Through This Valley of Fire
First Steps from the Familiar
Ch. 1: First Steps from the Familiar
There weren’t always dragons in the Valley. Once, men stood with firm feet in these reaching spires of stone and hardy wood. Tales told in taverns far tell of kings who long ago talked to the clouds in whispers and lived with gold and riches like none the world had ever seen. These kings lived with no public faces, no names for which their deeds could be remembered. I stand on the edge of a great and beautiful nothing that was once theirs, my feet digging into withered grass the color of old leather.
These clouds of ash rise above me that shift the color of these skies, dancing reds and oranges like flowing fire. Those that wander here can now only wonder from afar. Dragons scour these skies now, roosting their nests in the towers where these faceless kings once rested their heads. Some say now in these twisted tales that the dragons will whisper down from the clouds. These tall tales tell of questions left unanswered, whispered into forests still crackling with the embers of a long-ago era.
There weren’t any dragons in the Valley then, at least none that we knew. Perhaps those for whom the kings spoke with in their whispered voices were not gods or clouds, but the beasts which built their kingdoms within. In these lands, such thought would earn you an eye roll or a scoff, the stories of fools and imaginaries who have no right to spread lies. Not that my kind don’t get those looks anyway, regardless of what is said.
But for me, these kings were not quite faceless, and these tales were not quite so tall.
My father told me our fortune lies in the ash. That our grandfather’s grandfather was a king in the tallest of all towers. That at its tallest point, it couldn’t be seen from the Earth. He’d tell me in one of the endless nights snuggled by our fire, dressed in the withered rags he’d always wear, cooking what little food could be found in the forgotten valleys west of any real civilization. But I’ve heard all the stories and lived a life wandering and wondering from afar like everyone else, traveling where the promise of money would in turn reward us little but a newfound quickness in our step.
At night when I dream, I hear the whispers. "Your ancestors were good and just," a deep voice tells me, "Look, and you will find truth in the ash of your blood’s fallen spires.”
For many a year, I chose to give no credence to whispered voices in the night, to the world outside my wagon. I was bitter and angry and complacent. All we ever knew was the road that had been carved for us with stone and dirt and sorrow. We had no time for dreams to steer our course, it would be irresponsible. But as I grow older, my thoughts of a far-off kingdom grow in frequency, my dreams carried further by a voice that never softens.
I’d never wanted for myself before; such was the way of living on the road. But my family, so full of love that they could burst from their seams, they deserve more. My father’s hands coated in the darkened hues of coal and work and hardship. He deserves more. My mother’s back bent and nerves knotted, her craftsman’s body chiseled like misshapen iron. She deserves more. My sisters who sew their dresses from stolen cloth discarded in heaps, a crime for which many a lord would remove their hands. They deserve more. They each wear their scars with pride and accept their sorrows, but I find that I no longer can.
I’ve lived on tales in taverns, on the poverty of a family that lives on necessity alone, and I want more. I hear my father talk of a sickness that grows inside with each passing winter, hear my mother talk of food that grows sparse from drought and the wars of bored kings from lesser lands, they need more. Perhaps this voice in my dreams is mine, and perhaps it's the voice of the clouds empowering my step.
I want more, I want answers.
I left in the night when the others were at rest, their bodies tucked and tangled into a knot under the torn sheets. I laced my boots and propped my collar, hands shaking from the bite of midnight chills and the fear that they’d awaken feeling betrayed. I left a note hoping it would be enough, that words alone could earn their understanding. I took my father’s rusted sword from its torn sheath, and marched away with my head tilted back, watching as the life I knew grew smaller and smaller down its familiar path.
The day breaks against another ashen summer’s sunset. And through these miles of forest, of dragon’s fire and barren kingdoms, I seek my family’s fortune, a history long forgotten in these ashen valleys beyond the paths I had always walked. Jarythorn Blackmoore, I care not if history will remember that name. Like those faceless kings, I whisper and listen, knowing I’m no hero, no boy worthy of story or song. I’m just someone stupid enough to believe in dreams, letting them carry my feet step by step towards the Valley of Fire. There weren’t always dragons in the Valley, but today there will be one man.
I hear the beating of wings overhead, shadows incircling me that raise goosebumps across my skin. It lands before me with feathered feet, piercing eyes like the lizards that dart through the grass. I hear the voice of my dreams speak, my feet dug into that withered grass. "You have finally found your way," it tells me, "Now, can you claim what is yours?"