Heavy steps forward [short story]

A worn warrior wobbles at his feet. The weight of penetrated arrows hunkers him down as his blood trickles through the feathers. A thousand spears shall thrust into him, but instead of fearing pain, a rush of thrill exhilarates him. For, it is not the death which readies him at a stance, but the process of prevailing the peril is what stamps a grin on his tired face. With a crazed look in his eye, he bravely accepts the challenge.

Dragon God

The air was thin and piercing at the highest tip of the highest mountain range. Sylorin journeyed for months to get to where he was now. He battled goblins and bandits along merchant’s paths, fought orcs in forests and giants on cliffs, and resisted powerful magics of witches and wizards. His face wore fatigue, like leather armour beaten and scratched over and over. A breath materialised from his lips as he spoke a spell he learnt from his old master. The words emerged like worms from the ground where he stood. They crept along his body and off of his one extended arm forming a large sphere in front of him. He finished his incantation and slowly opened his eyes. A dragon, larger than the mountains themselves, was before him.

“What you seek you will not find here, half-elf. Many have come to claim what I protect, and you shall not be the first. Although, you are the first to challenge a god on their own. You are either very desperate or a mere imbecile.” The dragon’s face lowered and hovered above. The snout alone was large enough to hold a small village. The dragon was so massive, the cool air of the mountain was warm to the touch. The wings attached to his enormous body never moved; magic kept him from touching the ground. His platinum scales, each as large as a house, shimmered a multicoloured spectrum, reflecting light across the mountain peaks.

“You are no ordinary dragon. Are you Bahamut?” Sylorin clenched his ebony metallic staff in one hand and held an ancient tome of spells in another. “I have an inkling that anything I do will not even smidge your armour.”

“No mortal can kill me. This is true.” The dragon squinted, meeting the half-elf’s blue eyes. “Sylorin Armoursmith son of Lord Iangretor Armoursmith the Wizard. Bahamut is my spawn.”

Sylorin’s eyes grew wide. “Tiamat is yours as well?” He could feel his knees buckling under the gravity of the god above him.

“Yes.”

Sylorin steeled himself and shoved the metallic staff, which now seemed like a burnt twig, towards the god. Sylorin emptied his lungs with fervour, “God of Dragons, the One True Dragon, Creator of Bahamut and Tiamat, Creator of the Plains, the First Primordial of the Void. Io, I have come to claim your eyes.”

The air stilled around them. The winds themselves died and retreated for what was to come. Quiet. Then in an instant, Sylorin found himself thousands of feet above the clouds. He fell towards what looked like the land covered in sparkling precious gems. Io had engulfed material plain, yet there seemed to be no shadow below him. There was the only light in all spectrums. Sylorin, paralysed by magic, slowed to a halt on the bridge of Io’s snout.

“Kingdoms have perished trying to penetrate my armour, yet you muster the courage to claim my eyes.” Io chuckled. The air trembled, and the earth rumbled.

“His mere breathing shakes all matter around us,” Sylorin thought to himself. “I must stay on course.”

“Yes, you must never askew from your goals,” Io read the half-elf’s mind with great ease. “What do you intend to do with my eyes, half-elf? Use it to claim a throne? Or perhaps there is a woman you wish to enchant? Speak only truth for my eyes see all.”

Tales and myths about dragon-gods’ eyes were widespread across the world. Mothers read stories to their children: whoever claimed these eyes, he would turn into a god himself. Ever-strong, ever-wise, ever-living, ever more. Other accounts by ancient scriptures from scholars suggest that the eyes held the power to life and death itself. Sylorin did not desire any of these.

“Dragon-god, I wish to use your eyes to see into the past. My past.”

“Interesting.” Io released him from the spellbind, and Sylorin, though still hovering, was able to move about. “You speak of looking into the past, yet that is what memories are for.”

“Memories fade through time, and new ones grow to take their place. Memories are like mortals, I guess. They are created and die eventually. Then the young ones continue that legacy.” Sylorin looked at his hands with sombre and exhausted eyes. Scars and cuts plagued his palms and fingers as if he had dipped them into a thorny bush. “I just wish to see what I saw then.”

“You do not need my eyes, Sylorin Armoursmith. I can grant you the vision, however temporarily.”

Sylorin raised one eyebrow in scepticism. “I know there is a bargain. Nothing you gods give are free from consequences.”

“True. What I shall seek in compensation is your undying loyalty.”

“A follower? You have many. Millions of mortals fight and die for you and your children. One more loyal follower is not enough to pay for your power.”

“Again, that is true. You will be a direct servant of mine. I shall grant you powers beyond your understanding, like the ability to see past what can be perceived. In return, your life is mine.”

“It would be nice to have a purpose again. I accept.”

(Read the first part HERE)

Enigma

Every night, the battle-scarred half-elf arrived at the tavern with eyes so tired they drooped over his bloodstained cheeks. He sat alone at the corner in an alcove where the barmaid brought him his usual mug of ale, a bowl of water, and a clean rag cloth. Sylorin, the half-elf, took a sip from the mug, lapping up the froth that clung to his lips. He stared at the split moon in the night sky as memories danced through his mind.

The blood on his face came from a small band of goblins that raided a nearby temple. He was paid a modest amount to rid of them, but he hated the job. As a child, his parents taught him the ways of the spear and dagger. He was the best in his class and eventually bested his mentor. But his passion lied in music. A pang of jealousy would bolt through him each time he passed by a bard in one of his adventures. It’s too late to turn back now. You’re too good at this, and people pay you for it. 

Sylorin’s first wife, a pure woodland elf named Alora whom he met 200 years ago, showed him the light he thought was lost. The sense of her touch from the gaze she gave crushed the wall he built around him. She was a breath of fresh morning air at spring. Everything about her was perfect, but the marriage came to an end. It was his fault.

He met a human girl 50 years later in the capital city’s library. Her appearance to many was mundane, like most humans, but her abrasive nature reeled him in. They had a brief relationship before parting ways from the city. They met once years later in a carnival. That was the last time he saw her.

He stared unthinkingly out the alcove, leaning on one hand, the other clutching the ale. Every so often he would hear a burst of laughter from the patrons that would pierce through the music. It did not interest him. Nothing in this material plane interested him. At least I’m alive, right?

“You know, you could try to be a little bit happier.” The barmaid came up to refill his mug. She was a fat woman with two children and a temper to match. “You’ve been at this alcove every night ever since my father first built this tavern.”

Her father was a good and honorable man. He was Sylorin’s first friend in a long time. Sadly, age took him. Humans had unbelievably short lifespans even though 70 was considered ‘old’ in their culture.

“Being in a place that feels like home does make me happy, Fastel.” Sylorin gave a flat and very tired smile. Fastel sighed but knew what he said was genuine. He continued, “People, not just humans, find me irritable, so finding happiness would be difficult with the entire world breathing down my back.”

“You’re not that important to grant the entire world a mild irritation.” Fastel’s eyebrow cocked along with an ever so slight smile. Sylorin chuckled, but what he found funny were moments like this with Alora. Fastel sensed that he had gone back into his memories and tried to snap him out of it. “Your room’s ready by the way. I don’t know how you manage to keep paying your rent. You would’ve owned this tavern by now.”

“I’m not very good at barmaiding given that I’m a…”

“A man or a sarcastic, egotistic, anti-social, foul-mouthed–“

“I get your point.” Sylorin waved away her smart comments, stood up, and paid for the ale with two silver pieces. He took his weapons and satchel from the table when he glanced at the noisy group of travelers across the tavern. They laughed at each other, though one talked less than the others. She was a human in a blue cloak.

“They’re new,” said Fastel, “from the east.” The woman in blue had lines patterned on her face that emphasised her eyes, no weapons, and a stack of books by her. Scholar perhaps? Interesting.

Sylorin climbed the stairs to his room, armour clinking against the wooden frames, and looked over his shoulders to the woman in blue from the east. She laughed and smiled at the others. Interesting.