September 11, 2003
Showdown with the Beast by Zelgaddis
It's not easy being a dad. There are the responsibilities, the huge
expenses, the chores, the-
"Daddy, will you tell me a story?"
-the stories. That's my son, Kyoot. As his name implies, he's, well, cute.
But he won't go to bed without a proper goodnight story.
"What kind of story?"
"I don't know, daddy... any kind!"
"Okay, how about the one where I was in the depths of the Warrens of
Moshata, and I roamed through, slaying mudvole after mudvole-"
"No! Dad, that's boring!"
"How about my adventures in the ant hills of Toshi?"
"Boring! Tell me a *good* story, dad!"
Sigh. I'm not going to get out of this one. Time to bust out the big guns.
"Ever heard of Zeksagmak?"
Now this is no surprise. Of course he didn't know. It was before his time.
But still, it seems so wrong that the greatest, most ferocious beast to ever
roam the land should be forgotten such a short time after his demise. Truly,
one must do what one can to remedy such ignorance.
"Why, only the greatest and strongest ruby dragon to ever roam the land!"
"Dad! Are you making this up?" His curiosity piqued, he said, "Because if
"No, no, no! This all happened. It's for real! And I was there!"
"They say something pretty nasty is on the way-" Chevtul said, staring up at
the sky. There glinted in his eye a certain degree of wonderment that I'd
never seen in him before. His visage was a mask of total veneration,
stock-still. It nearly moved me to see the way his eyes almost glassed over
at the chance to sacrifice himself to simply be a "part of."
I sighed deeply from my resting position next to the huge shimmering portal,
not at all uncharacteristically. Let them have the thrill of the hunt, and
the hide, and the glory. I remained here only as long as my debt to this
man, this "glorious mercenary," was unpaid.
I'd heard reports of an epic battle unfolding below ground. Some of
Medievia's finest adventurers, and some that were plain suicidal. I didn't
have the stomach for the brutality that happened next in the story, but when
someone says 'hundreds dead', the details don't really matter.
"So you're excited, huh?" I said, resentment oozing from every word.
He didn't hear me. Just that frozen expression on his face. That once chance
to touch greatness. Could it really bind man so tightly?
A grimace began to cover my face as I pondered this for all of one minute.
Gone were the sounds of life in the town that the House of Swords and Magic
built as I sat, fixed in thought. Suddenly I was jarred back into reality as
I heard the clatter of a sword's hilt, punctuated with the sleek sound of
steel against scabbard. Then an eerie silence.
No one would ever fully comprehend what happened next.
"Dad? Dad! DAD!"
"Um? Hu- what?" That was embarrassing. I must have lost it there for a
second. Play it cool, play it cool. He's young. He won't understand. What
should I say what should I say? I'm... I'm just tired son, Daddy needs his-
"The story? No one would ever fully comprehend-"
"Mmmm? Oh, right, right! Now, you're sure you want to hear this? It's not
too boring for you is it?"
"What? No, no, NO! I mean, no. I... guess it's all right."
I nearly chuckled. He's as bad a faker as his old man.
"Now I'm not going to censor this for you, so if you have nightmares-"
"Just warning you!"
Children are so much fun sometimes...
My neck nearly snapped from the force with which I twisted my head around. I
gritted my teeth, and felt the bolts of pain that surged up and down my
spine as I craned my view upward to see the silhouette of a tremendous
winged beast, stark against the burning hot sun. With one tremendous beat of
its wings, it angled itself downward. It lurched toward us, dark crimson
life spewing from it's cruel maw and talons, splashing gratuitously over its
ruby-encrusted body. I knew immediately that most of that blood could not be
his own. This horrible, twisted monster that nature so callously created was
now not only unleashed against the rest of the world, but also furious.
"Come on, Zek, I'm ready for you! Prepare to taste cold steel!"
"Chevtul, shut up and move!" I shouted, as I sprang to my feet. "Ignorant
blackguard, that thing's gonna kill us!" I grabbed a fistful of his collar
and jerked as hard as I could, trying to drag his dead weight as far away
from that portal as my rubbery legs would allow.
A few meager seconds later, the brute crashed into the earth, causing the
street beneath us to seemingly come alive in a way no earthquake ever could.
The sheer force rocked both of us off of our feet, sending us tumbling
violently to the ground. It was far too late for those not fortunate enough
to see Zeksagmak coming. The thunderous cacophony that swelled forth from
the impact resounded noticeably for several moments thereafter. Instantly,
the horrible Zeksagmak unleashed a sickening spray of flame that roasted
civilian and hero alike. Little was left to tell the tale of those who, only
a moment ago, stood to do battle with the beast. But those poor people...
Women and children... poor, pathetic souls whose only sin was failing to
I hoped they had religion. All of them. Because at the moment, the strength
of man wasn't nearly enough to get the job done.
"What the hell do you think you're doing, Zel?!"
I glanced up at Chevtul, nearly surprising myself at the my own
sheepishness. He was so close he could taste it. He wasn't angry at me.
Well, he was, but not in the way I had come to expect from the adventurer
with the shortest fuse in the business. That sheepish expression quickly
turned to anger faster than I thought possible. "What am I doing? I'm saving
your life! I'm keeping *you* alive, so I don't have to run around on your
stupid adventures any more!" I held up my wrist to show him a glimmering
diamond bracelet. "No amount of your stupid 'glorious' quests is worth
"Give it back, then."
"With one installment left? Forget..."
Our only defense, a festive ticket booth, melted before our eyes as
Zeksagmak's salvo of flame erupted forth from the creature's ruby gullet.
The pain was unbelievable. Flesh melted away from bone, blood rising quickly
to the surface of the mass of wounds, baking and congealing in a heartbeat.
Had the inferno lasted a split second longer, death's icy hand would have
cooled the burning at the expense of our lives. We would have been luckier
to simply die at that point. We must have laid there, staring at the sky for
ten thousand eternities before I could finally stammer out the incantation
for that blessed healing spell. The dragon had generously left us alone,
though in retrospect, he likely thought we, like so many others, were dead.
It was several minutes before we were finally restored to our old selves.
Strike that. We could never be our old selves again. We had tasted
Zeksagmak's caustic flame... and we wanted more.
"Those were innocent days before that cursed Zeksagmak roamed the world, my
boy. If only time could run backward, and things could be as they were
before then... well, it's hard to know whether or not I'd choose to go
My eyes turn downward at the floor as my vision begins to blur. "Because,
son-" control it. Control. The boy can grow up in a world where he doesn't
have to see what I saw. Don't force your emotions on him. "Because the
goodness and light of the future can glow even more brightly now, against
the shadow of the past. We know now that the Medievian resolve to fight that
which threatens our ability to thrive transcends even the strongest hatred,
that man's allegiance to his own is more tenacious than anything that could
hope to tear us apart."
"Oh." It's hard not to smile when your son pretends to understand something
that he, because of the sacrifices of so many others, can never know. He
wants to make me feel like this is not in vain. And for that very reason, it
"Come on, enough of this!" I cried, springing drunkenly to my feet, shocked
at how difficult the sensation of walking erect felt immediately following a
near-death experience. Blades of pain pierced my shoulders, chest, abdomen,
and face. Those confounded healing spells didn't do a whole lot to numb
those horrid sensations.
He grabbed my shoulder. The shock alone caused me to whip around to face
him. He was supposed to be the brave one here. "No." Chevtul waved his
finger as a father would to a disobedient child. "I'm the leader. Me. Now
come on, enough of this!" Chevtul said, staring into my eyes, sporting his
usual deadpan manner. I had no choice but to follow.
Calm and collected even in the most dire of Medievia's days, it brought a
smile to my face. Or, at least, it would have, if it didn't hurt so much.
But a warm feeling washed over me, eventually finding residence in the pit
of my stomach. It was more than the mana coursing through my veins and the
scalding backdrafts of that beast's burning breath. The sensation wasn't
altogether new, either.
Later. I'll figure it all out later. I need to stay here now, here; an
ironclad grip on reality is all that I have to defend myself against this
beast. I'm smarter than it. Or at least I can tell myself that. No. Don't
underestimate it. Never underestimate it.
"Guys, thank the gods I found you!" a familiar voice cried. The tone was
undeniably joyful, that much was made quite clear by the abnormally
shrieking quality it carried. Chevtul recognized the voice's owner
immediately. "Kunal? Kunal, you've got to get-"
"In on the action, I know! Do you see them out there? All those soldiers,
these honorable men and women? The place feels like lightning is surging
"Fire, actually..." I replied, none too pleased to see anyone this young
involved in something even resembling this fiery maelstrom. The boy was good
enough with a sword and amiable to boot. However, many of the other arts
imperative to his continued survival eluded him. These included both the
whole of magic and common sense.
The young demonslayer flicked his thumb behind him encouraging us to follow
him as Chevtul and I both worriedly scanned the area, fearing the dragon
would soon be upon us. Suddenly, that youthful visage of Kunal's aged thirty
years, and that expression of horror, melded with childlike wonder - burned
forever into my mind. Those eyes, still twinkling as he stared down the
hell-born beast. I cupped my hands together and channeled a mass of pure
force at the beast's chest. My quickest, most potent spell, the shockwave,
impacted against its gruesome body with a sickening dull thud.
Not even a flinch. Nothing.
"Zel, Chev! Get out of here, now!" Kunal wailed, grasping desperately for
his sword, barely able to pull it free of its sheath.
"What are you-" That sharp pain in my chest re-awoke with a vengeance as
Chevtul through his weight into me, bucking the both of us forward into a
dead sprint. Still more agony, my knees screaming out for me to stop, chest
heaving, near-punctured lungs pushing against tender ribs. I should take
solace in this. The only thing as immortal as the beast itself was the pain
it left in its wake. I have the pain. It is with *me* and motivates *me*.
This pain is something that the accursed Zeksagmak had most assuredly never
felt. The warm sensation in my gut pulsed, nearly waned, nearly went cold,
as a new warm sensation played across my back. Not fire... definitely not
fire. What then?
I staggered forward as I hazarded a look behind me. I had never seen a
person cut so neatly in half before. Right at the hips, too. The tail must
have made its way through the bone effortlessly. That warmth, the blood, had
propelled itself all the way to the opposing tent, leaving a large dry spot
vaguely in the shapes of our silhouettes.
"Tell me you made that part up! I- I mean... Kunal didn't deserve to die. He
saved your lives!"
"I know, son."
"But in a way, I guess I'm relieved. People like him..."
Maybe the boy does get it after all. "May I continue?"
We ran blindly for ages, failing to see even one single living soul for
longer than either of us would have cared to admit. We ran even after we
slipped and fell and soaked ourselves in the still warm blood of so many,
their shocked expressions burning themselves into the deepest, darkest
realms of our memories. Surprisingly, it wasn't the deaths of those I knew
that bothered me so much. They were good, honest, pure. The gods would pity
them for their sacrifice. It was the lone girl, her remains partially fused
to the entrance of the message booth, her still-draining blood fertilizing
the charred flowers. Gone were the sweet smells of delicious
streetside-peddled foods. Only the odor of death hung strong in the air.
And this girl, perhaps twenty years old, alone to the end. Nothing I could
make myself believe would do. No one this young deserves this. What if she
lost favor with the gods, and what if her ultimate sacrifice didn't appease
them? The corpse is so mutilated... fresh enough that the blood still runs.
It is far too late, and the situation far too dangerous to risk bringing her
Clearly, I wasn't the only one running blindly, as Chevtul and I collided
headlong with another fleeing group. Feeble body collided with feeble body,
sending us all toppling agonizingly to the ground.
"GET OFF! I'LL KILL YOU IF YOU DON'T, I SWEAR!"
Whoever he was, he was serious. His hand flew to his sword faster than I had
seen even the most dexterous of heroes attempt. Spent and in total agony,
there was nothing I could do. Nothing at all. Only watch in silent horror as
the blade descended closer and closer to my prone throat. And then,
"NOTHING? WHAT DO YOU MEAN, NOTHING?" There are tears in his eyes now. Kyoot
dropped the tough-guy act long ago. It was getting harder and harder to
maintain, to simply just be there for him as this story unfolds before him.
"Son... I'm here, aren't I?"
"So... he didn't kill you?"
My head drops to my chest. How can I tell my own son, who idolizes me, that
I deserved it? "It isn't quite how I make it sound. The punishment was
befitting of my crime."
"How? He murdered you in cold blood!"
"True enough. But shortly before I arrived to aid Chevtul, I had done the
same thing. I had been stalking Wittermark with a few friends, when I heard
them talking about this plan to go fight some demonic dragon. It was
suicide, I told them, but they wouldn't listen. They... I... They would have
died if they had gone! I couldn't allow it, they were my friends, and I had
to protect them at any cost. So..."
My heart nearly stopped beating. This innocence. How can I corrupt it by
telling them that- "I killed them."
"I killed them."
"H-how? How could you? Why would you?"
"I was alone with them, and we had cleared the forest out entirely. It was
supposed to be last-minute training for the showdown with the beast. And,
well, I couldn't let them go. I just couldn't. It was suicide! So when they
weren't looking, I charged into them, knocking them to the ground. Didn't
even see it coming. Salinador wasn't too much trouble. I shattered his
vertebrae and ribs with several shockwaves to the back. The second, Gulacon,
tried to pull me away, tried to restrain me, until he saw Salinador die. As
he tried to flee, I impaled him on a wave of frost shards. My gods, when it
was all done, I felt miserable. The way Gulacon's head dangled limply at one
side after a stray shard severed his spine just below the skull. I couldn't
believe that it was me. That all that blood was on my hands, when I *knew*
in my heart, that I was doing what was right.
"Gradually, their corpses faded into the Medievian soil. They would be dead
a while. Long enough, I had hoped, to keep them out of the thick of things.
The gods would certainly pity their deaths enough to warrant rebirth into
this world. Much more, I thought, than in the foolish pursuit of this
demon-dragon. Just then, I got a message. It was the go-ahead from Chevtul.
"I know now what I did was wrong. I was willing to take their lives, their
abilities to fight with honor, everything they had, so they could have the
security I wanted for them. I wish there were more people with their kind of
honor in this world. I have nothing, son. Nothing. No honor whatsoever. I
wasn't there. I couldn't slay the dragon, couldn't restore peace and ensure
safety in Medievia. Not for the future. Not even for the present. I'm
"Dad..." Kyoot! I had almost forgotten he was here. I can't believe what I
just said. How could he understand? "Dad... I hate you."
"Kyoot! Kyoot! No! Please, please don't say that, Kyoot! I see, now! I
promise. I promise I see! What I did was wrong, very wrong. I'm sorry, I'm
so sorry... but please, *please* don't say that. Not now! If you hate me,
don't tell me now. Please Kyoot, just lie to me. Tell me you still love me!"
"You're no father of mine. My father has honor..."
"I know I have no honor!"
"And he's brave..."
"And he fights for what he believes in, not because he saw a few people die,
or because he saw a dragon doing wrong, but because he knew all along he was
"I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! I know I was wrong! I know how evil I was and
still am. There isn't a day goes by that I don't-"
"Shut up! You killed your friends, and most importantly, your *friendship*,
because you didn't want them to do what was right, because it would be too
hard for you if they died and never came back!"
I haven't given the boy enough credit. He sees things better than his old
man does. I don't even know what to say. How do I even begin justifyi-
And that's it. He chanted a few words and he disappeared. My hope for the
future has just vanished before my eyes. My son. I try to cast a spell of
phasing, try to catch him before it's too late, but he blocks it. He's too
far along in developing his clerical arts. If he doesn't want me to see him
again, he can make it so. And there isn't a thing I can do about it.
He'll probably go live with his 'real' father. Someone who's had a hand in
raising him. Someone who he can look up to. Someone with honor. Probably
Chevtul. I could try to get there first, but what's the point? When he hears
what I have done... what I have kept a secret for so long. A memory so
painful, even the two men I killed had never uttered a breath of it to
anyone. He'll never see me again either, and he *definitely* won't let me
see Kyoot. What's there to live for?
I hadn't even noticed that I've been crying. Too caught up in my own loss, I
haven't learned a thing. Zeksagmak won that day. At least, he beat me. He
killed me. No, I killed myself. But what's the point, I'm dead anyway. That
warm feeling, that glow in the pit of my stomach, whose understanding I put
off until later, is dead. I killed it. I'll just add it to the long list of
casualties I've already caused.
Some 350 brave souls fought and gave their lives and were born again that
day. And I am not one of them.
So I'll pray. I'll just pray.
"Gods, if you're up there, give me your wrath that you *know* I deserve!!"
And then... nothing.
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