A Dragon Awakens

This article was originally published on Medium on Dec. 18, 2019. It was originally titled ‘The Awakening’.
**End Note**

My cave trembles under the tremendous assault of battle magic. I instinctively barrel outside and lash out both physically and magically. Bodies and blood fly, and I realize I am under attack by humans.

I curse my luck.

The damn vermin will never leave me alone now. I will either have to kill all of them or relocate my cave. They may be tiny and underpowered, but we dragons have always admired their tenacity.

But why do they attack me?

I will probably never know — the motivations of the tiny creatures are as alien as those of the starriders.

My throat constricts as a powerful force clamps around it. I laugh in disbelief. We discovered the three magicks, developed them for centuries, built our cities around them, and these creatures think they can fight me using it? They would have a better chance of defeating me if they threw pebbles at me.

Perhaps one would hit me in my remaining eye and blind me.

Behind my incredulity, I feel another emotion rising — one I had thought lost to me. Anger comes slowly to me but I know from the old days that my rage is something to be feared.

Dark thoughts tumble through my mind, memories I have suppressed for all these years.

I remember the last battle of the Second Drakonian War. I remember my fall from the sky. I remember seeing my mate fall after me and the ambition in my heart turning to horror. I remember the crater I created when I let loose, the cries and screams as I lost my mind and killed without mercy or compunction, reason deserting me as I slaughtered friend and foe, dragon and human. I remember the horror in my brood’s eyes as I killed them one by one.

I did not care.

I had just lost my love.

I remember the pity tainting the air as my friends looked upon my flight from the great roosts of Dawnflight. The great dragonlord himself, exiled from the same city he ruled for a thousand years. An unprecedented event, but an unavoidable one. I had proven myself unstable, erratic. Who knew when I would lose my mind again?

The council spoke, and I left Dawnflight in disgrace.

All this flashes through my mind in seconds. The old anger rises in my breast and I know that my passion is not dead yet. I am no mammal, to cower under attack. I shall not run.

Not again.

My attack is swift and deadly. Three out of the four battle mages lie dead, and a healer frantically attempts to revive the fourth human. Rows of soldiers start marching towards me, the ones in the front row shaking. I recall my studies on humans and smile as I realize the strange, single-scented creatures are scared. I roar in hilarity and several soldiers break and run as they realize I am laughing. They are scared?

They should be.

I pick up the healer effortlessly and levitate him to eye level. I search my mind for the Ariendale link and push into his mind. I overestimate my strength, and he screams, his head exploding into a red mist. My scales ruffle in disgust and I turn my focus to the surviving mage. The soldiers’ faces look whiter. Several more seem to be running away from me. Evasive maneuvers or retreat? I cannot tell.

I do not understand these mammals.

I flap my wings and soar over them and the soldiers launch massive bolts after me. I roar in amusement. I am no ordinary drake, to be brought down by mechanical ballistae.

I am a dragon and I show the soldiers the magnitude of their error. I unleash my full strength on the humans. Even a full-grown dragon would have difficulty resisting my attacks.

The humans stand no chance.

Some die where they stand. Others die running. Regardless, they die. Massive swathes of the ground are blackened by my fires. Great trees topple or explode into shards that cut through the corpses. I feel no satisfaction. They are too far beneath me to allow for any real battle.

The mage who first attacked me remains alive, but barely. Red liquid (blood, I remember from my human studies) spreads out in a perfect circle around him. I rack my brain for human healing spells, but I have never focused too much on healing. I have always been better at dealing death and destruction.

I try the Ariendale link again. This time, it works.

‘Why did you attack me?’

The human mutters something about a princess and kidnapping. Nonplussed, I toss him aside and crush him underfoot. I roar as the numbness in my heart lifts and I feel more alive than I have in decades. I know what I have to do now. Before I set out to Dawnflight, I glance back at the dead humans.

Strange creatures. What would I do with a princess?

Two Phantoms in an Inn

This article was originally published on Medium on Nov. 27, 2019.
**End Note**

Our tale begins with two friends sitting at an uncomfortably warm and poorly lit inn, sipping the watered-down ale that the bastard innkeeper is overcharging them for. They complain about the weather, their health, traders, and generally everything. You look at them once and nothing stands out. Like most people, you don’t give either a second glance. However, you notice some rather interesting details if you make it to the second glance.

While both seem animated at first, their arms are rather stiff for two conversationalists. Their hands hover around their belts. Their surprisingly hard-bitten eyes constantly search the room as they punctuate their conversations with uproarious laughter. If something gives them away, it is their eyes.

One lacks an arm.

Yes, it is strange to see a one-armed man seated at the inn buying cheap swill — the fringes of the Empire are not friendly to amputees.

The innkeeper lounges at the counter, continuously shooting dirty glances at the men — he knows they mean bad news. Further still, you see a man propped up on a corner seat, cursing incoherently and scratching his head as he holds a one-way conversation. The two friends take notice of him and, as they watch, he slowly turns to face them. Delight, indecision, and horror war on his face, and he stands up, seemingly unsure whether he wants to back out of the room or throw himself at the two men.

The inn is empty, setting the stage for the unfolding drama.

The innkeeper curses and starts as he prepares to intercept the madman, but a gesture from the amputee stops him in his tracks. The innkeeper’s face twists in an ugly grimace and he grudgingly spits in the amputee’s general direction — to be ordered by one who is not whole is degrading to him. He snarls and turns, leaving the madman to his fate.

The madman walks towards the two friends, his legs twitching and shaking as if he does not remember how to walk.

The air is humming with tension.

The man with both arms unsheathes his sword and places it on the table. The amputee cracks his neck and waits warily. Their conversation has died down — their target approaches them.

The madman continues gibbering but the anguish in his eyes belies the incoherency of his words. He knows something is happening to him. He knows he is not well. Tears well up in his eyes and he makes an attempt to regain control over his traitorous body. His lips trembling so hard he can barely be understood, he squeaks out a single word.

“Please,” he moans, before sinking to the floor in pain and weariness.

The amputee redundantly prompts his trainee to pay attention with a look. He squints and seems to move, although no motion is visible. The innkeeper cringes back, the trainee exhales as he sees the act, and the madman screams as the thing inside him comprehends the situation.

The trainee hovers over the madman as the thing inside him tries to struggle, but it is far too late. He sees that the amputee too strong for the demon. He sees his superior capture it, absorbing it into his phantom arm. This is the first time he is seeing the process. Fear and awe course through his system.

Their job is done.

The amputee gestures to his subordinate and both men walk out of the door, the amputee tossing a couple of coins into the inn with his nonexistent arm. The innkeeper realizes they are gold coins, enough to buy his inn a couple of times over.

The ex-madman remains on the floor, gasping for air and crying tears of joy. The innkeeper mutters darkly and slams the door shut, all the while directing even darker glances at the man writhing on the floor.

Deep inside, under the layer of superstition and conditioning, a deeper fear begins to take root. What has he seen? What could it mean?

He knows he will probably never know, and the dissatisfaction pulls at his heart as he locks up and kicks the man out. He wants nothing to do with the magic of the Empire.

“What could it all mean?” he ponders, late at night, as sleep eludes his weary grasp.

“What could it all mean?”

“What could it all mean?”