The Dueling Dragons: Beginnings
Shei B. Kroeker
The six little children sat up on their knees listening intently to “Uncle Abashi’s” story. They had been waiting for this part for weeks.
“The sorcerer rose over the mountain upon his draconic steed surrounded by his summoned minions,” Abashi flourished, “but the warriors stood their ground, their armor shining in the light of the rising sun, radiating with the power of the Six Elements. Their own mounts, noble soldiers in their own right, flared their nostrils, and smoke billowed from their mouths. The charge was called! The two armies rolled down the hills into the valley! War! Swords clashed! The beasts bellowed! The warriors chanted! But Atash proved too much. He pushed the champions back, back, and further back, the undead creatures swarming over them. They were doomed!
“Suddenly, the earth began to shake. The skies darkened ominously, and Atash looked about in fear. The armies parted and an old man in blue robes rode down the middle atop the great dragon emperor Adesh. The old man, Merlin, was holding a black book over his head and shouting ‘The time is now! By the power of the Six Elements, I condemn your souls to the Void!’
“The six dragons raised their heads to the book. The fire that flowed from their mouths ignited the cover, but it did not burn. It screamed as ghostly hands reached for Atash and Thraxis. They tried to retreat…”
Abashi stopped the story with a smile.
“What happened next, Uncle?” the children asked at once.
“Sorry, little ones,” Abashi said, tapping his watch, “It’s time to gather your things. Your parents will be here soon.”
“But what about the bad man and the dragon?” Rinku asked.
“I’ll tell you all someday,” Abashi promised, “when the time is right.”
Fifteen Years Later…
Abashi waited with the band backstage holding an antique wooden box. They had all grown into a fine group of men and women, and now they were about to step on the stage at Orlando City Walk and perform for the fans that got them this far. One by one, the Dueling Dragons filed into the prep room where Abashi waited. Rinku, Stu, Maria, Maurice, Natalia, and Bengali sat in a semicircle in front of Abashi, reminding him of all those late night stories.
“I don’t suppose you’re interested in hearing the end of the story, are you?” Abashi asked somberly.
“Well,” Rinku spoke up first as usual, “I think we’re a little old for epic fantasy stories—”
“Not just stories, I assure you, young lady. Still, I understand. I can just take my gift and go…”
“No!” they all said at once, laughing.
Abashi smiled and opened the box. Inside were six sterling silver pendants each embedded with a different stone. He took them out one-by-one and presented them to the band.
“Rinku, the shining light of the group. Stu, the protective shadow. Maria, the raging fire. Maurice, the calming water. Natalia, the moving wind. Bengali, the cornerstone rock.
“When the elements swirled together, the book captured Atash and Thraxis’ souls and pulled them inside. The spell Merlin cast upon the book was designed to trap them for a thousand years. Today marks the thousandth year. These are the same pendants bestowed upon the same heroes who had bested the sorcerer and rogue dragon.”
The youths looked at him skeptically. “Are you trying to tell us,” Stu asked, rare moment as it were, “that we will have to fight this guy?”
Silence fell in the room. Then laughter erupted. Stu stood there with a sly grin on his face, but Abashi did not falter. Instead, he gave a smile of his own.
“Of course not,” he assured, “they were just characters in a bedtime story. These necklaces, however, have truly been passed down through each of your families. My own family was the caretaker. It was just time to pass them on.”
He seemed like he was joking, but the look in his eyes belied what he truly believed. He clapped his hands suddenly, causing the youths to jump. “Well?” he said, “What are you doing? You have a show to put on! Get going!”
They shook themselves awake and grabbed their gear as they headed out to the stage. Abashi shook hands and hugged each of them as they rushed out to the announcer’s call.
“And now, the newest sensation to hit Orlando City Walk! All the way from beautiful Drake City, Florida, please welcome the Dueling Dragons!”
The band struck up with a moving beat followed by delicate piano chords and topped with the roaring rifts of the guitars. Then their voices poured out from the massive speakers, and the crowd cheered wildly.
Stu was the first to notice it: a soft glow surrounded each of his friends’ pendants. From the corner of his eye, he saw Abashi watching just behind the stage curtain. He was wearing an odd pendant of his own, one Stu had never seen before, and it, too was glowing. Abashi noticed the young man’s stares.
“Keep playing,” he mouthed encouragingly.
Not knowing what else to do, Stu played on, letting his passion flow. The others followed suit, reaching the apex of their final song. The wind picked up, and a static crack echoed through the sky. The audience did not notice even as streaks of electricity swirled around the stage. The band did, but it was too late to do anything as the stage split open beneath them into a torrent of indigo light. The six friends fell into the light as the stage crumbled around them and imploded upon itself.
Rinku awoke to pearl-white eyes staring down at her. She drew in a terrified breath as she scrambled out from under the reptilian face and pressed herself against a wall. She resisted the urge to scream, hoping if she stood still the creature would leave. It did no such thing. Rinku shut her eyes tight as the beast—a dragon—sniffed her then snorted.
“You’re a warrior?” it scoffed in a deep yet youthful voice.
“I—I’m a singer…” Rinku squeaked.
A scream distracted the dragon long enough for Rinku to scamper away. She ran—or rather stumbled—in the direction of the screams. She found Natalia and Maria huddled against a wall with two more dragons staring them down. One looked aged while the other seemed young and timid. The old one laughed heartily.
“Children!” he bellowed, “Abashi sent us younglings! We’re doomed for sure.”
“We’re not children!” Maria was suddenly offended, “There’s been a mistake, and—did you say Abashi?”
“Yes, child,” the old dragon answered, “he promised us the warriors would be ready on time, but it seems this was not the case.”
“I’ll say,” Maria agreed, “we’re just musicians…Rin? What are you wearing?”
Rinku, still shocked by these breasts, looked down to see she was wearing white armor with gold trimming. At her hip, she found what appeared to be a corded microphone. She noticed the other girls were similarly dressed, Maria in red and Natalia in sky-blue.
“I could ask you the same thing,” she said, “Where are the guys?”
Just then, Bengali was heard whooping excitedly. The girls looked up to see yet another dragon descending upon them. Bengali had earth-colored (and textured) armor, though he seemed rather comfortable in it.
“Look at this, guys!” he shouted as they landed, “I want you to meet my new friend, Roc, the last of the wyverns.”
“A pleasure,” Roc nodded.
Stu emerged out of a shadowy cave followed by a black-skinned dragon. He was dressed in obsidian armor. “This is Shadow Fang,” he introduced simply, “Apparently Uncle Abashi’s stories were true after all.”
“My name is Crimson,” the old dragon said, stepping up to Maria. He pushed the younger dragon over to Natalia, “and this little one is Regal…she’s a little shy.”
“And I am Sapphire,” a new voice drew their attention to a nearby lake as a sea-serpent crawled upon the land carrying Maurice in ocean blue armor on it’s back, “of the Naga Village.”
The white dragon had finally joined the group.
“And you are?” Rinku questioned embarrassingly.
“He is Draconis,” Abashi suddenly appeared in the midst of them, “Prince of this realm and the unfortunate brother of Thraxis.”
“You said you were bringing us warriors, wizard,” Draconis growled, “Instead you bring us tavern entertainers?”
“Hey!” Rinku protested, but Abashi raised his hand to silence her.
“They may not know it yet,” the man said, “but they are warriors. Young ones, get your instruments.”
Instinctively, the musicians reached for their gear. Bengali reached into a boot and pulled out what looked like drumsticks except with tonfa extensions. He also found on his hip a pair of chakrams that looked a lot like the cymbals from his drum set. Maria pulled her guitar off her back to find it had been transformed into a double-bladed axe, and Maurice revealed he was carrying a crossbow. Natalia found she was wearing gauntlets carrying ebony and ivory shuriken and were set in place like the keys on a piano. Stu’s Gibson had become a scythe, and Rinku’s microphone was now a chained morning star. They turned to Abashi in confusion.
“Believe it or not,” he said, “you already know how to use them.
A loud, slow clapping echoed through the valley drawing the group’s attention up.
“I for one believe it!” said the man on the cliff, “But you’ll never get them to. The dragons already distrust them. Make this easier on yourself, brother, and surrender to me now.”
“Brother?!” the Dueling Dragons shouted in unison.
“Yes,” Abashi admitted almost in shame, “the sorcerer Atash is my younger brother.”
Draconis flew up without warning in an attempt to attack Atash, but he was intercepted by a larger black dragon that pinned him back to the ground. This was Thraxis; of this they had no doubt.
“Oh, I do love family reunions!” Atash teased, “Did you miss your big brother, Draconis? He obviously didn’t miss you.”
“Let him go!” Rinku said suddenly. She instantly regretted it.
Thraxis turned toward her and roared, the force of his breath sending her flying backwards. He moved to finish her off, but Atash ordered him to a halt.
“I am offended, Abashi,” he said more seriously, “First, you trap me for a thousand years in a book, then you greet me with the most pathetic warriors from the outside world. I am not without honor. I will give you three months to turn these children into the fighters you claim them to be. When your time is up, Thraxis and I will attack the Dragon Empire, ready or not.”
"Three months? That's not nearly--"
"Ah-bup-bup-bup-bup! You had twenty years, and you wasted it. Now you have three months...or I can just kill them all now."
Abashi stopped to think about the proposal. “You expect me to believe you’ll not interfere with their training?” he then challenged.
“Let’s just say I’ll be around to test their loyalties. When we meet again, children, you had better be ready!”
He leapt onto Thraxis’ back as the great beast took off to the south.
The six friends looked at Abashi with betrayal on their faces. “What have you gotten us into, Uncle?” Maurice asked.
“We’re just musicians,” Natalia added, “We aren’t the warriors from your bedtime stories!”
Crimson and the other dragons—except Draconis—stood up. “Abashi wouldn’t have allowed you to travel here if he didn’t think you were ready,” Crimson stated, “If he believes in you, then so do I.”
The others agreed. Draconis just sat looking defeated.
Rinku also seemed confident, yet troubled. “What can you possibly teach us in three months?” she asked.
“I can teach you to trust your new partners and to tap into the power that brought you here. To do that, I am going to need you all to trust me. Do you?”
Everyone hesitated, but only for a moment. Even Draconis had swallowed his pride.
“We trust you, Uncle,” Rinku spoke for all of them.
Abashi smiled. “Then training begins at dawn!”
To be continued…