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The Living Stone: Law of the Wasteland


Kra opened his eyes, slowly. He was always cautious in the morning, and moving quickly alerted darcats and blade hawks. It was better to look around slowly, to check for predators. To see them before they saw him meant that he could live that much longer, maybe even get to eat.

He remained still. Tempted as he was to spring away, he know that as he was nothing around him could know there was anything there but a pile of stone. Though he was a dragon, his scales now resembled the bulky, blackened stone of the dead land. The earth had no life left, the sky billowed with smoky clouds belched out from deep volcanic craters and mixing with the dust storms that ravaged the middle lands to cover all the land, as far as anyone knew. Not much was left of the way things had been, or so he was told. It had always been so for Kra.

There was always dark, always suffering. He remembered somewhere in his mind there had been pity once. That feeling was much dimmer than it had been in his youth, replaced more and more daily by his deep seated instinct to survive. Even before when his clan had not cast him out, every day was another battle in the war to survive in this broken world.

His gaze dropped to his paws. The tips of his claws were starting to break off, being crushed by their own weight and size, and worn down more every day. He used to have agile paws that even before he was Twisted could move with the flexibility of human hands. Now their grace was replaced by heavy, stony scales, designed to weigh him down and make even the simplest task of balance and movement a contest of patience and determination. He could hardly even flex the talons to his palm anymore.

But where other dragons had fallen to this curse, he had learned from it. He changed the way he ran to compensate for the lack of flexibility, flowed with the shifting of his heavy hide to outmaneuver and roll into blows. The heaviness allowed him to crush where his claws could no longer tear, and the thickness gave him the ability to disguise himself completely against the dead landscape, giving him the edge of surprise.

He almost grinned, that which was meant to curse him became his greatest advantage.

He snapped his gaze up as a shadow shifted in the corner of his eye. A stone fell from a nearby ledge, clattering to the ground. He tensed himself as the scent of living meat filled his nose, stilling his breathing to complete his camouflage, and closing his eyes as two small, stocky forms rounded the corner of the cleft he was pressed up against. He hoped they were not dwarves; only the stout folk could tell the difference between his heavy body and an ordinary boulder.

His hopes lifted as the first one spoke, apparently a goblin. “I tells you, Makky sawed a big lizard on the cliff!”

“I’s not seein’ it, Bink,” the second scoffed. “Makky be talkin’ with his rump, says I.”

“Makky never wrong before!” the first said, his footsteps scraping closely to Kra’s hiding spot. “Best eyes in a goblin head ever, I say!”

“You seen it, Bink?” there was a pause, as Kra imagined ‘Bink’ shaking his head. “Then how do you knows?”

“Bink heared it, he did, growlin’ like a thunder. A big thunder!”

“Big?” he heard the second unnamed goblin say, a delicious hint of fear in his voice. “How big?”

“Bigger than darcat,” Bink said. “Maybe big as rumbler!”

Kra could not recall growling, much less in the presence of goblins yesterday. He wondered briefly if there was anything else around as big as him; rumblers were rhinoceros like creatures that could easily overcome a dragon his size. The answer came to him with a tightening feeling in his stomach. He fought to repress the grumbling of his hungry belly, while simultaneously considering how excitable goblins really were, if they could mistake a hunger pang for a dragon’s growl.

“We get more, if that big!” the second said.

“No!” Bink shot back. “If more, they get some. If just us, we get all the meat, and we show Chief Rangus! Maybe he even gives us some ladies, for doin’ so good!”

Kra guessed that the other goblin was considering the proposal, and eventually he heard them both chuckle darkly. In a moment he heard them both scuffle right past him to the other side of the alcove he was lying in. Soon they were further along the floor of the cleft and around a corner, out of his range of hearing and sight.

In his solitude again Kra scowled to himself. Once dragons were the most feared predators in the natural world, and indeed nothing would consider hunting a dragon for food or sport. Entire kingdoms were sport for dragons, great swaths of the countryside their hunting grounds. Now they were hunted, just like everything else. The pride and power of the dragon was diminished. When a dragon was discovered in old times, people panicked and fled the area in fear. Now, it was often a source of high spirits for nearby tribes, because it meant a large source of food. That was all his people had become to many tribes, nothing more than a prize hunt.

He felt a burning in his chest, a stirring of pride in his heart. These goblins wanted to see a dragon, he would show them a dragon.

He shifted his bulk, drawing a harsh grumble from the stone around him as he positioned himself within the tight alcove. He was hoping the goblins were not so far out of earshot that they could not hear his movements; he wanted them to find him now. He spread his body further out from the wall, making it seem like there had been some kind of rock slide. He then did his best to get his paws underneath him, and pulled his wings and tail close to his body.

He heard the goblins coming back around the edge of the opposite wall, trying their best to sneak up on him. Once he knew they could see him again, he shifted his midsection slightly. To something far away it seemed as though there was something moving under a pile of rocks that had fallen, trying to get out. He arched his back every now and then, making it look like whatever was underneath was pushing up on the rocks.

“There! Under those rocks!” the second goblin whispered. “We gets free food!”

“You check, I keep watch,” the goblin named Bink offered. The other hastily scrambled over to the pile of moving rocks, thinking to get the first mouthful. The creature clambered up to Kra’s side, looking for a way to move what appeared to be a very heavy rock. It started pushing his tough side, trying to force the rock to move over. Kra did not even have to push back to keep balance, he was far stronger than a dragon his size should be thanks to his hide’s weight.

The cunning dragon decided to change his game a little. He stopped shifting his middle and began twitching his shoulders and back, making it look like what was trapped under him was moving down the rockslide. The goblin, confused, just followed the movement and looked for a place to begin digging. When he heard the goblin stop moving again, he began moving the muscles in his neck. The goblin became very wary, and slowly moved to the base of the pile, where Kra’s head lay. It began inspecting the strange stone, getting so close that Kra could smell the creature’s rancid breath.

The goblin hardly had time to register that the large rock in front of him suddenly snapped open two blood red eyes. Kra’s lunge was amazingly fast for something so heavy, but hunger was a surprisingly good motivator to be quick, as Kra had found. In seconds the goblin was between his jaws, his teeth digging in and crushing the goblin’s chest. The poor, damned wretch could not muster the air to scream but pushed and wriggled to get out of the monstrous mouth. In seconds the poor creature had stopped thrashing, and its strangled cries died off, muffled from inside Kra’s mouth. Once it was dead, Kra dropped the body immediately. He detested the taste of goblin, and more so the taste of blood.

He could see the other goblin had turned just in time to see its friend being spit out by a stony head. Kra smiled to himself, it was time to show the beast what it was dealing with. Slowly, he pushed up from the ground, his massive bulk lifted by his powerful limbs. He spread wide his heavy wings, before now wrapped inconspicuously along his side, making his sides seem like smooth faces on a large rock. His tail uncurled and snaked out alongside him, thumping to the ground heavily.

The goblin stood transfixed by the sight of a dragon appearing out from the rock, terror on its lumpy features, shaking as the dreadful monster in front of him moved toward him.

Kra tensed as he sensed the creature’s fear. The cowardly emotions caused his stomach to growl angrily, which he covered with a guttural growl of his own. If there was one thing that made a dragon hungrier it was the fear from their prey. He stomped closer to the goblin, watching it quiver with each stone shattering step. Just as it looked as though it was going to run, he leaned down and roared in its face. The goblin tore a path deeper into the cleft, screaming and stumbling away from him.

Kra did not follow, instead scooping up the dead goblin with his mouth and turning around and leaving the cleft. He knew the cowardly creature would not satisfy his hunger, even with his deceased companion. He hoped that the savage thing would return to its tribe, bearing the horror story of the dragon that killed his companion. That would perhaps show them, and maybe others, that a dragon is not something to trifle with.

Just as well, he needed to leave the defensible cleft that had been his home for the past few days. He made a lot of noise, which was bound to have reached the sensitive ears of hungry chiraptors and attracted black worms. His home was compromised to predators; it was no longer his home. He would have to find somewhere new by nightfall. But he was a stranger here, only having entered this area a few days ago, when he found the cleft. The area was full of opportunity, there was more life centered in this new land than anywhere he had been in ten years. He needed to find a niche, or be forced to move on again.

But for Kra, it had always been so.

Bink almost drove himself to exhaustion charging back to his tribe’s camp. He had nearly passed out after running wildly out of the dangerous cleft, screaming himself hoarse. He had no energy to scream now, not as long as the guards at his camp were not between him and the terrible dragon.

He reached the campgrounds, not even pausing when the guards tried to question him. He brushed past his fellows without a word; nothing matter but telling the chief what he saw. The way Bink saw it, they needed to find a new area to cull, this one was far too dangerous.

Lucky for Bink, Chief Rangus was sitting outside his tent, his concubines feeding and massaging him in public view. Rangus was not without his pleasures, but no one from Bink’s tribe would deny that Rangus the Mighty earned the right to them. He was a powerful goblin, tall and broad, but his true strength lay in his Gift. He had been a normal warrior a few years ago, fighting for the tribe as well as the next goblin. Then one day he had disappeared, returning many days later with a mysterious power. He had become Gifted, able to create fire and control it completely. Using this power he challenged the former chief for leadership of the tribe, and Bink had seen him overpower the chief and turn him to ashes for all the others to see. No one doubted Rangus after that.

“Chief!” Bink shouted as he approached, nearly out of breath. Rangus looked up from his enjoyment, fixing his yellow eyes on the transgressing Bink.

“What you want, Bink?” Rangus grunted, wiping grease off the side of his mouth. “You find food, like you said?”

“Nossir,” Bink responded hesitantly.

Rangus growled. “Then do not bother coming back till you do.”

“No! Chief, there’s …”

Rangus glared at him and a fire appeared in his hand. “What do you mean, no? You cannot say no to Rangus.”

“Dragon!” the petrified Bink rasped breathlessly. The gathering by the campfire quieted immediately, and whispers started to fill the air.

Rangus waved the fire from his hand and narrowed his gaze inquisitively. “Dragon?” he asked, standing and stalking over to the gasping and squirming Bink. “You say dragon?”

Bink nodded, having not yet caught his breath. “We sawed it, Dogo and I.”

Rangus looked around. “Where be Dogo?”

“Dead, sir! Killed by nasty dragon!” Bink said, starting to hyperventilate. “Came out of the rocks, like a big living rock! Makky though he sawed a cliff lizard yesterday, but he really sawed a dragon! Too big, too strong! It eated Dogo, but Bink ran!”

Rangus digested all of what Bink said, and gave a belch before saying, “We will find it then, and eat it for ourselves.”

Bink stammered for a moment before saying, “Nossir! Too big and strong, this one! Too powerful! You need three tribes to kill it!”

Rangus grinned savagely. “No, dragons are not so strong.” He turned away from the cowardly Bink to face the whole tribe. “Dragons of old, much stronger than now. Bigger than mountains, stronger than rumblers, breathing fire, lightning, ice, and poison. It was like Bink says, you need hundreds of gobs to take on even a small one.” He raised up a hand in front of him, wreathing it in fire. “But now, I have the fire! Dragons have no power now, I seen a tribe our size, maybe smaller, hunt down a dragon big as a hill. Dragons not much bigger than that now. We kill this dragon, and we eat for months! We be the strongest tribe in Argassa!”

The assembly of goblins roared their agreement, to Bink’s disappointment. Ragnus must have noticed his apprehension, because he came over and set a large hand on Bink’s shoulder. “You do good, Warrior Bink. This will make us strong.”

Bink seemed to be at a loss for words. He could not imagine that Ragnus would have done this, or he would have kept his mouth shut. He did not want to see this dragon again; he would be eaten for sure.

“You can find this dragon again, yes?” Ragnus asked. Bink’s eyes widened, but he nodded. Ragnus grinned again. “Good, we go tomorrow. Tonight, I make things ready.” He licked his tongue around his pointed teeth. “I gots some special tricks to make sure that dragon be dead when we gets him.”

Kra grunted has he pounded at the layer of dirt, feeling very exposed. He used the urgency of that feeling to push himself harder throwing more of his weight behind every blow. He could feel the emptiness behind the earth, and that meant one of two things to the starving dragon. It was either a raider store, or maybe even an underground spring. The light was starting to fade as well, and he had not eaten since that morning when he ate the rather grimy goblin. It was rare that he could eat twice in a day, even rarer that he found unclaimed water. If it was water, he would have to search especially hard to find a nearby shelter. He could not let such a precious resource go easily.

He pounded the ground with his paw with such strength that the packed dirt gave way, and he stumbled to catch himself before lodging his awkward paws in the hole he made. He began clawing furiously at the hole tearing it wider and deeper. His red eyes lit up as he saw the ripple of water as a hunk of dirt dropped into the surface far below, maybe seven of his whole body lengths down.

He worked harder than before, despite the blood starting to crust on his paws. He dug out the sides, trying to make room for his too large bulk, all the while anticipating plunging into that cool, clear water and drinking deeply enough to satisfy his thirst. He smiled wider as the hole grew, the pool seemed to be much larger than he thought, and filling what seemed to be a natural cavern from ages ago, large enough that he could fit himself inside hundreds of times over. If this place was safe, it would make a very fine lair, not unlike the dragon lairs of old.

He unfurled his wings and pumped them hard, lifting off shakily to take a look at the land around him. He wanted to ascertain that he did not make the area unstable with his digging. The last thing he wanted was to have this whole place collapse, attracting all kinds of attention from wildlife, or worse, humanoid tribes and raiders. He had avoided contact with people and savages for the most part, for he knew that he would be hunted should he be discovered.

After flying about, he could see that he seemed to be in a bowl of some kind, and the outcropping that he discovered water in was just a cavern mouth that had been deeper in a natural cave, now covered over by layers of dirt, and exposed by some ancient destruction. He descended carefully, pumping furiously to keep his weight from crashing down all at once. He took a moment at the mouth of the cave to pray, something many dragons had given up on, placing one paw upon the other and thanking the Motherwyrm for the bounty laid before him.

He was glad he did, because moments later he felt the air shift violently, and scrambled back as a form with fur as black as night screamed past him, landing without a sound at his side. He did not need to look to see that the darcat was ready to pounce again. He set three paws into the ground and raised one up to swat it down in mid air.

He was surprised when the attack came from behind, as a second vicious cat launched itself into his back. He thought he heard several scales crack when the cat struck with bone-crushing force and leaped back, but other than that the attack had not hurt him.

But the first one’s second pounce caught him unaware, tearing the air with its ultra sharp claws to propel its leap, and landing right on his upper chest. It affixed its claws onto the rocky scales, perfect for holding on to large prey, and dug its oversized, bladelike canine teeth into the exposed flesh between the scales at the base of his neck.

Kra frantically fought to tear the beast off of his chest but the second one leaped up to his back and began tearing at the bases of his wings with its perfectly sharp claws. He howled in pain and began thrashing violently, trying to dislodge the tenacious predators. But his heavy hide made it hard to change direction fast enough to get the centrifugal force to pull their grasping claws out of his scales.

His mind started racing, and he almost panicked, caught so off guard as he was. He felt the burning in his chest again, for the second time that day, the dragon pride deep inside awakening. He refused to despair. He had just found a chance for survival, maybe even prosperity, and he was not about to let two mere animals defeat him. He was a dragon, and even now dragons were still mighty!

The furious dragon thrashed once more out of defiance, then abruptly changed his tactics. He rolled over suddenly, and then the second cat was howling, trapped under his crushing bulk. With immense strength he jerked his hind legs up over his head and let their momentum roll his body over his shoulders, planting his feet firmly back on the ground as he landed. With his head still under him, his mouth was now much nearer to the darcat on his chest. He sank his fangs in and pulled as he whipped his head out from under his chest, ripping the screaming cat from its seat on his chest plating and tossing it a fair distance.

Instead of finishing off that one, he gave the one he had just rolled over a firm stomp with his huge paw, collapsing the shadowy beast’s ribs. It hissed out its last bloody breath, the crimson fluid staining the perfect black fur around its mouth and chest.

The first one, even though it had been wounded, tried to pounce again, flying through the air at an incredible velocity. Even so, Kra was ready for him. It would try to catch him in the same place. The big dragon pushed up with his forepaws so he was practically standing only on his hind legs, and the normally agile darcat fumbled and flailed as it tried to get a hold of his weaker underbelly scales. It landed awkwardly and had to get its legs back under itself to spring away. That was more than enough time for Kra to kick his back legs out and drop to the ground, crushing the life from the feline in an instant.

He had to hold back the urge to roar out his victory. For all he knew, these cats heard him roar earlier and drew them to his position. But he would be damned if his pride would be denied. He had done well to defend himself today, and he deserved an exultation to reward himself.

He settled his breathing and raised his head up skyward, facing the darkening clouds. He crossed his paws again, and prayed aloud, “Praise to the Mother, she has made me strong. Great is my strength, tempered to true power by my heart. My heart is guided by my pride, the pride of a dragon. Dragons are proud because we are proud of our Mother. Praise to the Mother.”

He felt a calm sense of satisfaction overcome him, and he sighed peacefully. It felt good to pray after all this time. He had never really lost his faith, but in the last ten years he hardly had the time to stop and use a few breaths for prayer. He wondered if it even mattered anymore. Could gods even hear prayers in this sick and dying world, stripped of hope and struggling to survive?

A memory flashed in his mind, the last thing he could remember of his parents before he awoke to find them dead. They were still there in his mind, his father smiling at his son as his mother nuzzled his head, nursing an injury he could not quite recall; something about his first flight and a slight fall. They were all there, safe in their cave shelter, the rain pounding down outside, the first rain in a very long time. He allowed himself a brief moment of detachment, feeling everything all over again, as though for the first time.

He smiled as he brought himself back. In the back of his mind he knew his parents had found their way in death to the side of the Motherwyrm, and that one day he would see them again, and they would be proud of him, as he was proud of them.

Shaking the last of his moment of peace from his mind, he continued to dig out his cave. Tonight would be good, with water to drink and wash his wounds in. He had two darcats to feed himself with, which could last a few days if he paced himself. Things were getting better, if only for the moment, and he needed to believe for now that he was doing well. He needed to survive now, there was much more to do before he died, and for once in a long time he had a faint sliver of hope to hold on to.

Kra needed that hope if he was ever going to avenge his slain parents in this nightmare of a world.

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