Dragon Fire: Episode 90

Zephryn smiled as the drunken Hannable and Genfyre danced to the spirited, cheerful music of the lute and the joyful voices of patrons. When Hannable offered to buy drinks for anyone brave enough to join the fun, the tavern floor filled. Soon everyone was dancing and singing with no thought of Hannable’s reputation or his blood-soaked clothes. One man, too full of good ale, stumbled into Hannable, knocking him sideways and spilling his drink. When Hannable turned to the man, he seized him and head-butted him. The startled man stumbled backwards and fell to the tavern floor. Hannable roared with delight, grabbed the man by the shoulders, and lifted him to his feet. Thumping his great forehead, Hannable laughed,

“It is good only for ramming things.”

He clapped the man on the shoulder and dragged him over to the ale barrels yelling,

“Two more, please.”

The tavern owner happily filled two mugs and gave them to Hannable.

“Thank you, sir,” the man said, reaching for one. But before he could touch the mug, Hannable lifted both drinks. As he turned to leave, he asked,

“Thank you for what?”

Staring in confusion, the man watched as Hannable headed for the table where his friends sat. Then suddenly Hannable turned around and walked back. Handing one of the drinks to the puzzled man, he smiled and said,

“You must laugh, my friend. It was all in fun.”

Then he clapped the man on the back, knocking him forward.

Leaning toward the nearest woman, he whispered,

“My friend here fancies you. He has been gazing at your beauty all night. Said he has not seen beauty such as yours since he was visited by the gods as a lad.”

Clearly flattered by the praise, the woman studied the man, grabbed his face and began fiercely kissing him. Hannable laughed then stumbled back to the table where Genfyre, Cerros and Vanamir were in conversation. Having seen the performance, Zephryn covered his smile as he watched Hannable approach.

“That will teach him to spill my drink,” Hannable said as the woman pinned down the man, covering his face with kisses.

“The woman is attractive,” Vanamir said, confused. “I do not understand.”

“You are young, ranger,” Hannable said, spilling some of the dark ale. “When a man sees a lovely young woman, he desires her and wants to act upon that feeling. Some call it lust. I call it love.”

“I understand this. What I do not see is how you have made him suffer for spilling your drink,” Vanamir explained.

“Suffer?” Hannable asked. “Why would I want him to suffer?”

When Vanamir started to ask another question, Genfyre raised a hand to stop him.

“So you are a ranger and an archer?” Zephryn asked, trying to draw Vanamir’s attention elsewhere.

“The best in the land,” Vanamir boasted.

“Truth?” Zephryn asked. “Why do you think so?”

“Because I am,” Vanamir chuckled. “Why should I not be the best? I have practiced all my life.”

Zephryn stared at Vanamir for a moment and asked, “Why did you study for so many years?”

“Give him no attention,” Hannable said. “He is far too curious in trying to understand others.”

“I do not want to die,” Vanamir simply said.

The others at the table were silent, waiting for Vanamir to continue.

“As a boy, I loved hunting with my father. When I became a man, I grew to enjoy hunting bandits but was never skilled with a sword. So I learned archery. Now I can hunt from a distance, do what I love without putting myself close to danger.”

No one spoke a word of response until Hannable said,

“Where is our gladness, our joy, my friends? More ale! I am going to pick a fight.”

“No, you are not,” Genfyre corrected. “I promised your wife Anastas I would get you home before your daughter Ahnkaret goes to sleep.”

“Yes, brother. You are right,” Hannable agreed. “We must be going.”

Zephryn got to his feet and said,

“And I must be returning to the church.”

“Forgive me, but why is a man of the church in a tavern?” Vanamir asked.

“He is not a man of the church,” Hannable said, turning back to the table. “He was merely adopted by the church.”

“Goodnight, my friends,” Genfyre said, escorting Hannable toward the door.

When Genfrye opened the tavern door, Hannable turned his head and let out a drunken howl.

“Adopted?” Vanamir asked as Zephryn started to walk away.

“My parents died when I was young, just a small boy, and the high priest adopted me.”

“The high priest?” Vanamir asked. “Then you have met the princess?”

“I have. We were childhood friends,” Zephryn said.

“In truth?” Vanamir pressed. “Must be lovely spending all your free time with her.”

At that remark, Zephryn excused himself and left the tavern.

* * *

As Zephryn made his way back to the church, the words of Vanamir kept repeating in his thoughts.

“Must be lovely spending all your free time with her.”

By the time he reached the church, darkness was creeping across the city as the sun slowly slipped below the horizon. Zephryn stopped to feel the soft breeze cool his face then slipped inside the quiet of the church. Keeping his steps light so as not to disturb anyone, he watched his feet as he made his way to his quarters. No more at peace than when he had left the church earlier in the day, his heart was filled with images of the princess—her smile, the sunlight illuminating her golden brown hair, the way her face lit up when she saw him. He breathed deeply, remembering her scent, like spring flowers. Zephryn knew she could never be his. He was a man of the church, she a princess. If he were caught watching her, he would be thrown in prison or executed. In his pain, every day he prayed for release from his longing for her, and every night he wept at the emptiness without her. If he could not be free of this torment, he would exile himself, leave the church and disappear. Spending the rest of his life in solitude would be a relief when compared to the anguish of never touching her, holding her in his arms.

When he reached his quarters, he quietly opened the door and stepped inside the chamber, locking the door behind him. Slowly he stepped to the window and opened the casement, letting the moonlight wash over the room. His strength spent from his struggle, he sighed then turned toward the bed. Removing his tunic, he hung it on a peg and slipped off his shoes. He drew comfort at the thought of Princess Lillian in his dreams. It was closest to her he would ever be.

Suddenly, Zephryn felt movement behind him, but before he could turn around, a pair of hands clasped over his face, and a woman’s voice said,

“Now I have you!”

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Published in: on October 14, 2017 at 12:52 am  Leave a Comment  
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Dragon Fire: Episode 89

Branches snapped underfoot as Cerros and Genfyre made their way through the brush in search of the bandits. When the band of thieves fled the market, two had run one way while three chose a different route of escape. Hannibal pursued the two, leaving the other three to Cerros and Genfyre.

Suddenly a howl sounded through the trees followed by a sharp cry of fear that quickly faded.

Cerros turned toward the sound then rotated the axe he held in his hand.

“What is wrong with that brother of yours?” he criticized.

Brushing away the leaves from his rough, green and brown wool tunic, Genfyre asked,

“Hannable? What do you mean?”

“He runs through the woods covered in blood. The villagers call him an animal. They think he is mad. It grows more and more difficult to get work beyond raiding camps and chasing bandits. A widow in the town, saddened by the loss of her husband, came to me for help, but when she discovered that I travel with the Animal, she turned away,” Cerros complained

Genfyre laughed but when he saw the expression of Cerros’ face, he quickly apologized.

“Hannable has heard all the tales. He knows the villagers fear him. It was he who first told the stories.”

“And I suppose he gave himself the name Hannable the Animal?” Cerros asked.

“No, my friend. I’m afraid I am responsible for that,” Genfyre smiled.

Just as Cerros opened his mouth to respond, he spotted two of the three bandits lying in ambush behind a group of trees up ahead.

Tapping Genfyre on the shoulder, he nodded toward the hidden bandits as he loudly asked,

“So is it true that he really eats the people he catches?”

“Yes. Quite true,” Genfyre agreed, playing along. “I have pleaded with him to stop, but the animal within him is too great.”

When they drew closer to the bandits’ hiding place, Genfyre knelt down and with a sweep of his hand, lifted a small bit of earth. Whispering into his clenched fist, he blew the dirt into the air.

Cerros readied his axe as vines began to grow from each spot where the dirt landed. The vines stretched, twining and creeping towards the two thieves. When the tendrils reached the men, they panicked, struggling to free themselves as the plant began to wrap itself around their bodies.

As soon as one of the men cut away the vines attached to him, he bolted, leaving behind his terrified friend.

“That one is mine,” Cerros said, charging after the escaping thief.

While the vines twisted and coiled around the bandit, holding him tightly, Genfyre called down more vines. Soon the horrified thief lost consciousness as he hung upside down, cocooned in the plant’s tendrils.

With Cerros in pursuit, the fleeing bandit yelled over his shoulder,

“I did nothing wrong!”

“That is not for me to decide,” Cerros yelled back.

Although Cerros loved the chase, he knew it unwise to leave Genfyre alone. Up ahead stretching across the bandit’s path was a large, heavy branch. Cerros quickly threw his axe, sending the weapon spinning through the air. Its keen blade struck and held deep within the wood. No longer able to support its own weight, the limb fell to the ground in front of the thief. Before he could stop, he tripped over the branch and fell to the ground. Cerros hurried up to the bandit and struck him unconscious before retrieving his axe.

Just as Genfyre was lowering the ensnared bandit, Cerros returned with the other man thrown across his shoulder.

“As I was saying,” Cerros said, “if it is just a name, why have I seen Hannable covered in blood?”

Genfyre stifled a laugh then explained,

“The blood is not that of man. It is the blood of animals. Hannable pays the local butcher to fill two wineskins. Then when he is on the hunt, he covers himself with it so as to appear more fearsome.”

As his eyes searched the woods and fields, Cerros nodded his understanding.

“What is it, my friend?” Genfyre asked.

“Hannable has two of these brigands, and here are another two. Were there not five when we set out?” Cerros asked.

“Yes, they were a band of five. It seems the newest member of our team has become lost along the way. Perhaps he is tracking the last one,” Genfyre suggested.

Suddenly an arrow sliced through the air between Genfyre and Cerros, striking a man hiding in the branches of a nearby tree.

Clutching a bow and arrow in his hand, the man fell from his perch.

“Ah. The fifth bandit I see,” Genfyre said.

When Cerros turned in the direction the arrow had been fired, he saw the ranger Vanamir walking towards them, the newest member of their team.

“I have been tracking this one,” Vanamir paused. “You are welcome.”

* * *

Zephryn strolled towards the prison cells. He had left the churchyard after performing his duties and headed for the market. He had to clear his head.

“I am a member of the church, a priest. I must not have these feelings for Princess Lillian,” he scolded.

He wanted to speak about this conflict with his father the high priest Zephryses, but lately the priest had been spending more and more time shut away in his private chambers, refusing any disturbance. So when the struggle between duty and his love for the princess became too great to bear, Zephryn would wander through the market with its colorful stalls and high-spirited bartering on his way to the prison yard where he would speak to the convicts about forgiveness and thus overcome his feelings.

Suddenly his thoughts were interrupted by a large man whose skin was golden brown. As he proudly strode toward Zephryn, his bright red hair glistened in the sunlight. The young priest smiled when he saw the people cover their noses and turn away.

Zephryn shook his head as the man approached.

“My priest, I come to ask for forgiveness,” Hannable announced.

Hannable was covered in blood, and behind him horses pulled a wagon carrying five men wrapped in canvas.

“What did you do?’ Zephryn asked with a smile.

“I ask not for forgiveness for what I have done but for what I will do tonight to celebrate yet another victorious hunt,” Hannable said with a cheer.

“You know the people look at you as though you were a wild beast,” Zephryn pointed out.

“They do?” Hannable responded, feigning surprise. Then turning toward the crowd, he let out a deep growl.

“My friend, why do you behave this way?” Zephryn asked.

“Because it amuses me!” Hannable roared with laughter.

“Now come join me. We shall celebrate with song and a fine ale,” Hannable said.

“I do not drink, my friend,” Zephryn said.

“Then I shall drink, and you shall sing,” Hannable smiled.

“I’m afraid I must return to the church. It grows late,” Zephryn said.

“You and I both know there are many souls in the tavern to be saved,” Hannable whispered. “And there is no better place to break free of love’s hold than the tavern with friends, song, and the finest ale.”

Zephryn considered for a moment then said,

“Then I shall come with you, but only to see you safely home.”

Hannable laughed with delight as he threw his arm around Zephryn and led him to the tavern.

Published in: on September 17, 2017 at 2:28 am  Leave a Comment  
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Dragon Fire: Episode 88

When the high priest Zephryses neared the castle of Ethion, he saw King Isembart strolling along the porch. Bending down to the young boy Zephryn, he said,

“There is the king. Stay by my side, bow your head in the presence of his majesty, and do not speak unless the king questions you. Do you understand?”

After Zephryn shyly nodded, the two began to climb the stone steps leading up to the porch.

King Isembart, a tall robust man with a beard reaching down to his stomach, saw the priest approach and with surprising exuberance and agility bounded down the steps toward him with the palace guards, the queen and the princess close behind.

“Zephryses, my dear friend. I knew sending you to the woods was a wise decision. There is no man I trust more,” Isembart said with a deep laugh.

Clapping the priest on the back, Isembart looked at Queen Calathene and asked,

“Did I not tell you?”

Turning back to Zephryses, he continued.

“She did not believe you would succeed. Why the news reached my ears that you moved the elements themselves!”

With a hearty laugh, the king said in jest, “Perhaps I should build a temple to you instead of the gods.”

Although Zephryses found himself somewhat uncomfortable at the idea, he could not help by remember that the captain of the king’s army had made a similar remark.

Suddenly King Isembart noticed the child standing next to the priest and asked,

“And who are you?”

“Al—,” the boy began but was interrupted when Zephryses corrected him.

“Zephryn. The boy’s name is Zephryn. He is my son now and shall be joining me in the church, taking the title of priest when he grows up.”

“Well it is a pleasure to meet you, little priest,” the king greeted. “You know my daughter Lillian is about your age.”

Turning to Princess Lillian, Isembart instructed,

“Lilly, show Zephryn around the castle while I speak with the high priest. Take care that you do not wander beyond the castle walls.”

“Yes, Father,” the princess answered.

As King Isembart continued his stroll along the castle porch, with Zephryses at his side, Princess Lillian walked up to Zephryn and introduced herself.

“I am Princess Lillian.”

“I am Al—Zephryn,” the boy said, still struggling with his strange new name.

Princess Lillian looked around to see if anyone was listening. Then she softly asked,

“What was your name?”

“Allaster,” Zephryn answered, “but the high priest said that I am to be called Zephryn from now on.”

“This change of names is a tradition here in Ethion started long ago by my great-great- grandfather King Estmon. When he was chosen to marry the princess and become king, he wanted to be seen as king and not the boy who grew up in the streets. So he made a law that all who take up the rank of royalty or a position in the church must adopt a new name so they will be seen as a new person for a new age.”

As Princess Lillian recited, she held her hands together and slightly raised her head as she had been taught.

With the sweet smile of innocence, she giggled then said,

“When I become queen, Father says I shall adopt the name Lachert, renouncing my birth name.”

Shyly, Zephryn softly said,

“I like the name Lillian better.”

Princess Lillian leaned in and whispered in Zephryn’s ear,

“I do too!”

As she reached out and took Zephryn’s hand, she said,

“The high priest spends a great while counseling with my father, so we have a lot of time to play games. My favorite is hide-and-seek. Do you want to see some of my favorite spots?”

“Yes,” Zephryn agreed.

With her best smile, Princess Lillian whirled around and hurried into the castle, pulling  Zephryn along with her.

 

*          *          *

15 years later

 

 

Valdis and Trystan raced across the field, the pouch of gold bouncing with each step.

“Why did you have to stab that man?” Valdis demanded.

“He saw you stealing his gold! You would have felt the blade of his knife! What choice did I have?” Trystan snapped.

“Not to stab him! Now we are running for our lives. Know this! I will crawl over you to survive!” Valdis warned.

“If we can just reach the others, we should be safe,” Trystan said, ignoring his threat.

They dove behind a fallen tree in their path to hide and catch their breath.

“Yes, if we can. But in truth, we will be fortunate if we live long enough to be arrested. Did you not see who is after us?” Valdis asked in exasperation.

“A creature?” Trystan answered.

“He is a man, a warrior called the Animal. There are tales of him prowling through the forest at night with a large wolf at his side. They say he never brings anyone to prison because he eats them instead,” Valdis claimed.

“Foolish tales,” Trystan insisted.

Suddenly a long howl came from the grove of trees behind them.

“You may wait and discover how foolish the tale is, but I will not!” Valdis said.

When Trystan tried to rise and flee, he found that his legs would not move.

Valdis jumped up, flew over the log, and tried to dash away, but before he could escape, a man with skin browned from the sun and red hair bright as fire leapt out from the trees and grabbed him, pulling him into the tree line.

Trystan listened in horror as Valdis pleaded for mercy. Then he heard a thump and silence.

From out of the woods, the brown man tramped, blood on his chest and pants. As he held a dagger dripping with blood, his wild eyes seemed to look through the terrified Trystan. With each breath, his great chest heaved. Then he slowly came toward Trystan, growling as he moved closer, his bare feet crushing the roots and rocks beneath them.

Published in: on August 17, 2017 at 1:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Dragon Fire: Episode 87

The Priest

 

 

 

Settling into a chair by the fire, Brother Egil thought carefully about how he would begin the story of the king’s father.

King Alidus gazed into the flames, waiting patiently.

After a few moments, the old monk began.

“The Kingdom of Ethion has a troubled past. First came the Valkovian invasion then the Children of Dusk—”

Alidus raised a hand to interrupt.

“My apologies, but what is the Valkovian invasion?”

Brother Egil studied the king’s face for a moment then his eyes lit up with understanding.

“King Lanidus did not tell you. Despite his love for your mother, he was ashamed of the history of Ethion. The Valkovian invasion took place one hundred forty-seven years ago when a race of men known as the Valkovians took control of the kingdom, ousting your great-grandfather Tobias Ashblood from the throne. After a time, King Tobias regained the throne and exiled the Valkovians from the land.”

“What kept them from returning?” Alidus asked. “Could they not enter the land and live hidden among the people?”

Brother Egil nodded and said, “Valkonian men and women are born with the same physical traits, a gem the size of a coin imbedded in their right hand and small spikes running down the back of their neck. Among the Valkonians, these strange features have many different colors, passed on from parents to children. But whatever color a child is born with, both gems and spikes share that color. More importantly, these unusual traits store a great amount of magical energy.”

“Making obscurity difficult. I understand. And who were the Children of Dusk?”

“The Children of Dusk were a small faction of religious zealots within the Valkovian race who worshiped an ancient evil named Authrax. They believed Authrax lived in a cave deep beneath the castle. They would capture people from the surrounding villages, drag them into the caves under the castle, and sacrifice them to their god. When Tobias Ashblood exiled the Valkovians, he commanded that the Children of Dusk be burned alive for heresy.”

“And what about my father?” Alidus asked.

“Your father did not enter into the history of Ethion until many years later, after the siblings Dellano and Arabella. They were known as the Troll King and the Warlton Witch. When your grandfather King Isembart heard that the siblings were marching on the kingdom, he sent his high priest Zephryses to find the source of their power. That search led the priest to Wildeye Woods and the water where the siblings had gained this force. When he drank from the pool, that same power coursed through his body and he returned to drive out the siblings and their army of trolls. But in the aftermath of the battle, Zephryses made the first of two mistakes that would one day end his life. The first mistake was adopting an orphan boy named Allaster. That boy, sire, grew up to be your father.

 

*          *          *

37 years ago

 

The high priest Zephryses stood on the battlefield of Ethion, its lush green hills covered with the dead of both men and trolls. Overcome with grief, he wept at the sight of the city, its walls blackened and crumbling by the hand of Arabella the Warlton Witch.

“Many have fallen in this grievous battle,” lamented Captain Dellmore of the King’s Army.

“The price of peace is always high when those who oppose it crave blood,” Zephryses said.

“This new power you wield is like no weapon I have ever seen,” the captain exclaimed. “Did my eyes deceive me or did you move the ground? It was as though you commanded the elements!”

“Perhaps. I do not yet know what powers I drew from the water of the pool,” Zephryses said.

“Soon people may perceive you as a god,” the captain laughed. “I would be most uncomfortable were people to worship me.”

Zephryses laughed in agreement.

“Yes, indeed,” Zephryses said.

At that moment, his attention was distracted by a small boy wandering through the battlefield, his red face stained with tears.

Zephryses walked around the bodies to reach the child.

“What troubles you, my son? Why have you come to his place of grief?” Zephryses asked.

The boy, no older than ten, looked up at the priest, sniffled and said,

“I am looking for my father. He is a soldier.”

“You should be at your mother’s side,” Zephryses said.

“Wolves took my mother last winter. My father told me to stay at home. But I was frightened, so I came looking for him,” the boy explained.

“Come with me. Let us see if we may find him,” Zephryses said

Zephryses lifted the boy and carried him to Captain Dellmore.

“Captain, I am searching for the boy’s father. He is a soldier.”

“What is your father’s name?” the captain asked.

“Ardouin,” the boy answered.

The captain’s face darkened when he heard the name, but before he could speak, Zephryses told the boy,

“Son, your father has gone to be with your mother. They are at peace.”

The boy’s face went pale and he dropped his head. After a moment he looked up and said, “I am alone now. I do not have any other family. I do not know how to be alone.”

Trying to comfort and reassure the child, Zephryses patted the boy’s back and gently set him down.

“Then you shall not be alone. I shall adopt you. Would you like that?”

When the boy failed to respond, Zephryses knelt down and asked,

“What is your name, son?”

The boy looked at the priest and answered,

“Allaster.”

“That is a fine name. From this day forward, Allaster, you will no longer be alone. I shall take care of you.”

When Zephryses opened his arms to the boy, Allaster stepped into the embrace with fresh tears.

Then Zephryses lifted the boy and said,

“Because you will be taking a place in the church, I shall give you a new name, a holy name.”

Zephryses thought for a moment then asked,

“How does Zephryn sound?”

As the child shyly nodded his agreement, Zephryses patted him on the back and said, “Yes. Zephryn will do. Now let us leave this place of sadness and go home.”

At that, the high priest and the boy walked away from the battlefield.

Published in: on July 17, 2017 at 7:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Dragon Fire: Episode 86

The sun’s rays poured through the open window, resting on the face of the sleeping king. The warmth slowly roused Alidus from his deep slumber, and he raised his head, shielding his eyes from the light.

“For three days and three nights you have slept, sire, but on the morning of the fourth day when the sunlight broke through the clouds, I knew you would rally.”

Alidus struggled to see who was speaking.

“Who is there?” he asked.

A figure stepped into the light then moved close to the bed.

“Degan,” Alidus greeted.

There was peace in his eyes as a soft light shone forth from Degan’s face, a light Alidus had never seen before.

“Are you well?” Alidus asked.

“I am more than well, sire,” Degan said. “I am free. When Zulagareth died, I felt his power leave me. No longer am I an outcast followed by the dead.”

“Wonderful news. What will you do now?” Alidus asked.

“My father worked the land, so I thought I might take up the plow. It will be most rewarding to work with living things,” Degan laughed.

Alidus felt something bump against the bed, but before he could react, Degan reached down and placed a hand on his shoulder.

“Olon has not left your side since you fell unconscious,” Degan explained.

Alidus peered over the edge of the bed and saw Olon raise his long black snout and look up at him.

“What about Atol and Idrian?” Alidus asked.

“Idrian is on the roof where she awaits news of your health,” Atol said, climbing in through the window, “and I am here.”

For a moment, Alidus looked far away then closed his eyes.

“The dragons are gone,” he said. “I can no longer feel them.”

“Soon after you fell, they flew away, returning to their home. The ruby dragon, though he bears the wounds of battle, will heal in time. The pearl kept close by his side in their flight,” Degan explained.

“Already the carpenters and stone workers bid to build a statue in honor of the two great dragons that bravely fought to save the people,” Aric said as he entered the chamber.

“I am pleased to see that all is well,” Alidus smiled. “But where are Razham and Brius?”

“Razham had to return home, and Brius chose to follow his old friend.”

Aric’s countenance grew sad.

“This displeases you?” Alidus asked.

“Before they left, Razham buried a dear friend of mine.”

“I am sorry for your loss,” consoled Alidus.

Aric shook off his grief then said,

“Enough. Now that you are awake, there is much to do. The king’s army must be rebuilt and properly trained. The city needs repair, and an ambassador from the faraway land of Kallimandil has arrived. He requests an audience with you.”

“Indeed. There is much to be done. I will speak with the ambassador at once. Thank you, Aric,” Alidus said.

When Aric bowed and turned to leave, Alidus said,

“Aric?”

“Yes, my liege?”

“To begin, remember that you are a prince. Do not call me liege. And secondly, you have skills as well as my trust. Begin rebuilding the king’s army as you choose.”

Aric nodded and left.

“So now what for you?” Alidus asked Atol.

“I must be going as well, sire. Idrian is nearing her birthing cycle, and I know she would like to be home when she gives birth.”

Alidus was surprised.

“There are others of her kind? I did not know this.”

“No, sire,” Atol said. “I believe she was born pregnant and will not stop growing until she reaches her birthing cycle.”

“When she does give birth, you must send word. I would like to see them.”

“I will, sire,” Atol smiled. “Olon, it is time.”

Olon came out from under the bed and followed Atol out the window to where Idrian waited. Alidus rose from the bed and watched as they climbed upon her back and Idrian lifted into the clouds.

* * *

In the days that followed, Alidus, King of Ethion, repaired the castle, while Prince Aric rebuilt the army. Under their watch, the kingdom flourished and the royal coronation was the grandest anyone had ever attended.

The dragons were never seen again, but it is said that should the king ever need them, they will return.

One wintry day, as Brother Egil stoked the morning fire in the great room, one of the other monks Brother Bavan stepped in.

“Good morning,” Brother Egil greeted.

“Good morning. A representative of Ethion is here. King Alidus wishes to speak with you,” Brother Bavan announced.

“Thank you. I will leave at once,” Brother Egil said.

Brother Bavan nodded and hurried away.

* * *

At the castle, Brother Egil was led to the bedchambers where King Alidus, now dressed in royal robes, sat by the fire. The king rose and walked over to the old monk, extending his hand.

Brother Egil took his hand and asked,

“Why have you summoned me, my liege?”

“After all this time, the title still sounds strange to my ears,” Alidus confessed.

“I am afraid it is part of being king,” the monk laughed.

King Alidus sat back and looked deeply into Brother Egil’s eyes. After a moment, he said,

“I want to hear about my father.”

“The king?” the monk asked.

“No,” Alidus answered. “My true father.”

Published in: on June 18, 2017 at 10:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Dragon Fire: Episode 85

As the flames of the black dragon flowed over Alidus, enclosing him in their blaze, the ice breather, her pearly white skin glistening in the sunlight, shot up into the clouds while the fire breather, the ruby dragon, rose on his hind legs and lunged at the black dragon, tearing its skin with his great claws. Twisting to face his foe, the black dragon fought back, imbedding its teeth into the flesh of the red dragon.

Summoning all his strength, Alidus shot twin columns of fire at the black dragon just as the white dragon fell from the clouds. Driving her claws into the black dragon, she blasted him with a stream of ice before releasing him and returning to the sky.

Three steps and Alidus leapt into the air, landing on the head of the black dragon. He grabbed a horn then poured fire over the beast, but with a whip of its head, the dragon threw Alidus to the stone floor.

Rising to his feet, Alidus saw the black dragon bite into the red dragon’s neck drawing blood. As the creature screamed in pain, the black dragon dug in deeper. Quickly Alidus thrust out his arm and formed a whip of fire. Drawing back his arm, he lashed out and wrapped the whip around the black dragon’s neck. With all his strength, he pulled backward, trying to free the red dragon from the black dragon’s teeth. As he struggled to keep his footing, the white dragon again shot from the sky and landed on the black dragon’s back, driving her talons deep into its flesh.

As the three great beasts fought, Alidus pulled harder on the whip of fire.

 

*          *          *

 

In his haste to rally the soldiers and help the prince, Aric raced down the stairs and out into the courtyard. He soon saw that all the warriors had fled, fearful of the battle raging overhead.

When he rushed to the city gates, he saw that the guards there had also deserted, dropping their weapons as they retreated. Just as his hope was fading, Aric saw Degan and Atol coming over the hill.

As he ran the distance to them, he heard the sound of a galloping horse and turned to see his noble steed Colby.

“Degan, Atol,” he yelled as Colby drew near. “Prince Alidus needs our help!”

“Sadly, I can offer no help,” Degan sighed. “My power comes from Zulargareth. If I were to rise against him, the victory would be stillborn.”

“There must be something we can do,” Aric said, turning and looking up toward the battle.

Atol sensed Idrian’s emotions stir. He slowly turned and saw that she was intently watching the battle. Gently laying his hand on her side, he said,

“No, my valiant friend. This battle is beyond us. If we fight, we will not survive.”

Atol felt a rumble within her as she growled deeply in her throat. When she cast her eyes upon Atol, he held her gaze for a moment and knew what she would do.

“Very well. If this must be, we shall go together.”

Quickly he slipped on her back then helped Olon climb up behind him.

“Wait!” Aric called out.

But his word was lost in the wind as Idrian lifted into the air, her great wings pushing them onward to battle.

 

*          *          *

 

Alidus released the whip and held forth his hand as he looked deeply into the eyes of the black dragon.  A thin stream of fire shot from his hand and struck the black dragon’s face, forcing him to release the red dragon.

As the wounded ruby dragon fell to the earth, the black dragon clawed at his burning flesh, tossing the white dragon from his back. Alidus kept the stream of fire steady, his eyes fixed on his target. Suddenly Idrian broke through the smoke and pounced on the black dragon’s back. Digging her claws into his flesh, she wrapped her tail around the dragon’s tail and bit deeply into his neck.

When the dragon cried out in pain, Olon leapt from Idrain’s back and dove down the dragon’s throat. Idrian twisted and whipped her head around, tearing at the black dragon as he struggled to breath. Black smoke poured from his nostrils and engulfed Alidus.

“You cannot win this battle, boy,” Zulargareth said.

“I will fight to the death. I know you killed my father,” Alidus said.

“Not your true father,” Zulargareth said.

“And you murdered my mother,” Alidus added. “I will withdraw when you are dead.”

“I did not murder your mother, boy. You did,” Zulargareth corrected.

“Liar!” Alidus snapped.

“I speak the truth. The fire that rages within you killed her.”

At that, Alidus roared and exploded into glorious blue fire, the flames glowing brighter until they burned away the black smoke.

As the black dragon slowly dried to a burned husk, Idrian tore off the head and the remnants broke into a powder. Olon dropped onto a nearby section of scorched wood in what was left of the destroyed tower. Alidus, his strength spent, fell to the stone floor unconscious.

 

*          *          *

 

Razham carried the body of Lady Elisabeth to the top of a nearby hill. At the last, she had turned from evil, bravely fought her demons, and could now rest in eternity. He gently laid her body beneath a majestic tree, its great branches spreading out to shade her, and knelt down. Whispering a prayer, Gonorap watched as vines slowly grew over her, forming a thick emerald cocoon then turning a soft brown.

As he marveled, he saw a slight movement beneath the vines, something stirring as it worked its way out. A bright blue and yellow butterfly appeared, slowly fanning its wings before taking to the air. Fascinated, Gonorap cautiously moved up to the vines and reached out to touch them. Suddenly the vines broke apart and thousands of butterflies flew up, filling the air with their glory.

“Her soul is free now, and her body has been returned to the earth,” Razham said.

“There you are,” a voice called behind Razham.

Razham turned to see his old friends Brius and Olds riding up.

“Where is the boy?” Olds asked.

“Terrin,” Brius added.

“His name is Prince Alidus, and—,” Razham stopped when the clouds suddenly parted and the sun broke through.  “And it appears that he has saved us.”

“Well it would have been nice to know,” Olds complained, unaware of the battle now won. “We’ve been wandering the woods searching for him. We were almost set upon by bandits.”

“I am pleased to see that you are well, my friend,” Razham smiled.

“No thanks to you,” Olds protested.

“Stop your complaining, old man,” Brius teased. “We were protected by the most unusual of friends.”

From the back of the cart stepped out a cougar. She slowly approached Razham and sniffed him.

“I am a friend, great huntress,” Razham said.

His brow furrowed, Brius asked,

“It is time for you to return to your home?”

Razham watched as the cougar walked back to the cart then he looked up at his friend.

“Yes, it is time. I have used the last of my blessings and must reach home before my life fades and I return to the earth that bore me. Take care and tell Prince Alidus that Navhena watches over his land and brings it new life.”

“I will go with you, my friend,” Brius said. “We began this journey together and we will finish it together.”

“So I’m alone with the cougar?” Olds asked.

“Unless you wish to come with us,” Brius offered.

“No thank you,” Olds said, stroking his white hair. “I am far too young to lie down and die.”

Brius laughed and said, “Then take care, my friend.”

Published in: on May 18, 2017 at 3:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Prophet of Starfall: Episode 17

Nathan bent down to check Stafford’s pulse. He was dead.

“I’m so sorry, John,” he said with remorse. He had stopped Stafford from releasing the virus but couldn’t save his life. Without looking back, Charlene Reynolds walked out of the room, yelling at someone on her phone as she left. Nathan saw no point in stopping her. Besides, he was far too focused on Elisabeth, her injuries. He stood up and walked over to the ladder that would take him down to her. At the last step, he paused then slowly moved past Horton’s dead body and an unconscious Morton, slumped against the wall where Elisabeth had flung him.

“You had no choice, Nathan,” Elisabeth insisted. “You had to shoot Horton.”

“I know,” Nathan said walking over to where Elisabeth was sitting against a wall.

When he extended a hand, Elisabeth took it and pulled him down beside her.

“I was really hoping I could make it through this without anyone dying,” Nathan said.

“I’m afraid that was a bit unrealistic,” Elisabeth pointed out. “If you’re going to keep doing this, sometimes you’ll have to play by their rules to win.”

“I know,” he nodded his agreement.

Exhausted, Elisabeth let her headrest on Nathan’s shoulder.

“What’s Starfall?” she asked.

“What?” Nathan responded with surprise.

“Back there when I was talking you up to face Stafford, you said ‘before I came to Starfall.’ So what’s Starfall?” Elisabeth asked again.

Nathan took a deep breath and leaned against the wall.

 

“Where I come from, they have a name for this world, this universe.”

“It’s not Crescent Bay?” Elisabeth asked.

“Crescent Bay is the name of the city. Where I come from, the universe is called Starfall,” Nathan answered.

Elisabeth let this sink in then said,

“Well wherever you come from, your people are weird.”

“How’s that?”

“For one thing, we don’t name everything here.”

Nathan laughed and said,

“You’ve been injured. We need to get you some help.”

“Just five more minutes, Daddy,” Elisabeth wearily laughed.

“Come on, young lady,” Nathan insisted.

He stood, scooped up Elisabeth in his arms, and slowly carried her toward the building’s exit.

By the time he got her outside, she was unconscious.

When Jericho spotted them, he hurried over.

“She’s been shot,” Nathan said.

Jericho took Elisabeth from Nathan’s arms and ran over to the nearest waiting ambulance.

Just then 4 21 appeared and walked over to Nathan.

“Thank you for your help, Prophet,” he said.

4 21 watched as the police arrested Garrison and his goons, clearing the way for the EMT’s to move forward and tend to the injured.

“Stafford was the guilty party after all. Perhaps I was mistaken about Ms. Reynolds,” 4 21 added.

Suddenly Nathan’s vision blurred and in a flash of white, he was standing in Reynolds’ office the next morning. A knock sounded at the door, and without waiting for an invitation, someone walked in.

“I don’t wish to be disturbed,” Reynolds ordered, her back to the door.

“Your wishes are of no concern to me,” an older man with a German accent said.

Reynolds spun around and when she saw who it was, she immediately lowered her head in respect.

“Sir, I am sorry for what happened,” Reynolds apologized.

“Your repentance is as worthless as you. You would be dead if I had no further use for you,” Dr. Heinrich Ghislain sneered.

Ghislian’s tone and coldness gave Reynolds no hint as to what was next.

“I had to sacrifice a pawn to clean up your mess. It would have been easier to replace you!” Ghislain pointed out.

“I am so sorry, sir,” Reynolds repeated.

“If you fail me again, you will discover that the dead have no remorse,” Ghislain warned as he turned and left the office.

Once the door closed behind him, Reynolds fell to her knees and began to sob.

 

*          *          *

 

When Nathan’s vision cleared, 4 21’s remarks came back to him.

“Stafford was a lost man,” Nathan said. “Shame we didn’t get to him sooner.”

“Take care, Prophet,” 4 21 said as he lifted into the air.

Nathan watched 4 21 disappear into the clouds then he closed his eyes and shook his head clear.

He saw Jericho standing by one of the ambulances waving to him. Before he could respond, Ethan Evermore walked up behind him and said,

“You must be careful, Nathan.”

Nathan turned around to face him.

“How so?” he asked.

“The timeline seems to be secure after the changes you made, but death is a sore loser,” Ethan explained. “Elisabeth was supposed to die this night, but you saved her. Death is not pleased by your interference. He may seek to reclaim Elisabeth or whoever was near her at the appointed time of her death. Either you or Jericho may die.”

“Why us?” Nathan asked.

“Life here is about balance,” Ethan explained. “Saving a life may cause another life to be lost.”

“John Stafford and Joseph Horton died,” Nathan explained.

“Hopefully, their lives will be enough,” Ethan said. “But if death is dissatisfied, you must be on your guard. Your fight may not be over.”

“Well if it helps, I’ll probably be leaving soon,” Nathan announced.

“You’re going back?” Ethan asked.

“I think so,” Nathan said. “This all started when I was struck by lightning. I figure this is all just an elaborate dream. I’m probably lying in a hospital bed somewhere.”

“If that is true, then I wish you safe passage,” Ethan said.

“Thanks,” Nathan replied.

When he heard approaching footsteps, he turned to see Jericho running up to him.

By the time he reached Nathan, Ethan was gone.

“They’re taking Elisabeth to Evergreen Medical,” Jericho informed. “We need to take your motorcycle back to its owner and get over to the hospital.”

“It’s my bike,” Nathan said absently, his mind turning over and over what Ethan had said.

“I’m not sure how things work where you come from, but here you can’t just take something and claim it’s yours,” Jericho laughed.

“I know,” Nathan said, giving Jericho his full attention. “What I mean is, it really is mine. Whatever force brought me here apparently felt I needed transportation.”

Jericho considered Nathan for a moment then shrugged his shoulders and said,

“Okay. If you say so.”

 

*          *          *

 

In the waiting room of Evergreen Medical Hospital, the first rays of the sun were just peeking through the mini blinds of the frosted windows. Nathan had been up all night, drinking hospital coffee as he struggled to stay awake. He waited with Jericho and Elisabeth’s father Ryan Hayes for news of Elisabeth.

Finally, the doctor came out with an update.

“She’ll be fine,” he reassured.

“Thank you, doctor,” Mr. Hayes said.

“The bullet to her right wing went straight through. She’s already on the mend and should be able to use the wing again within a few days. Other than some minor bruising, she will be good as new in no time,” the surgeon said.

With a big smile, Mr. Hayes looked at Nathan and Jericho.

“She’s always been a fast healer.”

“Thanks again, doctor. May we see her now?” Mr. Hayes asked.

“Yes but better not to stay too long. She needs rest,” the surgeon said.

 

*          *          *

 

Still groggy from the anesthesia, Elisabeth weakly smiled when her father entered the room.

“Hi, Daddy,” she mumbled.

“Hey, Princess. How you feeling?” Mr. Hayes asked.

Nathan and Jericho stood back by the door while Elisabeth and her father talked.

“So where are you going to stay?” Jericho asked.

“I don’t know,” Nathan said. “I haven’t given it much thought.”

“I know some people who would be willing to put you up till you find your own place,” Jericho offered.

“That won’t be necessary. But thanks anyway,” Nathan said.

“You sure?” Jericho asked.

“You can sleep at my place,” Elisabeth broke in.

“Nah,” Nathan responded.

“I insist,” Mr. Hayes said, walking up and hugging Nathan.

“It’s the least I can do for the man who saved my little girl’s life.”

With his arm still around Nathan, Hayes turned back to Elisabeth and said,

“Since Elisabeth will be staying with me till she’s completely healed, you’ll have her apartment in Sandy Grotto all to yourself until you find your own place.”

Sandy Grotto was an island just off the coast of Crescent Bay. It was part of the crescent shaped coastline that gave Crescent Bay its name.

“Daddy, I’ll need to get my stuff,” Elisabeth said.

“Of course, dear,” Mr. Hayes said, releasing Nathan and moving closer to Elisabeth’s side.

“That’s fast work,” Jericho whispered. “Just got here and already you’re crashing at her place.”

“Shut it!” Nathan returned as Jericho stifled a laugh.

Mr. Hayes looked back at Nathan and said, “Let me finish up here, and I’ll show you how to get to my Lizzie’s apartment.”

“No need,” Jericho said.

“Why not?” Mr. Hayes asked in confusion.

“Because he already knows. After all,” Jericho smiled, “he is the Prophet.”

Dragon Fire: Episode 84

When they neared the edge of the next rooftop, Razham slipped past Lady Elizabeth and bent down. Her hand on the bow, Lady Elizabeth scanned the area while a quivering Gonorap clung to Razham. Up ahead they saw a great fire, its flames reaching heavenward, as soulless worshippers danced at its edges, bowing and chanting before it.

“They worship this fire?” Lady Elizabeth wondered aloud.

“In his weakness, man will worship any god that asks nothing of him,” Razham replied.

Her eyes searching through the droves of followers, Lady Elizabeth furrowed her brow and asked,

“Where is he?”

“The archer?” Razham asked. “He is called Vanamir.”

“Yes. I do not see him,” Lady Elizabeth said.

“He will show himself, but we may have to draw him out,” Razham explained.

Lady Elizabeth reached back and pulled a cloth from her quiver.

As she gathered her hair into it, she said, “Then let us drawn him out.”

Pulling back on an arrow, she released and let it fly. The arrow soared through the air and struck one of the worshippers, pinning his head to the ground. Instantly the other followers stopped and grew quiet. Turning toward the rooftop, they began to shriek in an unearthly chorus.

At that, Lady Elizabeth dropped from the rooftop and began slaughtering the worshippers as fast as her weapon would allow.

“Stay here, little one. I must go to help her,” Razham said.

Razham dropped to the ground and scooped a handful of soil. Lifting it to his mouth, he began to mutter mysterious words while he walked away from the building to the middle of the road.

As some of the worshippers poured out into the road, Razham slowly opened his hand, letting the wind stir the soil and lift it into the air in a spinning circle over his palm. Suddenly the worshippers halted their charge and stood perfectly still. In the road behind Razham appeared the faint image of a great bear, its majestic muscles rolling in waves. As the worshippers stared in terror, the towering bear slowly took form and charged toward Razham. Moments before the bear reached him, Razham released the soil and began to fade out of sight. When the bear passed through Razham’s vanishing form, the creature became solid and attacked the stunned group of worshippers. While Lady Elizabeth fired at the followers emptying her quiver, the powerful bear roared and destroyed each worshipper with one swipe of its paw.

On the rooftop, Gonorap watched Razham and Lady Elizabeth, determining in his heart to be brave despite his fear. Clutching the small dagger Lady Elizabeth had given him, he commanded himself to climb down to the ground and join his comrades in the fight.

Her quiver empty, Lady Elizabeth drew her sword from its sheath and sliced her way through the mindless mass as they came at her. It seemed that for every one she brought down, dozens more poured out from the buildings.

Gonorap crept closer toward the battle, hiding behind fallen bodies and anything that would keep him hidden as he looked for a way to help in the fight.

Suddenly he saw the shadowy man with the black oil encircling his frame. Gonorap was puzzled by the change in him for he looked more human than before, enabling him to move closer to Lady Elizabeth without her notice.

When Gonorap tried to call out a warning, he found that his voice caught in his throat. He was too frightened to speak, too afraid to draw attention to himself, even if it meant saving Lady Elizabeth.

 

*          *          *

 

Lady Elizabeth felt a presence behind her, but before she could turn, someone had torn the cloth from her head, seized her hair, and pressed the blade of a knife to her throat. She shuddered when she heard a voice like a file across metal,

“Drop the sword.”

“Vanamir!” she thought.

When she hesitated, Vanamir pressed harder against the blade, cutting the skin and sending blood trickling down her neck.

“Now!” he demanded.

With no other choice, she dropped her sword near her foot.

“HALT!” Vanamir commanded.

The worshippers immediately obeyed.

Speaking to Razham, he said,

“The power you possess is truly amazing, but I cannot be stopped, not by you, not by anyone. Yield or I will open her throat.”

When the bear stood on its hind legs and let out a roar, Vanamir shouted,

“NOW!”

The bear froze then turned as all its color drained away and it broke into a thousand dead leaves that blew away in the wind. Standing in its place was Razham bracing himself on his staff, his strength spent.

“Weary are you?” Vanamir asked. “Excellent! That will make everything easier.”

Lady Elizabeth focused, waiting for a chance to free herself.

“Throw yourself into the fire or I will kill her,” Vanamir threatened.

“You will kill her if I do,” Razham returned.

“Perhaps,” Vanamir said. “But if you refuse me, she will die this day.”

Razham slowly removed himself from the support of the staff then threw it aside.

“No!” Lady Elizabeth pleaded. “Not for me!”

“Quiet!” Vanamir snapped. “I prefer that my future bride be alive, not back from the dead, but I will have you either way.”

Razham spotted movement behind Vanamir and slipped his hand into his pocket.

“You will not move again unless it is into the fire,” Vanamir ordered.

With the loud cry, “I am going to die!” Gonorap leapt at Vanamir, plunging the dagger’s blade deep into his calf.

Just as Vanamir howled in pain and kicked away Gonorap, Lady Elizabeth quickly reached down and snatched up her sword.

But before her blade could find its target, Vanamir had once again seized her and pressed the blade of the knife to her throat.

“Not so fast, my sweet,” Vanamir hissed.

Razham slowly withdrew his hand from his pocket.

“Stop fighting!” Vanamir shouted at Lady Elizabeth.

“Never!” Lady Elizabeth returned.

Raising her sword, she ran the blade through her stomach, impaling Vanamir.

As he gasped for air, Vanamir pushed her away and staggered back on shaking legs.

Razham raised his hand and tossed a small object at Vanamir as a dying Lady Elizabeth crawled away.

Vanamir stepped back when a small acorn landed on the ground before him. He looked up at Razham and smiled.

“You missed.”

“Did you really think you could end my life with a small acorn?” he laughed, stomping it into the earth.

“Navhena does not take life,” Razham said. “She gives it.”

When Vanamir felt the ground beneath him begin to stir, he looked down to see green vines rising up where the acorn had landed.

As the vines tightly wound around Vanamir’s legs, Razham said,

“Her vines will hold you. Her roots will feed you. Her bark will protect you, and her sap will bring life back to this dead soil.”

Vanamir’s struggle proved useless for the vines continued to break through the soil and wrap themselves around him. At last he grew still, and in his place stood a giant tree, its branches sending forth an abundance of blue starflowers. The vines spread from the tree’s base, encircling each of Vanamir’s followers and pulling them underground with a small sapling springing from the earth in their place.

With a woeful heart, Razham walked over to Lady Elizabeth and bent down. When he found that the life had gone out of her, he closed his eyes and said,

“May your soul at last find peace.”

When he stood, vines began to wrap themselves around Lady Elizabeth’s body, but Razham pulled them free and gently lifted her body up over his shoulder. He walked past the tree that now held Vanamir and bent down to pick up Gonorap. The brave little creature was unconscious but alive.

“Fear not, little one. You are safe now. Navhena will protect you and welcome you home,” he comforted.

Tucking Gonorap comfortably into his satchel, Razham retrieved his staff and moved on.

Published in: on April 18, 2017 at 3:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Prophet of Starfall: Episode 16

As Nathan inched his way toward John Stafford, his boots clicked on the metal walkway suspended above rows of large tanks containing hazardous waste marked for disposal. His back turned toward Nathan, Stafford and his hostage Charlene Reynolds were cornered at the other end of the walkway with nowhere to go. Nathan took a deep breath and slowly let it out as he cautiously drew closer.

With hands raised, Nathan called, “Stafford?”

“Stop struggling!” Stafford yelled at Reynolds. “I’m trying to find a way out and you’re not helping!”

“John?” Nathan tried again.

Suddenly Stafford spun around, turning his pistol onto Nathan.

“Stay back!” he shouted.

“I just want to talk,” Nathan explained.

“Don’t come any closer or I’ll shoot,” Stafford threatened.

“John, listen to me,” Nathan said, keeping his hands raised. “I know you’re nervous. I know you’re scared.”

“You don’t know anything!” Stafford yelled.

“I know exactly what you’re going through. Graduated third in your class. When you were hired by Thymatec, the largest pharmaceutical company in Crescent Bay, you felt you had accomplished your dream. You had the job you wanted, and now you could go ahead and propose to your girlfriend. You finally had something to offer her, a solid future,” Nathan said.

Stafford’s hand dropped a little and his eyes took on a faraway look.

“Joanne was the prettiest girl you’d ever seen, wasn’t she? Athletic, charming. No wonder everyone loved her. Yet for some crazy reason, she only had eyes for you.”

Nathan smiled in sympathy.

“She said yes before you could even get the question out.”

Stafford laughed softly, a tear breaking free and rolling down his cheek.

“The wedding would have been the most amazing moment in your life, and a future full of possibilities lay ahead,” Nathan said.

After a pause, he continued.

“That was until she got sick. No one could have predicted how fast it would spread. Before Joanne could plan her perfect wedding, you had to plan her funeral. It was the worst time in your life. You were heartbroken, defeated, vulnerable. That’s when he approached you.”

Nathan waited to let the words sink in.

“The doctor,” Nathan said.

 

*          *          *

 

Elisabeth took several quick breaths then focused on slowing her breathing. When a bullet ricocheted off a railing and struck the tank just above her head, she moved out from her cover and fired two shots at Horton and Morton then she tumbled forward and rolled back to her feet to face them.

Morton lifted a forklift over his head and said,

“Catch this, little bird.”

Elisabeth quickly holstered her weapons and caught the forklift, her feet scraping against the concrete floor as she strained to hold on to it.

Bracing her knees, she threw it back. With his rifle aimed toward Elisabeth, Horton slid under the forklift.

Elisabeth dove at Horton and grabbed the riflescope. Then she twisted the weapon with enough strength to throw him into a wall, forcing him to drop the weapon.

As she turned toward Morton, she saw his enormous fist coming right at her.

 

*          *          *

 

Stafford’s gaze shot back to Nathan, and his arm stiffened as he raised the gun.

“He promised he could help. All you had to do was make some arrangements, see that a few people were hired. Nothing serious. Just one man trying to make a difference. You believed what he said, what he wanted. It wasn’t until you were in too deep that you realized you had sold your soul to a monster.”

Nathan kept slowly moving forward.

Stafford lifted a shaking hand to his forehead, wiping away the sweat. When Nathan took a step closer, Stafford fired a wild shot just missing Nathan.

“I. . .said. . .stay. . .back!” Stafford shouted, emphasizing each word.

Nathan took a quick step back, keeping his hands raised.

“Just because you think you know me doesn’t mean you understand!” Stafford yelled.

Nathan held his breath for a moment then said,

“I made the same mistake.”

“When my parents died, I was barely out of high school. Lost and drifting, I almost drove my life into the ditch. But then I met a man who saved me. He straightened me out, taught me how to cope with loss, and even got me my first real job. He was a surrogate father to me, my mentor. I looked up to him until the day I realized he was using me. The only reason he helped me get the job was so that he could steal a diamond exchange. I was so buried in trouble I couldn’t see a way out that wouldn’t land me in jail. Somehow I found the courage to turn against him and call the cops. The judge gave me probation while he was sent to prison.”

“That’s not the same thing!” Stafford yelled. “He made promises.”

“Joanne. I know. He promised he could bring her back. But, John, think about the clones that work for him. Anyone he brought back would be just as dedicated to him as they are. She would look like Joanne, but she wouldn’t be Joanne,” Nathan explained.

 

*          *          *

 

When Morton’s fist made contact, Elisabeth dropped the rifle. She felt one of her teeth crack as she slammed into the wall, sending pain racing up her back.

As he struggled to stand on shaky legs, Horton looked up and saw Nathan on the walkway with Stafford.

“It’s the prophet!” Horton yelled.

“Shoot him! I’ll finish off the little bird,” Morton yelled back.

Horton ran for his rifle as Elisabeth slowly stood up and pushed off the wall.

“Oh no you don’t!” Morton yelled, coming at her.

Elisabeth knew she couldn’t reach Horton in time to keep him from shooting Nathan, so she had to stop him some other way. But before she could pull out her pistol, Morton was on her. He grabbed her hands and squeezed until she cried out in pain.

“No more running, little bird,” Morton insisted.

As Morton held her, Horton lined up his rifle on the back of Nathan’s head.

“Some prophet,” he sneered. “You don’t know anything.”

 

*          *          *

 

Knowing that Elisabeth was fighting for her life beneath the walkway made it hard for Nathan to stay focused on Stafford. Appealing to him seemed to be working, but then suddenly everything clicked in Nathan’s mind and he saw what was coming. He had only seconds to act.

“John, I need you to trust me. I can promise you safe passage out of here if you will just lower your weapon and lie down on the floor right now,” Nathan said.

Stafford seemed to consider the idea for a moment but then scoffed,

“You can’t promise anything! You’re not the police! You’re not a hero!”

“Please, John,” Nathan pleaded.

“Back off!” Stafford yelled as he pushed Reynolds away.

Everything seemed to happen all at once.

Horton aimed at the back of Nathan’s head and fired a shot. . .Stafford raised his pistol to shoot Nathan. . .Nathan leaned back, pulled out The General, and fired off a round.

Horton’s bullet missed Nathan and struck Stafford in the head as the bullet from Nathan’s weapon sliced through the air, brighter than an evening firefly, and lodged in Horton’s chest.

As Horton fell dead to the loading area floor, the counter on Nathan’s colt clicked up to 2.

 

*          *          *

 

When Morton saw Horton fall, his face filled with surprise and fear.

“Joseph?” he called.

Turning back to Elisabeth, Morton snarled,

“He killed Joseph!”

As Morton’s grip tightened on Elisabeth, she pulled back her hands, forcing him to tumble off balance towards her. Pushing her head forward, she struck his jaw with her forehead and heard a satisfying crack. Morton quickly released her hands and held his broken jaw.

Grabbing his shirt, Elisabeth lifted Morton into the air and snapped,

“He’s the prophet!”

She twisted her hips, spinning Morton a full 360 degrees, then threw him into a concrete wall with enough force to crack it.

Looking up at Nathan, she saw that he was watching her. She sighed with relief and waved. Nathan smiled back and returned the gesture.

Published in: on April 18, 2017 at 3:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Dragon Fire: Episode 83

As Cerros struggled to rise, the stone at his neck glowing with a blue radiance, he knew that because of his injuries and loss of weapons, he would likely be unable to help the young prince. Though Cerros drew comfort as he thought about joining Erlin and Cadrus, the wife and child he had lost in death so long ago, he grieved knowing that Atol would die protecting the castle, as would Idrian and Olon. Now only a few feet away, Edron roared and slammed his hammer to the earth with enough force to shatter stone.

The ground split beneath the blow and dust filled the air.

From across the battlefield, Atol’s heart broke as he saw the hammer strike and knew that Cerros was dead though he had fought valiantly. Soon his own fate would be the same. He courageously turned to meet the advancing foe. As Edron walked, the dust behind him began slowly to settle. Suddenly, Atol gasped when he saw Cerros rise from the earth.

At Atol’s look of surprise, Edron turned to see Cerros standing tall, surrounded by a clear ball of white energy. Though his battle armor was torn and he wielded no weapons, Cerros marched toward Edron with purpose.

“What magic is this?” Edron wondered.

He raised the hammer and brought it down again, striking the ground as a thunderclap split the air and the earth shook and tore. Like waves breaking upon the rocks, the force splintered against the glowing shield that surrounded Cerros.

“What are you?” Edron demanded.

As Cerros moved steadily towards Edron, Atol rejoiced until he saw the glowing stone around the neck of the great warrior.

“Olaskalam,” Atol whispered.

Olaskalam, the light stone, was an object of great power no one had seen in a generation. A stone of greatest purity, it drew upon the very life of the one who wore it, making him supremely powerful just moments before it killed him. Atol was disheartened. He knew that although Cerros would have the power to save his comrades, he would lose his life in the bargain.

“I will not be defeated by an inferior warrior,” Edron told Cerros.

Once again Edron raised his hammer, but before he could bring it down, Cerros reached up seizing his wrists.

Edron cried out in pain as the skin beneath Cerros’ grasp began to sizzle.

His eyes glowing white, Cerros said,

“If I must drag you to death myself—”

Cerros stopped when Edron’s screams grew louder and his skin began to crack as white energy burst forth.

“This day will be your end!” Cerros thundered.

Just as Atol closed his eyes, Cerros and Edron exploded in a burst of white light. Then the light died away, leaving behind only scorched earth.

Nyriad screeched,

“Brother!”

“He is gone,” Atol said as Idrian rose to her feet.

“No! He is not dead!” Nyriad shouted in rage. “But you soon will be.”

“The fight is over. You are defeated,” Atol said.

All around her, the ground began to swell.

“I will feed on your bones before this day is over!” Nyriad spat.

Atol felt the earth begin to shake and watched as it split from the tree line of the field to the castle wall.  Whatever Nyriad was calling to her was an army.

When the first section of earth broke loose, a small brown leathery hand reached out and pulled itself free. The creature was small but its numbers would be great.

“Goblins,” Atol said looking around.

“Yes!” Nyriad spat. “Release me and perhaps they will not feast on your dead body.”

Atol ran for Idrian. Taking flight was his only escape.

“No!” Nyriad yelled.

Roots from her armor lashed out and wrapped themselves around Idrian.

Idrian roared as she struggled to free herself.

“Goblins cannot be trusted,” Atol warned. “They will betray you.”

“So be it,” Nyriad growled.

As Atol fought to free Idrian, he looked at Olon and shouted,

“Dive deep. Run and warn the others.”

When Olon refused to leave his comrade, Atol ordered,

“Go now!”

When the last goblin crawled out from the ground, it began to chitter along with the others and the earth grew very still. Then suddenly the ground began to rumble.

Atol looked around to find the cause. When he saw the trees give way to an army of the dead, pouring from the tree line, he lost all hope of escape. Row upon row they came.

“What have you done?” Atol asked Nyriad.

Nyriad’s smile faded as a man, a man she knew, a man who was supposed to be imprisoned, broke through the ranks of the dead and stood before them.

Atol watched in amazement as Degan, cloaked in black energy, stepped forward and commanded,

“Slay the goblins!”

A skeleton to his left, clothed in shards of a soldier’s armor, raised his sword and let out a battle cry. The army of the dead took up the cry and it filled the air as they poured out from the trees in an unending wave. They washed over the goblins without mercy, killing them one by one as Degan strode through the chaos to Atol and Nyriad.

Degan’s eyes pierced Nyriad as he ordered,

“Release her!”

Terrified, Nyriad quickly pulled back the roots, freeing Idrian. The great beast stood and looked out over the army that covered the field.

“Do not fear,” Atol calmed Idrian.

Looking at Atol, Degan asked,

“Where is Cerros?”

Atol hung his head in grief. Before he could speak, Nyriad screamed,

“My brother is dead, and my master will see you skinned alive for your betrayal!”

Degan looked at Nyriad, his eyes like burning coals, and after a moment said,

“Take her. She is yours.”

Atol would not look as the dead dragged Nyriad away. As she disappeared into the massive army, her screams faded and all was still.