Saturday, September 8, 2012

Town with a dragon (pt. 4)

They sped through the empty waste, the shining knight and her oath-bound wanderer, each stepping holding the weight of ten. Neither time nor distance held any meaning in this featureless waste but the superhuman racers could feel the wind of the still air as they ran. And they could see, high in the air, the form of a dragon.

This is how any dispassionate witnesses would know them to be completely mad, for there is no sane motivation to knowingly follow a dragon. There were, however, no dispassionate witnesses of their marathon over the desolate plains, and when at dusk they reached sight of a large, ramshackle town the terrified and swiftly perishing townsfolk were lifted by a glimmer of hope. Mad hope.

The bonfire that had once been the town was burning itself out as the wanderer reached the east edge. The smoke hid the stars and held all the scents of a fine hardwood barbecue, roasting pinewood which uplifted the dust beneath it blending into a most earthy flavor, the sweet, flame-kissed smell of cooking pork paired with the dull charred notes that told the wanderer and the knight that the dead meat in that town had been scorched beyond suitability for human consumption.

The two fighters slowed to a walk as they approached the bonfire. The knight reached around herself pulling tight straps that had loosened in the journey. The wanderer stretched his arms up to full extension, weaving his fingers together and cracking every knuckle in harmony with the fiery pops of the town. The knight muttered syllables and tiny symbols glowed into life around her armor and broadsword. The wanderer lightly rested his hands on the grips of his mismatched pistols. The two fell into the shadow of the dragon, its partially outstretched wings and impossibly large body blocking the whole town.

Above them rose black smoke. Beneath them dead ground was shrouded in shadow. They trained their eyes forward at the darkness ringed by fire.

"You will heal me." muttered the wanderer.

"When the dragon is slain." The knight replied, the chill in her voice running ahead of the cooling nighttime.

On the west side of the burning town a small patch of dirt has by chance been spared from the fire. A thin layer of debris covers a man dressed in a white suit. His eyes open to see orange blaze to his sides and darkness above him. The man in white is uninjured. He pushes some larger bits of wood off and stands, dust and grit and grime falling away from his spotless white suit. He stands and surveys the fire around him. He stands in an unburnt circle of perhaps fifteen paces in radius though the firewall to his left is less than ten away. He picks up his hat and moves to the right. The fire burns higher than is natural or appropriate, flame tips licking a foot above the man in white's spotless white hat despite having fed for a good while on a thin layer of wood. Given their origin and given their behavior, the man in white judged the flames to be unnatural and possibly hazardous enough to act cautiously. The man in white stands and surveys the fire around him. He takes a few steps to be as close to the center of the geometrically irregular barren patch. He sits and removes his hat. He places his hat in his lap and sits motionless facing east until conditions change.

To the north of town, just far enough as to be unlit by the town firelight, another man watches the dragon. He sees the dragon hunched over the town, picking out bodies with the agile talons at the tip of either wing.  Whole organs spilled out from the gaps between the dragon's arm length teeth and collected in a rapidly growing pile of gore at its feet, blood spattered across its face. He notices two tiny figures, shadows within the dragon's shadow giving off the telltale rune-glow of northern magic. The glows extinguish when they complete their preparations and the man to the north loses sight of them in the pitch black of the night. He decides that the time will come soon to move on. He goes back towards the west side of town to inform his partner. His spotless white suit begins to glow as the moves towards the bonfire.

They walked in shadow to the base of the beast. There they stood in silence, any notion of plans fleeing from their mind as they looked up at a fourteen story tall lizard of apocalypse. They could see the powerful muscles in its back and neck move under the steel-plate scales as it ate the town.

With deliberate silence the wanderer placed a hand on the knight's shoulder. She looked at his figure. He gestured to the north, let he go and walked up. In the darkness his gesture was not visible, but she made no move to stop him. She tossed the hilt of her sword from hand to hand before gripping tightly with both.

The dragon's talons picked through the fire as it started to burn lower. The beast gave up on finding more meat and bent low, taking the pile of fallen viscera at its feet into its jaws in one sweeping motion. As its head lowered, the knight leapt, rocketing upwards along the monster's jagged spine. At one hundred and fifty meters up she cleared the hunched dragon and hung in the air, acceleration falling to zero. The firelight reflected off her steel casing, flames reflecting in the blade of her broadsword as she swung herself into a dive.

She called out at runes pasted beneath her feet and burst downwards through the smoke filled sky, a blazing angel, a falling star. She brushed away memories of her training that threatened to pull her out of the moment, though it really was amazing. The sect-master had only ever seen dragons in ancient illustrations and in the visions granted him by the gods, and yet the diagrams he had drawn really were accurate. She could see the notch at the base of the dragon's head where the nerve bundle that ran down the dragon's neck protruded from the skull and was protected by a single dragon scale.

She powered downwards, a spike driven into evil by the holiest of northern magics. Her sword began to glow red with the heat of air friction and golden as the runes sharpened the edge and strengthened the steel. Her armor, too, responded to her need, but it was outside her vision as her eyes focused on the target. She saw the great and featureless eastern darkness beneath her. She saw the great fire pit of the town above her.

She thought as she fell that she hadn't needed the wanderer's help after all.

The tip of her broadsword hit the weakest scale on the dragon's body with all the force of a meteor and all the fury of a warrior. The sword shattered without slowing the knight. The bones of her arms, locked outstretched, shattered with the blade. Her head came down onto the dragon's neck, shattering her entire spine, ending a life spent in training for this one moment.

The wanderer looked on as her limp body slid off the huge neck and was caught midair by the immense jaws. The jaws clapped shut and immediately opened again, head shaking the distasteful shards from its teeth. The knight fell to the ground and the dragon took a few steps into the fire, kicking the knight into the last bits of the viscera pile as you or I would kick an unseen pebble while staring at an eagle. The wanderer stood passively and once swore softly.

The fire lapped against the dragon's scales without visible effect, dimming as the night went on. The dragon spread its immense wings and crouched down to leap. As it jumped it gave a tremendous flap. The flames nearby were snuffed out immediately, the ones further away flared up before again resuming their gradual diminishment. The wanderer was buffeted but held his stand through one, two, three, four more gusts before the dragon was well aloft. It could be seen as a shadow for a moment through the smoke clouds and was again concealed by the night as it flew north.

The wanderer stood for a minute longer. He loosened the deathly tight grips he held on his mismatched pistols. Then he took the southern route around town and continued west.

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