As the many times before this one, my dreams have brought me yet again to some far off place. A time-lost dreamscape that I know all too well. These hills, the forests, they are my own, and yet I look upon them as if it were the first time. I have come to old Brittania, a mass of broken isles and legend. These islands were once riddled with magnificent castles, and courageous knights to keep them. There were dragons, great and powerful dragons that spoke ancient tongues of magik and lore. Brilliant adventures were always waiting to be found. If you were to search today in the right corners, and with the right questions, they would still be there. I journeyed here once before. As a child I knew not the truth of what I would see in this world. The people, the cities I had visited, they had forgotten who they were. Humanity had lost its spark, and as I laughed and played my youth away, I vowed to never let this fate befall me. Ancient forests and chilling lore have set my sojourn this time. I have been placed in a small village on the outskirts of some great empire. The people are afraid; they fear me, and what I am. More importantly, they fear what I have come here to do. I am Khain, a slayer of Dragons.
I am in a farming village, far off from any other settlement or fort. The region is as remote as the next. The land is quiet and unmoving, a perfect setting for evil to make its foothold. When I was younger, my father would speak to me of good and evil, and of the grey wastes that would separate the two. He would call this imaginary border ‘Humanity’, and say that it was this line that asked great men to fall to their knees, before the legions of other, great men. The greater good and the otherworldly beings that the term belonged to had no cares for a young warrior. And he had no care for them.
I was told of a dark presence in this part of The Isles. Here in Cymru, an important region to the current Crown of the empire, there is much suffering and decay in the realm of mankind. In the still hours of night, I hear women crying in their beds, in homes where no one has lived for years. There are animals in the streets that disappear as soon as light falls upon their bodies. Spectres of another time and place that frighten any and all that would look upon them. The Village Elder has called upon my skills to rid them of a menace they would deem, responsible, for all this. Skalduer, a Dragon, black as the night. This creature of darkness has apparently taken the nearby mountain range as its home. This was not surprising as Dragon lore dictates that they hole up in a mountain upon heaps of gold. I know better.
The locals have spoken to me of an ancient door deep in the mountain. A myth, naturally, but one that I have never heard before. There was a girl of only a few years that spoke to me of A Dragon Door. She made sure I understood that it was not a physical doorway, but an empty void, ‘the root of all darkness’, she proclaimed. How such a young child could begin to fathom this doorway and its power, I know not. All that I knew was that she frightened me, for it seemed the darkness had begun to spread its tendrils far from the mountainside. I had begun to prepare myself for the journey, and a duel with a Dragon I had not encountered before. All this seemed new to me, even though I had been a Slayer for half my lifetime, I had no understanding of what awaited me within that mountain.
I tended to my weapon of choice, a sword forged differently to others. In a process only the smith could understand, this weapon had been brought into being from gold and iron. It was an unlikely combination, but one that he mentioned would prove sufficient for my line of work. The gold was drawn from a sacred river in a land far to the west, and the iron mined from the most ancient of veins. He taught me how to fashion arrowheads using the same process and metal mixture, and that they would be important tools in my trade. My preparation was complete and I readied myself for an important night’s rest. I had silenced my mind of any unrest it had felt throughout the day. The people of this land unnerved me, and the stories they told were darker than any I had encountered before. I thought myself ready for the approaching battle, and my spirit was at ease. I fell asleep….
The morning broke my slumber with the cries of a woman and the village in an uproar. There was a death in the night. A life had been stolen by a servant of Skalduer, and I was powerless. My rest had been uneasy these past few weeks as I journeyed slowly to this remote village. And yet, this past night had given me a sleep so peaceful and quiet, that I had been unable to act upon the danger in the village. The girl was dead. The child that had spoken to me of The Dragon Door was lifeless and pale before my eyes. A woman drenched with the weight of her tears pulled me to a corner. She pleaded with me to end the scourge upon the land, and she whispered the girl’s age into my ear.
Twelve winters she had seen, and only twelve. To be taken from this blackened world at an age known to be the most magical of life, it is something I cannot understand. I will not understand. I told the woman I would do all that I could to avenge the little girl. I spoke to her of a time when this world would be stripped of all its evil, and that one day Dragons would fall back into myth and legend, and stay there for all eternity. It was as if I was lying to her. My mind tore itself in two and I was trapped between a world of darkness and light. In one sphere there was the world as I would make it. It was a peaceful world, free from the blight of evil and all its kind. Black Dragons, demons and all that would make harm upon the world, I would destroy them all. And then there was the other one, a world of pain and shadow. Darker than the blackest night one could ever imagine. We lived in the latter. I struggled to understand the rush of visions. I looked at the face of the woman next to me and saw that her spirits had been lifted from my words. I smiled at her and walked away, ashamed of my fear and my inability to create light, from dark.
I began my final preparations for the perilous journey ahead. Deep within my mind something spoke out to me, telling me that I was far from ready. My foe was comprised of evil in its purest form, devoid of light and what it meant to be alive, if such a concept exists. I was informed that it would take me just under a month to reach the mountain range that Skalduer took for his lair. And so after packing the provisions needed, I said my final farewells to the folk of this forgotten village. As I reached the gate I heard a man call out to me. It was the Elder, and he had a final message for me. He told me that when my deed was done, I was not to return to the village, and that I was never to mention this to anyone ever again. I asked him why and he gave me a look most uncomfortable. I pressed for a reason, and was met with a simple and unnerving answer. He said to me ‘It is not sanity you walk with, dear boy. Why speak to the world of deeds that would destroy it’. I turned away and overheard prayers to some unknown goddess for my safe passage. The road was long, but I would not falter in my quest.
In but a few hours travel, I had already begun to bear the dark weight of this quest upon my shoulders. The day was clouded with rain and fog, and the road I travelled was far from beautiful. I passed old farms and villages, dying villages. Abandoned to the elements of time. The impact the last war had on this world has been a great one, and the evil surging up from the depths of that mountain hasn’t made it any easier. The world is blind to my passing as I move ever closer to what seems to be my greatest foe yet. I have slain many dragons and beasts that would bring harm to this world and the people in it. I have cut down men as well, women, and sometimes younger and darker renditions of my forlorn race. Evil has no shape or size, and it has crept into any and everything it could lay its hands upon. I have committed acts i am not proud of, all in the name of Good, a word I no longer care to understand. I have become something empty; a dull life-form moving forward only to strip the world of what is backward, and broken. There are now very few things that can keep me going. One of them however, is a good fight. Or perhaps a foe that challenges everything I stand for, everything I have become. I have power in me, to do great things and uplift the remnants of this world. It therefore pains me to say that I need to find some other world to save, for this one is already dead.
I have found myself an Inn some seven hours after my departure from the village. It is late in the eve, and though I fear little on the roads of travel, I find myself rattled this night. There are many travellers huddled near the hearth fire, and tales of the great beyond are being shared. I seat myself near the warmth but far enough from the group so that I am sure to ruffle no feathers. A woman brings me some broth and I thank her with a smile that I have left long ago in my youth. There is a woman, grey from all her years on the battlefront it would seem. I notice that she still wears the scraps of the leather armour she once fought in. They have seen much blood, but they still appear to be in fair condition. She must have been quite a warrior since she has no scarring, or any injuries to frown upon. Her tales flowed from the mundane to the near unbelievable. There were stories of how she fought packs of wolves, and cleared bandit camps in order to protect her squadron. Another tale revolved around how she squared off with six knights wielding nothing but a spear and a dagger. There were two men seated at the other end of the hall that laughed at her, until she mentioned that she was also half naked at the time of the fight. One man moved closer as the story became more ‘interesting’.
I listened to her recalling her greatest memories as if she relived them that very instant. My thoughts fell upon my own exploits in the war, and how I was tasked with clearing out resistance in the nearby villages. My world had sought to invade this one, and I was an agent of death before my years as a Slayer. Resistance took the form of many things. Some men, women, beasts and even birds were to fall beneath my sword. All that opposed the realm I served had no future in the world we would create, or recreate. Once upon a time, I would slay the inhabitants of this region at the will of my masters. Now I would save them from an evil that bore similar characteristics to the Crown I once worshipped.
Time and the lives we spin inside of it form some sort of circle. This circle however, would revolve only as we perpetuate the endless death that feeds rebirth. In one life I would be the former King. In another I would be what I am now, a Slayer of some renown. In the next, perhaps I shall be the spawn of the very beast I am here to kill. All that matters is that I am to act out some otherworldly order, given to me by a simple man. He leads a village and would see to their future, but how can that truly be if this world has none.
These questions do not matter. I finished my broth and moved into one of the smaller rooms to find some measure of peace. The stories continued until I was far from the conscious world. They lingered on in my mind for a time and I could not help but wonder if somehow these tales were about my own life. Perhaps it was a past life, or a life I had yet to encounter. And so once more, like so many times before this, in worlds both unknown and familiar to my mind, I fell asleep….
Gabriel MS Francis