Heralds of the Dragon Gods
In his dream Drakon relived the horror of the dying villagers and wrath of the Exile. The sounds around him: screaming, crumbling stone, the roar of a dragon and his inextinguishable rage. He couldn't stand to hear the pain but he was powerless to stop it. The strength in his muscles waned, until they were all but useless. Inside his mind was the twirling scene of villagers, innocents, before a backdrop of fire. They begged for his help, pleaded with bloodied faces and scarred bodies. His guilt was torment, paining him far worse than the wounds he'd received from the Exile. Unable to bear the scene, Drakon opened his eyes.
He had returned to his lair a while ago, the catacombs beneath the Ironfist Stronghold, to rest and recuperate from his confrontation with the Exile. The catacombs had always soothed him; they were quiet, cool and peaceful. Light filtered in from the iron gate, the cold grey of morning against the stone. His gaze then fell upon the Ethereal Priestess who was tasked with aiding in his recovery.
She was a skilled healer, weaving Nora through the air and into his various wounds. He watched her awhile, with the strands of blue in her hands. She moved it about the air, eyes focused intensely on where she would apply her healing energy. She murmured her chant, and then touched a tender spot on his outstretched arm; the Nora seam followed her movement, sewing the wound shut and soothing his pain. As she continued her task, Drakon glimpsed a familiar dwarf, in platemail, sauntering towards him. He turned his head towards the approaching dwarf, greeted by a nod from Euan Ironfist.
"You're a mess, Drak'."
Drakon pulled himself up from the ground, found the strength that had disappeared.
"Any word on the Exile? Where is he? Where is Windfury?"
"Settle down. You're the only dragon in Ironfist territory. It's been that way for a month."
"Windfury wants blood Euan, nothing else." Drakon grumbled.
"There hasn't been an attack on Ironfist since we found you at Raela. Not even a single Draksar scout. The mountains slumber with you."
Drakon was poised for battle, but Euan's touch eased him.
"The Exile is in the Peaks. If he decides to return, we'll have an army waiting for him."
The priestess had climbed onto Drakon's back and began soothing the scars along his spine. He lowered himself to the ground, releasing a heavy sigh as he did.
"Windfury tore open his own son, Euan. The Draksar carried Akakios away before the Exile could finish him. He wants blood."
"Then we'll just have to make sure it isn't ours. You worry too much. This isn't our fight brother, you just got caught in the middle of a feud is all."
Euan left Drakon to rest, beginning his long trek up the stairs towards the bottom floor of the Stronghold. Drakon dropped his head to the cold stone floor; another breath brought a small cloud of dust into the air. The wounds along his back were closing.
"Euan Ironfist doesn't worry enough. The Exile will be back."
The priestess continued her work, her voice fading softly into the empty space of the stone roost.
The Exile did not plan another attack on Ironfist. When he fled from the field at Raela, he didn't return to Eehiist and the caverns that dotted the Shattered Peaks. Instead, he rested in the Fragile Expanse, a plain reaching between the Peaks and the Ironfist Mountains; Voil territory. The Fragile Expanse was plagued with quakes and unstable ground, no place for a Moga or G`hern; yet there lived in its various spaces, hiding from the winged tyrants. It was a place for a dragon to hide, to collect his thoughts. In his roost of broken rock, he was visited by Hyaenid. They yipped when they first saw him, occasionally retreating and baring fangs at him. A month passed, a month of introspection and contemplation. The Hyaenid spent the time sneaking around his roost, speaking in hushed and squawking tones, pointing to him. He ignored them, thought of the blood he had spilt. He imagined the little boy, hiding in the stable in Helenda, and the guard captain who scooped the boy into his arms. Occasionally, a rock would strike his skin; a soft impact that he barely noticed. Bladen would turn to its source, to see darting figures and hear the yipping throats. He thought of Varia revealing a scaled shoulder to the Draksar that combed the streets for soft-skins. He could see his son's men, dragons on their hind quarters, raising swords against men who defended with farming tools. Had the soft-skins already suffered their due? Many lay where they once stood, burned or cut for standing against their demise. They had no homes and the ones they could keep were meager. He thought of the homes he crushed in Raela, the meek ones that watched in horror, the ones who drew their crude steel against a titan. He thought of the soldiers who were ready to defend the small hovel of cobblestone. Bladen had released his anger, his vindictiveness, on weakened spirits. They had no chance of defending themselves. He remembered the red dragon that descended beside him, the one who called him an interloper, his son Akakios. What turned his son to such violence? What could drive a child to extermination? Where was his little Akakios, or the man he imagined the boy would become? He wanted a better life for his son, one of peace and silence. The son was ire, a shadow of his father.
The thoughts consumed him until the Hyaenid had stopped their harassing and came out from the shadows. He noticed them at the mouth of his roost, a group of ten. Instead of retreating from his glance, they approached him directly. They were dressed differently than the others, each adorned in ornate leather and crowned with feathered crests. They had a drum on each hip, which they proceeded to slap in rhythm. Bladen looked down on them, watched their fervent hands slap the thin skins. A few began to move about the roost, continuing the furious beat; the entire gathering began howling and yipping. One stepped up to Bladen, stood right beneath his maw and stared into his eyes. Their fear of the behemoth was gone. Their drumming slowed, the beat waning into a dull roar and then into silence. The Hyaenid beneath him spoke.
"Mighty titan, god of the Peaks, we have no offering other than our music."
"Why are you here, Hyaenid? Your kind has been gnawing at my patience."
"We come to pay homage to you, the true king of the Shattered Kingdom."
"We come to ask for food. Our hunters bring morsels fit for a Moga. Our calls to the Queen Eehiist go unanswered. Our tribes will starve if they don't receive a healthy meal. We need your help, mighty titan."
"You ask a dragon for food, not a king. I have nothing for you."
"Do you sit on a throne?"
Bladen looked around his roost, stone jutting from stone, the formations encircling his bed.
"A roost. This is my roost."
"It is a throne made from shattered rock, fit for the king of our lands."
"I am no one's king, little dog. Leave."
The Hyaenid raised his hands to Bladen, his finger close to the dragon snout.
"Don't leave us to rot, king! We need you, we need your guidance, your gift!"
Bladen stood and snarled at the groveling creature; their pestering drove him mad.
"Fine! I get you food and you leave me alone!"
With that, Bladen swung his wings and lifted himself into the air. The Hyaenid watched the titan, each pump bringing him higher and higher into the sky. Soon, the entire expanse was in his view, along with all of its little denizens; miniatures of themselves, scrambling across the tiny curves and crevices of the land. He scoured its shapes, searching for a suitable game. Moments into his hunt, he spotted a pack of feral boars, bounding into the horizon. He sailed across, plucking up one in each claw. The soft bodies squirmed in his grip, their voice squealing as he swooped across the plain. Four savage boars, each a feast in its own right, would be enough for them. As he returned to his roost, he saw the adorned Hyaenids standing at the entrance, anxiously awaiting his arrival. When he entered, he dropped the boars onto the stone floor and then returned to his resting place. The bewildered beasts stumbled around, squealing and thrashing about. Two more Hyaenids appeared from the entrance, wearing torques of beads and carrying spears in their hands. In a sudden movement, a quick and effortless motion, two of the four were sputtering their last breaths along the stone floor. One of the ill-fated beasts made for the entrance, only to receive a magical blast to its flank. The wound grievous, it too succumbed to death. The final beast rushed towards Bladen, only to be met with a powerful swipe across its face. It thrashed about once more, blindly and frantically. Another magical blast to its back and it was felled. Bladen lowered his head to the ground, resting it on an arm, and turned a single eye to his unwanted visitors.
"Your food, little dogs. Now, leave me."
The Hyaenids obliged, carrying the boars out in twos and praising his beneficence with each step away. The rest of the night was spent in introspection, the same as the past month, but the subject was different. Such a simple act, lifting a boar into the sky, gave the Hyaenid something to eat. In Raela, he struck down the ones that needed his help, crushed their homes in his hands. Did he enjoy it? What did he gain from killing the soft skins of Ironfist? Nothing. There was nothing gained in vengeance, other than soiled claws and a hunger for more. It destroyed his son and it would end him if he continued. If not vengeance, then what? Helping the Hyaenid? They needed him. They named him the ruler of the Shattered Peaks, begged him for sustenance, and praised him when he delivered. It was the fact that they would eat that night, not their praise, which pleased him. The night was long with thoughts of his actions and, ultimately, he had chosen a new path. The soft-skins had paid their debt many times over, through Akakios and his loyal servants. Vengeance had consumed his son and Bladen could do nothing more than dismiss his actions. The son would not listen to his father; he was too far submerged in blood and all-encompassing hatred. Bladen Windfury would not follow the path any longer. He made his decision; when the sun was up, he would find the Hyaenid tribes and aid them in whatever way he could. He would be their king, not to garner worship, but because they needed him.
As time passed, the Exile aided the Hyaenid in whatever way he could. He hunted with them, pulling in large game. The Hyaenids ate their fill of boar and mountain lion, occasionally indulging in seared flesh. Bladen's praises were sung around bonfires and in circles of witchdoctors. Eventually, word of their king spread across the Fragile Expanse to hidden tribes of Moga. Even the Cyclopes of the Storm Lands heard word of the mighty dragon god. They came to him, either for his aid or to praise his glorious power. Soon, the Fragile Expanse became a kingdom, a gathering of different creatures; Hyaenid, Moga, Cylcops; all of them bowed to him as their benevolent king. His troubles with the soft-skin had faded to a faint recollection, all but a wisp in the furthest corner of his mind. No longer was the Exile the title of a murderer; it was a king's name. Bladen Windfury, exile in name and no longer in spirit, was the rightful king of the Fragile Expanse. His domain would reach from the foot of Ironfist to the edge of Eehiist's caverns. His subjects would follow him and sing the glory of his feats in their tales. They had no banner in his honor, because he forbade it. When asked why, his reply was always simple.
"My banner is in the air, the praises of the Hyaenid and Moga. Their voices are my crest and their hearts are the poles that hold each banner up to the sky. There is no need for a flag."
His rule rose friction with Eehiist, but their differences never came to blows. The shattered plains were his to rule. God or mortal, the Voil Queen kept her distance; it was best to leave the wretched place alone. Bladen Windfury, exile in name alone and no longer in spirit, was the rightful king of the Fragile Expanse and of all the creatures unguarded by Voil.