It’s on days like this, during the peaceful moments, that your guard is down. And only when your guard is down does the unexpected happen and tear into the peace you have been basking in with its murderous teeth, scarring you for the rest of your life. It’s on days like this that lives change unexpectedly in an alarming way. It’s on days that you aren’t prepared that life’s startling aspects are revealed and your world forever changed.
The air is sweet and warm, and a cool, gentle breeze dances through the surrounding air. As it passes through the trees, they create a beautiful, peaceful melody in response to the wind’s antics. The warm air, the cool breeze, the clear skies, and especially the lovely, calming music the trees are thrumming create a very peaceful setting.
Nearly the entire kingdom is taking advantage of it, for this is the first day of good weather they’ve had in years. Everyone is enjoying themselves- everyone, that is, but the King and Queen. They themselves were happy for a long time, although they felt something was missing. After years of wondering, they realized they wanted a family. The Queen became pregnant soon thereafter, and they thought they had discovered the answer.
They never thought about all the things that could go wrong.
But now the lovely Queen is going into labor, and the King is panicking. At this very moment, he’s pacing back and forth outside her door, overwhelmed with thoughts of everything that could go wrong- for the first time. He feels no peace or happiness now, only anxiety and frustration that he can do nothing for his beautiful wife. He was with her in the room in the beginning, but thanks to his endless questions and anxiety-driven pacing, the doctor had sent him out so she could concentrate on helping the Queen.
The poor man paces for hours in the empty hallway, refusing to eat. Meanwhile outside the castle, everyone else is going home for supper, and then heading to bed. Not the King. He’s still up, and he’s a nervous wreck.
When the doctor steps out of the room, the King, submerged in his worries, almost runs into her. She steps out of his way just in time, but he doesn’t even notice, continuing to pace back and forth, staring at the floor as if she wasn’t even there. She clears her throat to try and get his attention, attempting to snap him out of his stupor, but he continues walking. The doctor finally resorts to slapping him. This rips him back to reality, and he seems to wake as though from a deep sleep.
“W-what?” The King stammers, blinking and looking around. Catching sight of the doctor, he demands, “What happened? Is everything alright?”
The doctor stops him there. “Calm down,” she tells him, her voice soothing him only a little. “Everything is fine. In fact,” she adds, “you are now the lucky father of three beautiful, healthy children. Would you like to see them?”
“Three?” the King repeats, surprised. “Of… of course! Why would I not?”
To this, the doctor simply smiles. Opening the door, she gestures for him to enter. The King swallows, trying to contain his excitement and nervousness from spilling out in an undignified way. He inches into the room and the doctor shuts the door behind him to give the new family some privacy.
In the small room, there is a single bed with a chair beside it, on which the King sits. His stormy blue eyes become lost in the gold strands shimmering in her deep, emerald eyes. She smiles at him sleepily. He smiles back and they share a long, loving look. Then they look at the little bundles cradled in the Queen’s arms.
“What are we going to name them?” the King asks her.
“You don’t even know if they are boys or girls yet, Alexander!” she laughs.
“Oh… right. So we should find out then,” He says, embarrassed.
The queen laughs again. “Or you could just ask me, since I know.”
“Uh, yeah. That would work too.”
The Queen laughs at him, her vibrant eyes shining with happiness. “Two boys and one girl,” she states. “And I’ve thought of a perfect name for two of them.” Then, handing one of the peaceful, sleeping babies to Alexander, she announces, “I’ve decided to name her Crystal… Crystal Dragon. It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, yes it does,” the proud father whispers, looking at their beautiful daughter and noting just how much she looks like her mother, Pearl Dragon.
Suddenly little Crystal wakes up, yawning and stretching her little arms above her head. The astonished parents stare as the newborn’s eyes flutter open, blinking rapidly against the light in the room.
“H-her eyes are just like mine!” the King stammers, surprised. As little Crystal blinks her eyes open again, they change into large, golden, dragon eyes.
“She’s going to be amazing when she grows up,” Pearl comments, watching as her daughter peers around the room. “Just look at how soon she opened her eyes, let alone using her dragon eyes already! She’s a prodigy! I wonder how her brothers will turn out…”
“Speaking of which, what’s the other name you came up with?” Alexander asks her, handing back the now sleeping Crystal.
“Oh yes. This is Hunter,” she tells him, handing over the smallest of the three. “I thought he needed a tough name,” she speculates. “He looks a little like your brother Hank did, doesn’t he? I wonder what his Gifts will be. He doesn’t look like a fighter, or like he’ll be extraordinarily strong.”
“Maybe he’ll be really fast?” the King suggests.
“I don’t think so,” she predicts worriedly. “Maybe he’ll be a shape-shifter like Vladimir… except better,” she adds hopefully. They both shudder at the thought of Vlad, their advisor and helper, and his strange way of changing shape. Between forms, he looks deformed and simply revolting. “Well, whatever his Gifts turn out to be, I’ll love him no matter what,” Pearl states, ending the debate.
“Of course,” the King responds. “Now then,” he continues, “What should we name the last one?”
“Well, that’s up to you,” she grins assuredly. “I named the other two.”
“Hmm…” Alexander says, thinking about it while looking at the last baby. “Well, I think he looks like a Rex. What do you think?”
“I think it’s perfect,” she beams. “Crystal, Rex, and Hunter,” She pauses, watching the three of them lovingly. “Look how peaceful they are when they’re sleeping!” she comments. The two talk for a little longer until there’s a soft knock at the door.
The doctor enters the room, a pill in hand. “She needs to sleep,” she explains. “This will help so she can get to sleep and stay that way until morning.”
The King nods. “Right. Well, I’ll be back to see you in the morning, my dear,” he tells Pearl lovingly, bending and affectionately kissing her on the forehead. He stands and walks regally to the door, shutting it gently behind him.
Turning away from the door, he suddenly comes face to face with a man in black. He gasps and backs away so quickly he hits the door behind him, his hands flying back to support himself against the door. The stranger is wearing only black, and is standing with his back straight and his shoulders firm- showing his pride and confidence. His face is mostly concealed thanks to his low hood, so all that can be seen is below his nose, and the glint of his eyes from the torchlight. The rest of his body is covered as well- even his hands- despite the warm evening.
Straightening up, Alexander chuckles, turning back to the man. “Geez! Are you trying to give me a heart attack? There are other ways to announce your presence, Pat!”
Pat doesn’t move, his face revealing nothing of the thoughts swirling inside.
Confused, Alexander clears his throat. “Um… so, what are you doing here?” he asks him.
Still not replying, Pat takes a step towards the door Alexander had just come out of. Unsure of his intentions, Alexander puts up his guard, although still trying to be gracious and hospitable. “Oh, I see,” he says, trying to distract the man. “You came to see Pearl. Well, I apologize, but she’s not seeing any visitors right now. I’ll have to ask you to come back another time- preferably when we know you’re coming.”
Pat’s anger suddenly boils over. Before the King could defend himself, a powerful blow knocks him to the ground. Looking up at Pat, the King’s blue-gold eyes reflect the last rays of daylight- as well as fear and surprise.
The man looks down on him, contempt in his crooked smile. “You still don’t get it, do you? I’m not your friend, and I never was. I was just using you to get close to Pearl.” Seeing the hurt and confusion on Alexander’s face, as well as the blood beginning to drip from his lower lip, only seemed to encourage Pat more. He continues talking, spilling his story as the King just sits there, seemingly helpless.
“You see, I fell in love with Pearl long before you ever met her. The problem was, I could never get close to her- she was always surrounded by those with spectacular Gifts. She never took notice of the little Giftless kid looking on with envy from a distance. Then I had a brilliant idea; since I couldn’t manage to get close enough to her to be her friend, I figured if I somehow befriended someone that she was already close to, she would notice me.
“I tried this for a few years, but I still couldn’t make friends with anyone. I was all alone. I had nearly given up when you moved in. I took one look at you and knew that you would be the lucky fellow to catch the eye of the beautiful Pearl. I also knew I could get to you, seeing as you didn’t know any better. You did not yet realize that I was an outcast.
“I was right, of course. You and Pearl fell for each other, which worked fine- for a while. All three of us were friends and everything was great. But then I started getting pushed out of the way to make room for you two,” he says bitterly.
“But… I thought you were okay with it… you never said anything. You could have told me, Pat!” The King exclaims to his old friend, standing. Alexander is only a couple inches shorter than Pat, but he’s still very intimidating. Pat doesn’t flinch.
“That’s another thing. The whole ‘Pat’ nickname was only for Pearl to call me. Since I am not even pretending to be your friend any longer, you must call me by my real name.”
“Pat…” the King starts.
“Patrick!” he abruptly corrects him.
“But Pat, where did you go after we got married? You disappeared for over 12 years!”
He glares at the King before continuing his story. “After you got married, I was enraged. I couldn’t stand to see my precious Pearl with someone else, so I left your new Kingdom and wandered for a couple years, struggling to survive.
“Then I decided that I had to go back. I had almost no choice. If I stayed in the wilderness much longer, I would certainly die. So I tried to return, but I was lost and had no idea of where I was, or where I needed to go to get back.
“However, in my wanderings, something good finally happened.
“I stumbled around, finally finding a large, warm cave. I climbed in to take shelter from a storm that was rolling in and fell asleep. Sure, the cave had an odd smell, but it was warm. I awoke a few hours later, before dawn, to a sound in the distance. The very air vibrated around me, indicating the massive and powerful size of whatever was coming my way.
“In my exhausted state, I couldn’t quite place the sound, but I knew one thing- it was headed right for me… and it was the moment that changed my life- forever.
“Still groggy, I raced for the trees through the pouring rain, slipping and cutting myself on the rocks many times before I reached the tree line. When I got to the trees, my curiosity got the best of me. I had to see what had caused the deep thrumming sound. You see, Alexander, what landed at that cave was a dragon. A HUGE black dragon.
“When it landed at the entrance to the cave, it started sniffing at the place I had slept, growling menacingly. I watched as the dragon started to follow in my tracks, still with its nose to the ground, breathing in my scent. Glancing at my torn-up hands, I realized that I had left the dragon a fresh, bloody trail that lead straight to where I was still standing.
“When I looked back at the dragon, I watched dumbly as it followed the remainder of my trail with its eyes. Once they locked onto mine, I found myself rooted in place, completely unable to move.” The King doesn’t say anything, afraid of setting him off again. Instead, he just looks on with wide eyes.
“I was as good as dead,” he continues, lost in the past. “The dragon started toward me, and I mentally gave up. I was ready to die. It was better than the other option, though- crawling back to you,” Patrick sneers at him.
“Knowing there was no escape for me, the dragon approached calmly, slowly. It loomed so high over me, I felt like I was standing at the base of a big, black mountain. It lowered its head to sniff me, its mouth so close I could easily smell the rotted flesh still stuck between its teeth- each one as long as I am tall.
“…And I was about to become its next meal.” He pauses the tale for a moment, swallowing as he relives it in his mind.
“Still, I wasn’t afraid- not really. I guess I was just beyond caring. As the dragon reared back his head and opened its mouth wide, ready to snap me up for breakfast, I heard two soft twangs behind me, one barely behind the other. The dragon roared in fury, which released me from the trance-like state I was in. Not knowing what to do, I just stood there. I had assumed I would be dead by then, killed by the monster towering above me. I sensed that it still wanted to eat me.
“Then I was afraid. The fear of death, of painfully being torn to shreds by this hideous beast, became so strong it was paralyzing. However, I could still move enough to keep an eye on the dragon, for that was my number one concern at the moment. I was so focused on the creature that I forgot to worry about whoever might be there besides me- the ones who attacked the dragon. In fact, as I watched the beast, I couldn’t think of anything except being squashed by those giant clawed feet.
“The dragon roared again, pulling me from my thoughts. I glanced up and noticed an arrow protruding from each of its eyes. Just then more spears and arrows were unleashed from behind me, striking the dragon in its mouth, belly, and neck. Thrashing in pain, the dragon nearly stepped on me several times. I was lucky to survive.
“But luck doesn’t last forever. You can’t depend on luck for anything, for it will always fail you, one way or another.” He paused in his story, glaring down at Alexander before continuing.
“Luck failed me that day. I didn’t escape that encounter unscathed. All I remember was something hit the side of my head and I passed out. When I regained consciousness, I was among my saviors. They called themselves the Dragon Hunters. They took me in as one of their own and taught me their ways. Now, ten years later, I am their leader.” He smiles smugly.
“That’s quite a story,” responds the King, not really knowing what to say. “But what are you going to do now? I mean, why are you really here? Just to tell me what happened to you? Because I think there’s more to it- to you- than that.”
Patrick’s lips slowly curl into a sinister smile- one that’s hiding something. Alexander Dragon is so taken aback that he feels like he doesn’t even know him anymore. Which, it seems, he doesn’t. “Well, I came for revenge, of course. And now is the perfect time… the perfect opportunity.”
“Revenge? But who…” Alexander starts, confused. Then his face changes as he realizes just what his long lost friend means to do. “No…” his voice starts out weak, scared, but grows stronger with desperation.
“NO!!!” he turns and tackles Patrick, desperate to protect his family. “You will not touch them!” he roars on the way down.
As Patrick’s head hits the floor, his hood is knocked loose and his face revealed. The King, shocked at the condition of his old friend’s face, backs off, his mouth open wide with surprise and disgust. As Patrick stands, the King continues to stare, taking in the horrific scar on the left side of his face.
Most of his face on that side looks like it was scraped off, revealing the raw flesh beneath it. In a few places, he can actually see the white of the bone gleaming in the light. There is also some dry blood caked around it, as well as a sickening green film of pus. Thankfully, his eye is still intact. Barely.
The poor King is struggling not to throw up at the sight. “W-what happened??” he stutters, still struggling with himself.
Patrick grins, enjoying his reaction. “What, this?” he asks mockingly, indicating his scar. “This is the injury I got from the dragon,” he explains. “The beast cut part of my face off with a claw as it turned to run, the cowardly thing,” he mocks. “I suppose it either got infected or it could be simply the magic of the beast that prevents it from healing, but I decided that I don’t mind so much. It accents my eyes, don’t you think?” he chuckles, gesturing mockingly to his face.
“…Oh,” is all Alexander can choke out, trying not to look at the scar. Grinning, Patrick pulls up his hood with his gloved hands, hiding his face once again. He then takes a step closer to his revenge.
The new father is ready for him this time, however. The instant he moves, Alexander Dragon acts. Moving quickly, he whirls around and sweeps a leg underneath Patrick, bringing him quickly to the floor. In a flash, the King is on top of him, his knee digging into his back and pinning his arms underneath him. The speed of his attack catches Patrick off-guard. He could do nothing to prevent it.
Leaning forward, Alexander tells his old friend in an unusually cold voice, “There is absolutely NO WAY I will ever let you take any of my family away from me. I’d rather die!” he spits, strong emotion prominent in his voice.
“Oh, I know,” Patrick replies, cockiness entering his voice once again. “That is precisely why that is my revenge. I won’t kill you- just your loved ones!” Laughing, he makes a strange, wild, dragon-like roar deep in his throat. Before Alexander has time to react, two men grab him from behind, each taking an arm and twisting it behind his back and toward his head, then lifting him off their leader.
The King gasps, trying not to scream out in pain as he’s lifted even higher by the brutes. Even as his shoulders pop and his arms start to pull out of their sockets, even as sharp pain is shooting down his spine, he swallows his cries and simply glares at Patrick. Ignoring his gaze, he stands, helped up by two more of his men. At the same time, several men in black come running up from both directions, surrounding them completely. They stand by, silently waiting for the next command from their leader.
Once on his feet, Patrick turns to Alexander. “As much as I would love to see you dead, I’m afraid that’s not the punishment I have in store for you. Oh, no. You need to stay alive and suffer.”
Snapping his fingers, he signals two men to go into the room that the King was trying so hard to keep them out of. Alexander holds out hope that the doctor can help. When he doesn’t hear any tussling, he’s confused, although he figures it out pretty quickly once he notices the confidence on Patrick’s face.
“That’s right,” Patrick confirms. “I thought ahead and made sure to take care of the doctor. I had my men subdue her while we were talking. I also had a man in the room before you went in. Thanks to his Gift of invisibility and the Gift of another of my men of reading minds, I know all about Crystal’s… uniqueness,” he smirks.
The King growls and starts to struggle, but someone else, a thin little man, comes up from behind and drives something into his neck, causing him to lose all control of his muscles. His brain fogs up and he can’t think clearly, almost as though he were drunk. When the man steps away, he notices a now empty syringe dangling from his long, thin fingers.
As the King hangs limply from the two men’s grip, he’s still aware of everything around him, although he can’t do anything about it. The door opens and the two men come out holding three little bundles, and one dragging the tied up and gagged doctor behind him. She pleads with him with her eyes, the only thing she can communicate with. The King reads fear and desperation in her eyes- fear for herself as well as for his newborn children.
“No…” the King moans, unable to do anything else.
Patrick laughs, taking one of the Dragons’ babies, and, looking into its sleeping face, announces, “This one, Hunter, will come with us. We will raise him to hate his parents, and we will teach him our ways. He will be the future leader after me and he will continue the destruction of all Dragons- including his own family!” His men laugh at this pun. “Unless, of course, Alexander here decides to do something to try to harm us… then we can just kill him, of course.
“Hmm… what should we do with the other two? We already know what we are going to do with the doctor- she will work for me- but what of these children of the one who ruined my life?” Patrick continues. “Kill them?” His men roar in support. “Or… throw them out and let them struggle to survive before finally dying a slow, painful death?” The King’s anguished cries are drowned out by the many Dragon Hunters.
Suddenly something snaps inside of the King. His brain is clear, more clear than it had ever been before. He is also filled with a sudden, immense power. Without knowing what he’s doing, Alexander looks at Crystal and Rex with his newly revealed dragon eyes, and, without stopping to ponder whether it was even possible, moves them both as far away from Patrick as he can- all with his mind. They disappear, to the astonishment of everyone in the room.
The King, now drained of energy, passes out on the floor with a sickening thump as the men holding him release their grip.
Patrick’s mind reels at what he just saw. Finally, though, he decides that his plan can still succeed with just one of Zilferia’s heirs, so he leads the Dragon Hunters in their hasty retreat. They sweep out the door, dark capes billowing in the cold wind. With the King and Queen’s last baby in Patrick’s arms and darkness in his heart, he leads his men as they flee the scene before the King’s men can catch them. They make haste, moving swiftly in the dark, and the night soon swallows them up, leaving behind only despair and broken hearts.
The peace of that morning would not return to the Dragons’ Kingdom for a long, long time.