Dragon Fire Episode 38

When they reached the city of the king, Aric followed Degan as he slowly made his way through the palace gardens.  Bodies were strewn about the grounds like dead flowers after a cruel winter storm. Aric saw that Degan was at peace as he moved among the dead. A small inky black vapor drifted out from beneath the hem of his cloak and trailed along behind. From the leather pouch at Degan’s hip came a low mumbling as the creature Gonorap babbled to himself.

“The little rat sounds terrified,” Aric said trying to distract himself from the vine of fear that slowly wound its way up his spine.

“He is a coward, a weakling,” Degan said. “But he does well to fear this place.”

Degan pulled his horse to a stop and looked down at the bodies that filled every corner.    “They have been dead for some time,” he said turning to Aric.

“Something dark and sinister passed through here. As each day dies, the evil grows stronger and the world weakens.”

Looking around at the multitude of corpses, Aric shook his head and asked,

“Could one storm cause this?”

“I think not,” Degan said, stopping his horse at the castle gates.

“Let us discover what happened,” he said as he slipped down from the horse and reached toward the brittle remains of one of the palace guards.

As he drew closer to the guard’s head, his hand began to tremble. Slowly waving his hand over the face of the dead man, he drew in a sharp breath and said,

“This one has much to say. You must stand back.”

“What?” Aric asked stepping closer.

As he placed his hand on the guard’s head, Degan’s body stiffened and his eyes shut. The empty eye sockets of the palace guard began to glow. Just as Aric reached out to help him, Degan’s head sharply turned toward him and twisted at an impossible angle. His eyes were filled with a deep gray. Aric felt himself hit by a wave of energy, knocking him unconscious to the ground.

 

 

*          *          *

When his eyes opened, Aric was standing at the edge of the king’s gardens as brilliantly colored flowers blooming with life brushed against him in the light breeze. The sun shone brightly overhead as servants worked in the beds and along the paths, keeping the grounds clean and fresh. Nearby, a young girl, her drab apron fluttering in the breeze, was bent forward, intent on pruning a rose bush.

Suddenly a guard approached her from behind and asked,

“What are you doing?”

The girl jumped, dropping the garden shears, and whirled around.

“You frightened me,” she complained.

With a flirtatious laugh, the guard said,

“I am sorry, but I must speak to you. I cannot be still any longer.”

“You know what the king will do if word reaches him that we are courting,” she warned.

“The king would want to throw celebration,” he assured her.

“Yes, but my father would be furious if he knew I do not plan to marry the blacksmith’s son. He would take me away from here,” she said.

“Do not worry, my fair one,” he reassured her. “He will not hear of this from me.”

“I will see you at the river tonight?” she whispered.

“I will be there at dusk. Only death can keep me away,” he murmured.

Just as he leaned in to touch her hand, the ground began to shake violently. Overhead, the skies darkened as thick storm clouds rolled in blocking the sun, and an icy wind whipped through the garden. The young girl clasped her throat, choking for a moment, then fell to the ground as a dark mist poured from her open mouth.

When the guard tried to call out her name, a clap of thunder silenced his cry. Lifting his eyes to the sky, he saw a twisted shape forming in the dark clouds.

As he drew his sword, the thunder rumbled then crackled like the sound of laughter.

Still standing at the gardens’ edge, Aric watched helplessly as lightning shot from the sky and struck, tearing a great hole in the palace wall. Hearing the falling stones, the guard quickly turned toward the broken wall as the shape in the clouds disappeared. The torches along the castle wall suddenly blazed, then burned out, sending forth tendrils of black smoke. Twisting into the shape of arms, the columns of smoke grabbed the ground and moved forward. Like bright rubies, red specks floated in the dark mist circling ever closer then joining into two glowing eyes.

“Get back!” the guard yelled. “I am a royal guard of his majesty—”

The black smoke opened and like a gaping mouth swallowed the guard, cutting off his declaration. Inside the mist, the valiant guard swung his steel blade but the vapor crashed around him like a stormy ocean against a rocky shore. The helpless guard was quickly buried and consumed. When the smoke tendril arms dragged themselves away, there was nothing left of the dauntless guard but a drained corpse, its face frozen in terror.

 

 

*          *          *

 

Suddenly, Aric drew his swords from their sheath and leading with his left leg, raised his weapons to strike. But he saw that he was standing in the king’s garden with Degan still crouched over the dead guard’s body.

Degan slowly stood and faced Aric.

“You saw?” he asked.

“What evil was that?” Aric asked, the swords still drawn.

Without a word, Degan walked to the shattered wall of the palace. Thick leafy vines pushed aside the weeds that grew between the cracks of the broken stones, and the opening had become larger with time. His eyes darting from side to side as he carefully peered into every corner and shadow, Aric gripped his swords and watched for he knew not what.

“That,” Degan said once inside the damaged wall, “is what I feared.”

Aric followed him through and saw two large black doors. Faces had been cut into the iron, each fashioned in a screech of terror.  But when Aric looked closer, he saw that the faces had not been cut. They had been formed by something pressing against the metal from the inside. A language strange to Aric covered the doors, and the hinges had been torn loose.

“Whatever that was,” Degan said pointing to the faces, “was once in there.”

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Published in: on May 16, 2013 at 9:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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