by enemy soldiers; Vastran could taste their fear, smell the sweat drenching
their flesh. He was the dragon, an Elder Sigil Bearer; he had power that no man
should ever hold. Vastran reached a hand to his chest until he felt the warm
Sigil beating against it. As he gripped it, a scorching smoke erupted; flames
covering his skin, charring it to ash.
It hardened until it turned to drake scales, Vastran, now encased in Sigil Plate, felt superior. The soldiers surrounding him came to a consensus. The consensus to run, they began to flow in one direction, away from him.
Power flowed in Vastran’s hand, “I summon you, Dragonvein.” A spear formed there, forged of dragon bone, flame wreathing the blade, fire scorched the earth. He had truly awoken. Vastran jumped, he cut off the fleeing soldiers, blocking their way. He swung Dragonvein challengingly.
Vastran’s vocal chords enhanced by Sigil Plate produced a roar. “Usurpers, you would challenge the Empress, you would rebel but you will not face me. I name you cowards.”
Two warriors strode towards him in their Sigil Plate. One had the Sigil form of the Stag, the other the Tiger. “Then fight us.”
Vastran forced his voice into a low hiss. “You are no more than lowly Sigil Bearers. Leave now and I won’t kill you.”
In response they defiantly charged at Vastran, but didn’t stand a chance. Vastran grabbed the antlers of the Stag, throwing him to the ground while he blocked the trident of the Tiger warrior. Wreathing Dragonvein in flame, the heraldry of the Tiger fell to ash. The orange plate with black splashes of colour, boldly shining like a dying flame as Vastran changed his gauntlets into claws. He slashed great rends into his armour.
Forming a fireball, he reduced the Tiger to ash. The Stag started back, Vastran could see the fear in those tiny slits in the face guard, his eyes wide, terrified. “I warned you, I commanded you to leave if you wanted to live.”
The warrior attempted to back away, his hand raised to ward off a blow. “Please I will leave, please. Just let me live.”
Vastran felt a sudden disconnect from the Sigil Plate as if they were two different entities. He watched on helplessly as his razor sharp claws were raised, crushing the life from life from the Stag. The world blurred as he felt Dragonvein flow within in his hands, like a viper, it struck out, impaling and slicing. With each slash, his enemies reduced to ash as they stood against the Dragon.
The fear which had once dominated their faces was replaced with resignation; they would fall to him, blow in the breeze as ash. Vastran trudged through the moor; he could feel the ash rubbing in the joints of the Sigil Plate.
A horse approached, its rider bearing the white flag of surrender. The Ambassador armed in fine mail, red plumes atop his staff flying behind him as he got ever closer to Vastran. He climbed from his horse, prostrating himself before the Dragon.
His face tinged grey by the ash at Vastran’s feet. “Lord Sigil Bearer, we surrender to your power, we seek no more death on either side. We lay down our weapons in hope of mercy.” Vastran bent down, his head close to the Ambassadors.
“There shall be no mercy for usurpers.” He plunged Dragonvein downwards, twisting it, reducing the man to ash. The fury of the Dragon erupted once more within him, again disconnected from his plate, he slaughtered the fleeing warriors.
Vastran studied the columns which held the great Volcanis pantheon up. His flaming Sigil burned brightly in the night air. In the corridor a servant approached bowing before Vastran. “Lord Sigil Bearer, there has been an attack on the Empress.”
“Where is the Empress now?” Vastran asked.
The servant spluttered, his tongue tripping over the words. “The Empress… the Empress is in the Traitor’s Coil, surrounded by the Imperial Guard.”
Without replying, Vastran darted down the corridor, narrowly avoiding servants going about their tasks at a feverish pace.
As he entered the courtyard known as the Traitor’s Coil, Lord Cherren of the Imperial Guard approached him. Named the Old Wolf, Cherren’s grey eyes and grey beard shone beneath his barbut helm. He wore the Imperial black armour with a flowing purple cloak.
“Explain to me, Captain, why you stand here? If an assassin got past your Imperial Guard, you should be dead; you should have died protecting her.” The Old Wolf’s cheeks flushed a deep red; he bowed before Vastran and signalled for the Imperial Guard to make way for Vastran.
In the centre of the circle was the Empress. The Empress’s face was covered by a veil, hiding cold eyes. Beside her stood Persephone, her flushed cheeks brought light to her hazel eyes. Her Wyvern Sigil Plate shone a deep lush green; her lithe form ready to pounce. Blood tainted the edge of the blade she held, dripping onto the stonework.
Vastran prostrated himself before the Empress; he bowed his head waiting for her to speak.
The Empress’s voice was cold. “Sigil Bearer Vastran, you need not worry. Persephone cut the assassin down; there was no need for you to come to my aid.”
“I am glad you weren’t harmed, your Radiance. Who was the Assassin?”
The Empress rolled her eyes. “The Assassin was from House Ramsen, a Sigil Bearer.” Vastran was unnerved by the matter of fact tone. The Empress pointed., a helm was stuck on the end of a pike. A red Gem blazed from the centre of it.
“How is it the Sigil has not been reduced to dust?” Vaedran asked.
It was not the Empress who answered but Persephone.
“A stability charm, seals the head in a prison which is not affected by time. Strange what those enchanters are capable of doing these days.”
Vastran rose to his feet. “There should be retaliation for this action; they cannot go unpunished, Empress.”
“No action must be made; this will only encourage other attempts. They will believe that they can succeed where others have failed. There will be attempt after attempt until one succeeds. I will have retribution, but not yet.”
“As you wish, do you have any further need of me?”
The Empress focused again on Vastran. “There is only one thing, Vastran. Have you heard of the Ashen Moors?”
“The Ashen Moors? No, Empress I have not heard of such a place.”
“It was once known as the Iron Moors, until you slaughtered hundreds, leaving a field of ash.” The Empress lifted her veil, her iron grey eyes fell upon Vastran, and he shuffled uncomfortably. “Do not let it happen again.”
“Yes, my Empress.” Vastran bowed, turning on his heel and leaving the Traitor’s Coil.
The Old Wolf hurried after him with hand on sword pommel.
“I would be careful, Vastran, very careful. The Ashen Moors reference, there was danger in that look. The Empress is stronger than any steel, she isn’t known as the Dagger Empress for nothing. She is more dangerous than any assassin, she has made kings bow before her.”
“Lord Cherren, thank you for your warnings, but I see nothing more than a veiled threat of putting me down like a rabid dog.”
“Just be careful, Vastran. I have known you for a long time, guard yourself.”
“I will do as you wish, Cherren.”
Gripping the balcony, Persephone stood in a red simple dress, devoid of her Sigil. She looked towards the Iron Continent; the Iron Moors were only a shadow in the distance. She stared at something that Vastran could not see; her auburn hair caressed her back.
“Persephone, what are you looking at?” he asked.
Persephone turned towards him. “The Ashen Moors, have you ever wondered what it would be like to be free, free to roam?” Persephone asked.
“Free to roam where?”
Irritation flashed on her face. “Anywhere you wanted to go, Vastran. Don’t you ever wonder what you would do if you were free, not oath bound to the Empress?” She looked into his eyes.
Vastran turned away. “But we are oath bound to The Empress.” Persephone grabbed Vastran’s wrist, she pulled him towards her.
“You don’t understand, Vastran. I want to be free like the animal my Sigil is emblazoned with. I want to fly as free as the Wyvern.” Anger flashed up within him. Persephone did not grasp the situation.
“Freedom is a prison of its own, to be free, is to never return. You would be hunted down like an animal; the Empress is not a forgiving woman.”
Intensity crossed Persephone’s face. “Would you run with me?”
“Are you mad, Persephone? Did you not hear me? We would be hunted down.”
“Better to be free and die than live chained.” Vastran stared in those deep eyes, and then cupped her cheek in his hands. “Persephone, I would rather run free with you than be chained, you know that.”
She pulled herself free. “Then do it, run with me.” Persephone once again stared into the distance.
The Empress sat on her ebony throne, her hands gripped it stoically. Grey Fang studied her as he approached, bowing before speaking. She was a thin woman with dusky skin wearing Imperial silk of her office, her face covered by a veil.
“You cannot deny that Vastran is out of control, he slaughtered the Ambassador, and I saw him kill at least a hundred warriors on his own. The ash that now lies there caused the locals to name it the Ashen Moors.”
The Empress stared above Grey Fang’s head as she spoke. “What do you expect me to do? They were usurpers; they betrayed me, tried to kill me.”
“Five men ordered you to be killed, not the soldiers, over seven hundred died on those moors. This slaughter has to be stopped. If we have to, we must Sunder him.”
The Empress lifted her veil and looked at him with those unsettling grey eyes. “Sunder him? That would kill him and if it doesn’t, he’ll come for vengeance. I am not capable of repelling him, should he want vengeance.”
Grey Fang settled his eyes on the floor. “Then we will have to kill him. Or bind him.”
There was a creaking from the throne as the Empress walked towards him. “Persephone will not let you do this; she will attempt to stop you.”
“I will convince her, show her the truth of how necessary it is.”
The Empress settled her hand on the dagger in the belt of her moonstone dress. “But will she choose you or her lover? Will she believe the words of the Sigil Bearer or the one that she has given her heart to?”
Grey Fang looked once more into the eyes of the Empress. “Hopefully she’ll choose me, otherwise Vastran will destroy me.”
“Is it truly betrayal if we are doing it for the greater good?”
“Many atrocities have been committed under the supposed guise of the greater good.”
The Empress nodded. “He must be stopped, that is something that we both agree on; he has killed many, too many innocents for even the greater good. As your Empress, I command you to stop Vastran either by binding him or killing him.”
Grey Fang looked at Lord Ramsen, an overweight man in a thick doublet, wine red, dull in the firelight. His bald head reflected the candlelight; his grey beard framed his fat lips.
His accent was thick, slurred by wine. “Why did you think… think I will let you leave, Sigil Bearer?”
Grey Fang strained as he got up from one knee. “You will let me leave because this will benefit us both.”
Ramsen’s eyes seem to bulge. “How will the Vastran’s death benefit you?”
Grey Fang pointed south to the Ashen Moors. “Vastran is out of control, you need only look to the Ashen Moors to see proof.”
“You would betray one you would call friend?” Grey Fang nodded sombrely.
Grey Fang nodded sombrely. “He is not the same man I knew years ago.”
Lord Ramsen swirled the dark wine in his goblet, studying its depth.
“What aid would you need?”
“We would need use of your Sigil Bearers, to lure Vastran into a trap.”
“A trap you say? Will a trap kill an Elder Sigil Bearer and where will this betrayal take place?”
“The Volcano Pompirrus, we shall bind him in a fire hotter than even a Dragon can survive.”
Lord Ramsen stared again into the goblet thoughtfully. “What will I get in return?”
“The Iron Moors will be returned to you.”
Ramsen pointed with one of his pudgy fingers. “I also want Queensport.”
Grey Fang flinched reflexively; this was not going as he had planned.
“I will discuss it with the Empress.”
Drevina, Empress of Volcanis, glanced through her veil at the door as Grey Fang entered the Imperial chambers. She nodded to her guards; who bowed before leaving the room.
“Has there been any word from Ramsen?” She asked.
“A raven arrived just before morning fast, carrying this.” Grey Fang handed her a small sheath of paper. Drevina broke the Red Stag seal unfurling the message. There were only five words in that message. ‘The Dragon Shall Be Bound’.
Warmth flowed through her; she’d thought for a moment that there would be only rejection from Ramsen. ‘The Dragon shall be bound’ it was good news. The only problem was that she had to sacrifice one of the richest ports that supplied the Empire. The Iron moors were sacrifice enough.
“It was unwise of you to offer Queensport; plans must be made for its return.”
There had been many border disputes between the Empire and Crowstone. The Iron Moors, She supposed she had better call it by its new name, The Ashen Moors. If rumour were true, it was no more than an empty husk of the once fertile land. Grey Fang had no right to offer Queensport, although the taming and the binding of the Dragon may be an equally worthy conquest.
Grey Fang nodded his agreement. “What of The Iron Moors?”
“The Ashen Moors, Ramsen can keep it, it is no more than a field of ash because of Vastran. Which is why he must be stopped; he cannot go around reducing the crops of my Empire to ash. I will not have it.” Drevina drew a dagger from her sleeve tossing and catching by the hilt. “Grey Fang, Vastran must be stopped. Kill him or bind him, it makes no difference to me.” She plunged the dagger into her black lacquered table.
“What are you saying, Grey Fang?” Persephone asked. A dangerous light seemed to glow in her eyes, anger flared within the Wyvern.
“He must be stopped, Persephone. He slaughtered hundreds of soldiers on the moors. He can no longer control his Sigil.”
Persephone’s hand reflexively stretched towards her own. “You are speaking of betrayal, Grey Fang. What makes you think that I will betray Vastran?”
“Because you know eventually the power will destroy him, it will destroy whatever remains of the man.”
Persephone’s hand fell to her side, Grey Fang loosened slightly. “Can we not sunder him?”
Grey Fang shook his head. “Sundering him will leave him an empty shell, devoid of humanity, a husk.”
“There must be another way.”
Grey Fang turned away. “There is no other way, Persephone, he must be bound.” A pervasive silence stretched between them.
Persephone gripped Grey Fang’s arm, where her fingers touched, he could feel an uncomfortable burning sensation.
“Where would you bind him?”
“He would be bound in the volcano, Pompirrus.”
Vastran was confused, but he followed Grey Fang never the less. “Why do you wish to go to Pompirrus? There is nothing there anymore.”
“Her Radiance wishes us to check that Pompirrus is no longer volatile.” Grey Fang looked him in the eye; he had always had a trustworthy face.
“Does she wish to build a palace on Pompirrus? I hardly think it would be a good place, but what do I know?”
“She does not wish to build a palace there, she has heard rumours that Pompirrus is becoming unstable, she wants to know if it is true.” Vastran felt something; he felt that something was wrong. Pompirrus had not been volatile in many years.
“Persephone will be accompanying us there; she has other research to complete; now we must travel there quickly.” Grey Fang awoke his Sigil, mist surrounded him. A moment later he stood in full Sigil Plate, as grey as the wolf pelts he usually wore.
His snarling wolf helm looked at Vastran, a piercing gaze. Vastran awoke Dragon Blood; a blazing fire tore through his veins, awakening the dormant Sigil. Thick smoke surrounding him, Vastran stepped out, and his scaled plate armour blazed brilliantly, Dragonvein in hand.
They strode down the path; the Sigil Plate supported his body, giving him speed as well as power. The long sword and dagger at Grey Fang’s belt shone vibrantly in the dark of night. Vastran’s unease increased as the land started to rise. They stopped halfway up, they needed to eat to keep up their strength, Sigils drained power directly from the user, and Vastran had become very hungry.
“Grey Fang, why are you so sombre? I know the idea of travelling to Pompirrus is boring but you could at least look at little more cheerful. Did you bring any of that chicken they cooked from the feast yesterday?” Grey Fang nodded, not speaking or looking at Vastran as he handed him the chicken leg.
Vastran bit off a stripe of the chicken, he felt feverishly hungry. He must have been pushing himself harder than thought he had. Vastran felt a burning sensation in his stomach.
“This chicken doesn’t taste right, Grey Fang.” Grey Fang looked away.
“Perhaps it has gone off, in this heat. Hurry Vastran; we are nearly at the top.”
They arrived at the clearing; Vastran was starting to feel uncomfortable. He released his Sigil, returning to normal. Something made Vastran’s skin tingle, his unease increasing. Grey Fang looked Vastran in the eye. There was sadness there, an unexplainable sadness.
“I am going to see if there is any sign of Persephone.”
“I will come with you.”
“No, there is no need. You just stay here and keep watch.” Grey Fang darted away down the clearing.
“Keep watch for what?” Vastran shouted to him, but Grey Fang did not reply.
There was a shuffling of feet, feet encased by Sigil Plate. From the clearing, a patrol of twelve Sigil Bearers emerged with the Red Sigil Plate imitating stags.
“Oh, Ramsen has finally decided to have me killed then. Was it the Ambassador which finally did it, or has he always hated me?” He gripped Dragon Blood and smoke erupted once more. He stepped out Dragonvein in hand; a fireball flaring in his other.
He took the first warrior through the chest with the fireball. These warriors were clearly the last that Ramsen had. Dragonvein struck like a viper, spearing and slashing. He cut the strings that bound soul to body, Sigil Plate shattered like shell under the sheer power of Dragonvein.
Vastran again felt disconnected from his plate, once again lost in a red mist. Flame wreathed Dragonvein once more and he became death. Ten had stood against him, now only one man and the ash remained.
Persephone’s voice cut through the clearing, suddenly Vastran felt connected and in control of his Sigil. “Stop Vastran, stop this bloodshed now.”
He looked at her, with Grey Fang at her side. He felt the flaring in his stomach once more, a burning sensation. The world started to cloud around him. Something wasn’t right. The realisation came to him. He had been poisoned.
Grey Fang grabbed him by the shoulder, thrusting a dagger through his Sigil Plate, and into his heart.
“That will not kill me.” Vastran gasped.
“I know.” There was a sadness in Grey Fang’s eyes, almost regret. The once proud dragon collapsed.
Vastran awoke chained to the
igneous rock of the Volcano Pompirrus.
“Persephone, what is going on? Let me go.” Persephone looked away from him, her eyes shining with tears. Then he understood all too well. He was to be bound, his Sigil destroyed.
“You are too unstable, Vastran, there is no other way. The Elder Sigil must be bound or destroyed.” Persephone awoke her own Sigil, again the beautiful wyvern stood before him, fierce but strong. Her green plate reflected the firelight, enchanting him.
“But, Persephone, to destroy my Sigil is to destroy me.”
Persephone looked and he saw the truth.
“You’re going to kill me.”
“Vastran, you know as well as I, you are no longer able to control the power it gives you. It was this or we would have Sundered you.”
Vastran’s throat constricted as he roared. “Sundered me? You would have gone as far as to Sunder me?”
“Sundering would have released you from the beast. But I have seen the aftermath of a Sundering. The Sundered are no longer truly alive, they are empty.”
Vastran pleaded. “Persephone, I beg you. Let me go, no one deserves to be buried alive.” Persephone turned away from him.
Vastran held by steel chains tried to summon Dragonvein but it was beyond him now. His plate, covered by volcanic ash, began to harden. The Dragon, the bearer of the Elder Sigil, was being absorbed into the volcanic wall. Below his Sigil a red gem burned deep into the night, a charm of stability. Dragon Blood which had once burned bright now flared black and orange. The black and orange spluttered like a dying candle flame as it went out. The Sigil, now as dark as night, glowed no more. The Elder Sigil was Sundered and the Dragon bound.
Cover image: https://pixabay.com/en/knight-beaten-medieval-battle-321443/