There was little enthusiasm in Slygorath as he meandered along the mountain’s heights, nothing could be done about anything now. His one lead was gone, dead, and in the dirt. The hands that had done the slaying were those he had once served. Those who had been nearest to this old one had given him little choice and forced Slygorath to kill, to break that sacred rule instilled in him by his rider. Slaying humans, eating of their flesh, would mean that he was an enemy of the riders now and would be forevermore. What made the whole of the past day worse was Slygorath’s inability to leave the mountain peaks now. His wings were tattered, ruined, and useless for anything but gliding over small gaps. He ruminated on the mistake of fighting, on coming here, on doing anything but trying to stay by his master’s side, but more importantly, the awful choice to disobey the fire-haired man.
Looking out across the world, so high up that Slygorath could see across the sea, south of the kingdom he once called home, he couldn’t help but feel his heart sink. Somewhere, down below the clouds and a few days flight away, his master went on with his life. Though his bond, still present if only weakened with distance, could not tell Slygorath much, he was confident the fire-haired rider had forgotten him. The man had likely gone on with his life, become bonded with another dragon, and felt not the slightest sympathy for Slygorath. If the rider felt anything about the drake now, it would likely be annoyance, irritation at that fact Slygorath still lived. Their bond could tell the rider that much if he chose to tap into what was otherwise a dead connection to the dragon. Had he known Slygorath would survive this long, he would have put him down himself; instead, the drake continued to be a burden around his neck. Searching through this connection, these feelings of abhorrence and disgust read far clearer than Slygorath would have liked.
How long Slygorath sat at the edge of the mountain and stared onto the land, he was not sure, but it was much longer than he could have guessed. The sun had moved, and his limbs become stiff, but more peculiar a low whining in his ear had grown to a shrill, out of time whistling. Looking about, Slygorath sought and found the source, a honey-haired man not far off, opposite the direction the drake had come. In all his time, Slygorath had never seen quite the sight; he had, of course, seen men wearing furs before but never a man who seemed to have become one with the pelts. From his waist down, dark blonde hair ran as thick as a beast’s and ended in boots that could have easily been mistaken for hooves. Peering closer, Slygorath confirmed that they not only looked like the hooves of a horse or goat but were precisely that.
So enticed and intrigued by the image this man cut, Slygorath had not noticed that he had unintentionally moved closer to observe him as he picked away at some roots. He was almost shocked as the man called up to him, as casual and chipper as though Slygorath was an old friend, “Hello there, mister dragon! What brings you to the mountains today?”
“Slyg-gorath not know. Slyg-gorath lost. No where go, no one want Slyg-gorath anymore,” he muttered somewhat ashamedly. Timidly, the drake stared down at his claws, feeling a bit uncertain if perhaps the odd man knew of his crimes against the rider’s pact.
Smiling up at the dragon and shaking his head before finishing up, the man responded, “Well, Slyg-gorath, it’s quite alright to be lost. All things that are lost are found eventually, aren’t they? Somethings take a little longer than others, but sometimes even lost things find others. Where are you looking to go? I’ve got a good enough lay of the land if you need direction.”
“Rider, the rider no want Slyg-gorath no more. Wise one, no help. Old wise one, dead, Nowhere else to go. Wings no good, no fly off mountain,” Slygorath returned, no less ashamed than he had been before.
Rising from his work and approaching Slygorath with a hand up, hoping it conveyed some friendliness, the man took hold of one of his limps wings. Unfolding it slightly, he breathed in through his teeth before giving his head a shake. He very gently put a finger to one of the tears and saw that even a little too much pressure would not only further the damage but cause the dragon to cringe. After examining the wings, he let go and returned to his basket of roots and herbs. Again reaching towards the dragon with some caution, the man patted Slygorath’s cut-up muzzle. With a kind grin, he remarked, “I don’t know much about mending wings, less about dragons than I should really, but I know of a place, a person who could help. Come on back with me, I have to look through my journal and find the place on my map. It’ll take a bit, but if you want those wings fixed, she might be the only one in these lands who can help.”
A bit skeptical, Slygorath followed the animal man across the valley, and through a wall of rock, the opening barely large enough for the drake. Not far beyond was a hut, little more than a lean-to shed built against the other side of the rock wall. There was no way Slygorath could enter, he was easily twice the size of the strange man’s shack, but he did not mind that so much. The walls of rock that encircled the man’s little hideaway was cozy enough for the drake, and the narrow opening above brought him peace of mind. Scampering inside with his basket, the animal man returned with a thick, hardcover book that had certainly seen better days. As he paged through, mumbling to himself glossing over the various entries, Slygorath parked himself in the weeds. His stomach wasn’t hungry just yet, but after what he glut himself on before departing the village, that was of little surprise. However, as he watched the man go through his book, Slygorath had to wonder if the animal man would taste any different than those normal men that had not been melted away by his dragon’s breath.
The day crept on, Slygorath had no recollection of falling asleep while he lay there, but as he came around, he found the man gone. A slight sting in his flank caused Slygorath to crane his head to the wound, still feeling raw but now scabbed over once more. There was a faint cream-colored substance layered over the dried blood. The salve let off a scent of herbs, sharp and pungent but soothing at the same time. Slygorath’s attention was drawn from the irritation as the shack’s door slammed, the noise booming around the hideaway. He stood on the steps to his home with a rolled tube of paper in one hand and a satchel hanging from his other arm.
“You’re an easy sleeper, can’t say I’m not jealous of that. You wouldn’t imagine how much I toss and turn trying to find rest,” the animal man again smiled pleasantly up to the drake as he made his way over.
Looking to the man, a bit wary, Slygorath asked, “What you do to scrape? No hurt no more, smell funny.”
“Just a salve, it will keep it from getting infected and should heal up a bit quicker. How did you get that nasty slash anyhow? Tangle with another dragon?” as he talked, the man pulled himself up onto Slygorath’s neck.
The dragon didn’t mind this; the man was gentle even with his hooves and didn’t weigh half as much as his rider had, “No. Big thing, sharp tail, hairy, gold. I no see it so good, flew over mountain.”
“Oh, sounds like you had a run-in with Kuriathine. You should be so lucky that all you have to show for it is a bad scar and some missing scales. You’ll have to be careful up here, Kuriathine is the god of this mountain, if he wants you dead, he’ll hunt you until his last breath,” the man finished as he secured the satchel to the remains of one of Slygorath’s horns.
After he had attached the bag to the dragon, the man hopped down and came up to a tall rock standing before Slygorath. Unrolling the paper, the man tucked the top corners into two crevasses in the rock near its top and held the bottom half with a hand. First, he pointed to the mountains located near the center of the map. To the south was the swamp, and all the other ground Slygorath had covered in the past few days. The west held a vast desert, the east was all of the coastal towns that sat beside the ocean. However, the man jabbed his finger to an area north of the mountains, directing Slygorath to a city not far off. Slygorath couldn’t read the words; even if he could read the writing of men, it was far too small, but he focused as the man directed him to the village of Glydrucel.
“It’s a large city, you won’t miss it and if you do just look for the high houses that make up the center of the town. They look like great flowers that have yet to bloom and stand half as high as the mountain’s lower reaches. Just outside of town you’ll find a little shop, it has a waterwheel attached so just look by the river. You’ll need to be as polite as you can manage, Thelus has the coin to hire guards and last I saw she had a minotaur guarding the place. You say to him that you have come from the mountains, that Jas has sent you to Thelus and what you have in that satchel should be enough to repay her for his debt. Don’t be too polite, though; let them know right away that what’s in there should serve as payment for whatever they’ll do for you too. With any luck, Thelus should be able to at least patch up the holes in your wings if not give you nearly new wings. You got all that?” Jas asked, still tracing the route on the map.
Slygorath nodded as he followed the man’s map, “North, big city, tall house, waterwheel. Thel-us, give bag, get wings. Why I go like that over mountains? Why no go straight?”
“You need to avoid the middle of the mountain unless you want another fight with Kuriathine. He lives in the middle of the mountain, just where those last peaks rise up. If you go around those points, he’ll never see you,” now Jas jabbed
a finger at a dark fissure that looked to have only recently been put on the map.
Nodding slowly, Slygorath showed he understood, “Smart, Jas smart animal man. Rider was smart. Jas make good rider. Jas want be rider for Slyg-gorath?”
“I’m sorry, friend, I truly am, but I am no rider, and I don’t have any use for a dragon. Sure coming and going from the mountain would be quite nice but it’s hardly something I need. Once Thelus has you all fixed up, I’m sure you won’t have any problem finding a rider. If she does her best work, you’ll have wings, unlike any dragon before you. Metal and canvas made nearly indestructible, anyone who ever desired a dragon will want for you,” the man admitted, giving Slygorath a pat on his scarred muzzle.
Noticeably upset, the drake murmured, “No one want Slyg-gorath, wings or no. Say they no can have dragon, riders come take Slyg-gorath away.”
“Alright then, Slyg, how’s about this? You go see Thelus, get it all taken care of, and have her mend your wings. Once you’re all fixed up, come back here, and we’ll discuss it. Who knows, by the time you’ve gotten your new wings that horn in your forehead might pop through. With something like that and wings designed by Thelus, you’d be a dragon no one would let slip through their fingers,” Jas smiled up at Slygorath, meaning every word whole-heartedly.
Taking a talon and fingering at his brow, Slygorath was more than a little surprised to find a sharp tip jutting out from his skull. It was right where that intense pain had been the other morning, something Slygorath hadn’t understood at the time but now seemed more explicable. How a horn could grow, let alone a new horn growing from a place that it had no business being, was beyond Slygorath. However, considering he had started spitting out some strange caustic fluid as well as having the nerve to kill and devour men, the new horn did not seem so unbelievable. After inspecting the newly forming point a moment, Slygorath bid the animal man, Jas, farewell.
The journey across the mountain’s top would be an easy one; all Slygorath had to do was keep to the east and not be discovered by this ‘god of the mountain.’ Going down would be the hard part of this otherwise short journey. Despite how hopeful Jas had seemed, he had almost entirely forgotten about Slygorath’s ruined wings. However, it was an obstacle that could be overcome, albeit not an easy one. He would need to pick his way down the mountain, hop by hop, gliding from outcroppings of rock as he did so. The journey down would be easily twice that of the one up, but were Jas right, Thelus would reforge his wings. With new wings, returning to Jas would be only a day’s climb; however, there was no certainty he would return. The animal man had sounded very confident Slygorath would find a new rider in the city below, but the drake was doubtful. He went over this thought so long in his head that Slygorath had not noticed the increased current of air or the queer shaped dark shadow looming about him.
A low rumbling of a call, like a bear with a throat filled with stones, shook Slygorath to wakefulness. He had no chance to begin scampering away or looking for cover, sharp claws descended on him even before he could face the creature. Slygorath was lucky on this occasion, the nails held tight to something cumbersome and could not strike. Still, the dragon was knocked down by Kuriathine and sent tumbling across the open valley of the mountain. A fleshy sounding thud came not far away, Slygorath peeked in that direction after his body came to rest. The dark black fur was broken suddenly by pale flesh, not pale with death, but the crimson on the centaur’s flank would insist that was coming soon. Pulling himself upright, Slygorath had two sudden realizations that he rather had not come upon; the first being that he knew the centaur, the second, that not far beyond the downed horseman, was the dark fissure he had been warned about. There was a more significant obstacle in his way, beyond avoiding the wide crevasse or trying to help the centaur, the massive creature had stopped and waited just beside the entrance to its home.
It was a terrible thing, nothing like any Slygorath had set eyes upon with or without his rider. The fur was dark, as though this ‘god’ had rolled itself in soot and allowed it to soak in and stain it’s hide. There were streaks of gold cutting through the blackness, striking and bold like the colors of a wasp. Two fangs hung from its maw, that was itself too wide. It was a perculiar thing to see, but what was all the stranger was that one of the fangs had been halved, the other remained bloodstained. Meeting Kuriathine’s eyes, Slygorath came to find this creature was quite the image of a god when taking every aspect into regard. Three eyes stretched in a row on either side of its head, dark pits marred only by one twinkling white star, all of which pointed at the drake. He tried desperately to place its overall shape. Something like a dog but with some more of the refined features of a cat, and then there were those raven-like wings and a tail with barbs not unlike a porcupine. Studying the features a moment more, Slygorath realized the entire body seemed fixed with those deadly spikes that no longer serve as just defense. After all, who would dare attack this behemoth? With Kuriathine’s size being easily that of a full-grown dragon, more than five times Slygorath’s size, the drake wondered how he would escape it. There was no delusion in his mind, this creature would not be slain, but his paw nor even greatly wounded, he would need to run.
“Dragon...” a rasping voice called on the wind as the hands of the centaur began to stir and reach for his pack. Drawing out an orb that seemed filled with smoke, Elryn’s man spoke again, “Dragon... I am going to throw this, and you are going to run. It will not hurt you, but it will not hurt the mountain god. It is to obscure you, the beast has not ears to hear you with nor a nose to smell you, those eyes are its only asset. Get away as quick as you can. Call it a debt owed for the feast you gave us and an apology for how we left you.”
With all the strength left in him, the centaur hurled the sphere at the stones just in front of him. As the glass-like exterior shattered, the clouds within lifted from the vessel and filled the area in seconds. Whatever means of magic had been wrought within that orb, it was mighty as it turned the den of this creature into a fog-filled harbor just before a storm. The only problem with such a distraction was that it only barely helped Slygorath. He had no lay of the land and couldn’t see as well as one would hope in the dense fog. Aimlessly, he scampered forward, lifting the dying centaur onto his back, knowing he could not leave such a friend for Kuriathine’s food. As he carried on, Slygorath fled in the direction he believed the rock peak sat. Were he to get behind it, then even if the fog cleared, he would safer than if he remained in the open. Amid the confusion and blind running, Slygorath ran headlong into something that had more give to it than stone. Before he knew it, the jagged claws of the mountain god batted him away as a cat would with a yarn ball.
The blind strike Kuriathine dealt was not the strongest it could have managed; its claws were barely out, and the force behind it was rather weak. However, Slygorath tumbled forward, losing the centaur on his back and then feeling his feet come out from beneath him. He could not be sure if he were falling from the mountain or had been snatched in the beast’s claws until the fog left him. Dark was all around him as he fell, fear and confusion struck him, but Slygorath managed to open his wings in the midst of it all. They were barely well enough to slow his descent, however, as he finally struck earth, Slygorath suffered very minimal hurts. Looking to the sky, unsure if he had lost his sight in the fog itself, the drake confirmed his vision, sunlight shown from above. It took his mind a moment to put it all together, but as he did, the realization was a sudden and unexpected shock. Kuriathine had accidentally flung him into the depths of that chasm that it had guarded. Then paranoia and fear set in, without wings Slygorath could not fly out of here, he would be trapped until he perished.
Another worry passed through the dragon, perhaps the god of the mountain called this deep, dark hole home. It would make an excellent den for such a dreadful thing, but as he again looked up, he saw one desperate claw reaching in, unable to push all that deep inside. Though it was rather good news to see that Kuriathine could not follow him inside, Slygorath was still stuck in the dark pit. Within this place, any number of creatures could lurk; giants, demons, ancient dragons, the possibilities were endless. Cautiously, Slygorath managed to pull up a thick strand of that amber fluid from his throat and launch it against a far wall. Light cascaded down as the liquid ran down and began to catch on something that looked like a dead tree. Flames erupted from the dried tinder that Slygorath could identify as some sort of tremendously large nest. At its center were two cracked open eggs the fire would not touch. The liquid within caught fire but did not burn out of control instead served as some bizarre brazier. Their light gave life to the chasm, revealing its every detail to the drake who looked about curiously.
The pit seemed to have been something to someone at one point in time or another, man-made features had been constructed within. Benches led up to the burning nest, and as the pieces of tree and debris cleared, it was apparent a raised dais and altar had been built into the wall there. In another direction, it looked as though the stone had been hewed away to form a crude door. What lay beyond that threshold
Slygorath would never know, the entrance was too small for him. Opposite the doorway was a series of scratches and scars in the stone done by some crude claws, they had gone unfaded with time. However, behind Slygorath was the real interesting sight and the source of low cries that drew his attention away from the blazing nest.
They were small things, at least by comparison to their kin; however, the cubs of Kuriathine were nearly equal size with Slygorath. All the same, the two cowered in the corner, seemingly not afraid yet not wanting to engage with this new creature that had crashed down into their little world. Curiously, the drake studied them, looking to see what they might do. To his surprise, the duo leapt from their corner without even the slightest caution from what Slygorath could do. In his panic, the dragon fell back onto those newly awakening instincts. He snatched one by the neck with his jaws and slammed the other to the dirt. Recalling that pain their kin had caused him and the ease it had done such damage to his scaly hide, Slygorath did not give another moment’s patience to them. Crushing the first one’s throat in his jaws, then proceeding to slash open the other’s entrails, Slygorath made short work of the two.
His mind returned to him after a few minutes of heavy breathing, as it did Slygorath heard what could only be described as weeping from high up. Kuriathine must have watched or sensed her young being slain by the dragon she had failed to kill. Worse still would be if she looked on as, within only a few more minutes, Slygorath turned on the corpses and began to glut himself on their remains. Their flesh was divine, sweet, and soft but still with just enough bite to it. Initially, Slygorath had only begun eating them out of his own hunger, but as he took more and more, he found he could not stop. They were something beyond the tastes he had acquired, no hog nor human nor even the silver and golds came close to this flavor. Once they were gone, Slygorath could only lay back and feel stricken with equal parts sorrow and satisfaction at devouring all that there was to pick over. Waves of weariness fell over him, and with some reluctance, Slygorath collapsed.
Night was visible far above the crevasse, however, rather than being pitch black within, Slygorath found the pit still lit by the burning makeshift braziers. With the flames of the scorched nest now gone, the drake went forth to push one of the eggshells to the other end of the space. As he reached the far wall, bringing light to the otherwise dark end, Slygorath found the answer to a question he did not know he had. Where the two beasts had stood and decided to make their final stand, was an ever deeper chasm. It ran parallel with the far wall and would have been just big enough for Slygorath to squeeze through, though he decided not to. Staring into this abyss, the drake tried to determine what his next course of action would be or what could be done considering his situation.
There was no way back up for him, and even were he able to somehow climb the ceiling to the opening, death waited above. Kuriathine would devour him in return for what had been done to her young, that much Slygorath was sure of. The doorway would not admit him, and upon further study, the wall it had been hewed into would not easily be compromised. Again, Slygorath began to resolve that he would die in this pit. In a few days’ time, his stomach would ache, and his throat would be as dry as the desert itself. A long struggle would come to its end, not in the fantastic fashion of being mauled and slain by another dragon with their rider but by slow, agonizing starvation. Thinking on other dragons only served to reignite Slygorath’s mind, his thoughts again focused singularly on the fire-haired rider. His connection to the man felt somewhat stronger now, but perhaps it was due to the isolation. Being utterly devote of other thoughts or distractions, Slygorath could only sit and ache from that invisible tether that linked them.
“Soon, Slyg-gorath die. Rider go free. He no feel me no more. All end like end should be. Death come, Slyg-gorath go with,” the drake whispered to himself. He settled his chin on his paws and stretched his tattered wings over his bulk. By torchlight, he studied the odd shape of the cubs’ bones; they seemed so small and fragile. Now more than ever, those young creatures looked as though they were far too tiny to have done him any harm. Slygorath felt no remorse for slaying them; however, he was not without some regret. Yet, even were he filled with the greatest of sorrows for his actions, his tongue still hungered to taste that flesh once more. Their bones were stuck with the lively red of blood, it made the dragon’s mouth water. It was a savage thing to do, chew the bones of one’s enemy, but at that moment, Slygorath couldn’t help himself.
As he went for the skeletons, Slygorath found more than just still moist bones laying heaped where he had feasted. There was new meat on the ribs and spine, fresh and unmarked by the hungry set of jaws that had set to work on them before. It was impossible, Slygorath assured himself, recalling that he had licked the bones utterly clean. But now, before his own eyes, he saw the flesh grow and extend, to try once more to cover the skeleton. Dropping the cub’s remains, Slygorath backed away, unable to believe it. It was clear to him now, Kuriathine indeed was some form of god or another tremendous entity capable of wild feats. Even her young were seemingly immortal, their flesh returning even after death and the consumption of their entire beings. As it all fell into place, Slygorath grinned; he would not die in this pit, he would thrive. There was no need to escape now, his wings could remain ruined, and the rider may just as well live forever for all the dragon was concerned. He had gone free, reclaimed a small fraction of what it was to be a dragon, but most importantly, found his treasure to covet. The blood of gods would grace his lips and his lips alone, and with it, Slygorath would be eternal.
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