Header image  
DarkFire Graphics  

Dragon Hero: Chapter 2


After breakfast, Photass got up from the table and started wandering off to the door. “I’ll see you for lunch, bro. I’ve got target practice until Fynder is awake and free for training.”

“Keep an eye on your arrows,” Raspan said to his retreating back. “The gardener found more in the hedges the other day and wanted me to tell you that if he finds any more, he’ll tell Fynder.”

Photass waved away his words nonchalantly in a manner that lead Raspan to believe that even after breakfast, his brother was still not fully awake.

Raspan finished what was left of his porridge and stepped back outside of the mess hall, greeted by a market that was just beginning to bustle. The farmer’s stalls were all open and hawking their vegetables and grains as though there would be no more the next day. There were many other stalls now open, and Raspan was almost regretful of the decision not to help out this morning. There seemed to be some jewelers in the market today, and gemstones had always been a fascination of the young prince.

Deciding perhaps against better judgment, he headed off toward the market, looking for sights and sounds to absorb much the same way a sapling drinks up sunlight. It always helped when he was trying to write music to think of the experiences in the marketplace on a busy day.

As he walked about the courtyard, eying all the different wares, he did find several jewelers, but many dealt in plainer carvings or forest trinkets, nothing he was searching for. He heard someone call out to him and turned in their direction to see an older female elf, Hinnes the baker, waving to him from her stall.

“Well if it isn’t our friendly helper!” Hinnes said as Raspan walked up to her. “You missed your chance, youngling! I had some extra loaves today, and a few sweet rolls, but the rolls sold out, and I let the ones who helped me out today have the extra bread! If I had known you were going to be out here, I might have saved some for you!”

“Oh, it’s alright, ma’am,” Raspan reassured her. He would have accepted the token, but they could just as easily have found their way to someone in more need than him if he wasn’t hungry. “You know, if you have extra, you can always get the extra coin. There’s always someone who needs bread.”

The frail looking older elf waved away his words like nonsensical gnats. “Oh, this is all for the community, you know. I have my own savings, just in case of a rainy day. You needn’t worry about me, sonny. It’s you I’m worried about, you never take coin for your help!”

“Well, I promise you I’ve got my own share tucked away,” Raspan said, grinning.

Hinnes cocked an eyebrow, giving a sly look. “I’ll bet you do, boy. Probably saving up for a nice solid sword and shield, eh? You thinking of going out to find adventure, bringing home some tales and a mountain of gold?”

“Something like that,” Raspan said. There was no way he could get away with that, but he secretly wanted nothing more than to see the world someday. Of course he’d come back, but he could never help wondering what was beyond the valley.

The elderly elf grinned. “You foolish younglings. All dreams of travel and glory. I was like that once.”

Raspan raised his eyebrows. “Really? You were an adventurer?”

“It was a lifetime ago,” Hinnes said, “But yes, I gave my best years to the road to seek its treasures.”

“I’d love to hear your stories sometime,” Raspan said, then added, “After I’ve made my own, of course. We can trade tales.”

“That would be the only thing you’ve ever traded,” she laughed. “You’d give away your left hand to save your right.”

Raspan wandered about the market for a while longer, but was eventually drawn back to thoughts of the dream. In the end it had been terrifying, but he knew there was something about it that made him feel perplexingly good. As he studied the reflective surface of a glazed pottery dish, he realized what it was: the voice. He only heard it speak a few times, but its words ran over his whole body like water when it did.

There was nothing in the world quite like it, and he sighed a little sadly when he realized he would never hear it again, unless he found it in his dreams.

That would have been the most distressing thing he knew all day, except for the raven.

As he was finishing up in the market, having found just what he needed for his next experiment, he was about to head back to his room when out of the corner of his eye, a tiny black form shifted into view. Curious, he looked in its direction. Standing on an empty stall long vacated by its owner was a glossy black raven, staring intently at him. He thought it was a trick of his mind at first, but he noticed it followed him as he tried to leave. His curiosity certainly piqued, he came closer.

It was then he noticed the mark on its head. A bright red teardrop, with a wicked eye in its center. Other things about the bird seemed off as well; its eyes were the color of glowing embers, its beak was curved and jagged. The talons on its feet glistened like steel, and its tail feathers looked sharp and dangerous.

“What are you?” Raspan demanded quietly.

If the raven could answer, it was not in a generous mood. In a flutter of motion it was gone, over the walls of the castle before Raspan could even blink.

Even if he did not hear it speak, the bird had been clear on one thing: It was dangerous. If Raspan knew any better, he would have thought the creature to be a demon in disguise. Magical, definitely, but he was not convinced it was from the lower planes.

One more thing he would have to ask his mother.

For the first time in his long, long life, Kelek felt that twenty years was far too long. Too long to be away from a land so rich, too long to waste away in a magical prison, too long to wait for his revenge.

Standing on the sloping stony hills of the southern end of Dragon Valley, he basked in the beautiful landscape. The valley lake spread out beneath him, the fields and farmlands stretched forth beyond, with the town of Alden carefully placed in the center of it all. A little further, a forest stood as a wall between the southern and northern halves of the valley, with the towers of a castle standing just above the trees in the western half of the forest. A wind came up to sing in his pointed elven ears, and the rising sun glinted in his crimson eyes.

It was breathtaking. It was a vision of splendor. And soon, it would all be his.

“Master, I have news from Geshtar,” said a man clad in plate armor carrying a partisan as he climbed the trail to where Kelek stood. “Mulg, the orc chieftain was pleased by your gifts. He wishes to meet with you, to plan your proposed campaign on the R’mass clan.”

“Smarter creature than his predecessor, then,” Kelek grinned. “Before my exile, the orcs were hardly as cooperative. What is Zeke’s status?”

“He is not as fortunate,” the armored figure stated. “The few criminals that can be found in Alden are not willing to work with us, not even for your promised gifts.”

Kelek crossed his arms across the black breastplate he wore, a look of indifference crossing his features. “No matter. Send him to the Drake Highlands, north of the Sprite Woods. As long as he stays clear of the tower in the east and keeps his efforts quiet, he should have plenty of ‘troops’ to gather there.”

“At your will, Master,” the armored figure saluted.

“And what of your efforts, Shanir?”

“The beastmen are proving a most stubborn obstacle. Their leader will not even speak to me.”

“Dorn was always difficult to persuade.” Kelek considered the problem for only a moment, putting a hand on the ruby capped hilt of his onyx sword, known to those who recognized the blade as the Scourgeblade. “It will not matter, as long as his people can be kept away from our efforts.”

At that time, a raven flapped up to the cliff, landed, and dipped its head in a short bow. “I have returned from the castle, Son of the Old Blood.”

“Show me,” Kelek said, extending his hand.

The bird fluttered up to his gloved palm, and Kelek closed his eyes. He could soon see the memories of the raven, the bustling marketplace, the number of guards, the well disguised fortifications, and all of the insipid commoners, blissfully unaware of the tragic and bloody plans in store for them.

And finally, the raven showed him a young elf, barely into his second decade, whose inquisitive green eyes and noble bearing seemed terribly familiar.

“What are you?” the elf asked.

“I am the last thing you’ll ever see, son of Valiant R’mass.” Kelek whispered under his breath.

“I believe you are correct, Kelek,” the raven said. “No one else seemed to recognize him as such, but he does indeed bear a resemblance to your old foe.”

“Good work, Thanatos,” Kelek said. “For now, you are free to roam. Return tonight, examine the keep and its defenses.” Kelek gave a sinister smile. “I wish to know if there are any other children, as well.”

“At your command, Kelek.” Thanatos lifted back up into the sky, soaring into the distance and out of sight.

“Sir, we still have no word on the sword,” Shanir said.

“It will not choose a wielder before we will have a chance to strike.” Kelek snapped. “We may find it still, and deal with it before it becomes a problem.”

“It may not be a threat to you,” Shanir warned, “but to your gathering army and your generals it is a very real threat.”

“Do you think I do not know its power?” Kelek’s red eyes glared at his subordinate.

Shanir seemed to shrink under that withering stare. “No sir. No one knows better than you.”

Kelek smiled smugly. “Indeed. We are here before the second Dragonhero was chosen, and that makes all the difference.” He turned to face the kingdom at his feet. “This will be my age, and not even the mighty sword Glaptrica can undo what I will set in motion.”

After the events in the marketplace, Raspan could find very little reason to waste time on his own projects rather than seek out his mother. With news such as this he would have gone to see his father first, but he suspected that the meeting with the valley reagents was today, and he would not want to interrupt important business with his frivolous announcements. This early in the day, the queen of R’mass was always found in the shrine behind the castle, a short way into the woods.

She visited the shrine but once a week, and she made time for it every week, regardless of other events. The shrine held special importance to the R’mass family; while they regarded all of the gods in their own right, this shrine was built to revere the Dragonstar. The special star was said to be the focal point for the good spirits that watched over the R’mass family, and they spoke through the shrine to advise and guide the family in hard times.

Raspan wound his way down the old path he was shown years ago, every step a memory from childhood. He and his brother spent hours on end in the woods behind the castle, playing games and chasing fireflies. He tried not to let nostalgia slow his pace, for the events of the morning were resting grimly at the edges of all his thoughts.

A song filled the forest, strummed lightly on the strings of a harp and hummed softly by a practiced voice, as he approached the clearing where the shrine stood. The shrine, carved into a stone face that jutted from the forest floor as though it imitated the trees, depicted a dragon, sleek and elegant, offering the Dragonstar, its garnet eyes cast down benevolently. His mother, sitting on one of several stones arrange in a semicircle in front of the shrine, still appeared as young as he was, but carried herself with a grace that only the experience of many decades of life could bring. A miniature harp sat in her lap, and her fingers danced up and down its strings.

Raspan waited as her song swirled about the clearing, and let its grace surround him. Music was his passion, a gift given to him by his mother. He was never satisfied with his talent; only in his mother’s hands could instruments come alive. To interrupt her now might mean to miss some important technique, or waste a chance to hear a new interpretation of a note progression. His fanciful news could wait on one song.

Her song ended with a seemingly carefree descending scale, slowing as it finished, as though her hands laid the song gently to rest. She looked to him, and smiled as he blushed.

“I heard you coming,” she said to his unasked question. “Your feet do not yet know caution, son of mine.”

“I’m sorry to interrupt,” he said sheepishly. “I wanted to ask you a few things before our lessons.”

She shook her head. “Your questions about personal studies can wait until after our lesson. There will be plenty of time to learn, morning is for living.” The smile left her face as she saw that his expression was serious. “It seems there is more on your mind than magic. What troubles you?” She beckoned him to sit with her on the stones.

Raspan shrugged. “Not much more than a dream and a doubt,” he admitted. He was beginning to feel foolish for his fears, though at the back of his mind he knew she was the only one who could give him the answers he wanted.

“Dreams can be powerful things,” she told him. “It was a dream and only a dream that brought the great dwarven hero Martolgar to the resting place of his legendary ancestral tomb, thought lost for ages, and it from there he brought back the secrets of artifice. The secrets of the mind are laid bare in dreams.”

“This one seemed very real, more vivid than anything I’ve experienced awake, and the images unlike any tale I’ve heard before,” he said.

She raised an eyebrow. “A tale you’ve not heard? Now I am jealous. Share with me this tale then; I’ve not heard a new tale for quite some time.”

Raspan nodded, sitting down beside her. He related everything in his dream to her, the crystal staircase and landing, the brilliant light, the black stone, and the terrifying vision of stone, and how all the while the voice guided and aided him. She listened intently through all of it, her amber eyes reflecting the attention she gave. At the end, she let her gaze wander, lost in her thoughts. Raspan gave her a moment to absorb the details, it was more than enough to take at once.

He turned to the shrine momentarily, as his mother collected her thoughts, and for a moment he thought he saw a flicker of movement issue from the statue. Was it just him, or did tears fall from the stone dragon’s jeweled eyes?

“What is your interpretation of this dream, son of mine?” Raspan’s mother finally asked him.

“I don’t know,” he said.

She put a hand on his shoulder. “You must be able to guess something. Every piece has meaning, examine each one by itself.”

Raspan nodded and mentally examined the elements of his dream. “The staircase … could be an ascent, or an ordeal to overcome. The light that I take may represent a choice, or some solution to a problem. And the stone … I suppose the stone is a challenge, a fate to be overcome.”

“Your vision afterward?”

Raspan’s throat tightened. “I guess I don’t think my actions will have any bearing on the future. Whatever will happen, will happen.”

“And that is what truly is frightening.” The queen R’mass stroked her son’s hair. “You are blind to your own potential. If only you could see what I do, there would be no question in your mind. For all the stories I’ve ever told, I think the story you shape one day will be the greatest.”

“Wishful thinking of a mother and a bard, perhaps,” Raspan grinned, and his mother gave him a wry smile, and tousled his hair.

“Well, at least you are forthright about this dream,” she said, then looked back to the shrine a moment. “However, I have a somewhat more … literal interpretation, judging from what the shrine has shown me.”

“Literal?” Raspan asked, perplexed. “Surely you don’t see anything in that dream that could actually happen.”

“The R’mass bloodline has a gift, Raspan,” she said. “It is rare; the last one to have it was your grandfather. You are at the age now where your dreams will begin to show you glimpses of what is to come, to better prepare you for the events in your life.”
The words struck Raspan dumb. Precognition in connection with magic was one thing, but this was far more than he ever expected to hear from her.

“We never told you much about your grandfather,” she said, seemingly oblivious to his shock. “There’s not much about his tale that remains; I did not spend much time with him. He was never much for settling down, and those who know more than I keep their silence out of respect. But the legacy he left for you…” she reached out and touched Raspan’s right shoulder, where his birthmark was. “His legacy speaks volumes of who he really was.”

“What do you mean? What legacy has he left me?” Raspan asked.

“I am sorry, Raspan,” she said. “We have known since the day you were born.”

“Known what?” Raspan said, more insistently, more curious than anything now.

“That you would have a dream like this, heralding a time of troubles for our land, and indeed throughout all of the world,” she answered softly. “That we would have to watch you grow up all too soon. For you were chosen by the Dragonstar,” she traced the eight pointed star on his shoulder. “You were chosen to wield the power of dragons, through them and alongside them. To bear the sword Glaptrica, and become the next Dragonhero.”

Raspan blinked several times, trying to assure himself that he was not dreaming. “Dragonhero? What is … I’ve never heard of this before …”

His mother steadied him. “I know you have many questions. I did not mean for you to learn of this until you were ready to accept a burden this heavy. You are still too young. But this dream could very well mean dark times are very near, or it may be a warning that you will need to be ready for something soon.”

Raspan placed a hand on his forehead; the thoughts buzzing around were practically tangible to his touch. He calmed himself as best he could, trying to focus on the most imminent questions, when a memory fluttered back into his thoughts.

“There may be something else, where portents are concerned,” he said. The queen R’mass looked at him curiously. “Today in the market I saw a strange raven. It seemed to be intelligent, and it watched me. When I came closer, I could see a red crest on its head, a red teardrop with an eye in it. It’s features seemed sinister somehow, but it was unlike any demon or fiend I’ve ever read about. It flew away before I could do anything but see that much.”

The elven queen stood up, worry etched into her brow. “That is … a dire tale, my dear,” she said, wandering over to the shrine. She placed her hand upon the dragon’s face, then turned back to her son. “I’m glad that you had the presence of mind to remember such details. You have given us an early warning, and now we can do much to prepare for the danger that is to come.”

“What danger?” Raspan asked.

“The creature you saw belongs to an enemy of our kingdom, banished almost the same day you were born,” his mother said, choosing her words carefully. “If he is here now, he means to strike at us somehow.”

Raspan’s heart raced. An attack on the valley? An enemy of the kingdom returning after twenty years? And if he understood what his mother was saying, he was somehow going to be at the heart of it all? He tried to steady himself on the rock next to him, feeling as though the earth was shifting, trying to turn itself up on top of him.

His mother was next to him in a heartbeat. “I know this is not easy to hear. This is shocking to hear, the words I speak sound insane even to me. But you must hear them. There is no escape from this future.”

Raspan nodded, still unable to form words.

“I will give you your lessons when you are ready, but I am not the one who can teach you what you will need to learn, and Colonel Shaystar will be busy preparing for this new danger. After tomorrow you will be with a new teacher. You may have to leave the castle to continue your training.”

Somehow, that thought comforted him. His personal quest for the skills and knowledge of a swordmage would have eventually taken him from home, but now his aims were being facilitated. His confidence grew, and the world began to take some semblance of order. “You know of someone who studies the arts of sword magic?”

She hesitated, biting her lip. “It may not be so easy. You may need to further one art and then the other. I have two teachers in mind, and the first one to answer my summons will be your first teacher.”

Raspan nodded. “So be it.” He looked over to the shrine, to the dragon who proffered the guiding star. He prayed silently for that dragon to guide him in the coming days.

“You still have all day ahead of you,” his mother said. “We can’t spend the whole day here.”

“I know,” he said, a thought crossing his mind. “Could you play that song again?”

She smiled. “If you go and retrieve your flute and meet me in the courtyard, I will teach it to you.”

This story is the property of Tyler Clapp, Author (AKA "Cael") Copyright DarkFireGraphics.com