My entire body becomes consumed by fear as I stay back in the shadows, unaware of what to do next as I watch Duke Gravon from afar, memories brought back of months ago as I fear he may pick up what is left of my human scent. With my palms becoming sweaty, I look back to where Belen disappeared, knowing I must follow him if I am to be successful in getting out of here. Picking up my head, I backup into the shadows of the narrow hall, taking a turn down another hall as I know I can follow Belen through here. My feet moving quickly, I can pick up the thief’s trace, tough to miss as my new senses allow me to act like a bloodhound.
The further down the palace I travel, the darker the palace becomes, the lights barely even shining over the stone floor, but most striking, the tapestries on the walls begin to change too. What were once tapestries of Avyn being built and a man wearing a small crown giving riches to the people, the colors and material of the tapestries take a darker turn. As my steps become slower, I pass by a wide tapestry, the sky a dark purple, the earth onyx, and, who I assume are gods, are depicted slaying crippled bodies with ashy skin tones. There is one detailed action of a goddess, cloaked in white, a purple glow surrounding her, piercing the heart of a mortal beneath her with a detailed sword which contains ancient ruins on the blade. The goddess has a striking resemblance to Dregh, the facial features, black hair, and even the purple glow around her. Each god has a specific color surrounding them as they slay the mortals, clearly the gods can be seen at first with the artist showing beauty in them, but as I look closer, the details of the black blood on their flesh, the horns depicted on many of their heads, and even how there are creatures helping the gods with nasty teeth, long claws that dig into flesh, and glowing red eyes. Clearly this is not some tapestry depicting the gods in a good way.
Taking my attention off the tapestry, I head back on the path to follow Belen, his scent getting stronger as my eyes are still glued to the tapestries on the wall. Kyril once mentioned to me how times are changing and less are worshiping the gods. I used to think people worshiped the gods because they held the gods with respect, but now, I am starting to realize that I looked at just the surface. People here have worshiped the gods out of fear, for that tapestry truly displays how the gods are feared more than loved. Gravon was terrified when we met Dregh, pale-faced and cowering as he perhaps thought he would die with a sword through his heart like the mortal Dregh slayed in that tapestry. My father warned me to come back with him to the town when Dregh and her dragon met me at that bridge. Everyone seems to fear the gods and here I am, helping a god not because do it out of fear, but because I need this dragon’s soul out of me. If Dregh is a god, why doesn’t she just kill those opponents of her that she wants dead? I have pondered this before, but now I have taken a new route on finding this answer, that she may be just as afraid of her fellow gods as the mortals are. So why use me?
Belen stands before a wooden door, carefully inserting two thin metal rods, circling them around as he tries and pick the lock on the door. The door looks like nothing of importance for something Dregh would want me to find. I stay quiet as I watch Belen unlock the door, entering the room as he is careful to not let the door make any noise as he enters. Taking in a deep breath, I follow behind the silver-haired male.
The first thing that strikes me about the room is not the number of collectable things held on platforms, enough to fill a museum, but the sword that Dregh was depicted holding in the tapestry, located right above a bookshelf filled with spell books. Zweihänder, of course. Just as I take step forward, a sharp and metallic object is pressed against my throat. My breath hitches as I turn my head slowly to meet the violet eyes that glare at me.
“I am not that imprudent, Rosemary,” Belen enlightens, keeping his short sword raised to my neck as he walks around, facing me now as I remind myself to not have any snarky comments. “Clearly we are both thieves of Duke Gravon, but I am not someone who will not be caught tonight. Especially by someone who clearly has not the faintest idea what they are doing.” Silence fills the room as I make no remark, knowing he does not want me to speak just yet. “What are you here for?”
I watch as he steps back, feeling the cold blade inch away from my neck as my eyes glance over is shoulder and to the sword. “Are you thoughtless?” Belen asks, shaken as he looks to the sword, ruins etched onto the blade. “That is something every thief knows never to take.”
I raise an eyebrow. “Do many come for it?” I ask, wondering if Dregh has sent anyone else after this sword.
Belen shakes his head, not daring to lower his sword yet as his eyes seem to glow in the darkness of the room. “Every thief knows to never take something from the days of creation.” So this sword is not just something Dregh slayed people with and wants me to hand her, but it is also some ancient artifact. “Why would someone like you need it? You definitely are not a skilled thief.” Belen looks to my eyes, drawn in as I know it is the darkness within them, how they draw every person in. One of the women back in the village once described my eyes as Sirens, holding such a beautiful appearance, yet something dark hiding within, drawing victims into some violent death where the darkness consumes their fragile soul.
“And what makes you a skilled thief?” I ask, knowing my quick response will only render Belen to put that sword back to my throat. The blade meets my neck again as I predicted, watching the thief angle his head to the side as he tries and figure me out. “Someone sent me after it and I must return it to them.”
Belen shakes his head, laughing as he does so, the sword lowering as he simply thinks my answer to be a joke. “Certainly you cannot believe that someone wants that device of darkness. Who sent you? If you say that Dregh the Damned sent you after it I will be rather amused.” Device of darkness? Dregh the Damned? Looking to the sword, the ruins upon the blade begin to translate, a sentence deciphered as I wonder why Dregh would want this engraved on her blade. May the blood this blade spills and the flesh this blade pierces damn the wielder of this iron blade. Why would someone want a blade that basically says it will curse them?
“My employer requires it for me to get my pay.”
“Your proprietor must be compensating you a large portion of gold,” Belen remarks, chuckling as he does so. “Or this proprietor of yours is just blind to thinking right.”
“That sword is what I have come for and I will not let someone tell me otherwise. It is not like you are here for it,” I reply, watching as Belen shakes his head, keeping his sword up. “What are you here for?” Looking around the room, I see many items that would have high value, from sets of jewelry, tablets made from dark stone, potions with glowing substances, and even crowns on display, I wonder what Belen has come here for.
Taking a step towards me, Belen still has me at the entrance of the room, silver hair almost glowing in the dim light as he takes a closer look at me. Starting at my eyes, he can see the movement of the silver specs in my dark blue eyes, and as his eyes lower, they stop at my neck where his sword is pressed. Slowly, he moves his sword, taking the fabric with it as I go into panic mode. I step back quickly, striking the blade with my wrist as the sharp blade collides with the scales covering my wrist, allowing no harm to be done. “What are you?” He asks, getting ready to fight as I act fast, slamming my body into his as I take him down to the floor, my gloved fingers wrapping around his wrists as I can feel my palms heating up. When my father would train me to fight, often this would happen, for my hands to burn anything they touch.
Belen uses his legs to practically thrust me off, his hands acting fast as they grab the material of my shirt, ripping it down as I am exposed to the valley of my breasts, enough for him to see the dark scales and even my heart, beating fast in my chest as he pales. “What are you?” He asks, voice soft as he is more shocked than afraid like I would expect. I aim a hit from my elbow at his nose, Belen effortlessly dodging as he gets to his feet with a simple roll which allows him to reclaim his sword. Back on his feet, I can see he him figuring out his next moves with me still on the floor. One second I am trying to get to my feet and the next, my legs fall out from under me, Belen kicking them as my body lands with a thud on the stone floor. As I lay before him, knowing that I do not have my powers trained enough to use them on Belen, the tip of the sword barely grazes my neck. He is warning me, telling me with this action that if I dare move, I will find my neck slit.
“What I am relates to why I am here for that sword, so you better not stand in my way anymore.” I snap, feeling a darkness grow within me as my stomach twists and turns into knots. I do not wish to harm Belen, but I know if it comes down to him or me, I will not hesitate to remove my gloves and use whatever power I can.
“Dregh sent you, did she not?” Belen backs away from me, allowing me to breath a little more evenly and not worry about that sword coming closer to my throat.
“Why would that change anything?” I ask, “Does Dregh having me retrieve it for her make a difference?”
Belen looks at me like I am some lunatic, watching me as I get to my feet and try and cover the scales on my flesh. “Do you not know what it was constructed for?”
The tapestry comes to mind, where Dregh slayed the mortal below her, how the artist focused much detail on the sword. “I saw it in a tapestry, her wielding it as she slayed mortals.” The silence that fills the room after my response only makes me uneasy. Belen walks farther from me, headed to where the sword is mounted. His fingers gently brush against the iron, almost afraid to fully touch it as my throat runs dry.
Looking back to me, he reaches down, grabbing two specific spell books as he shoves them into his satchel. He came here for spell books, something much easier to smuggle out of here rather than some highly important sword. “Heka the Great used this blade to slay a goddess. It has the power to slay a god, to destroy anything powerful you can imagine. Dregh wielded it in a war when the mortals stood up to her kind. If Dregh has come to recover it, this only means the ages are changing once more.” My ancestor that my father practically worships used this sword to slay the goddess whose blood runs through my veins. Heka the Great once slayed the goddess of war, trapping her soul within him, and as our family tree grew, bits of that goddess have been running through our veins. I too even have some of her soul in my boy.
“What do you mean by the ages are changing?”
“You have many questions. If you are as powerful as those dragon scales make you appear, you must be an ancient creature…yet your lack of knowledge for this realm tells me otherwise.” Belen looks back to the sword, not sparing it too much of a glance as he focuses his attention back onto me. “The time of the gods is coming to an end, Rosemary, ever since the elves waged war alongside Heka the Great against the goddess of war, the importance of the gods has seen a decline. Less demigods have been born and many gods have stayed dormant for a good two centuries now. If Dregh is desiring for this sword to be in her possession once more, this can only mean she fears that we mortals will once more wage war upon the gods. She is fearful that we may just win this time.” Belen grabs a scroll from another platform, placing it in a cylindrical container as he keeps it safe for the journey ahead. “For ages the gods have feared that we mortals may come for them. You are not from this realm, are you.”
He knows he right that I am not from this realm, for he did not ask me, but rather point out. “No, I am simply trying to return to my realm; however, the procedure to go home has not been as easy as I predicted. Dregh offers me that chance to return home and this Zweihänder is just a piece of her requirements.”
“What soul is trapped within your body? One of an ancient deity, creature of the darkness, or something new?” Belen laughs, stealing the time for a response. “By new I mean in the past four decades of course, elves have always hate my species, how talented we are with potions and spells. Elves believe they should be the only ones to age slowly and look like me at my age.”
“And how old are you exactly?”
Belen shakes his head. “You answer me first and then you will know my age.”
Sorcerer perhaps, seeing that he says he is talented with spells and just also stole some spell book. “Dragon soul,” I reply, watching as his eyes widen with disbelief, “it was not planned and I am trying to reverse what was done. Your age now.”
“Barely one hundred and thirteen, and my, dragon, really? How did a human like you manage that?”
“That is too long of a story for the time I have to get out of here with this sword.” Holding my head high, I pass Belen as I reach up for the sword, knowing getting it out of here will be tricky. The moment my hands grasp the sword, it feels light in my hands, barely weighing a thing as I hold it out, wondering how this sword that Dregh once wielded ended up here. “How do you propose I get this thing out of here without being caught?” I ask Belen, looking over my shoulder to see him studying me once more. Grabbing a leather strap out of his satchel, he tosses it to me, telling me to wrap the strap around my thigh and hold the sword there for my dress will hide it successfully. Nodding, I do just that, lifting up my dress as my left leg is on display, the dragon scales starting at my knee, a patch of the navy scales running around an area of my thigh as I hate seeing what has become of my flesh. With my strap tied around my thigh, I tuck the handle of the sword into the strap, the side of the blade brushing my leg as I trust that this will work.
“Who leaves first?” I ask, knowing that the two of us cannot be too obvious together.
Belen shakes his head, tying his satchel up as he takes in a deep breath. “As much as it sounds risky, we should exit together. The guards saw us chatting when we entered so they must think us to be friends. We leave together rather than separately because that would make them question us more. You having been social before may actually help us out here as much as I loathe to admit that.”
We leave the room together, Belen leading the way as we pass by the tapestry from before, the sword in the picture now worrying me as I have it in my possession, scared for what Dregh may really need it for now. “That blade is cursed too,” Belen comments as we make our way down the familiar halls from before. “Heka the Great was the one to curse it when he left it behind in Iduna before he was killed. The engravings sum up the curse too.”
“Why would Dregh care to wield a cursed weapon?”
Belen shrugs his shoulders. “She probably believes no one can end her life and make her serve her years that the blade has damned her. When you have lived as long as many of these gods have, they forget that they can be killed by cunning mortals.” Sounds like a god though, cocky enough to believe they will not be killed because Heka the Great was taken care of and my father does not have enough power to even scratch one of them. Looking back into the grand hall where the party attendees are dancing as the music plays, I catch a small glimpse of the Duke, his smile wide, and his graying hair combed back as a golden crown is upon his head. Just as the Duke goes out of sight, Belen and I make our way back by the kitchen, a few guards enjoying some leftover treats the chef has left out. The exit door pushed open, Belen escorts me out, our path towards the stables short as I explain to him I need to fetch my horse. With my horse untied from stall, Belen and I travel to the stable entrance, only, as we near the entrance, the doors shut with a loud thud.
Right away I am on alert, seeing Belen take out his sword, I know to not use the sword strapped to my leg unless I too wish to be cursed. Looking to the windows of the stable, I see guards surrounding the small stable as Belen looks to me. “What did you do?” He asks, voice raised as I can sense the fear laced into his voice. I shake my head, speechless as I wonder how they have caught us. “Forget it, we just need to get out of here alive.” Rather than wait for something to happen, I mount my horse, instructing Belen to follow behind me as I motion to another horse. He quickly undoes the rope to the gray horse, mounting the animal as it does not seem to keen on a stranger riding it. Belen may just be stealing from the Duke for new spells or some money, but I am not going to get caught and allow the dragon within me to strip away my sanity and drive me insane in a painful process.
Taking off my gloves, Belen’s eyes widen at the sight of my wrists, the navy scales running along my flesh, the tips of my fingers beginning to turn black just as Dregh’s have a purple tint to them. As I take in a deep breath, I can pick up a familiar scent, my fear only growing as I know he has come for me. That he someone picked up my scent even if faint for what he remembers. Concentrating, I can feel my hands once again warming up, my mind focused on the dragon from a night ago as I take in a deep breath. My heart beats fast as I try and think back to all the times I used fire to my advantage whether I was training with Heka or just playing around with a small flame.
I give my horse a swift kick, telling it to charge as I watch the fire form at the entrance, burning the wooden doors as the soldiers outside shout commands on the other side. As the doors become ash and I ride my horse out of the stable and into the small crowd of armed men, Belen comes from behind me, the blade of his sword slicing into a soldier’s neck, the man falling limp as I pull on the reins of my horse, trying to find a way to escape the men surrounding us. The soldiers close on Belen and me, keeping us at bay as we both we cannot take on these men just yet.
“Candice, if my eyes do not deceive me, you have changed,” Duke Gravon announces, pulling my attention to a familiar face as he holds a torch in his hand. “Remember I am part wolf, Candice, I could pick up your scent the moment you entered my palace.” The Duke is not pleased to see me at all, but he is not just mad with me, but still fears me. He does not hold a sword not because he does wish to get his hands messy, but because he does not wish to face me himself. Little does his know the torch in his hand allows me to do much more damage. “King Kyril has been looking for you, you know, for you and that father of yours. Searches have been going across the eastern lands of Iduna to find you” My horse is unsteady as swords are raised to us. Belen steadies his horse as well, beside me as he too looks for an escape.
“Tell him I am not worth finding,” I answer, the torch in his hand tempting me even more. “We separated our paths and it should stay that way. I owe nothing to him.”
Duke Gravon shakes his head. “He let you leave and now he requires you aid.”
“He let me leave because that was a deal we struck up. We owe one another nothing,” I snap, watching the Duke nod his head as I know that cannot happen. “Tell him if he requires my help, he can just summon his mother to know where to find me.”
Just as Belen gives me a look, I know he too is eager to get out of here. Waiting for his signal, I distract Duke Gravon from noticing Belen’s movements as I carry on the short discussion with the Duke. “King Kyril requires your aid, Candice, and help is not something the King generally requests for.”
As Belen tugs at my dress, I know it is time to get out of here. Belen raises his sword and I use my weapon too, with the flick of my wrist the torch in the Duke’s hand bursts, the Duke dropping the torch as I twirl my fingers, sparks coming from my fingertips as I think of the night before once more. Just as the Duke’s men are about to attack, the small flame grows in size, roaring as I shout at Belen to go, watching him breech through a gap in the soldiers surrounding us, making his way past the front gates as I see my weapon fully take form before I follow Belen.
As the wings made of a fire spread wide and the beast raises its head, Duke Gravon and his men step back in fear, distracted by the dragon made of fire as I follow Belen. The Duke takes from one of his men a shield, holding it high as I swipe my finger, the dragon breathing fire out to the guards as I can feel it draining my energy. The dragon roars as it breathes fire onto the guards, many screaming and crying out in pain as arrows are shot at the beast, the soldiers unaware of how to destroy the beast made of fire.
I move fast, my horse jumping over a body as I head for the exit, arrows shot at me now as I can sense them before they even leave the bow. My senses allow me to hear them, dodging them as I know where they are in proximity to me. Another roar fills the night sky as I only instruct my horse to pick up speed, Belen in the distance as he fastens his satchel to his horse. Guards can be heard in the distance, shouting orders as they are going to come after us.
Escaping through the street I came to this town on, Belen waits for me halfway down the street, looking back to the palace as smoke rises into the night sky. Residents of the town look out their windows to the smoke, the roar of the dragon shaking the ground as they worry for their safety. I know the dragon will not harm them, for I am using my magic right now, the intensity of it draining on me as I know I will extinguish the dragon when Belen and I leave the town. As the gate to the town comes to view, I look behind to the palace once more, the smoke covering the moon as it darkens the sky, the fiery wings of the beast just barely seen as it lights the palace on fire. Once I pass the gate, my hand closes, the roar of the dragon silenced midway as Belen looks to me, not with fear like I would expect, but shock, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth as well as I know Belen is not scared of me, no, but amazed.
“Someone knows how to make an exit,” Belen comments, lightening the mood as my actions drag me down. My dragon, the fire, how many people just died because of what Dregh wants me to do and my motivation to get home. I once told Dregh I would never spill blood, but Lucretia, I thought she was just an exception. It was either me or her. I told myself that I would never dare use this power to do harm, but I should have known going into do these things for Dregh this was going to happen. Duke Gravon did not threaten me with death, and yet I allowed myself to barely even think about setting a dragon made of fire loose within the palace walls where innocent lives were held.
Looking to Belen as we are at the top of a hill, overlooking the town below, I see him cleaning his blade. Blood will only be shed the longer I do these things for Dregh, but I wish to go home. These past four months, the longer the dragon’s soul is within me, the more I have allowed myself to loosen my morals and tonight is a prime example of this, how I thought nothing of killing these people until it was too late.
“The guards will catch up to us if we stay here longer. Where are you off to?” I ask Belen, wondering if we are to part now. He looks out to the mountains behind us, already knowing where he is as I am still lost in this realm. Belen knows how to fight too, he knows spells, and is old enough to help me figure out my place in this mess brewing up that Dregh is part of.
“Not sure yet,” Belen responds, looking to me. “I have seen much of this realm, dragon, and I allow my next adventures to always be spontaneous.”
I take my chance here. “I could use some help, you know, being new to this land and you knowing it so well, not to mention you know how to steal. I could use a companion along the way if you’re up for it.”
“Dregh have any more tasks for you to accomplish?” Belen asks, excited more than anything.
“Why wouldn’t she, she has a journey planned for me. Adventure around every corner.” I know how to make a dark journey sound alluring, not to mention Belen seems like someone to seek danger for it provides risk.
Belen smiles, placing his blade at his side as he holds out his hand. “You provide the adventure and I am all yours.”
I shake his hand, making not just a friend today, but an ally as well. As we ride off, my thoughts are no longer placed on where I am going, but exactly what the ages changing in Iduna means to what Dregh plans on having me do.