The fiery breath of his opponent singed the hair on his arm. Lonar knew he would have to move fast if he was going to avoid the inevitable blow that was to follow. The only weakness a dragon possessed was its predictable attack sequence. Lonar saw the tail of the red dragon coming his way and with what little might he had left he mustered a jump just in the nick of time. He felt the rush of smoke filled air pass through him as his feet once again touched the ground. He was quick to steady himself and take up a proper fighting stance. He had been taught the essentials of dragon slaying since he was a young boy. To his left he could hear a deep thud as his father’s shield was skimmed by the front claw of the green dragon. Lonar knew that if he turned his head to check on his father it could be a fatal mistake. Instead, Lonar glared straight on as the red dragon dropped from the sky directly in front of him kicking up so much dust the enormous creature was almost completely hidden for a brief moment. Before the dust even settled Lonar was running full force directly at the dragon, his anger quashed any fear a norm person would being experiencing in this moment. Lonar and his family had been warding off dragon attacks on a regular basis as far back as stories were first told. However, lately the attacks have been getting more and more frequent and more devastating. Something had the dragons more determined than ever to annihilate the entire Gragin clan. Lonar was never concerned with why; his job was simply to fight, to defend his village, his family and the kingdom of Zulbarg. Lonar threw down his shield as he rapidly approached his current nemesis and grabbed his other blade from its snug position on his left calf. He tugged it free with one swift pulled without missing a step. In an instant both his weapons where in place, his left hand level with his chin and his right hand slightly dropped back closer to his waist ready to plunge forward with all his strength. The dragon too was getting into a striking pose. It dropped its head toward the ground so as to be able to get a full on inferno directly aimed at his challenger. Lonar knew what was coming but felt certain he was fast enough to prevent his demise. As the dragon began to take a deep breath in Lonar reached his target and forced his right hand forward driving his sharp blade deep into the side of the dragon’s face. The force was enough to make the dragon lose his breath and gave Lonar time to pull his blade from its flesh. The dragon lifted its head in anguish before Lonar was able to fully free his sword tossing him into the air. Lonar felt the air beneath him and could tell from the sight of the rooftops that he was far too high to hope to land safely. Lonar dropped his head and chest down forcing himself into a backward somersault until he was facing his foe. As his body reached its apex Lonar knew he had to act quickly or the dragon would surely feast on his broken body the minute he hit the ground. He pulled both of his arms back as far as he could then, one at a time he flung them forward releasing each sword with great precision. His first shot was dead on; the dragon was immediately disoriented the moment the blade stuck into his eye. The pain was so overwhelming the dragon flopped to the ground on its side shaking the entire village. The second shot piled directly into the felled dragon’s forehead within seconds it completely stopped moving. Only after seeing this did Lonar have time to consider his fate. He closed his eyes and waited for the end. Without having much time to contemplate it he felt the force of the ground upon him. Then he bounced, back into the air, he didn’t know much about anything other than fighting but he certainly knew that wasn’t supposed to happen. He began to drop back down, more slowly this time; he felt the pressure on his back again but noticed it had some give. He laughed aloud once he realized he had fallen onto an awning of one of the village shops. This time when he landed the awning split wide open dropping him to the ground. In a quick moment Lonar did a mental inventory to make certain everything was in working order. As soon as he was content that it was he recalled that he had no shield and no weapons and his people were still fighting for their lives. He looked around furiously for anything he could use to replace his lost weapons. Off to the right a glint of the sun caught his eye; he immediately knew what it was. He took a quick glance at the three remaining dragons, and quickly determined the best path to get to what he was certain was going to be his saving grace. Lonar knelt behind a large barrel nearby as a dragon’s tail slide by as it went off in pursuit of a villager. As soon as the dragon passed by; Lonar sprinted across the town never taking his eye off the shining beacon. In one quick movement Lonar reached down, the knuckles on his left hand dragging the dirt, he grasped the long wooden handle of the spear lying on ground near the blacksmith’s area. He rolled onto his back, tossing the spear gingerly across the front of his body. Like a magnet the spear attached itself to his right hand as he leapt to his feet, turned toward the dragon that just passed and stretched out his left arm to aim. He hunched forward and balanced himself carefully with his feet planted firmly in the ground then in one swift expulsion of energy the spear shattered the air around it as it embedded itself into the back of the skull of the dragon. Lonar just watched in satisfaction as his second kill of the day drifted downward to its final resting place. As the dragon’s body hit the ground the village roared, its chin hit a cart causing its neck to snap back. Lonar felt his skin twinge as this new position made it look as though the dragon was staring right back at him. Lonar couldn’t help but feel something was strange about the sight. The dragon’s face actually appeared sad, almost of if it knew it was dying and more than that; it cared. Screams from all around brought Lonar back to reality. He quickly turned back to the fighting in the field behind him only to see that the dragons were retreating into the forest. As the villagers screamed in victory Lonar surveyed the bodies of the men on the ground. His heart sank the instant he noticed one of them was his father.
Larsynth felt a cold wind blow through her soul on the still and hot afternoon. She pulled her arms to her chest giving herself a hug. Her long chestnut hair spilled around her face and shoulders as she slightly hunched forward. She braced herself for the soon to follow putrid scent, she knew she would never get used to that part. She wrinkled her nose as it hit her. No one around seemed to notice her odd behavior considering the immense heat of the day. As soon as the uncomfortable prelude surpassed Larsynth straightened up and prepared for the main event. She looked about the scene, quickly calculating where and how it was going to happen. A tinge of excitement flowed through her; she loved being here for this. Most Necrosights felt that they were only meant to be witnesses of death and not to interfere with the natural order. Others, like Larsynth’s father, believed that this was their gift and it was meant to be used. Larsynth wasn’t yet sure how she felt about it as a moral issue but she loved the challenge. She saved as many people as she was able but only as a game; not because she felt it was her given duty to preserve anyone’s life. Larsynth continued to look around trying to figure out how she was going to out smart death this time. Suddenly, she saw it; the slow-motion, fast-forward of some poor soul’s last minute alive. While everyone else just saw an old man walking through the busy marketplace, Larsynth saw the haze of the attacker behind him plunging a dagger into his back and the poor old man falling to the ground. It looked as if a mass of black smoke was able to form itself into the characters and actually play out the scene before dissipating back into the air. Larsynth clearly recalled the first time she saw such a sight. She had been traveling with her father for as far back as she could remember and had no other family. Her father decided it was best not to tell his young, overly friendly daughter of her family’s heritage for fear she would either inadvertently tell someone about their secret or the very idea of it would scare her as it did him when he was first told about the gift at a much too young age. Larsynth was only eight years old when walking through a marketplace very similar to this one she felt the cold chill and smelled the horrid death scent. She couldn’t figure out what was happening. Her father was right beside her and knew what was about to happen. He quickly pulled her up into his arms and held her tight whispering in her ear not to be afraid. Larsynth thought that her father had lost his mind. She couldn’t figure out what he could possibly be talking about and hadn’t been afraid until he told her not to be. Then she saw it; the black smoke parading about as imitating an old woman grabbing her chest and falling to the ground. Larsynth thought, at first, that the pantomime was funny, a joke of some kind. She could see right past the smoke and watch the very same old woman walking about just fine. The smoke disappeared and then she saw the old lady grab at her chest, her eyes bulged out as she gasped for breath before falling to the ground. Larsynth yelped in shock and horror. Her father still had a very tight grip on her gently pushed her head into his chest as he quickly turned leaving the marketplace looking for a secluded place to explain what had just happened to this very scared little girl. He told her about his people and the gift they shared. He told her that it was his belief that whenever possible they should try to help these poor souls avoid the hand of death but that sometimes, as with this old lady, it was beyond their abilities. Larsynth understood all that he said but considered her ability more as a great power than a gift and tended to treat it as such. She was always willing to play the game. As it was, one had just begun. Hastily thinking, Larsynth was off. Pushing her way through the crowd she grabbed a large platter from a dealer’s table and quickly lifted it up behind the old man as if to admire either the intricate carvings, or her own reflection, a bit closer. The instant she lifted the plate a sharp ring let out and the assailant shrieked in pain. She smiled slyly to herself as she bent over to snatch up the weapon. She coolly turned to the man and politely asked if his hand was ok. He glared at her hard, his eyes searching her face for some sort of explanation as to what had just happened. His disbelief and pain overtook him. He wasn’t able to even comprehend that she had just taken his dagger or that the old man had now disappeared in to the crowd. She wanted to laugh at his stunned silence but instead just wanted to get on with her shopping. She slipped the dagger into her pocket and continued her way through the marketplace looking for anything of interest. She couldn’t help but look back over her shoulder at the man still staring blankly at the hand he was now cradling. He looked up at her just in time to see her smirk. She flicked her flowing hair back over her shoulder as she strode on in victory.
Larsynth strutted through the marketplace flitting from table to table handling anything she thought might be of interest. She was a natural beauty. Her elegant hair matched the deep chocolate brown of her eyes. At one table, she found a small silver gilded hand mirror. She carefully sized up the merchant. She pondered whether or not it was possible that he was actually more round than he was tall but quickly shook the thought from her head. She noticed how he waddled rather than walked and that his arms where too short so that he couldn’t fold them in front of himself. He appeared cheerful and kind; she knew he would be an easy target.
“Sir, can you please tell me how much is this adorable mirror? My granny would just love it,” she asked in her cutest and most charming little voice but the merchant had not yet looked away from his current business dealing.
“I’ll have to look at it closer,” he grumbled from the other table finishing that transaction. He shuffled over to the mirror. Looking, for the first time, directly into her face his features immediately softened.
“What a sweet girl you are to think of your granny. For you, 5 pieces.”
Larsynth gave her best pout as she flicked her long eyelashes. Her looks gave her a definite advantage but weren’t so overwhelming that she caused a scene. Most people wouldn’t notice her walking by but were often struck by her attractiveness only after something had drawn their attention to her face.
“Oh no, I don’t have that much.”
She pretended to slowly put the mirror down, certain to make a good show. She was sure to speak loud enough so that the kindly looking older gentleman beside her could hear the scene as well. She always said it was better to try to catch two fish just in case one got away.
“I was really hoping to make this birthday the best ever before she moves away.”
She could hardly contain her smile as both the merchant and the man beside her frowned in sorrow for her predicament. She figured if she did this just right she may be able to get the mirror from the merchant and some flowers from the stranger. Without warning, a large hand came in from behind her and snatched the mirror out of her grasp.
Before she could react in a manner that would be appropriate for her current character she heard the familiar voice; “Don’t worry my dear, I have already gotten a gift for granny.” Larsynth grinned at the shop keeper as relief wiped the empathy from his face.
“Come now, we don’t want to be late for granny.”
Larsynth could feel the dirt and hard ground grinding on the tops of her toes as her arm felt like it was going to be pulled from its socket. Her father had a tight grip on her wrist and wasn’t about to let go.
“Daddy, stop! I can walk myself. Let go of me!”
“Larsynth!” his thundering voice shook deep in her chest. “You will not act in such a deceitful manner. We are not liars or beggars”
She felt ashamed, not for what she had done but because her dad, of all people, caught her. She cared for little in this world other than herself and her father. His opinion of her meant everything and she could see that she had hurt him deeply.
“We may not have a lot but what we do have we got honestly.”
She could tell that he was not only angry because she was being dishonest but also because he was embarrassed. She had made him feel insufficient and she knew she would never forgive herself for that.
“I didn’t really want it. I just wanted to see if I could talk him down on the price.”
“Do you think I don’t know the games you play? The way you get weak willed men to buy you things? Eventually, you will get a reputation and that would risk exposing us. Are you willing to have that happen?”
“Daddy, that wouldn’t happen. You’re over reacting.”
She feared that he was about to tell her she wasn’t allowed to go back to the market.
“Oh you think so? You don’t know what it was like before and you should be glad.”
She knew this wasn’t the time to point out that Necrosights hadn’t been slaves in hundreds of years and he hadn’t been alive then either. But she knew that his parents told him of the horrors so often that at times he felt as though he had lived through it himself.
He let go of her wrist and took a step back away from her almost in disgust. She carefully studied her dad trying to read just how severely she had messed up this time. He seemed like a giant to her but always a gentle one. His silver hair just dusted the tops of his shoulders whenever he shook his head at her usually out of amusement in spite of himself. But that wasn’t the case this time; he was not amused. She longed to see the wrinkles on his forehead and beside his eyes appear like they did anytime she was able to make him smile or even better, laugh. She adored her father more than anything in the world and hated herself for all the pain and frustration she knew she caused him.
He bent down and softly took her by the shoulders, “no matter how many millennia I live I will never stop protecting you from the terror that I know would befall us if anyone ever discovered who or what we are.”
She knew, of course, that he was right. She could see in his eyes that this fear haunted him day and night and she once again felt the sting of disappointing him.
“I promise, no more. I’ll do better at staying hidden.”
He let go of her and smiled weakly. It was clear that he wanted to believe her. She knew she had to change the subject quickly and a small reminder of the good things she did wouldn’t hurt.
“I saved a man at the market today.”
As soon as the words left her mouth she wondered how he would react. She knew that he’d be pleased that she saved someone but would the risk of being caught set him off again?
“I was really careful, no one noticed a thing.” She added quickly reassuring him. “Some thief was going to stab an old man but I blocked his dagger with a plate. It was actually funny.”
Larsynth pulled the dagger from her pocket and handed it to her father with great pride, like a trophy. She could see his eyes soften as he looked in his hands at the gift. She beamed.
“Excellent work, Lar.”
It was clear that he was as relieved to move on to something else as she was. He turned the dagger over in his hands for a moment before slipping it into his boot.
“Time to head back.”
As he stood back up Larsynth noticed that even when he was doubled over like that her father was taller than she was. It was times like that when she stared in awe of her father. He gathered up their belongings and packed the horse.
“Going to get dark soon. You ready?”
His voice broke the silence.
“Yeah, let’s go.”
She easily climbed up the horse and into position for the journey back to this week’s camp.
“Lonar, son of Hulzer, are you ready for The Retelling?” his uncle announced officially. It was the moment in the Feast of Soul’s that Lonar was most dreading. While he greatly respected the customs of his people he felt like this was pointless. The last battle with the dragons was devastating. Only five had survived; himself, his brother, two cousins and an uncle. They were all gathered at the sacred Mount of the Feast to celebrate those who had bravely died in battle and to ask them to hold a place for them in Metalor. He couldn’t help but feel a bit silly retelling a story to only four others who, he knew, had heard it at least a half a dozen times in just the last month. Any one of them could recite it in their sleep by this time. He wasn’t sure if this privilege was supposed to bring comfort or merely a distraction but he accepted the need to follow tradition. He knew his father would have wanted him to do so. Even the thought of pleasing his dad brought him a momentary pang of sadness that tore through his whole body. But it was, after all, the curse of the Gragin clan to have to pay for the misdeeds of their ancestor, Sharsin, until the last of the dragons had either been destroyed or left this land. Lonar knew all too well the story of Sharsin and the Dragon. But that night, for the first time, he really thought about the story of how his people became destined to be the dragon slayers of Zulbarg as he retold it to the few Gragin survivors.
“This is the first story of our people. I tell it to you as it was told to me, Listen carefully, as you will tell it to those who will come after I have been struck down gloriously in battle, as my father before me. We celebrate his honor as we celebrate the honor of all those who died beside him in our great calling.” The words sprang forth effortlessly.
“To Metalor!” The other four declared not only the fate of their loved ones but a fate they, themselves, knew was close at hand. Lonar closed his eyes recalling the first time he was permitted to participate in the Feast. His father pointed out every important detail of the ceremony, explaining anything Lonar didn’t understand. He clearly remembered the deafening roar as the men made this statement, in those days there were closer to 100 of them at the Feast to celebrate their fellow clansmen.
“How pathetic we must look to them from their place in Metalor,” Lonar thought to himself. He was determined to give his father’s well earned commemoration the honor and dignity it deserved so he pulled back his shoulders and continued louder than before.
“Shortly after the beginning of time, Sharsin, the first mother of Gragin, walked through the forest gathering bark and berries. She came upon a cave far to the west.” He pointed toward it.
“She entered the cave, as she had every right to do.” He made certain to make that point clear, as was custom.
“She got lost in the cave and desperately searched for the way out when she saw a brilliant light. She knew this was her way back home so she followed it. But when she got to the source of the light she found a room piled high with stacks of gold and gems. This was the most incredible sight she had ever seen. Gold surrounded her. But, she was an honorable woman and knew that surely this all must belong to someone so she decided to carefully leave and not touch anything. As she turned to leave, she came face to face with a horrible creature, a dragon. She had seen nothing like it before. This creature quickly snatched her up and squeezed her tight in its gruesome claw shouting at her that she would surely die.” Lonar made a sideways fist to illustrate the dragon squeezing the poor woman.
“Sharsin was terrified and begged for forgiveness. Finally, after 10 days of torture the dragon agreed to let her go but only if she swore to him that she would never tell another soul where his cave was hidden. She agreed and quickly ran back home. For three years, Sharsin kept her promise to the ferocious dragon until one day a traveling merchant came to town. This man had seen dragons and knew of the great treasures they kept hidden away. He believed that someone from the village had to have known where the dragon slept so he put a magic charm over all the people while they slept.” He made a sweeping motion with his arm. He had seen this played out by so many others he had all the movements memorized and knew when to use them to emphasize the important parts of the story.
“The next morning without control of herself, Sharsin told the merchant what she knew. Off the merchant man went to find the treasure. The same dragon who caught Sharsin also captured the man. The merchant quickly told the dragon that Sharsin didn’t keep her promise and that the whole town not only knew about the treasure but was planning a raid on the dragon and being an upstanding person he could not stand for such treachery so he came himself to warn the dragon of the attack.” Lonar’s face showed the disgust all Gragin still felt for all traveling merchants.
“The next sunrise, hundreds of dragons attacked her village. Only a handful of Gragin survived.” Lonar looked into each of his remaining kinsmen’s eyes and could see that this part of the story weighed heavily on them too.
“But they flourished in spite of the new enemy. Even though Sharsin never intentionally betrayed the dragon we Gragin have kept the kingdom of Zulbarg safe from the loathsome creatures for centuries. It is our destiny to protect the Zulbarg, and so we fight as our ancestors did and we will continue to fight!” Lonar raised his fist high into the air, the other men followed.
“To Metalor!” Lonar called.
“To Metalor!” His kin answered.
Lonar threw himself into his seat beside his uncle.
“You did your father great honor with that Retelling, Lonar.” He clasped his hand on Lonar’s shoulder.
“Thank you, uncle.” Lonar was relieved that it was over. He was spent. Important decisions would have to be made the next morning and Lonar was anxious for sleep.
Lonar kicked a piece of charred wood still lying in the village center. Most of the small shacks were unrecognizable by now. He marveled at how easily his people been able to rebuild and get back to life as normal every time an attack interrupted a day’s events but now that nearly everyone was gone all that remained was rubble. He loved them for their resilience but today he wasn’t able to recall that feeling of pride for their fortitude. Instead, he was awestruck over the unprecedented number of casualties from the last battle. That morning Lonar’s brother proposed that it was time for the five of them to leave Zulbarg. Lonar surveyed the destruction concluding that his home would never likely see its glory again. His uncle insisted that in spite of this overwhelming defeat it was the solemn duty of the Gragin to defend the people of Zulbarg. The Zulbarg were just innocent bystanders who were made to suffer for the crimes of the Gragin. He argued that it would be dishonorable to leave the people on there own against the dragons especially since they have never fought them before. He proposed that the five of them would stay and teach the King’s army the ways of fighting the dragons. They would not leave those people defenseless. Lonar feared that it was too late and the only thing this would accomplish would be to get a great number more people killed. If the dragons were just capable to wiping out almost the entire Gragin clan what chance would some unprepared soldiers have even with their training. How much time would they even have to train them? The attacks have been coming so frequently he doubted the King’s army would stand any more of a chance against the creatures than his own people had and they after all, were born to fight the dragon scourge. It has always been the Gragin’s responsibility to keep the dragons as far away from the people as possible; which is why the Gragin never lived inside the city walls but built their own small village to the west; to keep the dragons from attacking the castle. Lonar feared that the dragons would see that the soldiers were being sent out from the walled city and decide to directly attack it. He could not help but feel that no matter what new plan they considered it would end up a disaster for the people of the kingdom and the Gragin would have failed. He knew that either way he had to go see the King and ask at least for reinforcements for now. He felt great relief at the thought that the King would be a wise man with many advisors and that perhaps they would be able to come up with a more reasonable idea. He was spent and wasn’t even sure how clearly he was thinking. He decided that it was time to push it all aside and leave it for the brighter men that he would find at the castle. Now, for only the second time in his life, Lonar was going to travel to the walled city. He was being sent to see King Cryptis. Lonar was to tell him that his people had been struck down and that reinforcements would be needed to keep the Zulbarg kingdom safe from the increasing dragon attacks. As he reached the edge of the village he surveyed his journey ahead. The castle was down in the valley below where his clan had set up their community all those years ago. It would take less than half a day’s walk to see the King. He knew that if he was swift he could meet with him yet today, rest there for the night and be back home by the afternoon meal. Lonar decided to make haste and be on his way. Not expecting this journey to be too out of the ordinary Lonar could never have imagined how this trip would turn his world upside down so quickly.
Lonar reached the city gate well before evening meal and felt confident that he was on schedule. He had little doubt that the King would be anxious to speak to him as throughout the history of Zulbarg the Gragin had always been honored guests of the King anytime they found reason to visit.
“I am Lonar of the Gragin clan to the west, protectors of Zulbarg from the evil dragon scourge. I must see the King. It is of grave importance.” Lonar declared to the watchman.
“Yes, of course.” The guard snapped alive as he shouted to the others to open the gate and escort this man to the King.
Lonar slightly bowed his head in recognition of the man’s understanding of the importance of being hurried. The massive door sounded like thunder as it slowly showed the way into the protected city.
“Come with me,” another guard directed. He purposefully walked Lonar through the bustling town. He was a small child the only other time he had been here and felt the same wonder now as he did then. There were more people in this one small area than he had ever seen in one place in all his life. The largest the Gragin ranks had ever swelled to had been 400 but that was long before his time. There had to be a couple of thousand people here. Lonar tried hard to keep an official air about him as this was a vital mission but his senses were overwhelmed. He was impressed by the soothing hum of the town. Everything seemed to move like a well choreographed dance. The merchants in the market sang out to the shoppers, the best of them attracting the most people to their table.
His mouth watered as they passed a shop with fresh baked bread.
“Best bread in all the land,” the man called out to him obviously noting Lonar’s interest. The guard scowled as they continued on through town. Lonar did his best to keep pace with him as he pushed his way by the crowds. As they came upon the blacksmith Lonar was comforted by the familiar clang of the hammer. Every Gragin male was trained from a young age to forge his own weapons and this craft was something Lonar enjoyed immensely. He loved the satisfaction of creating something rather than destroying it. He felt a sudden flash of pain as an unruly spark singed his arm. He was accustomed to the feeling and found it reassuring. It was nice to be in a place full of life unlike his home which was now all but empty. He was saddened at the thought of his home and his people. He had been so caught up in the excitement of this strange place he had nearly forgotten the destruction of all he loved.
Breaking his concentration, Lonar felt that something had a hold of the back of his tunic. He quickly turned in time to see a tall gangly man with flowing white hair look him directly in the eye and say, “Eclant. I am Eclant.” The man looked crazy; he was sopping wet hunching his chest and shoulders to the left while ringing out his hair with both hands. Lonar looked down at the man’s feet noticing a small puddle forming but didn’t see any type of trail to indicate from which direction the man had just come. He scanned back up to the man’s face but instead only saw the tips of his hair flying upward as the rest of his body hit the ground after a child ran by easily knocking him over. The child glanced back and giggled as the man struggled to his feet. Lonar tried to suppress his amusement at this strange man as he reached out a hand to help him up. Lonar decided he was harmless and simply smiled as the man thanked him.
“Watch out for the little ones,” Lonar warned as he turned back to the guard to continue on his way to the King.
“Crazy old fool,” the guard spat at Eclant, “pay him no mind. We’re almost there.” Lonar was anxious to meet with the King but was now even more excited to investigate the town further after he had finished his business.
As they walked into the castle passed a few more guards Lonar was struck by the difference of the atmosphere inside the castle as to outside in the city. Inside the castle was cold and dank. Everything was gray stone. As far as the eye could see, the floor, the walls and the ceiling were all stone. It gave Lonar an eerie feeling but he shook it off as he prepared what he was going to say when he met with the King.
“Wait here.” The guard commanded more forcefully than he had yet spoken to Lonar.
He stood patiently outside the chamber entrance trying to retain a tight grip on his nerves. He thought about his father, he thought about the dragons he had killed, he thought about his people and the story of Sharsin and he relived the previous night. He knew that it was up to him to make the King aware of their failing but he was determined to do so with honor. He would not hide his people’s defeat and refused to make any excuse for it. He would simply make the King aware, offer himself for any necessary punishment and return home with reinforcements.
“Come,” the guard said as he peered out the opening. Lonar’s leg felt heavy as he took his first step into the presence of the King. He stopped for a moment and took a deep breath reminding himself that this was his duty.
He stormed into the chamber with confidence and without so much as a glance around the room he declared, “My King, I am Lonar, son of Hulzer of the Gragin clan. I have come with unfortunate news. There are only five of us that remain. We are strong and will continue to fight until it is our time to enter Metalor but I fear the kingdom is not safe.”
“Is this so?” the King interrupted. He stood up forcefully from his seat at a long wooden table with what looked like maps sprawled all around it and stared intently at Lonar’s face. “How did it come to pass that the great Gragin clan has fallen?” Lonar cringed at the remark.
“The dragons, majesty, they have been attacking with a frequency never before seen. We were unable to keep them at bay. We have failed our great King Cryptis and the entire kingdom of Zulbarg. I have come to accept punishment and to secure more soldiers and women so that we may continue to fight and to repopulate our ranks.” Lonar was careful not to look the King in the eyes. At first, he was impressed with how unalarmed the King was but before long was simply baffled by his bizarre responses.
“You shall have no punishment other than the pain of your loss. I wouldn’t care to waste my time. You may take whatever whores go willingly. They are of no consequence to me. But soldier’s you may not have. I care little of the Gragin and never have. Go back to your village and tell the others the King no longer requires your service as it is insufficient anyway.” The King laughed mockingly. Lonar knew that he should not contradict the King’s wishes but without soldier’s they would all die. There would be no point in taking back any women because it would surely mean their death and he certainly wasn’t going to make the future of Gragin based out of the wombs of whores. None of this made any sense. The Gragin were always held in high regard by the previous Kings. He studied King Cryptis as he tried to process what was happening. He could tell that without his royal cloak he would not be a very impressive man. He was scrawny with black stringy hair. His face was pale and his eyes a cold black void. This man looked more like a rodent than a King. Lonar felt a sudden urge to strike him but knew far better than to act in such a treasonous way. He gathered himself and swallowed his anger.
“But, your majesty, without more men the few of us remaining will not be able to protect the castle from attack. The dragons have become more blood thirsty than ever. I fear for the great people of your kingdom.” Lonar couldn’t believe that he would have to explain this to the King. Surely, he understood.
“Do you take me for a fool, man? Am I not King? I say no more men. If the dragons will come let them come. I have no fear of such things. Now leave.” The King sat back down and returned his attention to his maps. Lonar stood a moment in silent disbelief before the guard that escorted him there took him by the arm. Lonar yanked it free and marched out of the chamber in anger and disbelief. Once again he felt as though he had failed.
Lonar wandered around town that night for some time trying to clear his head. His encounter with King Cryptis had him at a loss. This wasn’t at all how he expected his visit to turn out. What was he to do? Was it time for his people to move on? If the King no longer wanted them there then maybe they should go. But they were Gragin; that was all they knew how to be. What would they do now? He couldn’t believe how silent the city was at night. How crisp the air was. He was in a daze considering what his future may hold for it was clear that everything had changed. He wondered how his brother and uncle were going to take the news. Would they blame him? Was there anything he could have said differently? Could he have pushed more to make the King see? He was sure there was no more he could have done. The King was not concerned about the dragons. Lonar couldn’t get beyond that thought in his head. How could he just not be worried about them? Did he not care about his people at all? Even if he didn’t care for his people he had to realize that if the dragons attacked the city they would surely kill him too. Lonar’s head spun around and around like this for what seemed like hours as he meandered around town in a stupor. The moon caught his gaze and for a moment removed him from his trance. As he stared at it he decided that it was time to rest before his return trip home. Suddenly, Lonar felt some unseen force knock him to the ground. The next thing he knew he was on his stomach with someone on top of him.
“Oh my word, that was dreadfully precise now wasn’t it? I do apologize. That must have been an extraordinary show of concentration on my part wouldn’t you say?” The oddly familiar voice remarked in the dark. Lonar felt the boney man attempting in vain to remove himself but with all the flailing around was only managing to make matters worse. By the third time his hand came toward Lonar’s head he grabbed it and grumbled, “Just stop for a moment and let me.”
“Yes, a much better plan I’d say.” The man stopped moving completely as Lonar rolled on his side clearing the man off of him. He sprang to his feet then looked at the wreck on the ground still lying perfectly immobile. Lonar rolled his eyes.
“I just meant for you to hold still a moment not for the rest of eternity.” He grabbed the man by the waist and stood him up recognizing Eclant by his actions more than his looks.
“I suppose that was silly of me. I just don’t really have degrees of motion it’s usually all or nothing with me you know.”
“As a matter of fact, I don’t know.” Lonar didn’t want to be annoyed with the man but couldn’t help it.
“Right, yes, of course, you wouldn’t.” Eclant clambered on incoherently for a moment.
“So, you okay then?” Lonar asked hoping to end this latest peculiar encounter.
“Yes, fine, sure.” Eclant started. As he noticed Lonar walking away he panicked, “No, no I’m not. I’m… broken. My left ankle.” He said picking up his right leg.
Lonar gave him a suspicious look narrowing his eyes and said, “Well, you seem to be standing on it just fine.”
Eclant quickly changed legs before finally exhaling with exhaustion from the useless charade.
“No, you see, what I mean is I have important information for you. It’s about the King and the dragons. You see…” Eclant’s voice trailed off as he seemed to look right passed Lonar, “Oh no, not already. Yes, of course, well there was me landing on you and the falling and all that… I guess it did take some time but really…” Suddenly, he was gone. He disappeared right in front of him. Lonar couldn’t believe what he had just seen. Was this some type of magic? He stood staring at the spot Eclant had once occupied for a long moment before he decided it must be his mind playing tricks on him.
The next morning Lonar set off for home to pass along the unbelievable news to his kin. He knew that a lot of hard decisions were going to have to be made about the future of his clan. His journey back was longer and more difficult than the one to town. Not only was he emotionally drained and preoccupied but the trail was uphill and the sun was hot on his back. He pondered the events from the day before; the incredible bustling town with all the amazing sights and sounds overloading his senses, the horrid King who clearly did not seem to care about either the Gragin or his own people and the crazy man appearing and disappearing out of nowhere. As he considered all that had happened to him, he feared his uncle would think that either he had gone mad or that this was all a joke or trick; these things certainly couldn’t have been real. The King would never abandon the Gragin and a man appearing and disappearing by magic? It could not be. Magic was only in the fairy tales told to small children. Lonar agonized over how his uncle would react to his story of the fantastic events of the previous day. Lonar decided it may be best to leave out the parts with the crazy white haired man. It was more important to deal with the new issues brought on by the lack of cooperation from King Cryptus. As he climbed the last precipice his stomach rumbled loudly. He still had more than an hour to go and while he was eager to return to his home he determined that a quick break and some berries may be a fine distraction. He sat down on a rock near a berry bush slowly pulling off one berry at a time and popping them into his mouth. His hands quickly became stained red. He knew the image all too well as he had been a warrior all of his life but for some reason looking at his hands now with the berry juice as a reminder, he felt his stomach tighten. He quickly resolved that it was time to move on as he tried in vain to get the stain off his hands. He recalled a small creek up ahead and decided to head that way as he suddenly felt an overwhelming need to clean off the blood red juice. Finally, reaching the edge of the water he knelt down next to it and picked up a smooth stone rubbing it furiously over his hands rid them of the stain. A wind wafted in carrying with it the smell of something burnt. It was familiar to him as it filled is nostrils. At once his stomach dropped. He bound to his feet and ran toward home. His mind was filled with panic. He knew the dragons were back. He knew that his four kin were alone in the village holding off the attack waiting for Lonar and the army sent by the King. He knew they would be fighting bravely. Worst of all he knew that relief was not coming. Only he, Lonar, would come to their aid. No army would be marching in with him in triumph to relieve these weary warriors in battle. He would stand beside, fight and most likely die with them. He knew that right now, in this moment, this was going to be the end of the Gragin clan. His pace sped beyond anything he thought he was capable of as he raced to fight by the sides of his beloved comrades. His chest and eyes burned as he ducked to avoid branches. He looked like he was almost dancing the way he hoped over a tree trunk then weaved passed a thorn bush. His reflexes were beyond compare. He finally spotted the landmark his eyes had been craving, the tiny hill right outside the village. Running even faster through the clearing to the hilltop he saw it: everything was gone, smoke billowed from the ruins. He stopped dead at the top of the hill as the realization hit him; he was too late. Looking up he noticed the tails of two dragons flying back to their lair. The battle had just ended. He knew the rest of his family was dead. His head dropped in despair, the red stains on his hands were all he could see through his grief.
Lonar stood in the center of what little was left of his village. The fires raged all around him, soon all that would remain of his home would be embers and ash. He was stunned by the scene, the only thing more gruesome than the toppled buildings were the remains of the last of his kin, slaughtered. For the first time in the history of the Gragin, there would be no Feast of Soul’s after this battle. As he slowly examined the ruins, his heart sank, the realization that he was now the last of his kind began to take hold. But something about this scene gnawed at him. The destruction was far too vast and unnecessary for what it would have taken the dragons to finish off so few men. Lonar pushed the thought aside assuming it was just a finishing blow. As he walked toward the corpses of his fallen relatives, the black smoke chocked him and burned his eyes making them water in defense. A few steps away from the ravaged body of his uncle, Lonar noticed several strange disturbances in the ground like it had been dug up. He couldn’t imagine how this type of thing would occur during a battle and as he looked around the remnants of the town he noticed more of these peculiarities. As he considered what may have been the reasons behind the strange sights he grew more and more enraged. He determined that the dragons not only came to massacre his few remaining brethren they also set out to completely demolish their little town, his only home. He couldn’t help but feel that these acts were not only savage but dishonorable. As his head quickly turned from one sight of destruction to another he became dizzy and increasingly irate. There was no other reason for the dragons to have done this. He determined this was an attempt to erase any memory or evidence that the Gragin had ever even existed. It was the worst possible insult and was only ever enacted on a foe to which you considered unworthy not only of respect but of life itself. Seldom had this harshest of acts ever been employed. He knew it was not something the Gragin would ever do as they always respected those with whom they fought. Otherwise, it would be a dishonor to even raise arms against one so unfit for life. He again considered the whole meaning behind the attempt to not only defeat but to erase the Gragin. The anger was almost impossible to control.
“Then they will succeed,” he declared.
Lonar picked up the largest log he could find. He grabbed it with both hands and stood it up on its end. He would have been able to rest his chin on it comfortably. He then wrapped his hands around it in the middle as if picking up a person by the waist. With little effort he hoisted the giant log up and rested it on his right shoulder. He took one final look around the battered and dying village. His chest puffed out as the rage completely overtook his body leaving him no longer in control of his own actions. He trudged over to the nearest building staring at it for a long moment. Then in a flash, he raised his entire body on to his toes, pulling is shoulders up as far as they could go and quickly with all his weight dropped back down on his heals. He was in position already as the log was still falling back into place on his shoulder. Before reaching its destination Lonar reached to the right and grabbed the log with both hands as he twisted his torso even farther to the right then with all his strength he pulled his left shoulder back causing his entire body to spring to the left. The log retraced its previous path around his body with incredible force before landing a hard blow to the corner support of the little burnt building. As the last of the strength in the shack gave way the entire small hut fell to the ground. Lonar watched imagining he was watching his uncle’s final fall to his death. He went from building to building bringing each one down with one swing of the log. As he watched them fall he thought of a person he had loved and saw instead them falling. The beams of the building became their arms and legs and the crumpled pile on the ground became their body. The last bit of smoke became their cries of pain and tears. The crashing sounds of the huts releasing and hitting the ground became their accusations and displeasure for Lonar. He knew they were right to curse him, he had failed them all. After the last one had been demolished Lonar dropped the log as he walked back to the little hill top to the east of the village, the spot where he first discovered that he was too late. He sat for a long time, looking at the final destruction of his home; at the bodies of his kin. He knew he had to be the one to finish tearing down the town his people built; he refused to give the dragons that satisfaction. As the sun began to set on him and his home, Lonar knew what he had to do. There was no future for him; he refused to be the last of his kind. He would not roam the world bearing the shame of being the coward who didn’t die with his clan. He slowly pulled himself to his feet and with one last look at his nightmare he calmly walked off into the forest to find the dragon’s cave.