The rock hits the old man just above his eyebrow.
Elint stumbles backward from the force of the impact. His feet tangle in some pottery bowls stacked up in front of a merchant’s stand. Elint tries to steady himself on his cane but can’t find his balance in time. He goes over with a mighty crash, several of the dishes breaking in the process. His milk bladder, newly paid for and topped off, flings through the air as he tumbles over his back. It lands in the dirt a second after he does, the contents pulsing out and soaking into the ground.
Elint coughs, both to try and catch the breath knocked out of him and evacuate the dust he inhaled during his spill. Staring up into the sky, he lets out a low groan as the aches of his weathered body cry out in protest. As the sound tapers off a new one takes its place. Laughter.
He rolls his head to one side and sees a group of boys across the thoroughfare on the other side of the market. They jeer and taunt. One of them drops his pants and shakes his ass. Elint looks back at his bladder, the milk now little more than a trickle flowing into a brown puddle. Tears well in his eyes. That was to be his meals for the week. He couldn’t afford anything else.
Despair turns to anger. Elint works up some momentum and swings himself onto a hip. “Curse you. The lot of you,” he screams at the youths. “I curse your names!”
The boys only hoot louder at the response. As Elint pushes himself up onto all fours they set upon him again, raining down more stones along with gobs of mud from the street. He covers himself with one hand while using his cane in the other. Elint launches a torrent of profanity at the lads. When he finally gets to his feet he hobbles after them, slashing his cane back and forth.
Dancing around him while they laugh and tease, the boys turn their attention to deeper matters.
“Hey old man Elint, tell us about your wife!”
“Yeah, where’s your wife Elint? Who’d you marry?”
“Ha ha, tell us how you married a dragon Elint!”
He swats at the last, the boy easily dodging the attack. “You leave my Avalys alone!”
“Crazy bastard! He thinks the dragon is his wife!”
“I won’t have you dishonor her!” Elint roars but already his breath is short, his movements slow. The ridicule continues. His tears flow through the canyons etched into his skin. They irrigate the scratchy beard that adorns his face. Elint sinks to his knees. A handful of mud slaps against his face and neck. “Please stop,” he begs them. “Please leave her be. She protects you. She protects us all.”
The shopkeeper that owns the pottery stand finally breaks up the escapade. He chases the boys away with a stern yell. Two other men reluctantly leave what they’re doing to cross the street and help Elint up. Caked in mud, he looks around with uncertain eyes.
“What’d you do to rile them up now Elint?”
“What did I do? It was your boys that set upon me, not the other way around. They always set on me. I just want to come here in peace.”
“We don’t want you to come here at all.” This from Thorlrun, a skinny candlemaker with a prominent nose. “Why can’t you just stay in your hovel and away from town?”
Telbert, a farmer from out on the fringe adds his opinion. “Useless old fool. Go back to your shack and die already. We’ll have one less mouth to feed around here.”
Elint is indignant, even as the man’s words send a sting into his gut. “Not as useless as those sons of yours. Maybe if they worked your fields instead of throwing rocks the crop would be bigger.”
Dalonin, the shopkeeper, crosses his arms. “And I suppose that since you contribute so much to this village yourself, you’ll be able to pay for those bowls you broke?” Elint turns to the man. His mouth works open and closed but no sound comes out. “What I thought.”
The shopkeeper gruffly grabs Elint’s collar and spins him around. He boots him in the buttocks, and the trio of adults shout at him to get out of the village proper. Elint begins to slink away, already dreading another night with an empty stomach. As he crosses the thoroughfare a rider appears down the road. The man thunders his horse into the center of the market, pulling up on the reins when he reaches Dalonin and the others.
“Get out of here now!” the rider bellows. “Take only what you can carry and go! Quickly!”
“Ho friend,” Dalonin says holding up his clay stained palms. “Calm yourself. What’s the matter?”
“Don’t tell me to be calm you fool! Listen to me! All of you!” the rider yells, garnering even more attention from the marketplace. Merchants and customers alike stop what they are doing and fixate on the man. “Dasmius! Dasmius Soulbane has awoken! He’s already destroyed Ravine! The village is gone!”
“What?” Thorlrun returns. “Ravine is just a bit from here. If it had been destroyed we would have learned of it.”
The rider tosses his hands up. “What do you think I’m doing now you idiot? I rode ahead to warn you. A whole line of survivors is an hour or two behind me. The few that made it out anyway. You want to wait for proof just stand still. They’ll be here soon enough.”
Mumbles of alarm start to ripple through the crowd. Dalonin goes to ask another question but Elint pushes through the onlookers. “Avalys! What of my Avalys?”
The rider stares at the old man and then turns back to the others, his face contorted with confusion. Telbert sighs. “He means the Protector. The White Dragon. He calls her Avalys.”
“Because that’s her name,” Elint growls at the farmer.
The rider turns to look at him, shaking his head. “She’s gone.”
“Gone?” Elint feels his stomach turn. Cold sweat breaks out on his forehead.
“Dead. Dasmius killed her. She tried to stop him before he reached Ravine but she was just too old. He…tore her to shreds, and then he wiped out the village with one sweep of his neck.”
Elint’s face goes pale. “Gone?” he whispers.
Cries of anguish rise up all around the market. The rider notices that he has the attention of the entire village. “He scorched them all and then feasted on their charred remains. Hundreds of them. They’re all dead save for the few that escaped the fires.”
Mothers clutch children to their skirts. Fathers start to look around at one another. Elint turns and hobbles away on his cane. The rider continues.
“You have a little time, but only a little. After feasting on the villagers the dragon sank into the gorge to rest. He’s sleeping now, but he’ll be hungry again soon. You have to leave. You have to leave right now. This is the next village and Dasmius will come. Go! Go and get into the hills if you can! Flee for your lives!” He kicks his heels into the horse and the animal tears through the street.
The rider’s exit sets off a panic in the market. Families scramble to gather themselves and whatever goods they can obtain. Some of the men try to deliberate on what they should do but the turmoil quickly evolves into everyone for themselves. A half hour after the messenger has left people aren’t even bothering to pay for what they need. They rob their neighbors of food and blankets, carts and jars. Anything that will help them survive the coming trek to…wherever. Their only destination is anywhere far enough away from town.
Starting at the edge of the village a stillness washes over the pandemonium. It spreads slowly. The calls of alarm fall silent, replaced with astonishment. The crowds part allowing Elint to walk through the thoroughfare.
The old man is dressed as a soldier. One from a time not so long ago, but long since forgotten. He wears a bronze chest plate etched to mimic dragon scales, rivulets of blue corrosion lined across it. Leather vambraces, cracked and worn, cover his forearms. Metal greaves cover the shins of his boots while pauldrons cover his shoulders, both foggy and dented. A bronze skullcap sits atop his head. A moth-eaten cloak, more patches than original fabric hangs from his back. The remnants of a glyph flake and fall off the garment from the center. Underneath it all the faded visage of a one-time uniform juts out from beneath the armor.
Elint hefts the halberd leaning on his shoulder. The rough hammered axe head at its top is matched in length by a steel spike affixed to the bottom of the ash pole. A dagger is lashed to his wide belt. He still walks with the cane in his left hand. When he reaches the three men that accosted him earlier, Elint stops and sticks the spike in the ground.
“Go and grab your pitchforks and scythes. Anything that can be used as a weapon. Your wives too. Have your older sons and daughters that know how to shoot get their bows. A few of them will need to stay behind and lead the young to the hills. I’ll let you decide which ones. The rest of us must leave right away if he is to be killed.”
Baffled, the men look to each other. Telbert is the first to break the confused silence. He turns back to Elint. “What in damnation are you talking about?”
“We’re running you senile old fool,” Thorlrun adds. “We’re not going to rush a dragon and throw our lives away.”
Elint’s gaze shifts between them, the fury going out of his face. “But…our mandate. As a Partisan it’s my duty to raise the local levy. Our Protector is gone. You’re obligated. All of you. We need to fight Dasmius and delay him from massacring other villages until the throne can send an army.”
Spit hits him on his cheek. “That’s what I think of your mandate,” Dalonin curses. “I’ll not serve up my children on a platter. Let other villages handle him. Ones with actual soldiers.”
“You can’t just set this aside whenever—”
“To the crows with the damned Partisans! Another relic from a lost time. The sooner the last of you die out the better we’ll all be. Now get out of here!” Despite being armed, Thorlrun grabs Elint and shoves him to the ground. His skull cap topples off his head as he hits the street.
It’s enough to give the village an outlet they desperately need. Venting their fear the crowd bursts into a violent tirade. Elint is ripped from the ground and shoved through the thoroughfare. The women of the village rush in to slap him about his exposed head. Obscenities fly from their mouths berating him for wanting to sacrifice their children.
Elint weathers the storm while riding the wave of humanity to the village’s edge. Once there the men throw him down again. His halberd gets tossed to the side of the road. The adults return to their preparations but the children recommence pelting him with rocks and mud. Scooping up his polearm, Elint pushes himself to his feet. Using the weapon as his new cane, he hobbles away from the barrage as quickly as he can.
Several minutes of physical pain occupy his consciousness, both from the assault and his hike. As it diminishes his mind gains focus again. The full magnitude of what has occurred hits him. His love. His life. His one and only. She is lost to him. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. They always knew he would go first. Strangely Elint had found peace in that, knowing that he would never have to see Avalys pass. Now he marches to do just that. He can’t leave this life without first laying his eyes on Avalys one last time. Not now. Not knowing that she won’t live beyond him.
Elint weeps as he walks. The memories of their life before rush up to meet his grief, simultaneously comforting and disconcerting. Adding to his sorrow but somehow softening the full impact. He remembers seeing her smiling face the first time she came to the village of his birth, so many leagues away and years ago. How they used to steal away into flowered fields when each of them should have been doing work. Gentle kisses in the sun. Her chestnut hair peeking out from under her kerchief.
There were the long years apart. Years filled with torment, pain, and anguish. Felt by both while he was off to one war or another. All those years. Ava waited for him, wringing her hands while standing in front of the window. Wondering. Waiting for the day that he came home. The day that he was home for good.
When that day finally came he married her before the sun was down. Carried her laughing into their tiny cottage paid for by the meager savings of a soldier. Their modest life together was one of abundance. Elint smiles while he tastes the salt of tears running into his lips. Only after they started trying for a family did fate realign. Her call, it seemed, was to be greater than his ever was.
The sight of the survivors from Ravine breaks him from his mourning. Elint watches in horror as they streak past. Their clothes are singed and charred. Burns cover their exposed skin. A few drag carts behind them, carrying the screaming fanaticism of someone dying in excruciating pain, or the wailing hysterics of people immobilized by grief. The smell. A mixture of burnt hair and flesh so putrid it threatens to make him heave in the middle of the street. The scorched scent of the wood from their burnt homes clings to their bodies.
A mother sees him. She cuts straight towards Elint, carrying the blackened remains of a small child no bigger than a loaf of bread in her arms. “Where do you go? Huh great knight? Where do you think you’re going? Who do you think you’re going to save? Where were the Partisans today? Where were they while he did this?”
She proffers the child’s remains. A tiny arm breaks off and falls to the dirt. The woman collapses and begins to sob uncontrollably. Elint moves on.
Long after the last of their number has disappeared over the horizon behind him Elint crests a rise. The hill on the horizon is a hazy blur topped with dark grey clouds. He knows the hill well. Just beyond is the drop off down to Ravine. Scanning from left to right he catches sight of an oddly shaped mound, close to where the ledge to the village would be. Elint’s breath catches in his throat as his eyes focus.
The colors. The colors are what confirm it. Even at this distance he can see her ivory in contrast to the bleak grey of the sky and the fallow brown of the land. Elint is staring at his wife’s final resting place.
Urgency propels him forward despite the ache in his heart for what he will soon witness. With every rise and dip of the land she draws closer until at last the great dragon lies across a field of torn earth and shattered trees. Elint stands as best he can, his legs shaking and weak beneath him.
Massive claw and bite marks have ripped open sections of the ivory scales covering her body. Many of the cream-colored plates that run the length of her underbelly, from her chin to the tip of her tail, have deep gouges in them. The leathery flaps between her wing bones, also the color of soft cream, are sheared and torn. The remnants rustle gently in a persistent breeze. A great cavity lies open in her belly where Dasmius must have gored her once she was finally put down and unable to fight back. Her blood, like molten silver, streams from her wounds and collects in great pools about her body.
Elint regards her face. Her eyes are pinched shut. The strain of her death has forever locked her final struggle in place. Even from where he stands, he can see how old she had become. The stark white of her eyebrows. The hair running over the top of her head and behind her pointed ears. Despite her advanced age, Avalys had fought fiercely. Her wounds tell him as much. She had fought to the bitter end against the devastator.
He can no longer hold back. Elint lurches forward and rushes to his love with a hobbled gait. Close to her, he drops his halberd and throws himself the last few feet. His chest landing against her neck, he presses his face against her still warm scales. Elint howls, a primitive tongue of no modern expression that can only capture the most extreme of emotions. Still wailing, he slumps to the ground and lands in her blood.
The squishing of it underneath his greaves sparks him to horror. Elint leaps up and sprints along her body to her head. He tears his Partisan cloak from his shoulders and begins wiping the blood off of her face. “Oh my Ava. My poor, poor Ava. Look what he did to you,” he weeps over and over again.
“Please come back to me. Please don’t leave me alone Ava. Not in this world. Don’t leave me without you here.” The rag is soaked through and through. Elint continues to wipe the same spot clean. His tears, snot, and spittle mix into his beard. Droplets form and fall onto her body. “Please my love. Don’t go.” He leans down and kisses her snout.
Alarmed, he jumps up and looks around. The sound was clear as could be, yet…it didn’t come from the air around him.
My love. Listen to me.
Suddenly afraid, Elint grabs his weapon. Clutched before him in two hands, he shivers as he spins around the field, looking for the orator. He is certain that the voice couldn’t have been in his head. At least he keeps telling himself as much. “Show yourself! What trickery is this? Show yourself to me!”
Elint, peace. It is me. Or at least, the memory of me.
He turns and looks at her body. His mouth hangs open. Elint can’t tell if he is more scared now than he was a moment ago.
Sensing his anguish, she laughs lightly. Oh Elint, you always were a superstitious codger.
“Ava! Ava!” He drops his weapon and runs to her, throwing his body onto the dragon. “Is it you my love? Is it really you?”
Yes darling, but I am fading quickly. Once my blood has cooled I will be gone forever. Physically I’m not even here.
“I had to see you. I had to see you one last time. But to hear your voice. To speak with you! Oh my love! Please, please don’t go!” He begins to cry again.
Elint. Listen to me. Time is short.
You must stop him.
Elint opens his eyes. He stares at his wife’s lifeless corpse. “There’s no one Ava. No one would follow me. Dasmius will lay waste to the land before any armies can be raised.”
Not armies. You Elint.
“Me? I tried my love. I tried to get the villagers to rally. At least together we might have had a chance, but alone? What can I do? I’m just a broken old man.”
Husband. That is not you. I know you will not turn your back on them.
“Ava…you don’t know. They refused to come. They beat me from their village. They don’t care about anything other than themselves.”
Even so, would a Partisan leave them to die? You fought for me once. I need you to fight for me again. Please.
He shakes his head, tears falling free. “How Ava? How?”
I will help you. Place your hands in my blood. Wipe it on your skin.
Elint does as he is told. The metallic liquid is warm to the touch. Palms slick, his intuition tells him to rub them on his face. Slowly he feels the blood absorbing. Through his eyes. Into his ears. The warm sensation grows hotter. It creeps down his neck and up his forearms. Elint feels his skin afire. His breath short. He falls to the ground and thrashes about as his chest burns inside him. Elint’s heart seizes and for a moment all is still.
When he sits up, his eyes are alight with fury.
Now go. And remember how much I love you.
The ridge line ends in a sheer drop off. Spread out before him is a wide ledge that once housed hundreds of buildings in the village of Ravine. No more. Now there is barely any evidence of civilization. The ledge is a barren wasteland of ash and dust. A few corners from cobblestone foundations scattered here and there are the only remnants of what was. Even the bridge that spanned the gorge at the far side of the ledge is gone. Dasmius had incinerated everything.
The stench here is even more overpowering than back on the road. The sickening smell of scorched flesh and burnt wood seems to linger as a colorless fog over the plain. Were it not for her blood, Elint knows that it would be suffocating.
He works his way quickly down the switchbacks to the arid ledge. Dark clouds loom above him. The air is heavy and thick, filled with the powdered remains of those villagers that evaporated in the breath of the dragon. He strides across the land purposefully. Coming to the gorge’s edge, Elint drives the spike of his halberd into the soil. He stands tall. His muscles are taught. His chest swells with pride. When he calls out to the demon his voice echoes through the valley below.
“Dasmius Soulbane! Face me!”
A low rumble slowly builds, not unlike the groans he himself emits when waking. As it does so, vibrations run up the cliff face and into the soles of his feet. Massive surges of air buffet the stone. Elint clutches his weapon in two hands and begins to back away from the edge. Three more surges come, like the howl of wind during a thunderstorm, and then he appears.
Rising out of the gorge the dragon suspends himself in midair, the gusts of wind driving Elint back until he is able to dig his spike into solid ground and stand firm. Dasmius’s scales are midnight blue, near to black. The plates of his underbelly and the leather of his wings are a deep purple. Several gashes and claw marks adorn his body. Save for one, they mostly appear superficial.
Whereas Avalys showed signs of age in her face and body, Dasmius displays youth and power. Every inch of him ripples with muscle. His eyes are calculating and arrogant, poised with the exuberance of strength and the ignorance of how best to use it. The monster takes one look at Elint and unleashes a torrent of white fire, the edges tinged with bright blue.
The wave of flame crashes into Elint as he cringes. Knuckles wrapped tight around the shaft of his polearm, he feels himself sliding back through the dirt with the driving force of the fire. Searing heat surrounds Elint but the flames don’t engulf him. After the gout of fire is released by the dragon, he unclenches his eyes. The halberd and his skin glow softly with a pale yellow tinge. After a few moments it is gone.
Dasmius lands his massive bulk onto the ledge, his weight sending a shudder through the bedrock below. Standing fully erect the beast easily stretches a hundred and fifty feet into the air. He eyes Elint, his gaze amused. A snarl reveals rows of jagged, pointed teeth. Spurts of the white flame alternately release from each side of his mouth.
She gave you her blood then, little one? Elint realizes the escaping flames are what gives the creature voice.
He nods. “Blood that should still be coursing through her veins. Blood that you have spilt demon.”
The dragon looks off to his left, appearing bored. Did you know she lost her flame? Age dried her of it. Had she still possessed her fire the contest wouldn’t have been so…one sided. What a tiresome bother to dispatch such a lonesome creature.
Assuming a battle stance, Elint charges his weapon towards his adversary. “She’s never alone so long as I draw breath.”
The amused smirk returns as the dragon looks back at him, flames escaping. I see now. You knew her, didn’t you? Before her becoming. Did you try to impregnate the bitch?
“She was my wife!” the old man roars.
Dasmius lets out a long rumbling sigh. A husband. I suppose that explains the lack of an army behind you. Very well then you withered old fool. Come if you must.
Elint sprints forward as he releases a guttural cry of war. Although the dragon tenses slightly, his posture remains one of annoyance more than anticipation. A wild glint appears in the monster’s eyes along with the maniacal smile creasing his face. From around the right side of his body Dasmius picks up his tail and thrashes it down at him.
Elint makes a quick dart to change direction out of the path of the appendage, his movements coming unnaturally fast. As the dragon’s tail lands with a massive crash Elint leaps. He soars through the air and comes down on top of the tail, only to burst back off of it with a mighty push of his legs. Elint rockets across the dragon’s body, pushes off Dasmius’s thigh, and soars back in the opposite direction. Raising the halberd up behind his head, the weapon, and even time itself, seems to slow nearly to a stop. Then all at once everything flashes forward with lightning speed. The axe head slams into the dragon’s shoulder.
Although it doesn’t break through his scales, the creature roars with pain as the force of the blow sends them careening away from one another. Elint lands upright as Dasmius tumbles backwards, hitting the ground hard and rolling over. The momentum of the strike carries the dragon off the cliff and into the gorge, another yell of surprise and outrage coming with his fall.
When he lands on the plain a few moments later Dasmius is no longer amused. Miserable cur! I’ll feast upon your guts the way I dined on your wife!
He charges Elint on all fours, fangs bared and glistening with saliva. Elint sprints straight at the monster, halberd clutched at a diagonal across his body. He moves deftly despite the shaking ground created by the pounding of the dragon’s claws. When they are near enough Dasmius lashes his neck out to its full length with his jaws spread wide. As they snap shut Elint cuts to his left, narrowly avoiding ensnarement in the demon’s bite. The edge of the axe head begins to glow again. Hacking it into the dragon, the Elint sprints down the length of his neck. The polearm bites through the scales and rips a long gash. Bright orange blood spills steaming from the wound.
Dasmius roars and pulls away. He whirls around in a tight circle. Elint spins to match him and leaps again, his jump sending up a cloud of ash from the power of his propulsion. The dragon rears up onto his legs and slaps the Elint out of the sky with a monstrous claw. Careening through the air, Elint slams into the ground. He tumbles and rolls violently across the earth, digging a channel through it as he goes. Finally coming to a halt, Elint flops onto his belly and begins coughing out the dirt he’s swallowed. Pain racks his body but somehow, miraculously, he doesn’t think anything is broken. Pushing up onto all fours, he watches as a long strand of blood mixed drool dangles from his mouth.
Flapping. Elint turns his head just in time to see the dragon hovering in the sky. Dasmius spits a blue white fireball. The projectile lands next to Elint and erupts in a massive explosion sending him, along with a geyser of earth and flames, into the air yet again. This time he lands flat on his back. Blood flies from his mouth. Most of his armor has been ripped away by the blast. The chest plate glows red from the heat. His fingers work the clasp on the shoulder and he rolls out of the makeshift oven. The exposed parts of his uniform have been burned away. The rest of his clothing hangs in tatters. His skin is seared and red. The scent of his own beard now burnt away lifts to his nose. Elint manages to get to one knee.
Another fireball rockets towards him. Elint throws up his left hand. His palm alights with the pale yellow glow. The dragon’s projectile splits in two and flies past, detonating in twin explosions behind him. Right hand held low, currents of lightning dance from the ground and the air around it. They coalesce into a small ball that rapidly grows in size. Elint closes his grip on it and hurls the orb of power. The white ball streaks through the air and strikes Dasmius’s wing, blowing a hole through the leathery flap.
Elint stands. His eyes burst with the pale yellow glow. The old man stalks forward, orbs of power throbbing with their own glow in his palms. Incredulous, Dasmius drops to the ground with earth shaking force. How? How do you have such power?
“It’s not mine. It’s Ava’s. Even in death she is stronger than you.”
He lets loose with a barrage of the orbs, immediately forming and hurling new ones as he continues to stride towards his adversary. The dragon throws his wings around his body in an attempt to shield himself. Each impact blows a new hole in the flaps. One lands flush on a wing bone and snaps it in half with a bright explosion. Dasmius whips his head back in pain and roars into the sky. When he snaps it back down he lets loose with another streak of fire. Elint braces and pushes his hands out in front of him.
Two continuous beams of white light, tinged pale yellow at the edges and rippling with cords of lighting, fly from his hands to meet the attack of the dragon. For a few moments their bursts remain locked in a stalemate until Elint shoves with all his might. The power begins to force back the flames of the creature. As he walks forward Dasmius starts to give ground, his eyes flickering with disbelief. On the verge of having his own fire forced back down his throat, the dragon lashes out with his tail. It connects and Elint is again scent bouncing across the barren ledge.
Dasmius rushes in with fangs bared, but Elint is up the instant he skids to a stop. Before the dragon can close his teeth around him Elint fires more beams of power. The blasts rip chucks of scales and plating off of the dragon. Dasmius twists and turns, deflecting, avoiding, and absorbing the attacks as he closes the distance between them. Close enough, the dragon unleashes a furious attack of gnashing teeth and scythe-like claws.
Elint thinks of his halberd and instantly one of blistering white light forms in his hands. With it he enters into the deadly dance, clashing his weapon against that of the talons and teeth of the beast. As they duel time begins to slow for him. Elint can see the next movement of the dragon. He can anticipate where the attacks will come from. He can feel the monster’s heart racing and beyond it something more. Panic.
He leaps, his path taking him under the dragon’s neck. Elint chops a gash through the plating and lands. Dasmius tries to stomp him underfoot, but he darts out of the way and cuts behind the creature’s heel. The dragon whirls around and tries another attack with his jaw. This time Elint leaps up and over his adversary’s head. He spins in the air to change direction and comes down. Elint drives the spike of his polearm into the back of the monster right between the wings. He travels down the length of the dragon’s spine ripping the scales open.
Dasmius roars and shakes his opponent free. He comes about only to have another beam of power strike him in the eye. The monster jerks his head away as the burned-out socket curls smoke into the air. Half blind, the dragon can barely keep up with the old man who now races around and leaps past any attack he tries to make. Slashes. Cuts. Impalements. Elint tears the dragon to shreds.
Landing from yet another attack Elint stops and stares. The dragon’s wings are littered with holes and rips. Entire sections of his underbelly plating are missing. He bleeds from dozens of wounds, the ones on his back and neck profusely. The dragon stares at him with one exhausted eye. Dasmius tries to move forward but collapses onto all fours instead. Elint stands resolute, holding the halberd in one hand. It begins to crackle with cords of lightning and then radiates with the pale yellow white light.
The dragon actually smirks at him. Damned fool. You don’t even know what is to come yet, do you? This is only the beginning.
“No dragon. It is the end. For us both.”
Dasmius rears up and tries to make one last effort. Elint hurls the halberd like a javelin, the weapon turning into a blinding bolt of light. It blows through the creature’s chest and out it’s back, a massive cavity left in its wake. Blood pours forth like a dam that has given way. The dragon’s remaining eye rolls into the back of it’s head. The carcass slumps to the ground. Dasmius Soulbane lies defeated.
As the last twitch of the dragon’s death rattle gives out Elint sinks to his knees. The powers recede from him and he sits shivering. Tears fall freely down his face. “He’s gone Ava. You can rest. I have destroyed him for you.”
I knew you would my love. The voice in his head is faint. Each word fades a little more.
“Ava!” he says perking up. “Ava you’re still here?”
Moments husband. Moments.
“Please. Please take me with you. I killed him. There’s nothing for me in this world now.”
I can’t…but…there is…a way.
“Tell me. Please.”
You must…trust. And…accept. Then…together.
“Don’t go Ava. Please don’t leave me.”
Her voice disappears on the breeze and he knows it is the final time he will hear it. Elint weeps, his face in his hands. Mourning her departure, he doesn’t notice at first the heat building in his hands. More rushes up from his feet. It courses from his shoulders and legs into his chest. He tenses at first, afraid of the surges but then remembers her final words to him. Letting his arms drop to his sides, Elint closes his eyes and takes a deep, cleansing breath. He lets go.
In the beginning there is pain. Tremendous pain. The heat rises to scorch him as his bones snap and reform. He feels his skin stretching, and then tearing, and then mending itself back together. Elint collapses to his hands and knees, screaming in agony. He clenches his teeth until they shatter and tumble out of his mouth. New pain sears his gums as points emerge. The tearing of his skin reaches such a threshold of pain that it forces his eyes open. That’s when he sees the golden scales emerging from underneath his human flesh.
The pain diminishes until it is gone altogether. Elint watches as the shell that was his human form falls away. Muscled arms and legs of gold appear before him. His entire body begins to expand. Elint grows at a rapid rate, the ground rushing away from him as he reaches towering heights. While he ascends, wing bones protrude from his back. A tail juts from his lower spine and stretches along the ground. His underbelly cascades with bronze plating while his wings fill in with bronze flaps. Razor sharp claws, talons, and teeth extend to their full length. A long brown beard hangs from his chin while his head is covered with brown hair running between his ears and down the back of his skull.
Elint turns his head to the sky and lets loose with a fiery streak of pale yellow white power. It punches a hole through the cloud cover. Soon the entire canopy begins breaking apart and rays of natural light start to fall on the ledge.
Ava’s voice returns, as strong as if she were standing next to him. Now my love. Now we will be together forever. It is a steep price, I know.
Elint lets bursts of flame escape from the sides of his elongated mouth. One I am more than willing to pay if it means being with you. In his mind’s eye he can see her face smiling at him.
You can feel them already, can’t you?
Elint closes his eyes and realizes that he can. Ahead are more of them. More beings of such power and devastation that they make Dasmius seem a child. He can feel their desires. Their sinister ambitions to enact massacre and death.
And behind. Behind him are the people. Such helpless beings. Ones of good nature and great worth. People destined to reach the very heights of achievement. Ones that should not be fated to the machinations of evil.
He barely notices those that had born him ill will as a man. Their number so few as to be inconsequential. Nor does he harbor any resentment. His view is that of a parent, looking over children that have not yet found their way. He feels the presence of the entire species. The resounding faith and innocence of an entire race. In that instance, as everything becomes so clear, Elint realizes what must be done.
Go. They will need you.
He lifts his face to the sunlight. Flapping his wings, Elint launches himself into the sky and soars over the land.