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Dragon Hero: Chapter 3


The wind howled sorrowfully outside Janus’ chamber window. Muttering to himself about the noise, he remained seated at his desk, stubbornly refusing to admit defeat to the intrusions of the outside world. He ground the tip of his quill into the page of his book, spreading a blue-black splotch out from the corner of the page. Had he realized what he was doing, he would have been even more irritated at the loss of the expensive ink.

He had grown quite accustomed to the quiet and solitude of his tower, and was not prepared to deal with annoyances outside his control. However, minor irritations like the wind, the rain, and the occasional bird or confused traveler did not usually get his hackles up. Tonight was different, as he felt all things as though they were scratching the back of his neck.

Finally fed up with the wind, he faced the window and lifted his hand, palm up. His fingers together, he brought them back to his palm. The shutters slammed closed, the wailing of the wind diminished, and he sighed. Looking back to his book, he noticed the blotch of ink he had made, and felt a vein throb in his forehead. Truly this night was going to drive him insane if there was just one more interruption.

The mage nearly lost his composure when a low hum and a glow emanated from behind him. He forced himself to stand up slowly from his desk and take a deep breath. He faced the latest obstacle to his sanity, his scrying crystal. He scrutinized the warmly glowing orb for a moment; he knew very few people with the aptitude to call on him through this method. There was a chance it could be a malicious entity he had managed to anger in his travels, but equally it was a cry for aid or important bit of news from a friend.

Normally he would have let it be and covered the orb with a sack; such troubles were not worth his time and he had much left to do. Something was clawing at his consciousness from the edge of his mnd, and had been all night long. Maybe this call would shed some light on the nebulous irritability that consumed him.

Striding up to the crystal, he placed his hands upon it and closed his eyes in concentration. The hum faded and the light dimmed to a glimmer, and an image began to coalesce within.

“Janus dear, I hope you weren’t thinking of ignoring me.”

The mage felt his heart skip at the warm, pleasant female voice in his mind. A moment of shock made way for an instance of elation as he recalled the voice.

“You are awake?” he said out loud, only half aware that he was speaking to an empty room. “Is everything alright? Do the others know?”

“Relax, old friend,” the voice reassured him. “I am not ready yet, but yes, I sleep no more. You were the first I chose to contact, because in an hour, you are about to receive a courier with a message from R’mass Castle.”

His face scrunched up in confusion. “The castle? Whatever for?”

“I will let you read the message yourself, but I need to know that you will accept Kaneira’s request to tutor her son.”

“You are speaking nonsense,” Janus said, his finger on his temple. Despite his words, his face was vexed as he took in her every word and tried to make it sane in his mind. “You must be able to tell me more.”

“It is only important to me that you would do it without knowing any other circumstances. If the queen of R’mass asked you to teach your craft to her eldest son, would you help?”

Janus frowned as his mind covered the assertion she was making. After the last incident with a student he claimed vocally that there would be no others after his current apprentice. She must have known somehow, but there was something to her plea he could not identify. Why did she care that this one was taught by him? Surely there were better, more patient teachers, even within the valley. There was no reason for him to be bothered with another pupil, even one as prominent as the prince of the R’mass clan.

Even so, there were some rumors surrounding his birth, and even as an old friend of the family he was never made sure of their veracity. He had never met the boy, but word of his talent and interests were well known to him.

Finally, he said, “If her request is reasonable it does not matter.”

“It does to me,” she insisted. “I need to know that you want to take the time to teach this one.”

He sighed. She could be so sentimental. “Well, seeing as he is the grandson of my best friend, I would abhor the thought of him squandering his talent due to poor instruction, or bardic nonsense.”

There was a slight laugh from the other end of the magical connection. “Prideful as always. But loyal, as well. Thank you, Janus, for humoring a silly fool.”

He could not help but stifle the slight smile brought on by her praise. “A fool indeed,” he said, “to worry about such things after so many years asleep.”

“Asleep I may have been,” she mentioned, “but neglectful I was not. For several years I have been kept aware by a soul kind enough to let me know what was happening in the valley, and I might add that it was not one of my guardians.”

The mage scoffed. “You’d have gotten nothing useful out of those that remain, anyway. We’ve become focused on our own endeavors, not caring an imp’s tail for the valley. I do not believe you so naïve to think that we would wait for you forever.”

He could almost hear her smiling from her end. “I am glad that you are one of the few who did. Goodnight, Black Wizard of the White Star.”

The glow and hum of the crystal faded to quiet again, and the silence of her absence filled the old mage with regret. He could have just once told her how much he missed her. There would be little time for such frivolity with a new student around.

An hour later an elven courier arrived on his doorstep, with a missive from the royal house. After giving the messenger his leave, he returned to his study. Sitting back down at his desk, he opened and read the letter.

His hand trembled as he finished the reading, a mixture of fear and rage causing his cold composure to slip drastically. Nothing about his earlier communication prepared him for the news from R’mass Castle.

“So there was no room even in all the hells for your betrayal, Kelek?” he said to the empty room. “It sickens me that I had the chance to end you back then, and now you have returned to throw that wasted opportunity in my face.” A dark grin filled his lips. “Death is too good for you, after all. Mark my words; your downfall will be thrice as painful as you made our lives before.”

He seethed a moment longer, until his gaze happened upon the crystal ball. He sighed, some of his furor lost. “You were right to ask me, my dear. I know what you meant now. I shall not do this for myself, but for you as well.”

He reached within his cloak, and produced a pair of gloves. Sliding them onto his hands, he felt the power within them react to his touch. “There will be much to discuss at the House of R’mass tomorrow,” he said out loud. “See to it that my pupil keeps to his studies.”

A soft meow echoed from below his desk.

Satisfied, he flipped the hood of his cloak up and closed the door to his study. The mage made his way out of the tower that night, for he would be the son of an orc if he did not respond faster than the other proposed tutor in the letter. He would not let his future student get a head full of idealistic nonsense before he had to have it beaten out of him.

Raspan gazed into the courtyard, empty of the traders and merchants that had thrived there the day before. The only sounds to his ears were the chirps of the morning birds and the bustle of the cadets doing their drills on the other side of the compound. The gray sky was made more oppressive still by the mist that covered the forest; a shroud he thought would pass yesterday but remained … like the dream.

He winced as he thought of the dream. The stone that threatened him there frightened him more than ever now. He felt that if he left it there could only be wicked things to come, but he knew that destroying it meant something horrible would happen. He felt sick; far more that just afraid, he was doomed.

But the voice, sweeter still this time around, let him know that even in his hopeless hour he would not be without its presence. And indeed, this past night he had felt that it was there with him still, diminished but persistent. It would never fade completely, he knew now. It would be with him until the last note of his song, no matter how it ended.

He watched as a guard hurried across the courtyard from the main gate toward the keep, as though harried by unseen pursuers. All the guards were like that now, cringing at flickering torches and making fearful glances over their shoulders. He guessed that it had something to do with his mother’s council she held shortly after his lesson with all the guard officers and other heads of staff. Everyone seemed ill at ease after that session, and he could not help but feel guilty over the sudden change. It was surely not his fault, but he only wished he never dreamed such darkness or found the raven in the market. It would have been preferable to him that his home got to keep its peace, even if it meant he never got to leave.

At dinner with his family that night, there was a quiet that was only punctuated by Photass relating his daily antics with the irrepressible Captain Fynder of the watch. During the whole of his brother’s ramblings, Raspan had felt his father’s eyes on him. King Valiant was normally a jovial person around his family, and delighted in the stories Raspan and his brother had to tell during their family meal. But he was subdued last night, and tried not to look Raspan in the eye. On the few occasions their eyes had met, Raspan saw a pain there that did not subside even in a smile.

A few minutes later, he saw his father walk out into the misty courtyard, led by the guard that had gone in earlier. The guard signaled to the gate tower, at which time the gate opened wide enough to allow the ingress of a figure draped in a cloak of dark violet, with long silver hair spilling out from the sides of the hood. He could not have been much taller than his father, but his authoritative air could be felt by Raspan, even from a distance. King Valiant bowed curtly to the stranger, as though he knew him, and motioned toward the keep. The figure nodded, and they both walked back across the courtyard. Raspan watched them as they walked certain that he was not noticed from so high up.

He was apparently wrong, as the cloaked figure looked at him directly as the made his way to the keep. The red eyes beneath the hood were narrow and sharp, as though they cut right into Raspan’s mind. Raspan searched his gaze for intent, and found a cold will that stood like a wall of ice between him and the emotions of the man far below him. The figure seemed to sneer arrogantly for a moment before turning back to the king and the keep.

Raspan considered the interaction for a minute, barely aware that it had begun to rain. He retreated from the balcony to his tower, unsure of his future and troubled by the present. Back in his room, he sat down at his desk, his flute and a pile of empty score pages ready for another futile session of half remembered melodies.

It was not that he was a poor musician, but his ability to write the music and remember the notes brought him down. Whenever he came up with something he liked while playing, he would try to capture it on paper, only to find half the notes in the wrong order and many more passing from memory as he tried to write them. His mother told him often that he should not worry on his scribing of songs and just enjoy the music; there would be plenty of time to write the songs after he experimented enough.

But that was not enough for him. He wanted to learn now what made his music sound so good to him, and for all his experimenting he was not yet happy with his attempts. If he could just get one song, one full melody, or even just one chorus written down he could learn from his work and learn even faster. When he tried to explain that to his mother, she had smiled, shook her head, and told him that time is a luxury that all elves had in surplus, and that one day he would understand that.

With the way things were going for him, Raspan felt that time was something he would have in short supply very soon. Even if that was not the case, he wanted nothing more than to further his crafts, be they music, magic, or swordplay. In the end, his accomplishments in those fields would be the legacy that he wanted to leave behind. The faster he could learn the closer his goal would become.

The elven prince picked his flute back up to practice, employing a new method of capturing his notes. He started by playing a few notes at a time and jotting them down on the page, listening for stirring combinations. When he felt he had enough, he replayed the initial strings, one by one, starting to build on them. He wrote in a handful more notes to each one, but eventually he crossed out the majority of his lines, unsatisfied with the outcome of those strings. He still had faith in the method, but this was clearly an off day for him.

He tried to push through his stagnation once more, searching his mind for whatever he could think of to inspire. He was getting to the point in his playing that everything was starting to sound dull. In frustration he blew a single long high pitched note.

He could swear he heard someone’s voice match the tone of his flute perfectly.

Startled at first, he looked around his room, even though he was alone. Tentatively, he tried the note again but gentler.

The voice rang in his mind again, perfect, clear, and perfectly in time with his song. He found several notes afterward, and soon a long string of melody was playing in his head and through his flute. The voice matched his every musical movement, as though guiding him through the progression.

He was certain the voice was only in his head, but equally positive that he had heard the voice from somewhere else.

He halted suddenly, realizing that all this great music was getting out and not getting written down. He crumpled up his old sheet and grabbed a fresh one, quickly dipping his pen into the inkwell and setting down what he remembered. The notes started to fade again as he wrote, to his horror. He shut his eyes tight, focusing on the song, focusing on the voice that had shown him the way.

“What do I do?” he said out loud. “Help me!”

He could almost hear the voice in his head again, “But I just did!”

That’s when he recognized the voice. It was the mysterious voice from his dream.

He dropped the quill, setting his elbows on his desk and placing his head in his hands. What was going on? Was this his imagination? With everything that had happened recently, was he starting to go insane?

As he leaned on his desk, he surveyed the notes he was able to ink on the paper. It was a good start, regardless of his mental state, and he could see many ways that it could develop. He picked up his flute and played the notes as he read them from the page, and slowly came to realize that he had not missed scribing a single part. He picked up the page again, and smiled. A good start, indeed. This might be the best he’d written in quite a while.

A sudden knock at his door brought him back down to reality. Unbidden, the door opened to reveal his mother.

“Are you well, son of mine?” she asked, curiosity on her face.

“I’m fine,” he answered. “I’ve just been practicing.”

“Where did you hear that song?” she asked, stepping in and placing a hand on his arm.

He shrugged. “I didn’t, it just came to me.”

She gave him another strange look. “Are you certain? It sounds like a song I’ve heard before.”

“Well, maybe you played it for me before,” Raspan said, starting to feel like the song he made was not so original. “I thought I was on to something.”

“No, I’ve never played a song like that,” his mother said, looking over to his desk. “Is this it?” He nodded, and she looked at what he had. Finally she shook her head, smiling. “I’m sorry. You’re quite right. I must have been mistaken. It’s quite good, but why didn’t you finish it?”

“I wanted to make sure I wrote down what I already had, and I very nearly lost that.”

She folded her arms. “You have a very human notion of music, you know. This shouldn’t be important yet, just enjoy the music you make for what it is! The important songs are the ones you will remember years from now, and those are the ones worth writing down.”

“I know,” Raspan sighed, sitting down on his bed. “But I always feel like I’m writing that song right now! I cannot help but preserve what I have found and try to learn from it.”

She nodded walking over to him. “This all will come to pass. You will see in time that this is the perfect time to just experiment and live in the passion of music. Only once you have reached a deeper understanding of the way music works will you start to be able to make the song on the page as beautiful as the one in your heart.”

He sighed again, and she put her hand on his shoulder. “You can keep practicing like this if you want. But don’t try to simply make music; you need to feel it deep down.”

“I do,” he said, smiling. “That’s why I want to write it down so badly.”

“You may not be afforded such a luxury,” she said guardedly. “Your tutor is insisting on a short and strict apprenticeship.”

He looked up at her as she tried to mask her pity. “My tutor has sent word?”

She gave him a sincere look. “He is here now. He means to take you with him when he leaves today.”

His heart froze with dread. “Is he the visitor I saw father with in the courtyard?”

She nodded. “He is a very old friend of the R’mass family, and you are fortunate indeed to be accepted as his student.”

Raspan considered the situation momentarily. “I did not like the look of him. He seems dangerous and of unfathomable intentions.”

She nodded again, a half smile on her face. “That is how he seems at first. He is in fact of noble mind and a man of reserved power, though his demeanor lies forever under a raincloud.”

“You know him well then?” Raspan asked.

“He is the greatest practitioner of magical craft in the valley, perhaps the most potent spellcaster to ever pass through our land,” she told him, then adding, “including your older sister.”

Raspan perked up at the mention of Adelle. She had left the castle long ago to pursue her own interests, but he had fond memories of her. She had stoked his burgeoning interest in magic with her own considerable talent, always showing off minor magical talents to amaze him. She left on good terms with the family, promising to send word of her travels, but in ten years nothing had been heard of her. Still he admired her, and if this mage was trusted by his family and was comparable to his sister, he did not think too little of him.

“In fact, I came up to bring you down to meet him,” his mother said. “I think he wants to explain what will be expected of you during your time with him.”

Raspan nodded, standing up from his bed. The two of them made their way from the tower to the balcony, and then into the door that led to the second floor of the keep. Raspan’s mother escorted him into his father’s private meeting room where King Valiant and the stranger sat speaking in low tones.

The strange mage noticed him, and half smiled. “You are the one I caught sight of on the balcony,” he said sharply. “I had not realized that you were the prince; you dress like a street urchin. I thought you one of the servants.”

The king and queen both started to protest but Raspan smiled and cut them off. “Nobility is not worn on a sleeve, it is carried in the heart,” he said to the man’s icy eyes. “People who dress up try to hide something. I dress plainly so everyone can see who I am, regardless of station.”

His father tried to hide a frown, and his mother stifled a surprised smile. An almost terrible grin appeared on the man’s lips. “So you aren’t without your own mind. Magical study requires independent thought, and your craft itself requires an especially free mind.” His smile widened. “You will be an especially interesting student. Most react poorly when I insult them. You kept your head and answered intelligently.” He leaned forward. “I wonder just how much abuse you can take.”

Raspan did not waver under his gaze. If this was what it took for him to further his craft, then so be it. He had to trust in his parents’ judgement.

“I am Janus,” the mage said, drawing back his hood. His complexion was pale, and his hair was silvery blue. His angular features made Raspan think of the vampires he had read about, and half expected him to have long claws underneath his thick brown gloves. “It is my pleasure to meet you, Prince Raspan. The king and queen have asked me to teach you in the craft of magic, but I the way I see it, you don’t want mere magical training. You seek the powers of a Swordmage, much like your grandfather practiced.”

Raspan looked to his mother, who nodded. “I do,” Raspan answered.

“You are in luck, then. I learned something of the ways of elven blademagic from my time spent with him.” His face darkened. “But you must first learn the ways of a battlemage if I am to teach you those arts.”

“I know what is at stake,” Raspan told him firmly, standing across from him at the table.

“You know nothing,” Janus told him bluntly. “This is why I am going to teach you.”

“I will become a swordmage,” Raspan proclaimed, “and I will defend my land from this foe.”

“That is not enough!” Janus said sharply, jarring Raspan for the first time. “This land doesn’t need just another swordsman with a talent for magic who thinks he is the master of both. You will not be a mere warrior, but a master of the blade you wield. Your magic will not be the incantations of a wizard, but the invocations of powers older and wiser than what a book can teach. To save your beloved valley, boy, you will need to become worthy of the sword that is your birthright – Glaptrica, the sword of the Dragonhero.”

Raspan’s heart pounded as he tried to keep his composure. These words were familiar to him, explained just yesterday by his mother.

“What is a Dragonhero?” he asked. “And what is this sword you speak of, that I am to wield?”

Janus looked to the king and queen. “No stories of grandfather for his heir?”

“He was not ready to hear such dire tales,” King Valiant retorted. “This is too much of a burden for him, even now.”

“It is his right, and it is not your decision to make, my liege,” Janus said firmly, leaving no room for argument. Valiant shut his mouth, biting back his words in the face of a master wizard. Satisfied, Janus turned to the prince. “Your legacy is upon your shoulder, am I right?”

Raspan grasped at his shoulder where the eight pointed star was imprinted on his skin.

“The Dragonstar is linked inexorably to a treasure of this family known as the Glaptrica, the Tragic Blade of Dragon’s Heart,” Janus explained, sitting back in his chair. “It is a sword both blessed and cursed with the power to change the future; a sword that both heralds catastrophe and gives hope. It chooses its wielder through some unknown scheme, selecting those who will be central to important events. But those who are born with the Dragonstar on their shoulder are much more than the wielders of this blade. They unlock the true strength of the sword’s magic, able to borrow and channel the power of dragons.”

Dragons! The word made Raspan’s heart skip. Creatures of legend and power, they were beings that would have stories to beat all stories. Living for centuries or even millennia, the oldest dragons could easily be a master of many arts. For so long he wanted to meet a dragon, for good or ill, and that opportunity was getting much closer now than he ever thought it would.

“But even these chosen must prove their worth,” Janus went on, seemingly oblivious to Raspan’s excitement. “You must show promise beyond the norm, able to grasp concepts beyond what even the exceptional can come to terms with. This must apply to all of your crafts, whether they are for war or peace.

“In other words, you must pass tests put forth by the sword when you claim it. Since your art constitutes two fields, you may need to take two tests. I shall prepare you for the test of magic. Another will be selected to teach you in the ways of the sword. Finally, you must win the sponsorship if a living dragon who knows of Glaptrica before you can call it your own. At such a point you will be considered a fully fledged Dragonhero.”

Raspan nodded his understanding. To him, this was the ultimate right of passage. If he could master these tests and claim this sword, his dream of adventure was well within his grasp. “I will do whatever I can to save Dragon Valley. I don’t care how many years it takes to master this test, I will do it.”

“Years?” Janus looked at him severely. “In case you were not aware, war is almost upon your doorstep. We do not have time on our side. You must succeed at this in months, likely not even half a year.”

“Less than half a year?” Valiant roared, standing up. “You can’t be serious, Master Janus! Not even my father did it in such time, or anyone else for that matter! Such an endeavor would certainly …”

“Destroy him?” Janus shot back, sending a withering glare at the king. “We will all be destroyed if nothing is done. Kelek has power now that is beyond all of us. Even if we defeat whatever forces he has amassed, he alone has the power to take this castle by force. The dragons are not going to be here in time, and even if they did, they would only delay him. Only a Dragonhero is capable of doing what must be done now.”

Valiant calmed, and glanced at his son. Raspan found only sorrow in that gaze.

Janus stood up from the table. “Come with me, prince Raspan. It is time you saw what it is will guide the fate of your world.” He made his way around the table and out of the meeting room. As an afterthought, he added, “You may say your goodbyes now, we are bound for the road very soon.”

Raspan stood up from his chair, standing before both of his parents. Both had a mix of emotions displayed on their face. His father’s face was long with sorrow, but his eyes shown of the pride he had for his son. His mother wore tears on her face with a smile, but he could feel the dread in her heart. He embraced them both, saying, “I will do this, for all of us. I promise never to fail you.”

“It is enough for me that you even try,” King Valiant said, his voice trembling with emotion. “I will tell your brother everything. He will be just as important in the days to come, I feel, and I know someone who can teach him even better than Fynder.”

His mother took him by the shoulders. “We love you, no matter if you were blessed or cursed. There are many adventures to come for you, with meetings, partings, and reunions with the most incredible of folks. One day, I will sing a saga for you and your companions, much like the song we played yesterday by the shrine, my tribute to Rauvin’s legend.”

Raspan’s eyes widened. “That’s what that was? A song for my grandfather?” His mother nodded, and he smiled. “I am glad I got to hear it at least. The tale must be just as grand.”

“My father was a great person,” Valiant said, “not only through his deeds, but his strength of soul and his accepting, loving mind. There was nothing impossible to him, all things were laid bare before his path. You would do well to think as he did, my son. Give everyone a chance, even the most wicked can be redeemed.”

Raspan gave a quick nod, his heart becoming heavy. It seemed that he had much to prove in order to live up to Rauvin R’mass.

“Go now, before Janus grows impatient,” his mother said. “Live well, son of mine.”

“Remember me fondly, dearest mother,” Raspan responded, hugging her one last time.

He left the room, closing the door behind him. Janus barely acknowledged his presence before heading in the direction of the stairs. Raspan followed him out, every step heavy with thoughts of what he was leaving behind.

Janus lead him outside into the rain and fog behind the castle. There they walked a path very familiar to Raspan; he walked it yesterday to find his mother. The shrine was empty when they came upon it, the dragon holding its vigil over the clearing. Janus walked clear past the effigy, but Raspan could barely detect through the mage’s hood his nod to the icon, almost as if it was alive. Raspan felt only a little put off by the fact that an inanimate object garnered more respect from this man than he did.

Beyond the shrine was a path that Raspan had never noticed. It was overgrown with weeds and obscured by branches, clearly not used in many years, but there was still some semblance of a direction it retained in its disuse. The path wound on for what felt like hours, the forest fighting their every step. Just when Raspan began to suspect that Janus had brought him out here to kill him and take his eyes, the path opened into a verdant clearing, with beautiful flowers muted by the fog and trees that stood taller than any the elven prince had seen near the castle.

At the center of this wild garden was a shrine of silver and gold, stately and sturdy. Housed within the shrine was a statue of an elf male that reminded Raspan of his father, but held more life in his smile than the whole of his family. There was only one person this could be a tribute to.

“This is the Dragonhero’s Shrine, where Glaptrica returns after its last wielder passes on,” Janus proclaimed, stretching his arm out toward the statue. “And that,” he said, pointing to the sword that stood beneath the statues hands, “is the Tragic Blade of Dragon’s Heart.”

The sword was of amazing craft. The hilt was glimmering gold, etched in flowing patterns with an eight pointed star in the middle of the crosspiece. The handle was wrapped in cloth, and the pommel resembled a four-taloned claw that held a perfectly smooth and round red stone – Raspan believed it to be a garnet. The blade was elegant and straight, tapering sharply at the tip. It was of a metal that he did not recognize, white and gleaming, almost appearing soft.

“You can examine it more closely, if you like,” Janus said.

Raspan apprehensively approached at his words, coming to stand before the treasure in the shrine. He reached for it, tentatively, resting a hand on the crosspiece. It felt surprisingly warm, almost as warm as the touch of a person. He slid his hand up to the handle, which had a comfortable grip. He worked his way up to the garnet bearing pommel, which prompted a surprised sound from the mage behind him.

Too late, it seemed, for the moment he touched the gem his body froze and he could hear nothing but the roar of a dragon, pounding in his head. The raw emotion and ecstasy of the primal howl drove Raspan to his knees. For a moment he felt as though his body was not his own, and then a void of white opened up before him. Before the white faded to black, a voice like a song rang inside his head.

“I have found you, but you have not found me. You cannot keep me yet, but I am always with you, in your empty hand. Before your hand can hold the stars, they must first touch the ground. Find me, I am closer than you think.”

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