There weren't always dragons in the Valley. Ages ago, my ancestors flew there upon hot, volcanic winds. They found the island valley and rejoiced, for it offered refuge from their sinking, smoldering lands destined to doom. At first my kin were few; and then one day, many. But it angered the men of those kingdoms. The verdant Valley belonged to them – not us – although most of mankind dwelt coastally. The Valley lay sheltered and pristine at the island's heart, difficult to reach. My kin vowed to keep it. The humans vowed to reclaim it.
The wicked wyrm wars began.
I myself –Cloviss the Sly of House Crimsonclaw– did not witness the original conflict. My clutch was born thousands of years later. We still dwell in the Valley, but much has changed. We would know nothing of our history at all save for the Wyrmtongue Chronicles. Our predecessors retained everything for future generations, copying events with meticulous care, showing us the means and methods to defeat Man, or at least avoid their unholy machines.
In the end though, both dragon and human suffered greatly. Such is the price of conflict.
The Chronicles tell us that Shagnar the Destructor ruled the clans in those days. Sketches show his wings blotting the sun. His claws were sharp enough to rend stone and split metal; his teeth jagged swords to gnash bone and flay flesh; his breath hot enough to melt rock and glass sand.
He struck terror into the hearts of all, and men sought his demise. If they could sever the serpent's head then the others might flee. The Chronicles say Shagnar resisted exceptionally well.
In those olden days dragons could fly. In the years since, our wings have withered and atrophied, our bulk has reduced, and our ferocity sadly shrunk. In the heyday of the dragon though, we dominated land and sky. But, while superior to mankind physically, they possessed technology and intelligence we dragons never imagined. Even now, despite our advancements, we fall far behind.
The humans – who called themselves Atlanteans – commanded flying vehicles. What propelled them I do not fully understand – something about opposed gravity fields – but the Chronicles say they flew faster and higher than a full grown wyrm, capable of achieving heights where the bitter cold halted even Shagnar. The men armed themselves with metal weapons shooting beams of hot light, as if concentrated from heated stars. Most malignant though were their black sorcerers, manipulating raw elemental forces we scarcely understood.
An exception is Old Whiskerwyrm. He learned the art of magic from a mystic, perhaps the only man in all of Atlantis who didn't seek our destruction: Neznar, an Adept of exceptional power, but even he has long since passed beyond the veil of death, and his holy name added to the writ by myself, for Cloviss the Sly is now the last Keeper of the Chronicles.
To the humans' credit, they tried diplomacy first. They knew dragons were sentient, possessing dragonspeech, reading and writing. The Chronicles state that an envoy of diplomats met Shagnar and others at the head of the Valley. His consort – Gythraxus the Gilded of House Silverback – accompanied him. The men brought a small fleet of flying ships, as if to prove they commanded the sky more than us. A diplomat exited to converse with Shagnar, aided by a sorcerer to interpret our different slippery tongues.
The diplomat had said: "These are our lands, Great Serpents. Go. Be at peace, but go. Only death awaits you here."
Dragonspeech is not something a human can possibly recreate, not without magic. The Chronicles say that Shagnar's laugh rattled the hills. He said to his consort Gythraxus: "The small one thinks he commands me, as a pet. Should I show him the error of his ways?"
Gythraxus hissed, "Yes, lord!" eager to see her master impart swift justice. Shagnar turned to the envoy, exhaling. Fiery death washed over them, incinerating many to hot ash and screams. The flames destroyed two flying ships, but the others danced away. They counterattacked, spattering the draconic entourage with exploding spheres. Shrapnel bounced harmlessly off Shagnar, but slew his weaker consort Gythraxus. In an unrelenting rage, the Destructor wrestled down a vehicle, pulling forth its passengers to devour them one by one, relishing their screams. The other ships fled.
Such was the first encounter between the men of Atlantis and dragons. It only worsened.
Why would the dragons not negotiate? Why so quick to murder and mayhem? Dragons are temperamental. Territorial. Antagonistic. We still are, but time has soothed our tenacious souls. It is doubtful the Atlanteans would have reached a formal agreement anyway.
The God-King Thevetat ruled Atlantis in those days. They say he stood thirty feet tall, with eyes of molten lead, skin of glowing bronze. Most Atlanteans were far shorter then, but he and others remained of the old guard, of the race of man from time before time. Living gods. The Sons of Fire. The Nephilim. Nearly immortal and nigh invincible. Even Shagnar the Destructor thought twice before confronting the God-King, yet confront him he eventually did.
Reacting to Shagnar, God-King Thevetat assembled his army, but called upon his mightiest black magicians to bolster their ranks. Steeped in the dark arts, his sorcerers summoned elemental spirits from nature and attached them to man-shaped constructs. Then, given a modicum of intelligence and sentience, they marched these mechanical soldiers into battle, led by generals of flesh and blood.
The dragons numbered in the many hundreds, arranged by five mighty Houses: Crimsonclaw, Silverback, Blacksoot, Goldeye, and Bluescale, each with strengths and weaknesses. The Bluescales – stupidest and brutish of the clans – formed the shock troops, the first line of defense. They crowded the Valley entrances on both ends, snarling and hissing. Clan Goldeye – the swiftest flyers – scouted far and wide and skirmished with flying ships.
The mechanical army reached the Valley on two fronts. The elemental-infused warriors knew no fear, no pain, no hesitation, yet they burned to slag just the same. The Wyrmtongue Chronicles contain page after page of vivid art and descriptions, and I have pored over the records more than anyone, branding them to memory. The strength of House Crimsonclaw is our keen intellect. Remembering the past preserves the future.
Foot soldiers carried devastating weaponry. A fusion of technology and magic – like the automatons themselves – the weapons utilized destructive elemental energy: fire condensed to blistering lasers; air to propel projectiles faster than sound; earth and rock to seismically shatter. They even controlled the weather, blinding dragons with fierce wind and stabbing rain. The black wizards stayed behind ranks, conjuring demons from the ether and sending them as semi-ethereal manifestations to harass my kin. The wizards' vulnerability made them easy targets though, and dragons of House Blacksoot – possessing a breath with by far the longest reach – made devastating sweeps across the assembled armies, incinerating all they touched.
Dragon scales are exceptionally dense, and the older the dragon, the harder the scales. The eldest shrugged away most weaponry, unless focused at their vulnerable wing tissue and eyes. The summoned demons proved more problematic, as they attacked both mind and soul, sapping strength and hope and imposing despair upon weak minds. It was the possessed dragon, seeing phantasms, that damaged their defenses from within.
Brother turned on brother; sister on sister; siblings on parents. Imagined wrongs inflated to false truths, and unabashed lies grew like wretched vines. Infighting occurred in the Valley's deepest holds. Savagery ensued, and smiling behind their cowls, the black sorcerers of Atlantis knew they'd gained an advantage.
Still, a victory won was not a war won. The humans and dragons continued to fight. When one side or the other suffered a terrible loss they would subside for decades to lick their wounds and regroup. The war lasted centuries. It would have ended sooner if not for natural cataclysms rattling mankind's own kingdoms, as well as war with other human nations. By then, however, dragonkind had suffered greatly. Although long-lived, dragons breed slowly. Sterility became a problem, and eggs in the deep vault nurseries never matured. Between death on the battlefield and dwindling births, we saw our fate in the stars; inevitable annihilation.
One day – The Day of Reckoning – God-King Thevetat and Shagnar the Destructor met on the battlefield. An unusual circumstance, but one meant to end the conflict. The Atlanteans had suffered terrible setbacks. Not just elemental men, but real living men, had perished by the tens of thousands. The Chronicles say they approached across a wasteland devoid of life. Shagnar bore the scars of battle and carried seething anger. Thevetat wielded an iron staff mounted by a dragon's skull and expressed glowering accusation.
"I will never relent," the dragon lord growled.
"You will," answered Thevetat, his voice ringing in the air like a choir of angels. "The time of the dragon is done. Only Man moves forward. Yours is a dying breed destined to...nothingness."
"We are destined to greatness! Nothing LESS!"
They fought then, but their long battle that day ended in a star of radiant fire, shaking the ground for hundreds of miles.
But that was long ago.
I sit now in the Cave of Knowledge. The Chronicles lie open. I have penned a new entry, one long in coming.
"King Thevetat has passed from the world. Lilith – the Queen of Woeful Destiny – rules Atlantis now. My spies say she is even more ruthless, callous and degenerate than her forebearer. Black magic and blood rituals form their faith, and her followers indulge in atrocities barely imaginable. What dark fate have the humans brought upon themselves?"
"What fate indeed?" I whisper, placing the quill down.
Old Whiskerwyrm sits with me. Blind now, wispy hairs dangle from his leathery snout like thin webs. "Eh? What say you?" the old dragon mutters.
"Nothing. I am merely – musing. If we are destined to perish, it seems the world of man lags not far behind."
Old Whiskerwyrm sighs, a long, rattling exhalation. "Hmm. Cloviss. Aye. In my dreams, the visions grow clearer. The oceans will rise, swallowing all. This fine Valley drowns, and all with it. No divination I've cast sees any other outcome."
"I cannot say. Possibly long. But not soon enough."
Whisker has a death wish. He always speaks like this. I fall into silence. Ruminating. Dragonkind is destined to die, to fade from the memory of the world as if we never existed. Only five remain; myself, Old Whiskerwyrm, Blackbreath, Cillian the Swift and Artemiss (the only female but long past breeding age).
We pose no real threat to humans. The wyrm wars ended years ago. Enough dragons had been slain that mankind turned their attention to other diabolical affairs. Oh, they know we're still here though. On occasion they send an offering our way; usually a goat or cow tethered to the sacrificial stone, but on rare events, a virginal girl or boy.
Superstitious locals think it placates our murderous lust. Perhaps it does.
Food is scarce. We scavenge what we can, but derive most sustenance from rocks and minerals. Edible, but not delectable. I wonder which will come sooner: starvation or drowning? Either way, the clock winds down. But there is something I must see done first.
"I have a spy in the Queen's court," I tell Old Whiskerwyrm. He knows this, but forgets. His mind fractures with age. "A rebellious handmaiden. She tells me the Queen takes organs from young females, swapping them out. A heart here. A liver there. Their science is...potent. They plan to remove her brain for the first time, with all of that accumulated knowledge, hatred and passion, and place it in a new body. A younger specimen. A new Queen. Immortalized."
Old Whiskerwyrm grunts. "What does it matter to you what the humans do now? They sought to extinguish us. They have. We are helpless. Even Neznar says so. Whispering to me from beyond the black void."
It shouldn't matter, but it does. It has long boiled in my stony heart. "I seek revenge, old dragon. I seek retribution for centuries of persecution and destruction. I seek immortality of our own, so we do not fall to the wayside as nothing but a story lost to time."
Whiskerwyrm turns blind eyes toward me. "What do you mean to do?"
I smile, but he cannot tell. "I mean to see her dead and devoured."
PART ONE: SYNERGY
THE QUEEN OF WOEFUL DESTINY
About the Creator
I am a writer, artist and poet from North Carolina. I recently self published a children's/YA book called Harold and the Dreadful Dreams. You can learn more about it at my blog https://jmhauser.com, as well as other projects.
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