Damn them all. For years, they came. They tried
to take what belonged to us. They tried to take our lives. They came again and
again, never leaving us in peace. And why? Greed. Simple, petty greed.
For half a century, I stood guard over our treasure: the Flower. From it, we took our life, our power, and our strength. It grants us our immortality, and the power to protect it. We spent an age in peace, until they came. Humans. Horrible, vile creatures, driven only by their own selfish desires. They do not understand the pain they caused, the damage to our clan. My time comes to an end soon. I will impart upon you my tale. I am the last of us - the last of the dragons.
My time began, as did all of ours, with the Hatching. I broke free from my egg, into the darkness of the cave, the only light coming from the flames of my elders. They roared, triumphant. A new dragon in the world. I roared in response, more of a squeak in truth, and bounded towards the flames. I could see the flicker of the flames reflect off my scales, a deep red.
The flames intrigued my young mind. Deep in my soul, I could feel the safety, the comfort of the fire, yet I felt wary. I poked the flames with my snout, feeling the warmth on my scales. It felt good. It felt safe. I crawled into the fire, and curled up, bringing my tail about my body. The still soft spines stroked my nose, and I sneezed. It startled me, and I leapt from the flames. The other dragons snorted in amusement as I hid behind a spire of rock. In retrospect, I suppose I did seem rather silly.
Without a sense of time, my youth passed quickly. The adults kept me in the deep parts of the cave, with no light other than the flames. I would not see the sun for many years. I spent my days, and nights probably, prowling through the lattice of tunnels in the cave. Back then it seemed vast. Then again, it always ended. Either I would find a stone wall blocking my path, or an elder to keep me in bounds. No matter how large or long the tunnel, reaching the end frustrated me.
As time passed, I grew. As I grew, I became restive. I started fighting with the other youths, snapping and wrestling. I felt no malice towards them; it merely occupied our seemingly endless time together. Then, one day, it all changed. One day, I reached the end of a tunnel, blocked by an elder. He eyed me up and down, examining me. I could see a light behind him, making his silver scales gleam. With a quick nod, he stood aside, and I saw it. I saw the sun for the first time. I no longer spent my time in darkness, shielded from the world beyond. I ran out of the tunnel, stretched my wings, and roared.
I inhaled deeply. The air out here felt, and smelled, so much fresher, so much clearer. I could smell so many new things. I stood upon a patch of grass, surrounded with space, the moist blades flattened beneath my feet. Then I felt it. I could feel warmth inside of me, a heat beyond measure. I opened my mouth and roared again; only this time a stream of bright blue flame joined the sound. I roared again and again, filling the air with my fire. I could hear other roars behind me. I turned to see my fellow youths on the grass, joining me in a chorus of thunder and flame.
No other moment of my life compared to that. For the first time, I experienced true freedom. The combination of new scents and colours bewildered me. By instinct I raised my wings to the sky, and drove them down. I rose a little from the ground, then fell. I tried again, kicking from the ground as I did, and rose considerably higher. Just as I began to descend, I delivered another stroke, driving myself higher. Soon I hovered far above the ground, not yet trusting my instincts to carry me forward.
After my release from the tunnels, a long time passed without incident. My flying grew less clumsy, becoming more fluid and graceful as I practiced. I learned the importance of gliding to preserve energy. During this time I learned about the flower. I, along with the others with whom I spent my time in the tunnels, followed my elders to a cavern deep within the tunnels. Immense could not begin to describe it; the entire clan could fit within its vast expanse without difficulty. Around the edge, a moat of still water encircled us. Great spikes hung from the ceiling, as if about to fall. I walked with caution, as if a single noise would bring them crashing down. Right in the centre of the ceiling, I could see a great tunnel stretching up to the clear blue sky.
In the centre, with at least a dozen of my elders surrounding it, stood the flower. It seemed to grow from the very stone itself, with its golden leaves reaching up to the sky. As we approached, I could feel the heat inside grow. The flower glowed, a subtle incandescence that only accentuated its almost magical pull. I could feel it, feel the raw, but pure, power it radiated. I drew closer, and the feeling grew, becoming more palpable, more real by the second. Soon, we reached the circle of dragons around it. I recognised none of these dragons from my time in the caverns; surely no dragon could spend that long in one place. I could not understand the discipline that would take, my own instincts pulling incessantly towards freedom.
As soon as we passed through the ring of dragons, my mind filled with sound. I could hear voices, so many voices. This was beyond anything I ever heard. I leapt from the circle, but the voices remained. I shook my head in confusion, roaring and snapping, trying to rid myself of the noise. Soon the noises began to quiet, but some remained. One seemed louder than the others, so I tried to focus on it.
“Do not fear. You are in no danger here.”
I growled. I fought against the unfamiliar voice.
“What you hear are the voices of your clan, your family. Do not fight it; doing so will serve you no good. You too must learn your voice. You already know how, you just have to harness it, to use it.” It felt strange. I understood these strange words, though they felt new to me. There was a deeper understanding of meaning to these words, a clarity I never knew, but I felt uncomfortable with it. The instinctive part of my mind cringed away from this different means of contact, but where the elders led, the young followed. It would take me a while to grow accustomed to it, but I swore to myself I would. I tried to express my thoughts in this new way.
“W-W-W-What i-i-i-is t-t-t-his?” I stuttered, my new voice sounding alien to me.
“It is how we speak to one another. You have never needed this, your own instinct kept you out of harm's way, but now you are near full-grown. Your instincts will weaken, and we must be able to contact you.”
“I-I-I-I-I u-u-u-understand.” I growled, a resigned sound. I trusted my elders, but that did nothing to ease the discomfort.
“You may, if you wish, choose a name for yourself. Few among us do, but you may if you prefer.” I pondered on this for a moment, then decided.
“C-C-Call m-m-me T-T-Tharos.” I called out in my inner voice. It felt more natural saying my name than anything else.
Suddenly, the older dragons looked up in unison. Several of them roared, and I could feel their anger. I heard the voice again.
“Follow us, Tharos. You will see why we guard this.” I felt a mental pull toward the flower. All at once, the dragons surrounding it raised their wings and took flight. I leapt from the ground, following behind. My eyes quickly adjusted to the change in light, allowing me to follow my elders with ease. Looking toward the ground, I could see small figures moving toward the tunnels. The other dragons began to dive towards them, and I followed suit. As we neared the ground, I could make out the figures more clearly.
I could see the strange creatures; scale-less, with a small patch of fur upon their heads. Something strange covered their bodies, like the skins of other creatures. With them stalked creatures I recognised. Great beasts covered in fur, with gaping maws and sharp teeth. The voice screamed in my head.
“Hellhounds! Be careful! They’re dangerous up close!”
The hellhounds stood at the same height as the strange other creatures, and appeared the more powerful of the two. And yet, the strange ones seemed in control.
As the older dragons neared the ground, they splayed their wings. I did also, and landed just behind them.
“Stay back, Tharos. This is our fight.”
The dragons in front roared, sending streams of different coloured flame towards the intruders. At first, the creatures seemed afraid, but that soon passed, and they moved forward again. The dragons roared again, this time with no effect. I heard one of the creatures shout something I couldn’t understand. The creatures raised their arms, each holding what looked like a small, smooth stick with something shiny at the end. The creatures yelled and ran forward, throwing the sticks toward us as they did.
My elders dodged to the sides as the sticks came toward them, swift as deer. I stayed rooted to the ground, my instinct to move smothered by the bewildering light that reflected from the silver tips. One of them struck me in the shoulder, and I felt a searing pain shoot down my leg. I roared, grabbed the stick in my jaws, and ripped it free of my flesh. Instead of receding, the pain intensified, though I was glad that the stick no longer hindered me.
I felt something new. A new fire burned within me, scorching my veins and engulfing my muscles. Once again, my instinct deciphered the mystery for me; I felt rage. I crouched down, tensing my muscles, and lunged.
At first the creatures seemed confused, then they regained their composure and yelled again. The hellhounds rushed forward this time, all headed for me. I could hear the voice in my head again.
“No!” It screamed, filled with fear.
I felt no fear, only rage. As the hounds closed, I inhaled deeply, fuelling the fire within. Once the hounds drew close, I roared, dousing them all in blue flame. The shock on their faces gave me a grim satisfaction. I could hear their frightened and agonised yelps through the flame, and it felt sublime. Beyond the flames, the creatures turned and fled. I felt glorious. The voice in my head raged at me.
“You fool! You could have killed yourself! You reds are all so reckless!”
“B-B-But I-I d-didn’t” I retorted, slightly smug. My new voice felt more natural now, seeming to flow from instinct rather than fighting it.
“Back to the cavern!” the voice ordered, with an audible growl coming from behind me. I leapt and took flight, heading back towards the tunnels.
Once back within the confines of the cavern, one of the older dragons with shining black scales turned to me. Anger burned in his charcoal eyes.
“I told you just to stay back. I told you it was our fight.” Using my snout, I gestured toward the wound in my shoulder.
“T-This m-made i-it m-my fight t-too.” The black dragon growled, and turned away.
For several decades, the attacks continued. Every time, myself and the other dragons went out to face them. None ever got near the caves. Other than those small raids, we lived in peace.
* * * * * * *
“Damn those bloody dragons!” King Martus shouted.
“No matter what we do, we can’t get near that blasted cave.” Martus’ rages seemed like second nature to me now. As always, things worked out better when I stayed quiet.
“I mean, those damn Hellhounds have done nothing for us. All they do is get killed!” The rest of the council did what they always did; they sat quietly in their chairs, most of them seeming to visibly shrink in fear.
“They have killed several dragons, Your Grace.” Terros, the old mage, spoke in a voice that reminded me more of a mouse than a man. I fought the urge to verbally commend the man for his bravery; not even I broke up a rant.
“And every time they do, another one bloody appears, doesn’t it?” Just as I knew he would, Martus threw the mage’s comment back into his face. Serves him right for being so stupid, I suppose.
“Yes, Your Grace.” Terros shrank back into his seat. The King glowered.
“Get out of my sight. Now!” Right on command, the entire council stood, and moved from the room. I decided to stay behind, keep Martus from hurting himself. He always needed a distraction when raging.
I pulled my juggling balls from the inside of my multi-coloured coat, and began juggling. As always, I whistled as I juggled, which caught the King’s attention. For a moment he looked about to order me out, then settled back into his chair to observe. I knew Martus from his youth. He always did struggle with his temper - a trait I suppose he got from his father. He even looked like his father; same dark brown hair, same piercing blue eyes, same furrow in his brow.
“What am I going to do, Gren? Those damned dragons cut me off at every turn.” The King’s eyes followed the balls as they flew through the air, flipping gracefully between my hands. I decided to make full use of his distraction.
“You could always take Terros’ idea. I can’t see the downside.” Martus glared at me, his stubbornness showing through.
“The downside is that I’ll look like a coward. If I have to use trickery to win, then I would rather die.”
“You will, of old age or battle, long before you get that flower.” Martus gave me that look he saved for his close advisors, a mixture of hurt and annoyance.
“Damn you, you’re right. But I just can’t do it. I have my image to think about.”
“To Hell with your image. If you get that flower, you’ll be a hero. No one will care how you got it. Let Terros use his magic, put the bastards to sleep, and get the flower. They won’t even think about attacking without the flower’s magic protecting them.” Martus struggled for a moment, then exhaled heavily.
“Fine. Tell Terros to get ready. I’ll call the army.” I nodded my approval, and made my way to the door. Once through the threshold, I began the journey through the vast stone complex. With long corridors going off in all directions, it would take little more than one wrong move to become hopelessly lost. Walking down to the mage’s chambers, I remembered what we'd discussed the day before.
“The King is too stubborn for his own good. He’s going to get himself killed.” I nodded my agreement.~
“You’re his closest friend. You have to talk to him, make him see sense.”
“I’ll try, but he might not even listen to me. He has a very high opinion of his image.”
“If anyone can convince him, you can. Get those baubles you throw around. He likes them.” I could tell the condescending tone, and left at that point.
I finally made it to the mage’s door. I didn’t even get the chance to knock before the door opened, with no one on the other side.
“Come in.” I heard Terros’ high voice shout from somewhere inside. Walking in, I saw his myriad of equipment; fires and herbs and bottles and flasks. Quite an intimidating sight.
“The King told me to tell you to get ready,” I said to the open air, considering I couldn’t see where he was. He appeared from behind a door at the far side of the room, his thin, wispy hair flopped listlessly on his shoulder.
“You convinced him.” It wasn’t a question.
“Yes. He seemed quite… submissive today. You didn’t have anything to do with that, did you?” He smiled a wicked smile.
“Maybe. It’d probably be best if you didn’t know, though. Wouldn’t want you getting in trouble, now, would we?” I felt my eyes narrow at the old man. Clearly, his powers extended beyond what he told us. I decided to let it go, for now.
“Better hurry, before he changes his mind again.” Terros smiled slyly, then retreated into the room he just left. He returned, his arms laden with several jars, a mortar and a pestle.
He took the equipment to a partially clear desk, and set them down. He opened one of the jars, muttering to himself as he did. I took this as my cue to leave, and decided to make my way to the barracks.
Martus intended on taking no chances with this ride. His large body gleamed in his silver plate armour; recently polished, by the look of it. An errant beam of sunlight glinted off the metal and hit me in the eye.
“Martus, planning on blinding the dragons too?” The King laughed, not something he did often anymore.
“Couldn’t hurt. Is he ready?”
“He was starting when I left.”
“Good. I don’t want any surprises. I don’t intend on repeating this again.” Looking around the barracks, I could see the rest of the army suiting up. It wasn’t a large force, too many encounters with the dragons made sure of that. If the mage could get that spell to work, though, it wouldn’t take that many. Martus, however, refused to totally rely on magic. No soldier was exempt from the call to arms. No force sent to the caves thus far could compare to this.
“Gren, I want you to make sure that Terros stays to the plan. I don’t need him improvising while I’m out there.”
“Sure. Just make sure you come back. I’ll kill you again if you leave me here with him.” Martus laughed again.
“Don’t worry about it. What’s the worst that could happen?” I allowed myself a quick laugh. Despite his annoyances, Terros’ magic never let us down. I couldn’t deny him that.
Martus mounted his white charger, a great beast that stood a head above his brothers. Mounted, everyone felt small next to the him. I was confident that was indeed the idea. Martus smiled down at me.
“See you when it’s all over.” The last word echoed through the barracks, and Martus drove the stallion forward. The entire force followed suit, on horses of their own. I smiled a little at the theatrics.
I decided to go up and check on Terros; I wanted Martus within signal distance if something went wrong. I walked back into his chambers, expecting to see fire or sparks, but instead found him lounging in a chair pressed against his wall.
“What are you doing?” I no doubt looked incredulous, but Terros only looked at my face and giggled.
“I’m relaxing. I was unaware that doing so was a crime.” Resisting the urge to throw my juggling balls at his head, I regained my composure.
“Why aren’t you casting the damn spell?”
“I’ve done it. It’s cast.” He pointed at the wall opposite him. I saw a bright red circle chalked onto it. I could see a symbol embedded within the circle. I recognised it immediately: Dragon.
“Fine. Will it last long enough?” Terros nodded.
“It should last until midnight. That should be more than long enough.” I breathed a sigh of relief. I refused to think about this going wrong, but the mage’s words soothed my agitation. The magic worked.
“Good. I’m going to go get some sleep. Wake me when they return.” The mage nodded his agreement, and I turned to go to my chambers. I lay on my bed, dressed in full motley, and closed my eyes. As sleep tugged at the edges of my consciousness, I relaxed, and let it take me.
* * * * * * *
I arched my back and stretched my forelegs forward, my claws scraping on the cold rock beneath. I yawned, letting a small growl escape at the same time. As refreshing as it was, I couldn’t remember falling asleep. I shook my head to banish the fuzziness of sleep from my mind. I yawned lightly as sleep left me, and I decided I should check on the guards. I ran without urgency through the tunnels, using my tail to keep my balance at speed.
When first I entered the cavern, I could feel something not right. It certainly looked the same; the ring of water around the edge, the spikes hanging precariously from the ceiling. Then I felt it; or rather, didn’t. I could no longer feel the increasing warmth in the cave, the inherent power within. My eyes searched frantically, hoping to see the golden shine of its leaves. I saw nothing. I sniffed, detecting something foreign in the air. It took me a moment to place the scent. Humans.
I roared, a deep anger filling me. I noticed the other guards just awakening from their own slumber. I called to them.
“The flower is gone. Humans have stolen it.” I growled fiercely at the thought of humans here.
The others fought against the haziness of sleep. I could hear in their minds the realisation of the situation. They roared in unison with me.
“We have to get it back.” The rage burned within me, strengthening my resolve. The humans would pay. I heard heavy footfalls behind me, and turned to see the elder black dragon approach.
“Calm yourself, Tharos. We mustn’t act rashly. This requires thought.” I growled again. I was no longer young, and no thought was needed.
“They stole it, Elder. We have to reclaim it. It is ours. It belongs with us.” The elder flicked his tail back and forth as he thought. No doubt he could see the determination in my face.
“Feel your fire, Tharos. Feel it inside. It weakens. It does so in all of us. We haven’t the strength to attack.” I roared in defiance.
“Do not call me weak, old one. We have strength enough for this.” I could hear other voices, distant and quiet, announcing their agreement. The old black dragon exhaled heavily. The combined weight of the clan’s agreement left him no other choice.
“Very well. Without the flower, we will perish soon enough. Better to perish with a purpose. We will wait for nightfall, however. We will have our best chance of success then.” I nodded my agreement. I could control myself until sundown.
The hours dragged by endlessly as I waited for the moment to strike. Other dragons paced back and forth. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one who was impatient. Looking through the hole in the ceiling, I noted the darkening sky. Not long now.
As the last remnants of the day faded from the sky, the adrenaline within built. I could feel my inner fire, damped but still burning, ignite at the prospect of revenge. The black dragon walked back into the cavern.
“It is time! Now, we reclaim that which was taken from us!” I let loose a roar, which was soon joined by others. Unable to wait, I leapt from the stone floor and took flight. It felt good to ready myself for battle, it made me feel powerful. The rush of the air flowing over my scales exhilarated me.
Up ahead, I could see the light from their fires. They make it too easy. I increased my pace through the sky, hearing the air rush past my ears and under my wings. It felt incredible.
I slowed as we neared the town. My clan followed, decreasing their own speed to match mine. I took the first dive, straight into the centre of the town. The fire on the ground chased away the darkness, though not by much. I could see a large open area in the centre, surrounded on all sides by walls and buildings. I remember this from some of the stories the elders told; they called them “squares”. I landed silently, though I couldn’t hear anything else in the square.
Looking around, I heard others landing nearby. We stalked around for a while, then prepared to take off again. Then I heard a buzzing in the air. Before I could identify it, something struck my legs, and caused me great pain. I looked down to discover one of the smaller sticks, an arrow, embedded in my foreleg. I heard the dragons around me roar as the arrows hit them too. I reached down with my jaws, and snapped the arrow.
Even with the fire nearby, the dim of the night obscured our enemies, though I could rid myself of that problem easily enough. I inhaled deeply, and sent a wave of flame out into the distance. I heard screams of fear and pain, and found I enjoyed hearing them. I saw several humans, shrieking as they burned, scurry away in their panic and pain. I unleashed a stream of fire in the direction the arrows came from. Again, I heard cries of pain, and this time rushed toward them.
Within moments I found the humans, and began my own battle. Several of them could defend themselves only with arrows, and I ended their lives without much incident. Those who carried other weapons posed more of a challenge. Using my forelegs I swiped several out of my path, hopefully killing a few. Unfortunately, my claws alone could not deal with all of them. I inhaled deep, and let loose a river of fire, turning as I did so, surrounding myself with flame. I killed several this way. I dealt with the rest easily.
Looking over my shoulder, I could see me clan-mates fighting their own battles; the situation here seemed under control. I leapt into the sky and sought to move on. I could see a large building nearby. I felt a draw towards it, weak and fading, but enough to catch my attention. I glided across, and landed quietly on the roof. Using my forelegs, I dug through the roof until I could get inside. Jumping down, I found myself in a room about the same size as the smaller tunnels of my youth. At the far end, wilted and dying, sat the flower!
My proximity to the flower renewed my strength, and I moved forward to take it. A figure emerged from behind the sitting structure, and glared hatefully at me. In his hand he held some kind of round container. On his head sat a small patch of dark brown fur, and his eyes seemed to shine blue. He stood taller than most of his kind, but I doubted he would be a match for me. I sought to end this quickly. I began to inhale, and the human threw the container at me, filling my mouth with water. The fire caught in my throat, and I choked on the steam.
Seeing my moment of weakness, the human rushed at me. As he approached, I swiped at him with my claws. He dodged the attack, and grabbed one of my wings. I laughed inside, enjoying the moment. I flicked my wing out, sending him flying several feet before crashing to the floor. I turned my back to him, and lashed out with my tail, throwing him into the wall. He lay still, and I left him. Grabbing the flower gently with my teeth, I leapt from the floor, crashing through the roof as I took flight.
“I have the flower. Let’s go home.” I could hear the triumphant voices in my mind, and headed for home. Returning to the cavern, I set about returning the flower to its proper place. Those of the clan that remained watched impatiently as I sat the flower in the centre. Nothing happened. The flame that burned before, the flame fuelled by the flower, now felt cold, and flat. The flower looked ill, or dying; the gold tarnished, the soft glow gone. The power emanating from it seemed to grow weaker, and with it, me. I watched as the gold continued to tarnish, then fall apart. I felt the power flow from me, and realised what this meant for us.
Without the flower, we lost a lot of our strength, and we lost our immortality. We started to age. The humans sought to reclaim the flower, of course, and without its power to protect us, many of our number fell. Myself and a few others escaped the cavern during the last attack. We returned to the cave shortly after, finding only desolation. The others died, one by one, while I sat and watched. I felt my own flame dwindle and falter.
I lay my head down, deciding to spend my last days in peace. Then I heard it. The sound seemed faint, little more than a whisper. Looking around, I saw nothing out of place. I lay my head down again, and once again I heard it. It sounded stronger now, and clearer. I could distinguish it from the background sound of the world. It repeated itself over and over, the same sound again and again; a small squeak in the distance. No! Not a squeak. A roar. A Dragon!