Dragon Fire: Episode 75

Working from his boyhood memories, Aric slowly guided Alidus through the darkness of the tunnels and caves beneath the castle.

“How do you navigate with no light?” Alidus asked, keeping his hand on Aric’s shoulder.

“I have not thought of this place since my youth, but I remember the path. As a boy, I slipped inside the castle walls so often that I learned to move through the blackness. Not far from here is a gate and a shaft that leads up to a fountain in the center of the city,” Aric explained. “We must hurry before whatever cleaned these bones returns.”

“What creature has done this?” Alidus asked.

“In the days of my youth, I heard stories of a creature of fur with the head of a tiger and the arms of a man. I do not know if there is such a beast or if it is just a wild tale to frighten younglings. The elders also said that the burned priest dragged small children into these tunnels to their death,” Aric explained.

“The burned priest?” Alidus asked.

“Many years ago, a priest was burned alive for witchcraft, but after the fire consumed him, he returned to life. I now know that this story was about your father Zephryn. Some who heard the stories would bring no light when they entered these tunnels. They believed that the burned priest gave off his own light and that darkness was the only way to see him.”

As he followed Aric through the tunnels, Alidus hoped that one day he would hear the true story of his father instead of foolish legends.

“We are here,” Aric said.

When Alidus saw a small light up ahead, he removed his hand from Aric.

A few yards farther and they came upon an old gate made of bits of wood bound together with strips of cloth.

“We are almost free,” Aric said, lifting a small latch and opening the gate.

The light was coming from a low fire beside which sat an old man with a blanket of fur over his legs.

“Come and warm yourself by the fire,” he offered. “It is so rare that I enjoy the company of others. Most fall prey to the jaws of the animal.”

“You know of the creature down here?” Aric asked.

“He is not a creature, my son. He is an animal,” the old man corrected.

“How do you know this?” Aric inquired.

“I know this because he was once my friend,” the old man explained.

“What is your name, father?” Alidus asked.

“My name is Genfyre,” he answered.

Aric walked over to the shaft that lead up to the way out.

“I hear the beginnings of a storm. It may be that its wind and rain will cover our entry into the city,” Aric said.

“Why not come with us, sir?” Alidus offered. “There is no need for you to live down here alone in this damp, dark place.”

“I have not felt the sun on my face since the burned priest rose, but I am unable to leave here, my son,” Genfyre said, pulling the blanket free.

Alidus saw that the old man’s legs were gone below the knee.

“We can easily carry you, father,” Aric said. “We have the strength of youth.”

“Thank you, my son, but I must stay here for I live under a curse. I gave my word that I would free him from his torment,” Genfyre said.

“Who is it that you will free?” Alidus asked.

With blind, milky white eyes, Genfyre looked into the darkness from which Aric and Alidus had come and answered,

“Hannable.”

“Tell me of this Hannable,” Alidus said.

“Long ago, Hannable was a fierce warrior whose battle cry terrified even the bravest of soldiers, sending them fleeing in fear. People began to call him Hannable the animal, but he was no monster, just a man who loved his wife and unborn child, a daughter he never was able to see. When the burned priest rose, the high priest Zephryses placed a curse upon Hannable, turning him into a monster with the head of a tiger and limbs of a man. He was told that to be free of the curse, he must find the burned priest and bring him back to Zephryses.  But when Hannable caught the burned priest and saw that he was not evil, he released him and refused Zephryses’ demand. In a fit of rage, the high priest banished him to these caves and tunnels, and after years of living down here, the creature whose form he bore slowly overcame his heart and mind as well. Afraid he would one day leave this place and hurt his family, Hannable made me swear an oath on my life to stop him. But I failed and lost my legs in the struggle. Now my lot is to remain here to warn others until death claims me or Hannable finds the peaceful sleep of death he longs for. You m—”

A roar echoing in the distance stopped the old man.

“He is coming now. Time is short. Go, my son!” Genfyre warned.

“Hurry!” Aric said, urging the prince.

“We must not leave him here,” Alidus insisted.

“Hannable will not hurt me,” Genfyre said.

“We will come back for him,” Aric promised.

Aric reached into the shaft and began to ascend.

After a moment when Alidus still hesitated, Genfyre said,

“Go! Do what I was unable to do and save your friends.”

As the roaring grew louder, Alidus reluctantly moved toward the shaft.

Suddenly a large stone came hurtling toward him, blocking the shaft’s opening.

When Alidus turned, he saw the creature Hannable. As it hissed, its powerful jaws opened revealing flesh-slicing teeth. With the solid muscular arms and legs of a man, it stood almost eight feet tall covered in grey fur. The creature’s deep growl filled the tunnel, bouncing off the damp dark granite walls.

 

 

*          *          *

 

Thinking Alidus was behind him, Aric continued to climb up the shaft toward the opening by the fountain in the center of the city.

At the top of the shaft, Aric popped his head out and looked around. The way seemed clear, so pressing his hands on the courtyard stone, he pushed and lifted himself up and out.

Suddenly a deep voice behind Aric ordered,

“That is far enough.”

Slowly rising to his feet, Aric turned and saw that the courtyard was now filled with guards, some from his days of training.

“We are under orders to kill you, traitor!” the captain barked, his sword drawn.

As rain poured down on the soldiers and splashed against the cobblestoned courtyard, Aric watched as one by one the guards, many of whom he once called comrade, drew their weapons.

“Would that peace had stayed our swords,” Aric sighed, removing his blade from its sheath.

 

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