When Pren finally reached the village, the sky had been slashed with a wound of dusk. He was tired and starving for conversation and his day was far from over. It had been a long and lonely ride to Dragonsfield and the warmth of the thatch roofed Bronze Blood Inn beckoned to him like a mountain of gold but when he stepped inside he found the place to be oddly lifeless. Pren had never seen an empty common room before, but considering the recent chaos that had erupted throughout the empire he was not surprised. The innkeeper, a plump balding man in an apron, bustled over and called for a stableboy to take his horse before enquiring after his hunger. Pren was eager for a hot meal and a mug of ale but he reluctantly disentangled himself from the innkeeper’s offers of a warm meal knowing his superior, Wulfric, was waiting for him, ignoring temptation he ascended the staircase.
Wulfric’s room was located on a lonely corner at the far end of a hallway on the second floor. He knocked on the door and waited for admittance.
‘Come,’ drawled a voice.
Pren opened the door; it was dim and musty inside the chamber. The room was small yet cosy, a single armchair rested next to a bed, lying on its handsome green blankets was a naked sword, its surface was polished to a sunburned gleam that made it look golden and its edge was sharper than a bear’s fangs. A desk against the opposite wall had already been covered with books and maps that his superior had no doubt been poring over all day. Wulfric had his back to him. His hands were clasped tightly behind his back as he stared stoically out the window.
‘You’re late,’ Wulfric stated, not troubling to turn and face him. His voice had an earthy hardness, as if it had been forged from the depths of a volcano. ‘Never mind that though, you’re here now and that’s what matters.’
‘I was delayed sir,’ Pren began. ‘Many folk are rightly stirred about the sudden appearance of pyramids throughout the empire. The roads are bustling with refugees fearing for their safety.’
For a few moments Wulfric said nothing before finally sidling into the arm chair by the bed. Even in the dim light, the man’s pale blue eyes were like beacons in the dark. Wulfric was a grizzled warrior with a single braid tied into his greying black hair; his beard was closely trimmed and expertly framed his full lips. Despite his age, his shoulders were broad, his arms and legs were thick like oak trees and his chest was hard like sculpted iron. It was not a particularly cold evening but that did not stop him from draping himself in the furs brought from his home in the snowy north.
‘Refugees seem to be everywhere these days,’ Wulfric murmured.
‘Where will they go, sir?’
Pren was worried; he had passed several near empty villages over his travels for the past few days. He hoped more than anything that his family was safe.
‘That is not my concern, nor is it yours; we have bigger issues to deal with.’
‘So the prophecy of the dragons return is coming to pass at last.’
‘Indeed, lad. The appearance of the pyramids is but the first stage,’ He added. ‘The dragons will soon follow.’
‘But no dragons have been sighted.’
‘Pyramids don’t just spring out of the ground like trees, lad.’
‘I….no I s’pose.’
‘We need to take action,’ Wulfric stated as he arose from his seat. ‘To protect the good folk of Dragonsfield and the empire, we must journey to the pyramid and slay the dragon within.’
‘I would rather go now than later,’ He replied as he reached for the sword lying on his bed and slipped it into its scabbard. ‘Follow my example lad, you might just learn something.’
By the time the two of them emerged from the inn, the cut of orange dusk that had been spread across the sky had faded to a messy reddish blotch in the west. With his bow slung around his shoulders and a refreshed quiver of arrows Pren set forth in his superiors wake. Their road was due north, even less than half a mile away, the pyramid loomed over the thatched roofed houses of Dragonsfield like some great stone monster. Pren could not help but smile wryly when he thought of the irony behind the village’s name.
As the pair of them walked the plains toward the pyramid, Pren brought flame to a torch. Like a beacon in an abyss, the licking flames shone like a sun in the lightless field. Their shadows stretched long and gaunt across the blades of grass.
It was not long before they arrived at the foot of the pyramid. It was a giant structure hewn from stone as grey as a cloud and as smooth as silver. The entire surface, all the way to the pointed summit at least thirty metres above them, was diagonal; the only exception being a steep staircase.
‘Come on,’ Wulfric said as he took the first step.
By the time they reached the top of the staircase, Pren’s legs were aching from the steep climb. A thick stone slab barred their way inside. Before he could ask how they were going to get inside Wulfric spoke up.
‘How interesting, take a look at this lad.’
The grizzled warrior pointed to a series of runes carved onto the surface of the slab. Pren could not stifle the gasp that escaped his mouth.
‘Sir, that’s dragontongue.’
‘To get inside, one must merely recite the inscribed runes,’
Pren was a student of dragontongue, it was a requirement of all the members of the order to learn the language of dragons. He watched Wulfric with awe as he began to recite the chicken scratch on the wall wishing he was a quarter as fluent as he.
When his superior had finished relaying the words in the harsh and grating dragon language, the slab slid open with surprising ease, as if it were newly made.
Before they stepped inside, Pren held up the light of the torch to cut into the void within. A long hallway, tight like the throat of a monster loomed before them.
‘On, m’lad,’ Wulfric said as he drew his sword. ‘Get ready with that bow of yours.’
Wulfric relieved him of his torch while he readied his bow. Pren was good with a bow; he could shoot a small moving target at ninety feet. Hitting a target as large as a dragon would be simple as long as he was quick and clear headed.
Along the walls of the hall, murals had been carved depicting the horrific splendour of the dragon age. Pren wanted to stop for a chance to look at them in detail but Wulfric’s eyes were fixed solely on the path ahead and he carried the torch.
‘Sir, who made these pyramids?’ Pren enquired as they walked. ‘I find it hard to believe that dragons were capable of creating these carvings.’
‘You have good instincts lad, these pyramids were not crafted by dragonkind.’ Wulfric replied. ‘They were constructed by their elf servants. During the war whenever a dragon was slain the elves would seal the body within one of these pyramids and send the structure deep underground so human hands would be unable to disturb the sacred remains within. Unfortunately, we know little more about the pyramids for the elves vanished not long after the dragon war was over.’
‘So this is a glorified dragon tomb?’
‘More or less,’ Wulfric chuckled.
‘But how can dead dragons come back to life?’
‘I cannot explain the whims of dragons. I simply believe the last words uttered in the final breaths of the last dragon, the watchwords of our order.’
Wulfric cleared his throat as he began to recite.
‘When fresh blood brims, pyramids will arrive to herald the rebirth of dragonkind.’
Pren knew the phrase well, he understood the latter half but he had never quite understood what ‘fresh blood brims’ meant.
‘My gut tells me that there is a very much alive dragon inside this pyramid.’
Pren’s spine began to tingle with anticipation and fear both. From what he had read of the old tales, the dragon war had brought humanity to the brink of extinction, but could humanity survive such a catastrophe again?
‘Worry not, lad,’ Wulfric said to his unspoken thoughts. ‘We are dragonslayers, this is what you have been trained for.’
After much time spent following the long twisting hallway they finally reached a staircase leading down further into the pyramids depths, the murals along the wall descending with them. It was like watching a story unfolding before him, he saw a mighty elven host marching against the armies of man with a horde of dragons at their back, he saw death and dragonfire all made into life in stone. Just when Pren believed the murals were about to go on forever he spotted light in the distance.
‘There!’ He cried out. ‘That must be it!’
‘Quiet,’ Wulfric hissed.
Together they descended the last of the stairs before emerging within a large chamber with an impressive vaulted ceiling that illuminated the room with a blonde sunny light. What Pren saw in the chamber took his breath away and judging by his gasp, Wulfric was just as mesmerised as he.
In the middle of the chamber, resting atop a mountainous pile of rocks was a golden dragon, colossal in size, coiled like a sleeping cat. Its body was so still it was obviously dead but its body was so well preserved that Pren would not have been surprised if it were to suddenly spread its wings and fly. The behemoth was like a living treasure mountain, each of its golden scales glimmered like shiny coins providing a natural armour unlike any other. The dragon’s sinewy wings, tranquil and neatly folded appeared strong enough to kick up a whirlwind with a single stroke. They truly lived up to their legends, as beautiful as they were dangerous.
‘That’s elf magic for you,’ Wulfric said as he stepped toward the corpse. ‘So well preserved it seems alive.’
‘Are you sure you should be doing that? I would never approach a dragon, even a dead one without some caution.’
‘Why is it stacked upon all these rocks?’ He ignored his concern. ‘Doesn’t it seem odd to you?’
‘Perhaps it was some sort of elven burial tradition?’
Wulfric bit his lower lip as he frowned.
‘I don’t like these rocks.’
Pren frowned as Wulfric reached a hand toward the stack of rocks and wrenched free one of the stones and examined it.
‘Why did you do that?’ Pren demanded.
He had barely time to ready himself before Wulfric flung the stone toward him. Pren caught it and as he examined it he found it to be startlingly light, he rapped his knuckle against the smooth surface and a dull thud from within was the response.
Then realisation struck him.
‘This is no dragon tomb,’ Wulfric stated. ‘It’s a dragon nest.’
‘You mean these are eggs?’ Pren whispered, his hands beginning to quake as he stared at the rock in his hands.
‘So what are we going to do then, destroy them all?’
‘But there must be thousands of them,’ Pren whined as he gazed at the mountain. ‘It’ll take days.’
‘It does not matter how long it takes, it is our duty as dragon slayers.’
‘So we’ll make a game of it then,’ he added sullenly.
‘Just take it one at a time boy, like this.’
Wulfric grabbed another one of the stones and tossed it high in the air. Just before it could crash to the ground, he had slashed a single clean stroke through the middle with his sword. In mid-air, the egg split in half like a watermelon, the two separate shards spinning away in opposite directions and landing with a clatter.
The egg was empty.
‘It’s hollow,’ Pren murmured.
Wulfric reached down and picked up one of the shards.
‘This is an elf trick,’ Wulfric spat as he held up the fragment. ‘Look here.’
Pren stared, on the inner face of the egg he spotted more runes, these ones he did not recognise.
‘Elvish,’ Wulfric growled. ‘Nothing but a trick to halt us in our tracks.’
‘Any idea what it says, sir.’
‘It simply says ‘awaken’.’
Pren was pondering the meaning of those words when he heard a noise.
‘Did you hear that?’
‘What lad?’ Wulfric sniffed, he too was still mulling over the runes in the broken egg when Pren heard it again, louder and clearer. It sounded like something breaking.
Horror awoke in his heart, his gaze fluttered back toward the mound of eggs that were not eggs. More cracks and snapping sounds followed and his mouth dropped open when the mountain of rocks began to churn like some sort of solid ocean. The sound of a thousand pebbles grating against each other echoed all across the chamber like a tempest. Many of the errant stones on the edges of the pile spilled over the sides and began to slide toward them. The golden dragon, oblivious to the turmoil, rode the fissure of pebbles like a ship in a storm.
‘Sir, what should we do?’
‘Keep calm, ready your bow.’
As Pren pulled an arrow from his quiver, a deep otherworldly roar rumbled from within the catastrophe. This was followed by an almighty crash as a sinewy emerald scaled claw emerged from the depths of the egg mountain. An angry muffled roar sounded from within before the claw retreated back below the surface.
Then there was a moment of rumbling quiet before chaos exploded. A thousand stones thundered into mid-air like an eruption. A volcanic roar sounded as a brilliantly terrifying emerald dragon arose from within the mountainous depths. It was a majestic specimen of equal magnificence to the fallen gold.
‘Aim for the eyes,’ Wulfric barked. ‘GO, GO, GO!’
‘That is easier said than done,’ Pren murmured as he nocked an arrow.
With a deep calming breath he raised his bow and drew back the string. The dragon was glaring at him; its two slitted golden eyes glowed like beacons in his vision. He focused and took aim.
The dragon opened its maw and from within Pren saw a bright red light glowing brighter and brighter.
It was now or never.
‘I am a dragon slayer.’
With a twang, Pren let his arrow fly.