by Eric Hanson
CHAPTER 1: THE GREAT RED WYRM
‘Hero’ they say.
My kind are never heroes. Our power is without equal, our intellect boundless, our size and majesty alone drive most to madness. A lifetime for us is enough to watch an entire civilization rise from the ashes, and return to dust. For such a being as I, to meddle in the affairs of this world’s tiny vermin is fruitless. Yet that’s exactly what I did, and for that, I pay the price. Wherever I go where there was once fear there is now hope. Everywhere I go, I’m chased by the cheers.
I gather by the way you scratch your empty skull that you’re curious about me. I am one of the elder race of Saar, birthed of the Matriarch when this world was once primal and untamed. By this birthright I’ve soared Tygan’s skies and enticed her screams for centuries. I am that which you apes call ‘dragon.’
Ha! Such a quaint little word. You creatures always needlessly convolute such things.
Tales of me have spread far beyond my native Haiden borders. Countless adventurers have traversed the Phoenix River Canyon to find my home in Wyrvra’vurru, or Silent Pass as you call it. It is named thus for no living thing dares make a sound whenever I’m near. Interlopers often come to test their strength, plunder my hoard, or collect my head for a bounty. Some were foolhardy, most were greedy, and all perished save the ones annoyed me the least. The survivors gave me many names across many continents, but there was one name given by the rrut that had the power to still a beating heart.
The Great Red Wyrm.
That look of bewilderment tells me you do not know to what I refer to when saying rrut. That is an example of the Ravrra’Saar, or Dragon Speak. Rrut, harlak, reizeek and vrrit are human, dwarf, elf and orc respectively. Each name sounds about as disgusting as such creatures taste.
After centuries of inspiring terror, to now be called ‘hero’ is quite the oddity. Just how did it come to pass, you say? Perhaps I’ll tell you if only so you’ll make yourself scarce once I’m done.
The day I began my journey to ‘hero’ began as spring mornings often do. The first thaw had come, making way for the new year’s fresh blossoms. I’d just indulged myself with a herd of mountain goats and a large predatory cat, a feast fit for the grandest of Saar. I sought slumber within the lair I’d dug beneath Wyrvra’vurru. As you now surely know from traversing it, my lair is quite the piece of architecture. Within the labyrinth of pitfalls and caverns is my place of rest, a chamber choked with enough gold to overflow a castle. Gems of all ages and cuts, paintings from the world’s masters, monuments and armor, all dressed atop the heap of gold that serves as my blanket. On this spring morning I’d tucked myself beneath this treasure, near my collection’s crowning jewel.
My favorite piece was a cut gem of lunar quartz, a once-common luminescent mineral that had since been dispersed and destroyed through the ages. Though many of my pieces would fetch a decidedly heftier price, none of them possessed the sentimental value of this glowing gem. It was this prize sought by the intruders on that spring morning.
I still remember when those first whispers chased me from slumber.
“Gods.” A young male voice said. “Why does it have to be so quiet here?”
“Because unlike you, even the bugs are smart enough to shut up around here.” answered a stern female voice.
“Well at least we didn’t run into any booty traps.” the young male voice answered.
“That’s what scares me. And they’re called ‘booby’ traps.” replied the female.
The male voice snickered. “You know, I’m so used to fondling both of those I get them mixed up all the time.”
“You like your tongue, Sparks?” the female asked.
“Why yes.” the male said.
“Want to keep it?” the female threatened.
The threat was effective. That they made it here like so many before them was deserving of some small admiration. The only entrance they could take to my home was a sheer several hundred-foot drop into darkness. A mere hop for me, but a treacherous climb down for any ape. Also quite a challenge for any unfortunate mountain goats. They’d managed to navigate the labyrinth, bypass most of the pitfalls, avoid the dead ends and find their way to my lair’s center, the corpse-chocked entrance to my hoard chamber. It was lined with bodies, some but a few months burned, others turned to dust by the passing years, and all equally unpleasant in the eyes of my visitors.
The young male shrieked at the sight of them, a shriek that was muffled beneath the female’s palm.
“You act like you’ve never seen a body before.”
“Not cooked. I’m starting to get why Blondie doesn’t like these things.” the male somehow managed to wheeze out. “Uh…Major, you sure this is a good idea?”
“No, but it’s all we’ve got.” she said.
I was not in the mood for the intrusion, but these two made me curious. Beneath my golden blanket I opened my eyes. Minted gold sprinkled away from my face to reveal the tunnel alight with the glow of magic torchlight. My two mysterious visitors stepped forth from the darkness.
The female was human, a verodu’rrut, wearing a peculiar soldier’s apparel. Her face was as chiseled as the side of a mountain, worn yet youthful of some thirty years with unevenly cut black hair. Her armor was new to me, a suit with a segmented chest plate that allowed her to contort herself with relatively little inhibition. Though streaked and scared with rust and cuts, the suit was still well maintained. It was more quiet than a breath when she talked. A bandolier of bolts adorned the suit, I assumed for the crossbow holstered at her waist. Two lethal katar punching knives rested in sheaths on her right and left side, the final tools in a decent arsenal.
An emblem adorned her suit, a painted black likeness of raven perched on the head of a wolf with an emerald where the bird’s eye should have been. While most other parts of her suit had been subject to casual disregard, this emblem was loved, more so than even her own outwards appearance. This symbol had meaning for the soldier.
Her elven companion appeared downright laughable. If the female cared not how she looked, this reizeek turned upkeep into a profession. Lacking armor, he instead dressed himself with a too-tight pair of stretched hide pants and a sickeningly clean green button up woodsman’s shirt. The attire was made somehow more infuriating by his leather satchel that shined brighter than my gold. The gelled clump of white and black fur on his head looked like a resting skunk. At his side was a staff, though I use the term loosely as this staff was but an enchanted pruned tree branch. It was this staff from which the magic torchlight came, the soft spell of light known as ‘Molunious’. This one was a wizard.
Though I’d not the pleasure of killing him just yet, he was already turning pale as a corpse, and not from fear. This was the early signs of Arcane Fatigue. The Fatigue is a wear one gets from overuse of magic. Magic, like any other exertion, takes its toll on the body, hence the elf’s already graying hair. The wizards needed to use a staff to focus their magic, for using their bodies had the humorous affect of blowing the limbs off of all but the most experienced casters.
I, as is common with the Saar, had special disdain for wizards. Since the Saar are the only naturally occurring source of magic on all of Tygan, all other magic, including wizards, is plundered from us. Though they may hone their abilities and impress with their parlor tricks, to a Saar a wizard is but a leech. They gain their abilities by the barbaric practice pf drinking dragon’s blood. It had been some time since I’d claimed the life of a blood drinker, or Lahaar’rie’vrrick. I was looking forward to this one.
“Kill the light, Sparks.” the female ordered.
The reizeek wizard snuffed out Molunious, but the darkness did little to hide his fear. Glistening in the chamber’s flame light was a cascade of sweat flowing down the wizard’s brow. Just looking at the ever-growing black ring of his shirt collar made me turn my nostrils. The verodu soldier on the other hand remained a desert. She didn’t sweat a single drop.
“Smell that?” the female said. “Sulfur. He’s in here.”
“Oh, that’s too bad.” Sparks said. “I guess we’ll just have to come back later.”
As the reizeek tried to leave, the soldier locked her hand around his throat.
“If we do this while he’s out and he comes back, our path could be blocked. This way, we’ve only got one direction to worry about.” she reasoned. “Well know just where we need to go.”
The male reizeek waved the fumes away from his nostrils. “Smells like rotten eggs in here. Reminds me of a time I did an overnight with a client. He was making supper when I got there and when we got to work he left a bunch of opened eggs out on the-”
The verodu slapped her hand over the reizeek’s orifice. “Nobody cares what you used to do for money.”
“What do you mean used to?” The reizeek said behind a pair of batted eyelashes.
“Ugh.” the verodu said with disgust. She pulled her hand from her partner’s mouth and wiped whatever scum sullied it onto his shirt.
“I just washed…” he began.
“Shut up.” the soldier cut him off.
She searched the chamber. Her eyes skittered over my plethora of prizes before they found her target, my perfect piece of lunar quartz. The female’s eyes focused on my shard of lunar quartz, as if it were the field mouse to her hawk.
“There’s the crystal from Davies the Kind’s crypt. Saar’Jya doesn’t kid.” the female whispered.
Saar’Jya, the Matriarch of all dragon kind herself? For what purpose would she associate with these vermin? Now I was starting to get interested.
“Why don’t we just take anything?” the reizeek reasoned. “I mean, everything here is very nice.”
“It’s not the treasure we’re after.” the verodu said.
It was then I realized this was more than a routine burglary.
The verodu gave her companion a pat on his side. “Grab it, Sparks.”
With a nervous chuckle, the reizeek aimed his tree branch staff towards my hoard and whispered another word.
I could feel my lunar quartz shard shift in the grasp of the spell of levitation. It swung back and forth, inching up and down as it tried to tear itself free, but the reizeek’s efforts were all for naught.
The reizeek gave up. “Crap. Some dragons are just so paranoid.”
“Must be an enchantment. Any wizard hoping to get out of here would be willing to do a few favors.” the soldier guessed.
As it turned out she was right. Some time ago a lahaar’rie’vrrick came across my hoard with another band of adventurers. In exchange for his life, he granted my treasures protection from more modest spells. When he saw fit to throw an ice bolt in my direction, I canceled our agreement with a blast from my furnace.
“Major, I really think we should just take something and run. Do a plunder and dash.” the wizard said.
“Saar’Jya says he’ll only come out for this piece. I believe her.” the female said.
“But should we? Do you really think it’s just dumb luck that out of all the dragons to chose from, she sent us to the Fire Tempest?” said the reizeek.
The soldier rolled her eyes. “That’s what you people call him? At least the dwarves keep it simple when they just call him That Big Red Sunuvabitch.”
“You ask me, that brass bitch sent us down here to get fried for her own amusement.” the reizeek answered.
That they spoke less about the treasure and more about me was a point of interest. Most who came in here were thrust into immediate euphoria upon seeing my considerable wealth. These two curiously viewed it as an obstacle. The only other parties interested in me were slayers, yet if that’s what these two were, why would Saar’Jya partake in their little scheme? The verodu was correct. Though I had affinity for each and every scrap of precious metal in my possession, there were a few pieces I would be willing to suffer losing. The lunar quartz was unique. It was not its worth that so enthralled me, for many pieces in my collection had far greater monetary value. This crystal was a symbol.
My elder sibling, the Black Wyrm, had given her life for this world many centuries past. She subjected herself to a Saar’s ultimate degradation, allowing herself to be ridden by the harlak named Davies the Kind. The two had fought to save Tygan from an unspeakable unholy thing that gave even the Saar sleepless nights. It was this unholy thing that snuffed out the flames our parents and countless other Saar, and were it not for her sacrifice it surely would have consumed the world. Of this world’s gratitude, the Black Wyrm received none. The lunar quartz, a gift that was always intended for me, was set as the decorative gemstone in Davies the Kind’s crypt within the Tomb of the Selfless. So it was until the day I reclaimed it. For this treasure I’d travel the ends of the world. Which begged the question, why did this pair want me to?
The verodu grabbed her friend’s shirt collar and shoved her index finger under the bridge of his nose. I doubted she realized she was holding him off the ground.
“No way in hell he won’t see me. When he does, you know what to do.” she said.
“No worries, Major. I’ve got the rotisserie all ready.” the reizeek answered.
“No jokes, pointer. We’ve got one shot at getting out of this, and if I don’t escape, someone has to. If he see’s me, you take it and run. You hear what I said?” she asked.
“Can I just run now.?” the reizeek asked.
Major Arietta dropped her companion and descended upon my treasure. Like any serpent she slithered through the hoard, silent enough so that even I need strain to hear her steps. Not a single coin was disturbed by her passing.
She approached the mound of gold beneath which I slept, unable to see my unblinking eye follow her every move. The blue glow of my lunar quartz cast off her form, making her appear as a ghost. Fitting I thought, for they would both be soon counted amongst the dead. The soldier was too focused on the gemstone to see she was being watched. For this, the reizeek was the first to spot me.
His little brown eyes buzzed around the entire hoard in search of the faintest sign of movement, until he found me. He blinked. They always blinked when they we first locked eyes. Though all hear stories of the size of a Saar, they never really believe until they see us firsthand.
I turned my attention to the reizeek’s fear soaked visage.
Seeing a Saar is met much like the five stages of grief. It always starts with denial. One could almost hear him thinking. ‘No. That can’t be it. It must be a trick of the light. Some kind of plate or dish. Anything but something that massive.’
I blinked less out of necessity, and more just to see the creature squirm. He didn’t disappoint. He carefully looked over this mound of gold and realized it was but a quilt for the creature resting beneath, and the Major was right on top of it. The reizeek’s legs seemed ready to run off on their own. Instantly driven to near madness, the blood-drinking thief tried to call out to his companion.
His words clung to his insides lest they share the cavern with me. Only when the oblivious soldier’s fingers were ready to touch my gemstone did the wizard’s tongue obey him.
“M…Ma…Maj….Major Arietta!” he shrieked.
My wings flexed and my form shuddered, practically spraying the treasure from my back. Showered with gold and gems, the Major lost her footing. She slid down the side that put me between her and the tunnel. She fell onto the rocks, shielding herself as best she could at the monsoon of riches pelting her from above. The lunar quartz crystal fell from my side, coming to rest in the palm of my hand. I set it down on a small mound of gold. No need to risk damaging it.
“Sparks, get it! Get the damn thing!” The soldier ordered.
Her order went unheeded. The reizeek was gone, long since carried away by legs that had more smarts than his head. At the sight of this vacant spot, the woman’s cheeks flushed a shade of angry red that, dare I say, rivaled my own.
A drizzle of coins rolled from my back in a soft, rhythmic chime. I rested one of my hands right next to her, and tapped a finger bigger than her entire body against the stone.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
“Majjoooorrrr.” I hissed.
Being addressed properly was enough to finally force the soldier to look. As she turned towards my clicking digit, and her once-stoic demeanor vanished. I dragged my claw across the stone. It cut a gash as if the rock were butter, and sent a shower of sparks that ignited the soldier’s fear.
As her eyes climbed higher, she grew paler. Standing one on top of the other’s shoulders, it would take at least fourteen of her just to reach my eye. Two more to reach the tip of my great horned crown. Standing erect, one of her could barely reach from the bottom of my chin to the top of my snout. Even my teeth were thicker than her arms. Even my voice made the lair itself tremble in fear.
“What possesses you to pester me?” I asked.
The soldier tickled the handle of her katar blades for a moment, and then realized how meaningless the gesture was.
“Great Red Wyrm, we, uh….” She gestured with an awkward attempt at bravado. “I just came up here to ask…if I could borrow something.”
I threw my head back and laughed. “Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!”
The entire chamber shuddered before the sound. As loose pebbles rained upon us both, I learned down to her. It happened so quickly that the startled little beast fell on her backside.
“You mean ‘steal.’” I corrected her.
“Well, ‘steal’ is such a strong word.” She said.
“That it is, thief!” I hissed.
I took step to the side so she could see the vacant spot where her companion once stood.
“Aww. What a pity. It appears you’ve been forsaken.” I said. “Just as well. I’ve some private matters to discuss with you. Why would you seek audience with Saar’Jya?”
Some small fragments of her strong demeanor remained, and she refused to answer. To do so, it seemed, would mean the end of whatever plan she had for my treasure or me. Some part of her wished to speak, but her lips were like the strings of a harp. They were pulled too tight to sing.
“Speak!” I snarled. “How does a deity like Saar’Jya grant audience to a rodent like you?”
“I wanted some cheese.” she joked.
“How adorable, thief.” I said.
“I’m not a thief. I’m a soldier!” the creature protested.
“Oh, you’re not a thief? The creature that slinks through darkness seeking to take what is not theirs insists it is not a thief? A yhivux? I think not.” I countered. “However, since you’re unwilling to speak, I suppose I’ll have to take it up with your pointy eared friend. Don’t worry though. I shall grant you the courtesy of a quick death.”
With a searing heave, I unleashed the fire within my breast. The cascade of flames punched from my throat and crashed onto the chamber floor, scattering gold and stone. The Major however was a nimble beast. When the fire cleared, there was no corpse to smolder. She spouted some rather colorful language as she fled.
I clicked my tongue. “Oh dear. This would be so much easier if you just surrender so we can get this over with. You failed in getting my treasure, so just come to me.”
I offhandedly glanced down at where I set my lunar quartz shard, only to find that in the brief moments the Major and I had been speaking, it had vanished.
Vanished. Only it couldn’t have. I’d set it there myself not a few moments prior. How could it have gone? Perhaps I’d disturbed the pile in some way. It must have been buried in here somehow. But though I dug and picked through the treasure all the way to the stone beneath, my prized lunar quartz was nowhere to be found.
As the blood in my veins came to a boil, I heard a voice cry out.
It seemed the reizeek lahaar’rie’vrrick didn’t forsake his Major after all. Peering over my golden bed, I watched as he stepped before the verodu from behind a shelter of gem encrusted pillars.
He stepped before her with open arms. “Bet you thought old reliable Sparks went and…”
With the shriek of a blade, Major Arietta’s grabbed the elf by the clump of fur on his head and placed her polished steel katar against his throat.
“Sparks, you asshole. I told you to get it!” she said.
“You want it? It’s yours.” He shoved his shining satchel in her face.
The blue light of my prize seeped out the top. The little monster had snatched it while I was distracted with the Major. The scheming little beast had plundered me.
I roared from atop the mound of treasure and unleashed my furnace once more, and once more the two proved too quick for the fire. They dashed free of the blast, quarreling as they went. As they fled, the pair disturbed one of my golden mounds, causing the loosely packed coin to sift.
“The entrance is this way!” Sparks said.
“No! It’s here!” Major Arietta countered.
“Trust me, Major! The pussy always knows the way out!” The elf argued.
As their griping continued, the flowing gold unearthed something. Next to them, frozen in death was the charred hand of a corpse, still clutching a half melted dagger. The two looked to the scorched object, and then around the entire chamber. Only then did they see my collection of corpses didn’t end in the tunnel.
“Oh shit.” the Major hissed as she and her companion once more fled.
I called out to them as they went. “Do you smell it, yhivuxii? You’re not the first to reach here, and you won’t be the last to die here.”
With me close behind, the thieves raced along the far wall of the chamber. They weaved in between a pair of polished oak columns connected to a great tapestry. As they raced beneath the priceless cloth, I dove with my jaws agape, ready to swallow them whole.
They once more proved nimble, and I instead got a face full of tapestry for my trouble. The cloth clogged my sight and smell for a precious few seconds the thieves so desperately needed. When I ripped it from my face, the pair had vanished amongst the shifting coins. There were scant sounds or signs of life apart from the beating of my heart and the rage in my breath.
“Let us not partake in this farce anymore. Come to me, verodu, you and that lahaar’rie’vrrick pet of yours.” I said. “Tell me, wizard, how does it feel to know that all your gifts come by virtue of you choking down the blood of a Saar? You are but a leech, with not a single strength as your birthright. Does drinking the blood thrill you, as this thrills me?”
For all their efforts, even the gold couldn’t mask their scent. Their perspiration left a most convenient trail that lead me right back to the entrance and the bodies that guarded it. As I stepped before the open arch, the stench of sweat and fear lead me right to them. Major Arietta and little trembling Sparks hid in the shadow of a large painting, somehow unaware they’d been seen. To the best of their ability, they remained absolutely still.
“Verodu? Reizeek? Come out. I wish to congratulate you.” I said. “You have successfully plundered me. Most impressive. I should like to…discuss the matter with you. Fear not. I shall be merciful as you clearly are not well versed in the Saar. Because if you were, you would know…”
I stabbed my glowing lava eyes right into theirs.
“…I see everything in the dark.”
I lobbed at them a ball of flame. Major Arietta grabbed the clump of fluff that littered Sparks’ head and yanked a shriek right out of him.
“Ayeee!” He cried.
Her efforts pulled them out of the way just in time to avoid the flames. Of course this may have been due to my reservation. I didn’t after all want to harm the painting. The blast nonetheless sent them tumbling through the air. Major Arietta landed on her feet, only to be toppled moments later when Sparks came down on top of her. They collapsed in a heap as I bore down on them.
Sparks had no intention of going quietly. He aimed his stick of a staff at my head. Tiny, flickers of electricity danced around on the tip, building up stronger and brighter as the second drew on. The blood drinker’s hair stood on end as the waves of current overtook his body. It was the spell of lightning.
“Derthanous!” he shouted.
Before the bolt could leap free, the verodu Major pulled the staff back, sending the lightning strike harmlessly into the ceiling and showering us with gravel.
“Sparks, no! We need him alive!” she said.
“You need me alive? Now this is interesting.” I said.
“Okay. Screw this plan!” the reizeek shouted.
Sparks tossed his satchel free and bolted towards the tunnel, feebly leaping over the dead bodies as he went.
“Sparks, god damn it!” she bellowed.
The verodu Major charged after him, plowing through the corpses with disregard. She kicked off jaws and snapped their bones in her frenzied flight, just as I snatched the tossed satchel out of the air.
“Well, that was easy.” I said, more than a little pleased with myself.
Once more, I’d been swindled. The reizeek blood drinker had placed a golden bar in the satchel to weigh it down. In the tunnel, Major Arietta caught her Sparks companion by his hair.
“You’re going back to get that!” she said.
“Relax. It’s perfectly safe between my hams! Honestly, Major. Don’t you know a ringer when you see one?”
I caught that familiar blue aura seeping between the fibers of his too tight pants.
“Son of a bitch!” I roared.
I lumbered after them, shaking the tunnels around us with each step I took.
“Do you think you can…” I began, but I was interrupted by a loud, sickening crunch underfoot. In my haste, I’d stepped on the corpses that littered the tunnel. The dried husks expunged what little remained of their putrid bone marrow all over my fingers.
“Ugh.” I lifted my claws up and flung the remains away. “Disgusting.”
They smelt as vile in death as they tasted in life. Apart from deterring intruders, I could see no use for the dead. To make sure my hand was cleansed, I dragged it across the wall, smearing away any fluids and dust that remained.
I followed the thieves down the twisted labyrinth I’d cut many centuries ago. It was curiously marked with a series of white Xs, each one corresponding to the stench of perspiration and body odor. It seemed these two had been scoping my lair for some time in order to hasten their exit. The verodu’rrut had indeed planned no harm for me. They were expecting, even wanting to be chased.
I trailed their stenches and their white Xs all the way to one of many obstacles that separated them from the outside world. The two reached a fifty-foot wide chasm that opened up into endless dark. A rope hung from a grappling hook fired into the cavern roof, tied to a nearby stone awaiting their arrival.
The Major took hold of the frail thread as her blood-drinking companion hopped onto her back.
“Hang on, Sparks!” the female shouted, and across the chasm they swung.
As they weren’t well versed in the Saar, clearly they also needed brushing up on geology. My lair was carved largely of a fragile type of stone that wasn’t well-liked for weight bearing. The grappling hook held them before, but this was one swing too many. The hook pulled itself loose, and down they went into the dark that would court their doom.
Or so it would have been had I not caught them. I snatched the grappling hook in my claws and pulled the two from oblivion. With a single step I spanned to the other side of the chasm. I pulled the thread out of the blackness, on the end of which they still dangled. I threateningly dangled the two before my maw, my breath ruffled their hair as well as their nerves. They didn’t know whether to feel relief or fear.
“Why’d you do that?” Major Arietta asked.
“Verodu, I’m not letting a rope defeat you instead of me.” I said.
“Oh. We’ll, uh…thanks.” she answered.
I curled back my lips into a sinister toothed smile. “Much obliged. Of course I still plan to kill you.”
The reizeek laughed. “Well, you see there’s a funny story about that. You’re gonna love this. True story…”
He pointed his staff right at my eyes and shouted another spell.
The cave around me vanished in blistering light. As I reached up my hands to shield myself from the blinding flash, I felt the rope sleep free. The pair fell to the floor of the cave and took their flight again.
“Hcraa!” I cursed. “You insolent little bastard! I’ll kill you!”
The recovery of my vision was a painfully slow few seconds, during which time they placed much needed ground between themselves and my fury. I hurled myself down the tunnel, smashing into wall after wall. I tracked them by smells, by steps and of course, by snipes.
“Save the magic for us, Sparks!” the verodu Major said.
“It was that or see who could do the best impression of a roast!” he answered. “Which I totally would have topped you at!”
Our flight took us ever closer to the outer walls of my lair, where above us the great Phoenix River opened up into a cascading waterfall. Tons of falling river reverberated around us as the two neared what may have been the most dangerous obstacle in my humble abode. Over the eons, the flowing water managed to excavate a hole in the rock, allowing the rapids to leak in. The water hastily made its way to another hole that opened up into the outside waterfall, and a three hundred foot drop onto a death of river weathered stone. This room too bore a mark. One of the tubes leading out to the falls has been carefully marked with a red X. Out of the tube came the faint flicker of a violet Haiden dawn.
“Come on, you lazy bastard!” the verodu Major said. “You’d better have enough juice left because if we die from this fall, I’ll kick your ass!”
“Major, do you still doubt me?” the reizeek taunted her.
The reizeek was a blood drinker. If he still possessed the power, he could slow their descent, and spare them a death of being dashed on the rocks.
“You’re going nowhere!” I roared.
I turned loose a stampeding fire upon them, but it was too late. The pair fell into the water and were quickly sucked out the tube, out into the Haiden dawn to freedom. By the time I lunged into the water to grab their bodies, they were already gone. I heard their tiny forms pop out of the tube and into the open air, falling the hundreds of feet straight down. Before they landed, I could hear the blood drinker shout the spell of levitation.
I could barely hear them land, but I could well hear them bicker.
“Sparks, get off!” the Major yelled.
“I can’t swim in rapids like this!” whined the wizard.
“You pointer son of a bitch! If you drown me, I’ll kill you!”
I could not burn through the wall quick enough for it was thicker than my body was long. I’d no choice but to traverse the remainder of the labyrinth, out to the crevasse where daylight awaited.
Upon reaching the opening I found a crude rope ladder gently swinging back and forth from the lip of the crevasse. Seeing this monument to my recent humiliation so enraged me, I ripped the ladder free and smashed it underfoot, bursting from the crevasse into the violet Haiden dawn. A spout of flame from my maw lit the land around me, sending any creature nearby scurrying back into their holes. Then came the stillness for which Silent Pass was known. There was not the chirping of a single cricket, nor the flutter of a single wing, and most importantly, not a single sound from a single, skittering thief.
The five moons were just retreating behind the mountains as the sun sliced into the sky with beams of scarlet light. The light of the sun did little to illuminate where the plunderers had gone.
“Verodu! Reizeek! If you wish any pity, I command that you come to me! I command it!”
Only the morning breeze dared answer. Below me spread the canyon of the Phoenix River, its waters churning in a soup of white foam and mist. Through the mist on the opposite shore I saw where the two had left the water. Their footprints lead to a tree where a freshly cut rope swayed back and forth on the trunk. At the base of the tree were the shifted footprints of beasts. A pair of griffins had been there, waiting to carry the thieves away when they returned. Whatever scent they left behind had been drowned out by the dew-filled mist.
Major Arietta and Sparks, the two cretans that had entered my lair, had escaped. They’d plundered my most prized possession and were now free, the first time any such thing had ever happened in my life of a thousand years. I roared. I roared long and loud, enough for even the mist itself to retreat from me..
I cursed my native tongue up to the heavens, hoping that wherever the two wretches had flown, they could hear me.
“Hcraa! Verodu! Reizeek! Do you think you can escape me? Saar Uz’uyi. Uz’ vlut ae’cha!”
By the long and prosperous history of my people I would track them, I would look down every hole and scour every sea until they were found and made to suffer for this contemptuous crime. I knew not precisely where they were going, but had a good idea where to begin.
“Do you seek to return the gem to Davies’ resting place? Very well. As it is his tomb, so too shall it be yours!”
It was the best guess I had, but it still begged the question for what purpose could they want me alive?
It was as intriguing as it was infuriating, and I aimed to ask them much once they were inevitably found. I spread my colossal wings just as the sun peered over the mountains, casting the landscape before me in shadow. The membrane between my wings’ slender fingers was tickled by the wind, as if the air itself were goading me skyward. With a leap from the canyon’s head, I was aloft, venturing out East above my native Haiden land.
Thus began my journey to the title of ‘hero’. In my anger, I couldn’t have possibly known that the most significant event on this little journey still lay ahead. As I raced across Haiden towards the tomb where Davies lay, I could not have imagined what would happen upon my arrival.
When I met…him.