tagSci-Fi & FantasyDragon's Lair

Dragon's Lair

byKoreGoddess©

Once, there were dragons that walked the earth.

That age is now long turned to dust, so distant that even its legends are now but dimly recalled. These scattered scraps of truth left behind in yellowed and brittle scrolls that only the very wise can decipher are but dim echoes of the dragon's true majesty, neither as terrifying or magnificent as that which has been. Dragons were more strange and wondrous, and terrible, than any fairy story or legend could ever reveal. This is the way of the world, it seems. True marvels are ignored and ancient glories are replaced with mundane scientific explanations, and all that was magical and marvellous vanishes from the world as if it had never been.

Yet in those ancient times, dragons roamed the land in such numbers that they were a great danger to any man or beast they fell upon. These serpentine creatures were of every conceivable size, shape and disposition. Some were small. Some were huge. Some, like the thick legged rock dragons, were stupid and malicious, no more than saurian brutes. Others were more intelligent and less aggressive. Most were some shade in between. There were a very few who could truly be deemed wise, and a handful that could be said to be wholly evil. I suppose they didn't differ so very much from humans in these respects, and though the years of the dragons were ever greater than those of feeble mortals, man has since striven to be the dragon's equal in all things if only through sheer exuberance.

It is said that man and serpent have long been enemies, but it wasn't always so. There is truth in the tale of the serpent of old that taught mankind forbidden knowledge, and much of that tale is owed to the ancestral memories of the dragons of yore. The dragons were once the servants of the ancient master race called the Elohim, who some say were the gods themselves. The Elohim entrusted a secret with the dragons, a secret they were sworn never to divulge to any of humankind. But, for reasons we may never fully fathom, a certain dragon decided to rebel and reveal this secret to humanity.

This, then, is the tale of that revealing.

I.

In the long forgotten days of which I speak, the legendary empire of Lemuria had spread its vast shadowy wings over the face of the turning earth. Crimson-sailed war-galleons dominated the jungle-lined shores of the Southern seas and the mountainous, icy cliffs of the Eastern coasts. Silver-clad armies had trod the kings of nation after nation beneath iron-booted heels. The blood of princes adorned Mu's gladiator pens. Queens and countesses became the whores and drudges of a conquering race, and their children were made into slaves.

The Lemurians were an ancient and terrible people, steeped in the lore of nefarious magicks formed in those ancient yellow times before chaos itself had been molded into reality. They were held in their control by a group of powerful beings who many had foolishly mistaken for gods, those called the Elohim, and with the aid of fiends from the outer darkness, they assumed lordship over most of the civilized lands of Earth, especially the southern nations.

But that dominance was never entirely complete. In the North, in what were then known as the Savage Lands, new races were forever rising from the shadows of their primeval past. These were vicious lands, and held no mercy for the weak and helpless. The hardest and cruelest of these climates was the ragged and mountainous country men named Arcturia, a place of icy blizzards and wind-ravaged, barren mountain slopes fragmented by immense and fathomless canyons. Whatever meager sustenance was afforded in that naked desolation was fought over tooth and nail by its few forlorn inhabitants. Warfare was bloody and merciless, as wars generally are when fought over such non-lofty principles such as mere life and existence. The land was hard and unforgiving. The Arcturians hadn't yet developed the art of forging metal, but this in no manner served to curb their fierceness. They had taken to slaying each other more brutally with clubs and spears, or even their bare hands when nothing else was available. And they were efficient. Born and bred in a land of death, they became the ultimate killers.

Few lived a long life in that land of icy hell, and fewer still died of natural causes. In addition to the inherent dangers of the climate, the terrain, and death at the hands of their fellow man, the Arcturians often had to deal with far worse terrors. The mountains that bordered Arcturia were part of the main hunting ground of the terrible northern dragons. These great serpents were the bane of the mountain tribes. Both livestock and fully-grown warriors had been known to vanish down their hungry gullets and entire villages had been laid to waste in a single fiery breath.

Yet, life will ever persevere and its force will not be denied, no matter how dire the adversity, no matter how grim the circumstances. Thus it came to pass that one day a child was discovered in the midst of a fierce and bloody battle. He had been christened with the blood of the fallen, and though none knew his true origin, this was seen to be a good omen, and he was adopted by the tribe and hailed as a true child of their race.

The child's life became no gentler or easier for him in the years that followed. He was not like the rest of his tribe, and this was evident even in his physical appearance. He was lean and wiry, where the Arcturans tended to be thick boned and stocky. His hair was dark brown and wildly curled and tangled, where they were mostly light haired. These differences set him apart from the rest of the youths in his tribe so that he was often ridiculed, so he made no attempts to make friends amongst them.

When he was nine, a pack of starving wolves attacked the camp and dragged him and several other children into the forest. He killed three with his bare hands, but not before one of the ravening beasts, a monstrous creature, dragged another child into the forest and devoured him. He was severely wounded, but he did not cry out when the clan healer, a wizened frog of a man named Isiwolk, cauterized the wound with a flaming brand from the fire. He spoke not a word in those weeks after this calamity, but when he was fully healed, he vanished into the fury of a blizzard and was not seen for three days. All feared him dead, and the old grey haired woman who had nurtured and cared for him since he was a babe put on her mourning cloak and went into lamentation.

Then, from the midst of the chaos of the swirling storm, he reappeared. In his hands he bore the head and pelt of a great grey wolf. It was this feat that earned him his warrior's name, Mantegor, or "Master of the Wolf" in the tongue of the Arcturans. His foster mother fashioned him a cloak and hood from the pelt of the fallen beast, and this is the garment he wore for many years after.

From that moment on, he was a grimmer man, and brooded often in the shadows, wrapped in the dark shroud of his wolf cloak. He was greatly respected by the warriors of his tribe for his battle prowess, but he did not seek out nor abide their company. He didn't drink with them or hunt with them. Instead, he wandered alone thru the bitterly cold, mist-shrouded canyons, crossing steep narrow crested ridges under ebony star flecked sky fields. He often discovered himself atop immense and perilous vistas of stone where he stood paralyzed for hours while the icy northern winds howled about him. These long journeys left their marks on him. The midnight shadows became his domain. He grew gaunt and sinewy, as strong as a mountain lion. Fey and dangerous, he was prone to fits of ferocious and brutal anger, too grim even for one of his own tribe. Men and women both avoided him, naming him accursed and moon-mad. But he paid them no mind. He spoke seldom, and then only to his adopted mother and to one other, the old man Shingar, whose days as a warrior had long ago come to an end.

It was Shingar who had first trained Mantegor in the arts of battle. From Shingar he'd learned the way of the knife, the axe, the staff, the club and the spear. He had practiced these arts with an intensity that was surprising even for one of his savage race. His skills in battle were severely tested time and again by the constant incidents of inter tribal warfare which never ceased in that brutal land. In countless engagements, Mantegor slew warriors of greater size and experience than himself. He became a crimson fury on the battlefield, nearly as perilous to friend as he was to foe. Utter carnage followed in his path, and the widows of his enemies cried countless tears.

Sometimes, in the silence of the winter nights, when the loneliness of the steppes became too much even for him, he would sit with Shingar by the fire, staring into the flickering flames. As the spectral curtain of the aurora borealis danced over the naked crests of the icy ridge of Mount Kama to the North, while the wind howled tortuously through the narrows of the winding canyons, Mantegor, shrouded in his dark wolf''s cloak, listened to the old man spin tales of his journeys to the distant Bright Lands of the South and their colorful, fantastic peoples. He spoke of the great shining cities that arose shimmering above the crystalline waters of the southern oceans. He spoke of endless summers, silver-blue rivers, jade leaved trees laden with multicolored fruits, and women more beautiful than the dawn.

"The city of Orquaz on the southern peninsula, which I once visited as a sailor," Shingar said, "Was all bright and golden. Its slender towers were blinding in the sun and glittered like hoarfrost under the light of the stars. Their image is captured in the waters of the Moon-mere Bay, whose surface is as smooth as a wind-swept glacier. There I saw tawny-fleshed, scantily clad women serving wine to dark, armor clad warriors on the docks. I longed to join them, but I had no coin to pay for the wine......"

"Enough!" cried out Mantegor at last, "I've heard this tale too many times. "Shingar, I would know once and for all.........are there no ships that still sail to the Bright Lands?"

The old man paused a moment, his hand scratching at his grizzled chin.

"I know not," he admitted at last. "I've heard tales that the ships no longer dock at Manatruus where I sailed from in my youth. There are legends of a trail leading south thru the Mountains of the Red Moon, but that path is fraught with countless dangers. And of course there are dragons, which are already perilous enough. Besides, what would it avail an uncultured, penniless youth like you to reach the Bright Lands? You've naught but a wolf-pelt and a stone axe to your name! No gold or silver or precious gems are yours, nor any other thing that men value."

Mantegor pulled at the tangled hairs of his young beard and stared off past the glow of the flickering fire.

"Legends say that Elder Dragons guard a horde that makes kings jealous. Zhyrtuk, the chief of the elder dragons, rests in his cave only a few days journey from here. A brave and daring man might be able steal into his lair and make off with part of his treasure without the dragon being aware."

"You're a blithering madman if you're stupid enough to raid the treasure trove of one of an Elder Dragon!" Shingar cried, his face red with fear and drink. You'd do better to cut your own throat than to brook that lair!"

"Why is that? I've slain dragons before."

Shingar laughed, quaffing the last of his ale and filling another. "You've killed big lizards!" he scoffed gruffly, spitting into the fire. "Cave dragons and river dragons are one thing, but no man has ever faced an elder dragon and lived to tell the tale. The Elder Dragon of Dragonmount is the kings of all dragons, older and wiser than even sea dragons. They can speak the tongues of men and are well versed in knowledge of our kind. They have lore from ancient days and powers to read minds from afar as well as their usual abilities to breathe fire and to slay with tooth and claw."

"There must be a way," Mantegor said, "To obtain the dragon's treasure without rousing the Elder Dragon's ire."

"Aye," Shingar replied. "There is. When the sky grows heavy with vultures, when a thousand crows descend to darken the southern skies, then you will know that the Elder Dragon has succumbed to old age and perished at last. Until then, brook not that lair, my son, if you care aught for your life or the lives of your kinsmen!"

2.

There was no moon, but the sky was lit with a thousand stars. New-fallen snow glittered on the crests of the mountains, silver against a sea of midnight. Etched indelibly against this vast and cyclopean landscape a tiny figure slowly toiled upward across the face of the glacier. His body was swathed in a long black cloak. His eyes burned a volcanic silvery blue beneath dark brows. His long, auburn-hued hair escaped in wild, unkempt strands from beneath a black wolf's-head cowl.

Mantegor, unable to resist the heady lure of the dragon's treasure trove, had come to Dragon Mount. Despite the sincerity of Shingar's dire warnings, he had come to brook the devil in its lair. The ridge he was climbing was the last haven before he entered dragon territory.

He knew he was probably seeking his own death. But he felt he had no other choice. His tribe thought him mad, and perhaps they were right, but he knew he would really go insane if he spent another day in the desolate mountains dreaming of something he could never attain. He swore to a handful of unmindful gods that he would never end up like Shingar, who had naught in his life but the tedium of endlessly reliving the glory of bygone days. Better a quick death for a warrior than the slow death of retirement!

He was forced to make his way around a series of chasms that gaped in the ice across his trail. The aurora borealis strung a spectral curtain of shimmering light across the sky above him, casting an illusive and spectral illumination as he scrambled across this treacherous terrain. It was almost dawn by the time he gained the top of the ridge and began to wearily make his descent. The snowfields flickered eerily before his eyes, and seemed to be on fire from the starlight.

He passed then through a jumbled field of massive, wind carved stones, some over thirty feet high. They were everywhere, as if cast off in the past by some impossibly angry giant. It grew steadily warmer as he descended into the valley. Water trickled in thin streams and rivulets between the mounds of snow, and these streams eventually converged into a single foaming river. Fronds of green grass sprouted up wherever the earth was bare.

Dawn rose over the glowering edges of the eastern peaks, a rosy glow spreading across the horizon. A great number of sturdy, gnarled oaks shadowed the banks of the river, thin and skeletal branches etched starkly against the brilliance of the snowfields. Somewhere ahead, a line of eerie crimson lights flickered amongst the hollows of the shadowed crags that loomed above.

'Dragon fires!' Mantegor thought to himself as he advanced. He knew then that the Elder Dragon didn't inhabit these caverns alone. Many lesser dragons, including several firedrakes also made their lairs nearby. The reason he knew was simple. Though they were nowhere near as mighty as the Elder Dragon, the lesser dragons were crafty enough to dwell in the environs of the greater horror merely for the degree of protection it afforded them.

Mantegor was undeterred. Before him lay the only path that might lead him to escape the doom he foresaw in his own future. Though he knew death was the most probable outcome of his quest, he pursued it still with a grim and single-minded purpose. Besides that, he was always a bit too curious for his own good.

An earth-shaking roar interrupted the silence. An immense and grotesque rock dragon sprang without warning out of a heretofore hidden pit and loomed ferociously above him. The thing was nearly forty feet long and covered with a thick, scaly hide he knew his flimsy spear could never hope to penetrate. Its monstrous black talons were over a foot long, and when the beast opened its maw, grinning an evil smile, it revealed a row of crimson stained fangs as long as his arm, all sharp as daggers.

Mantegor had sought death, and he had found it. Garbed in reptilian guise, it had come stalking him.

With a single hissed warning, the monstrous creature charged. The ground shook beneath its elephantine tread. Its eyes glared crimson, filled with an ancient and terrible hate. It's monstrous jaw gaped open wide.

In the face of peril, Mantegor's instincts became sharpest. As if waking from a dream, he became aware of every nuance and detail of his situation and environment. the monster seemed to be moving towards him in slow motion. He was easily able to anticipate its every movement. The dragon lunged forward, its jaws gaping, only to snap shut on empty air. Mantegor had leapt aside with a graceful twist of his body.

The beast roared its frustration and Mantegor roared back, screaming in the beast's face and laughing like a madman. He then made a tremendous leap, vaulting over the creature's back. The dragon reacted swiftly, whirling on him with dagger teeth flashing. Mantegor raced up the steep slope to gain the advantage of the higher ground. The dragon followed, its great maw opened wide to swallow him whole. Mantegor drove the flint-headed spear deep down into the crimson maw with all of his strength. The spearhead tore easily through the soft flesh of its gullet, piercing into the vital flesh below. The creature writhed and snapped, howling vainly at its antagonist, but the spear kept it safely at bay, and Mantegor was careful to remain out of the reach of it's sharp taloned forelegs. Lifting a huge block of stone, he hurled it directly onto the thing's scaly face. The head was crushed completely by the massive weight. The creature gave a few last writhing convulsions, and then lay still, black gore oozing from its shattered skull.

Mantegor retrieved his spear, wiping the sweat from his brow. He had time now to wonder how the rock dragon had known he was near. He had been as silent as a snow leopard and the wind had been blowing towards him, so that he knew the beast could have in no wise have caught his scent. Yet it had still somehow recognized his presence. He remembered then that Shingar had spoken of legends that some dragons could hear the thoughts of men as if they were speaking words aloud. Could it be that the rock dragon had somehow read the thoughts echoing through his mind as he had unwittingly approached its lair?

With a supreme effort, he determined to force himself to think of and visualize nothing at all. This was far more difficult than it seemed, as some insignificant thought would always come into his mind and he would have to work to empty himself all over again. But Mantegor's will was iron. He was an Arcturian, and no ordinary one at that. He had known the utter vacuum of icy mountain nights, a silence so vast and deep that even thoughts couldn't escape. He had learned to echo that silence within himself, and that was what he did now, finding an empty space in his mind that not even the wind could touch.

From that moment, conscious thoughts no longer wandered through his mind. His body had instructions it would instinctively follow, but his cognitive thinking had vanished on a journey to a windless mesa beneath a black and starless sky. He stalked ahead, a shadow amongst shadows, listening intently, his every sense rapt and alert. He wandered through a maze of dark and narrow chasms and saw all around him a landscape of devastation and carnage. Everything that wasn't burnt to a crisp was covered with a thick layer of black soot. No more than charred stumps remained of the trees and bushes that had once grown there. Even the stones had been blackened by repeated exposure to dragon fire.

Report Story

byKoreGoddess© 5 comments/ 11061 views/ 13 favorites

Share the love

Report a Bug

Next
4 Pages:123

Forgot your password?

Please wait

Change picture

Your current user avatar, all sizes:

Default size User Picture  Medium size User Picture  Small size User Picture  Tiny size User Picture

You have a new user avatar waiting for moderation.

Select new user avatar:

   Cancel