They dazzle the sky and she’s rooted in the spot, mesmerized.
But the moment is short-lived when a terrible tremor shakes the earth so violently that she loses her balance and falls to the ground.
One by one people begin to emerge from their tents, Lords, and common folk alike, all looking confused and frightened. Murmurs rise around her as people glance around, but all their eyes eventually come to land on Domon.
Another tremor, children scream, and the dragons on the mountains begin to screech and take flight. The realization of their presence causes a slow mix of panic and wonder to arise.
“Everyone, please be calm!” The King’s voice rings out as Zazz makes her way over. “I urge you to remember that dragons are only prone to violence when they feel threatened.” His words seem to bring calm to the crowd, but another tremble has a few startled shouts leaving them again.
“Do not fear the tremors,” the King is speaking again, but he’s interrupted when a shrill voice urges everyone to “look!” and all eyes fall on Domon.
Then, in a moment that can only be described as pure, unadulterated fear, Domon erupts.
Out from the blast emerges the biggest creature she’s ever seen.
Its skin is a mix of blazing scales and lava, its eyes like molten fury. The span of its wings seems to cover the length of the sky as it breaks from the volcano completely and spreads them wide. It emits so much heat that she feels it where she stands, despite the miles that separate them.
Its mouth glows white and orange and red when it parts its jaws to bare its teeth, its glowing eyes set on the Valley.
Fear and desperation possess the Valley as people start running, abandoning their belongings. Parents are reaching for their children, Lords for their horses, and Zazz is momentarily discombobulated.
Someone upon a horse is dashing toward her, and when he passes, her heart leaps into her throat as she turns.
“Alessor!” She yells, but he urges the horse to dash faster, abandoning them.
As he passes by the Royal tent, Zazz finds the Princess watching in anguish as the Sorcerer leaves them behind. When their eyes meet, she finds the same dread coursing through her mirrored in the Princess’s gaze.
The monster behind her bellows and Zazz cries out, dropping to her knees as she covers her ears. Her head is swimming and her ears are ringing when she looks up, finding the majority of the camp in the same state.
Her palms are wet and covered in red when she removes them, and everything around her is muffled.
She turns from her position on the floor as the crowd surges around her in a wave of panic and desperation. Her eyes are locked on the blazing hell that’s perched atop the volcano, and she watches, helpless, as the great beast of Domon lifts its head and sets the sky ablaze.
About the Creator
I am a 21 y/o writer of over a decade who has been crafting fantasy stories for as long as I can remember, and am currently working on publishing my first work within the next year.
Constructive criticism is always welcome!