July 21, 2000
"He is here to see to it that your heresies go no further," the Figure stated, its words devoid of emotion, "through his days of prayer, I realized his devotion to us. When I saw what you were about to do, I answered his prayers."
"You don't understand how we have suffered! Our lives are dedicated in service to the humans!"
"On the contrary, we understand perfectly. We dedicate our existence to the servitude of all. The only difference is this: dragons die. Our service is never over. We toil endlessly, whereas dragons gain the respite of heaven for their service. All dragons... except you."
"B, but! You can't interfere in the lives of humans!" Shutan cried.
Zeksagmak watched in silent horror as the god disappeared in a blinding spray of light, leaving no trace of his presence behind. As the ruby dragon cleared the blinding light's image from his eyes, he discovered yet another unspeakable horror: his father, Shutan, had vanished as well.
"NO!!!" Zeksagmak cried as his eyes flipped open.
The deafening roar resonated throughout the cavernous walls of his lair, sending a chill up his pet firelizard's spine. Casting his gaze to the cold, dank ground, Zeksagmak felt the burning, seething desire for revenge course through his veins.
"My lord, is something wrong?" came the meek reply of Zeksagmak's pet.
Zeksagmak turned away hiding the tears that crept into the corners of his eyes, daring not to show weakness before the pathetic servant. "No, nothing. Just a dream." A dream, he thought, that has haunted my mind every night since it happened.
"Very well, lord." The firelizard, Glek, muttered in a disinterested tone, suggesting that he had gone through the same routine for months on end. The firelizard gave an almost sarcastic bow as he shrank away into the shadowy corridor.
A growl emerged from the innermost reaches of Zeksagmak's belly as he pondered the recurring nightmare. "My father," Zeksagmak mumbled. "Why was he taken from me? He dared dreams of freedom? He dared liberate his kind?"
Zeksagmak's blood boiled, never had he felt so wronged until tonight. It's because of that priest... that altar-worshipping priest! If Lothvon hadn't betrayed his own kind to the gods, my father would be here today! The dragon race would preside over the humans, as they deserved! Zeksagmak thought.
The ruby beast clambered to his feet, he had done without sleep for the past month, another night wouldn't hurt. "The other dragons will support me, just as Dyrgak had promised. All I need do is say the word and we could overpower the pacifist Dragons of Light and avenge my father." A twisted smile contorted itself over the dragon's mouth. "It will be done." Turning his gaze above, Zeksagmak closed his eyes and prayed to his father's soul, "The dishonor you suffered will be cleansed soon, father, I promise."
As the sun rose over the land of Medievia, Kunal gave a deep sigh of relief as he stumbled forth from the Necromancer's den. Wincing in pain at the sudden bombardment of the sun's light, Kunal inhaled deeply in the fresh Medievian air. Kunal had worked for several months in order to free himself from the Necromancer's control, trapped in the lifeless husk of his body. Such asinine tasks, Kunal recollected, organizing the Necromancer's collection of souls alphabetically, gathering the proper spell ingredients for corpse harvesting, and other such labors of the sort. It was all just a bit too creepy.
Kunal looked his new body over, a smile etched in his expression; "It was worth it, though. Six months of endless labor, but now, finally, I can go home."
Pressing two fingers on either temple, Kunal called for a dragon. With an anticlimactic pop, and an equally anticlimactic flash of light, a firelizard appeared a mere foot away from the warrior. With a sharp extension of its hands, the firelizard impatiently issued a silent demand for his payment. Kunal dug deep into his purse and found a sum he deemed adequate for the ride. Kunal poured a handful of gold coins into the firelizard's waiting hands and, with a lick of his chops, the firelizard disappeared just as he came.
Lothvon knelt before the altar in humble silence. Dearest gods, Lothvon prayed, continue to bless us with the power to serve the humans, as you will, help us to...
"Master Lothvon! Master Lothvon!"
The brass dragon slowly turned his head to the origin of the familiar squeaky voice, "Yes, Naru?"
Without hesitation, the firelizard hovered to the altar and emptied his arms of their burden. The coins clattered against the cold, stone altar as the firelizard spoke "There's a person who wants..."
"How dare you foul the gods' sacred altar with money!" Lothvon bellowed as, with a broad sweep of an arm, he sent the pile flying, "Gold breeds nothing but hate and anger, never again will you defile this holy spot with that filth!"
Naru paid no mind to his master's ramblings and continued, "There's a person who desires your help. He's waiting at the Necromancer's den right now."
Lothvon nodded slowly, "I'll be there soon, now please leave me."
With a smirk on his face, Naru disappeared. Turning his attention back to the altar, Lothvon knelt and continued to recite the Plea of the Dragons of Light.
"Dyrgak, do you recall the vow you made to me upon my father's death?"
"Indeed I do, Zeksagmak," Dyrgak replied with a slow nod, "are you prepared to continue our campaign against the humans?"
The ruby dragon shook his head, "No. No I am not ready to do battle with the humans."
"I am, however, ready to wipe out the Dragons of Light."
Dyrgak struggled to repress his shock, "What?"
Zeksagmak nodded, "You heard me."
"But... the gods have made them their chosen ones!"
"Do you not recall that the god said that we were free to do as we wished?"
"I do. But kill the Dragons of Light? There must be another way!"
Zeksagmak narrowed his eyes; "There is no other way. As long as Lothvon's followers are still alive, we cannot cause a human any harm, such was their covenant with the gods."
"Do you believe that we can actually do it? I have heard that their numbers are growing every day."
"The power of vengeance is far greater than anything that senile old priest could possibly muster. Do not underestimate the power that hatred can grant; it is your greatest tool in battle."
Dyrgak smiled, "You truly are your father's son. Very well, I will assemble the clan and grace them with your idea. I am sure they will be most pleased that their leader is ready to follow in Shutan's footsteps."
Kunal impatiently tapped his foot as he leaned against the massive stone structure. He wanted to get away from all of this, most importantly; he wanted to be far away from the den before the dark master changed his mind. "What could possibly be taking so long?" Kunal breathed a heavy sigh with great dismay. "How hard could it possibly be for a dragon to come and give me a ride home? How long could that possibly take?"
A long silence descended over the Necromancer's den as the warrior's waiting continued. The morning had become afternoon before the lull was finally broken with the piercing sound of a dragon's cry. Ice water surged through Kunal's veins as he recounted his last, fatal encounter with the fantastic creatures. His head whipped sharply to the sound, hoping to see what had happened. As Kunal's view slowly ascended skyward, his eyes felt as though they could pop out of his skull at any moment at the horrifying sight. Dragons of all colors blanketed the horizon, casting a shadow of pure evil and nearly blocking the sun's light. Paralyzed with silent awe, Kunal gazed in wonder at the eerily beautiful creatures, realizing, all too late, that they were quickly approaching him with unfathomable speed. Kunal blinked in disbelief as the wing of a black dragon missed his face by mere centimeters, seemingly daring him to come closer. The wind generated by the dragon's velocity caught up to the warrior, sending him staggering to one side. It was then that he saw it, a blue dragon, larger in size than any other Kunal had ever seen. This one would not miss.
"No..." Kunal muttered ruefully, "not again..."
The dragon's skull struck Kunal fully in the chest, relentlessly smashing the ribs within. Kunal vomited blood as he felt one split second of pain before he again felt the release of death.
Lothvon adjourned his prayer with a whisper of "Amen." when he felt a presence within the room. The Dragon Priest turned sharply into a blinding light that caused him to cover his eyes with a wing. "It's you!"
A figure of pure light stood mere inches in front of Lothvon's face, the glow of its body bathing even the darkest recesses of the altar room. "Priest," it spoke without tone or inflection. "'They' have begun again."
The dragon knelt, "'They'? Whom?"
"Search within yourself and you will understand that which I speak."
Even through closed eyes, Lothvon recoiled in pain from the blinding light that accompanied the Figure's exit. "'They' have begun again? 'They' have begun again?" The brass dragon's eyes flipped wide open. "Gods, no!"
"HALT!!!!" Cried Zeksagmak, the thunderous sound of his voice almost lost in the abyss of wind that surrounded his body. He looked over his shoulder and saw that he had not been heard. "I SAID HALT!!!!!"
Immediately, his minions descended onto the earth below and stood at attention. Zeksagmak carved a wide turn and landed, facing his loyal troops. "That human... who killed him?" The ruby dragon paced slowly before the others, fire burning deep within his eyes. "SPEAK! Who killed that human?!"
A barely audible reply came from deep in the army's ranks, "It was I, Master Zeksagmak."
"FOOL! Step forward at once!"
The assembled group of dragons watched in horror as the massive blue dragon waded through the group. Many dragons shrunk away at his passing, daring not touch the accused for fear of incriminating themselves. As the dragon passed, it projected an aura of terror that possessed a nearly tangible quality, one that made icy the blood of even the most callous dragon. Not a word was spoken such that even the rustling of distant leaves could be heard even in the thick of the formation with ease, though nary a dragon paid mind to anything save that of the steadily advancing blue dragon. The dragon stopped short of Zeksagmak, trembling in fear at what was to come.
"Giavau," Zeksagmak mumbled, "You, my most trusted friend... why did you do this?"
"T-to cleanse Medievia of the human plague, Master Zeksagmak."
Zeksagmak stared deeply at Giavau, seemingly looking into his soul. It was then that Zeksagmak struck. The ruby dragon slammed his talons into the side of the insurrector's head with such silence and speed, it was not until Giavau staggered back from the sheer force of the blow that he knew he had been hurt. In one fluid motion, Zeksagmak turned, sending his tail into the already damaged skull of the blue dragon, effortlessly toppling him. Squirming to get to his feet, Giavau tried to escape, spreading his wings for flight. The ruby dragon leapt, catching the traitor's right wing between his unspeakably large fangs, tearing the blue dragon down from mid-flight and dragged his body against the hard earth. With the jerk of his neck, Zeksagmak drew fresh blood from his victim's mangled wing. The taste of blood further intoxicated the ferocious dragon leader, provoking yet another swipe to Giavau's face with extended claws. Having finished with his demonstration, Zeksagmak buried his fangs into the throat of his comrade, killing Giavau instantly. A sick gurgling noise escaped the blue dragon's lips as Zeksagmak turned to his warriors. "The Dragons of Light now know our intentions. We are lost." Their master sneered as, with a broad sweep of his neck, he looked at his thouroughly defeated foe. "I did that to Giavau only because he was my best friend. Were it any of you, the punishment would be... far worse."
"Just as I suspected, Zeksagmak has returned to find absolution for his departed father. Again, he has resorted to barbaric killing of innocent people to draw us from our lair."
"We're not going to fight them, are we Master Lothvon?" came a voice from the assembled Dragons of Light.
"We must. Our covenant with the gods states that we will assist humans whenever necessary, regardless of the danger to our own lives. Besides, should we choose the path of least resistance, the path of non-intervention, what prevents the fiends from killing countless other innocent humans?"
A golden dragon stepped forward and knelt before his master, "With the gods on our side, we can't possibly lose, right, Master Lothvon?"
The Dragon Priest sighed, "I wish I could say that our victory was assured. I wish I could say that the gods themselves would descend from on high to crush these upstarts with a mere gesture but..." the priest trailed off, trying to collect himself. He couldn't show fear, no, that would only frighten the others; make them run from the fight. "I hate to say it, but our indications say that they have grown far greater over these past six months." Lothvon looked among them with a long pause and eventually forced a smile. "But how can we know unless we see for ourselves?"
A murmur overcame the crowd, overwhelmingly supporting their priest's intentions.
"Now, should you not desire to come, I will not hold a grudge. For those who do, I give you my deepest blessing, as do the gods. That having been said, all who desire to do the gods' will, come with me!"
The entire population of the Clan of the Dragons of Light arranged themselves in a single-file line, Lothvon in point, and set forth to the entrance of the labyrinth, each dragon solemnly kissing the altar as they passed.
"We will wait here." Zeksagmak mumbled, pain buried within his words. "We will be ready when they come."
Almost punctuating his words was the rhythmic beating of leathery wings that came from behind his army. Gazing at the sky, he saw a single dragon, one that seemed to exude an aura of familiarity. "LOTHVON!!"
"Do NOT interfere! This is between the priest and I!" With that, the ruby dragon took flight, shooting over his army and to the incoming aggressor. Only when Zeksagmak was a few hundred yards away from his target did he see the countless line of dragons, extending far into the horizon, all perfectly arranged in single-file behind their master. The ruby dragon's eyes widened as he saw his own death playing out before him. What a coward, Zeksagmak thought, he dares not challenge me in a showdown? He needs his cult to save him?
"Break off and attack the other dragons! The ruby one is mine!" came a familiar cry.
"Lothvon, you brave, reckless fool!" Zeksagmak muttered ruefully, punctuating it with a hiss.
As the Dragons of Light fanned out from behind their leader, it was then that Zeksagmak finally understood how large the opposing force had become. There were at least three times as many Dragons of Light as were Zeksagmak's comparatively meek army. "Fight on!" Zeksagmak cried to his troops below mere fractions of a second before he and Lothvon collided in midair. The two antitheses tumbled to the earth below, both scratching and biting each other relentlessly.
"Fool! You are far older than I!" Zeksagmak growled.
"Am I the fool? Was it not you who sent his troops to die? Was it not you who dared defy the gods will a second time?"
Zeksagmak raked his talons across the priest's face, "I did not intend to kill that human."
"Just the Chosen Ones, then?" Lothvon snarled back as he and his former disciple collided with the earth below.
Straining to get up, the two warriors stared daggers at the other, each defying their opponent to make the first move. Zeksagmak charged the priest, head down and struck him in the side, knocking Lothvon aside. Recovering quickly, Lothvon dug his claws into the soil, readying himself for a second attack. Zeksagmak circled his opponent, searching for a weakness in his badly damaged foe. Finding an opening, he swung in a sharp circle, lashing out with his tail at the weakened priest. Lothvon ducked quickly and sank his teeth into Zeksagmak's side, tearing scales and flesh free. Zeksagmak stumbled back, dazed from the suddenness of the strike. The ruby dragon looked to be drunk from the sudden blood loss, staggering from side to side in an attempt to regain his balance. The Dragon Priest maintained his attack, striking relentlessly at the open wound with extended talons, further opening the bloody mess. With a sudden blow to the head, Lothvon sent Zeksagmak careening to the ground below. "I could kill you right now, Zeksagmak, but I am not a murderer. Gather what is left of your troops and go home. I will not be responsible for wiping out my own kind."
Vainly struggling to regain his footing, Zeksagmak looked at his former mentor, "You can't... leave me like this... Kill me if you must!"
"Dragons of Light, the day is won! Let us return home and give thanks! The gods have guided us to victory!"
The Dragons of Light obeyed and disengaged battle. Each blessed warrior gathered the bodies of the wounded and dead, praying for loved ones lost and the gods favor in the battle. With heads bowed to honor their comrades' ultimate sacrifice of faith, the living took flight back to their lair.
"And you, Zeksagmak. Do not make us repeat this coup. Your followers do not deserve to have their lives thrown away by the likes of you." Lothvon spread his wings and took off in pursuit of his pious companions.
"Zeksagmak!" thundered a voice saturated with contempt.
The ruby dragon turned to see his father's greatest friend and ally, Dyrgak glaring menacingly at him. "My friends! Help me return to the lair!"
"Only twenty-five of us remain and you tell us to follow you? No longer will we be your pawns! We will go our separate ways in peace, but should we ever see you again, do not expect any mercy."
Each of Zeksagmak's wounded troops bid each other a defeated goodbye, and took flight apart from the others, daring not look at their tratiorous leader. The lone ruby dragon slowly stood up and gazed at the unspeakable terror of the dragon graveyard in his midst. Slowly, he craned his neck as to take in the horror of the sight. Blood soaked the once lush, green earth. Carcasses, plentiful as trees littered the battleground, each of which a friend, a comrade-in-arms he had onced cared deeply for, gone. The pain became too great for his heavy heart to bear, Zeksagmak collapsed a quivering, terrified mass. Tears streamed down his cheeks as he buried his face in the ground, "Father, I'll avenge you... I swear!"