This Flash fiction piece is inspired by art from @fabianrensch. Click here to view the image.
“Why am I doing to myself,” Sir Hugh Ponte, Slayer of the Rachizen Demon and Savior of Ellothar, asked himself as he rode toward the mist-cloaked mountains. Morning dew dripped from his pate armor as he struggled to piece together the events that led him to this point. Riding to a fight in a foreign place far from home, to slay yet another monster. This time, a dragon.
He uncorked his flask and drew a lengthy pull. The liquor burned his throat on the way down, but Hugh didn’t grimace. The Savior of Ellothar needed that numbness to get him to where he was going. Through the haze of his late night at the tavern where he’d lost the game, Sir Hugh barely remembered placing such a large bet. He had little more than what he had on him, his armor, the sword, and enough coin to feed him for a week. Had he not used his name to get free drinks, he might be dueling the Captain of the City Watch right now. Instead, he agreed to clear his debt by dealing with the monster in the mountains. The diamondback dragon plaguing the valley.
Sir Hugh tried to remember the last dragon he slayed. “It was a copperhead,” he said aloud, though he rode alone. It was in the Airpikes south of Ellothar, the capital of the Rachizen Kingdom. That was almost a decade ago. In the last handful of years, the only monsters Sir Hugh Ponte slew were those in his sleep. Maybe killing this dragon would get him back in the game. If he survived, a king or warden of one of these northern lands might seek his employment. He wasn’t old, but he was getting older in a young slayer dominated profession.
Fighting his fatigue from the night before, the ride through the pass to the backside of the mountains blurred together. The early morning sun burned away the mist, revealing the cave opening. It was as the Captain of the City Watch said. The dragon rubbed the ground at the cave opening smooth from its use of the layer. Dark streaks stained the slide marks from where the dragon slid in and out of the opening. Those were likely blood, but not from the diamondback’s victims. They didn’t carry food back to their layer unless they were nursing a clutch. No, those blood stains were from the City Watch’s attempt to kill the dragon. The Captain must not have known that blooding a diamondback only made it more venomous. This type of dragon needed to be suffocated. Several options of how Sir Hugh could accomplish this came to mind, all of which required a mage, and he didn’t have one.
Sir Hugh forced the assumption that this was a diamondback dragon from his mind. If the Captain of the City Watch was foolish enough to bloody one, he was foolish enough to label a dragon the wrong species. Sir Hugh tied the borrowed horse to a tree far from the opening of the cave. Taking another pull from his flask, he summoned the courage to go into the layer with only his aging suit of plate armor and a poorly maintained sword. The noise of his metal suit armor chinked continually as he neared the cave opening. His skin beaded with sweat from the climb. He cursed, knowing his rankness would give him away. He’d seen it happen more than once to other slayers. The best way to get it over with, he found, was to stand at the opening in plain sight. At least then, when the dragon winded him, it would be a quick death.
A cool draft of air lulled as he came to stand in the opening. The pulling air swirled small amounts of dust into the opening. Sir Hugh held his breath, waiting for the dragon to wind him. A moment later, warm air wafted out, stinking of rancid dragon breath. The sulphur smell stung his senses. It was too much for him, the late night of drink, the effort to hike up to the cave opening, and that horrid smell. Sir Hugh keeled over, having to open his visor to wretch on the wall of the cave. Wiping the bile from the corners of his mouth, Sir Hugh determined the diamondback was sound asleep.
Sir Hugh clacked his way down the entrance of the cave, squinting as he delved deeper into the darkness. As the light source at the mouth dimmed, he saw something move near his foot. Sir Hugh froze, knowing if it were the beast and he made a sudden start, it would be the last move he’d make. Slowly, his eyes adjusted to the darkness and he could make out the shape of something small and rounded on one side. He was about to continue walking by, thinking it a rock and nothing more, when he saw it move. The rounded side opened, flattened, then closed again. Sir Hugh knelt, holding his hand out to see if he could get a feel for what it was. As he held his hand, wondering what it was, he heard a voice. It was softly spoken, but gravely and not well formed.
“Maizith,” it said.
Sir Hugh wondered if he’d stumbled into an elf cave by accident, but that didn’t explain the wings or the side marks at the mouth.
Maizith? He thought, wishing he could see whatever the little creature was. Sir Hugh offered his hand to the creature, hoping it would climb in and he could carry it closer to the light and better see it. That’s when he felt tired. Suddenly, a drain on his already waning energy came over him. He slouched slightly before a light burned in his open palm. It was small at first, but the orange flame burned bright enough for him to see what created it. The little winged creature near his feet was a dragon. A baby dragon. It was using magic, drawing on his energy to answer the question in his mind. What is Maizith? The fire in his hand grew. He could see the whole of the adolescent dragon now. It was dark, like most dragon babies were. Its wings were well formed and curled into pointed talons at the tips. It held its paw out using magic channelled through his body’s energy to burn a flame in his hand. More concerning to what type of a dragon the larger one in the cave could be, was the fact that the baby dragon could already enter Sir Hugh’s mind. Suddenly the blood trails pointed to a mother dragon.
“Maizith,” the tiny dragon said again in his mind.
Sir Hugh pulled his hand away from the flame and the fire extinguished. He had to steady himself on the cave wall from the amount of energy the little dragon pulled from him. Sir Hugh shook his head, trying to focus on leaving. He no longer cared how much money he owed the Captain of the City Watch. He wasn’t going to get in between a mother diamondback and her clutch.
Sir Hugh saw another glow. This one was a brighter blue and coming from deeper in the cave. It took him longer than it should have to recognize the pilot flame burning near the back of the mother dragon’s throat. The blue flame highlighted her dagger-length teeth. Sir Hugh swallowed hard as he continued to back out from the cave. The mother must’ve read his thoughts, that he’d know better than to attempt to kill profit from their destruction. Sir Hugh shouldn’t have had time enough to make it to the mouth of the cave. But he did. The wall of fire filled the inside of the cave. Sir Hugh fell back, letting the gravity and force of the flames send him falling down the steep mountain slope. When he hit the trees below the cave’s entrance, Sir Hugh watched the belly of the dragon sliding across the lip of the opening. A massive diamondback. The biggest dragon he’d ever seen crawled out of the opening, spread her wings, and took flight. Sir Hugh marveled at the mother dragon as she flapped over the mountains and toward the city where Sir Hugh had just come from. Near the mouth of the cave, he spotted a smaller version of the mother. No bigger than the size of a rabbit, a baby dragon stood looking at him. Sir Hugh heard a small voice in his head say, “Maizith.” And he wondered then, if he could talk to a dragon, if it could become an alley. The mother diamondback’s fire cascaded into a single building in the city. Sir Hugh somehow knew it was where the Captain of the City Watch was at that very moment. With the firestorm over as quickly as it started, the dragon turned toward the mountains to return to her clutch. Sir Hugh didn’t know if his luck had run out, or was just beginning.
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