Dragon Fire: Episode 51

Beyond the black iron gate of the ruined quarter of Ethion, Aric, Degan and Vanamir entered the place of the dead. Screams of pain and torment filled the night, chilling the wind. At every window, a fire burned, its flames licking at the rotting timbers embraced by gnarled roots. Feeling a legion of eyes upon him, Degan sat stiff in the saddle and kept watch as his horse followed Aric and Vanamir. Up ahead, Aric rode beside Vanamir, a man of strange spiritual energy that Degan sensed was dangerous.

From corners and narrow passageways, the shapes of men seemed to float like a mist through the darkening shadows. Whether souls of the living or dead, Degan could not tell but the shrieks and howls of their pain chilled his bones and followed him through the streets.

“What kind of man would venture here freely?” Degan asked.

Vanamir glanced back and answered,

“A man who is no longer a man. At the end of his life, he made a pact with an old and powerful force of evil. After his death, he returned with only a part of his soul. Something else was in the place where his humanity had been, something dark, unnatural.”

“And now this darkness ravishes his soul?” Degan asked.

“Over time, he faded more and more until at last the darkness consumed him,” Vanamir answered.

“Where does he stay?” Aric asked.

“He keeps to the shadows in this place. But there are others we must watch for. The survivors,” Vanamir warned.

“Survivors?” Degan asked.

“Long ago when the twins attacked the city, there were those who survived. The king forbade them to leave this place and had a wall built to keep them in. Its gates were sealed to be opened by no man. The king wanted no reminder of what happened here. The people behind the wall were abandoned, imprisoned in a scorched wasteland without food or water. In desperation they turned to the one force of nature they could never tame.”

“Fire,” Degan said.

Vanamir glanced back, a glint passing over his eyes before he answered,

“Fire.”

Up ahead they saw the decaying body of a wild dog lying in the street.

“If this land is a scorched wasteland, as you say, what do the people eat?”

“Are you certain you wish to know?” Vanamir asked.

Aric paused, looking at Vanamir in confusion, then said, “Yes.”

“They feed off those who dare pass through the black gate.”

“Man and beast?” Degan asked.

“Anything,” Vanamir explained.

Degan thought to himself,

“This is why the souls cry out in this place.”

Vanamir slowed his horse and suggested, “We must separate.”

“Why?” Aric asked. “We are stronger in numbers.”

“True,” Vanamir agreed, “but we are only three against many. Together we are more likely to draw attention than apart.”

Degan grew uneasy, but before he could speak a word of protest, Vanamir had disappeared into the shadow of yet another fire.

“Everywhere souls cry out for mercy, yet some warn us away.”

“I do not question what you say, Degan, but I must find the man responsible for these black arrow deaths,” Aric said.

“Because they tried to kill you?” Degan asked.

“No. Because they killed my best friend in the marketplace then murdered his wife, burned their farm to the ground, and kidnapped their child Isaac. I cannot turn away and leave him to the mercy of these animals. I must save the boy,” Aric insisted.

Degan knew that the boy was likely dead but decided not to speak of it to Aric.

Instead, he said, “If I see the child among the dead, I shall tell you.”

“Thank you. I must do all within my power to get this child to a safe place, a sanctuary. When I was a young lad, my mother was raped and beaten, but she got me to a monastery just before she died. The monks took me in, sheltered me. Isaac has no one, and I must find him.”

“I understand,” Degan said.

“I just pray he is still alive,” Aric said.

“What about our guide Vanamir? He is drawn to the darkness,” Degan said.

“That is true. I wonder that he happened to be waiting for us in Ethion and knows where the man we seek is in hiding,” Aric said.

“You think he leads us into a trap?” Degan questioned.

“I have no doubt. I fear he has not been truthful with us, but I must be certain.”

Suddenly Aric and Degan saw standing in the middle of the road ahead a man draped in a long robe, a large hood covering his face.

“Who is that?” Degan asked.

“Perhaps a traveler?” Aric suggested, his instinct bringing his hand to his swords.

When the man raised his head, a strange light glowed across his face of burned flesh. His lips were gone, exposing blackened teeth and a twisted smile. Lifting a thick staff into the air, he pierced the night air with a chilling shout.

The shout was answered by wails and moans as bodies began emerging from the surrounding shadows. Degan and Aric twisted in the saddle to look around. They were surrounded.

“Gonorap,” Degan shouted to the creature tucked safely in the leather pouch at his side, “you must flee!

When Gonorap did not respond, Degan looked down at the pouch and saw that a small dart had torn the leather. Inside the pouch was an unconscious Gonorap, the dart’s tip piercing his side.

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Published in: on July 17, 2014 at 3:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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