I wrote this story shortly before starting this blog. Initially, I tried to sell it to several fantasy fiction magazines with little luck. Deciding to go back to it later on and maybe do some revision, it kind of fell out of my memory until I found it on my netbook the other day. I’m not sure if I’ll ever wind up reworking it, but I’ve decided it would be fun to post the current version. Let me know what you think!
A desert of gray stretched out before them, leading it seemed into an oblivion from which Willam was certain they would never escape. The ashen sands had grown gradually. Entering these lands the only difference had been the utter lack of people. The centuries had easily taught them that though trees and plants could grow here, that these were not fertile lands for men. Slowly however, death had come into dominion. The trees grew more sparse and withered. The grass itself faded into a sickly, dying yellow that crumbled beneath their feet. Soon there was no grass to speak of, just sand mixed with ash.
It had remained this way for three days. All that met them was flat, dry and unforgiving. When the sun became too hot they took to traveling in the dark. The nights were almost as brutal as the days. The light of the moon was a pitiful substitute for the sun, and when the wind picked up the entire world seemed to become sheeted in unyielding darkness. With each new step Willam became all the more convinced they would die out here. If the beast didn’t end them, starvation or thirst would. And then, the battering winds would bury them. The sand and ash would wipe them from the world so completely that none would remember they had been. Nonetheless, even if he could, he wouldn’t turn back. He had followed Aghile this far and he would not live his life knowing that at the very last moment he had succumbed to cowardice.
Aghile himself had spoken little in the past days. He was quiet by nature, Willam had learned as much in the months the two had traveled together, but his silence now was more grim. Willam had learned how to make the man laugh, how to lighten the dark mood the Hillsman so often assumed. On one occasion he had even had the man laughing outright. It had been a sight to behold; his hard features seemed to curl almost unnaturally with each guffaw. There was no laughter now. Most of Willam’s words were met with silent rebuff. Hours stretched on without so much as a grunt. Aghile’s mind had fallen firmly on the task at hand. His concentration was all consuming. He had come to kill the Banished God and not another thought it seemed could enter his mind. His eyes were pointed forward, searching the horizon endlessly for some sign of the beast most men believed to be invincible.
And Willam followed. Be it to their doom, he followed.
With the morning sun they slept and with the fall of night they rose again. Eating a meager meal of dried bread and hard cheese they pressed on.
Why Aghile hated this beast so terribly, Willam didn’t know. The way he reviled it almost seemed unnatural. The Banished God to most men had become like the winter’s snow or the lightning that rent the skies. It was an act of nature; its rage and violence was brutal, but unstoppable, and if you found yourself in its path there naught to do but pray to your gods and die.
It was a god itself, if the stories were to be believed. The most handsome of them once, Adamus by name. He had been so beautiful that sun itself had been created for the sole purpose of mirroring his face unto the lands below so the mortal folk might know his glory. In his beauty though, he was arrogant, daring to love the wife of Vevin, the creator himself. When she rejected his advances, he took her by force, ever certain that his sheer luster would be force enough to carry him through the consequences of his crime.
Vevin however, had had no mercy. In his fury, he’d transformed Adamus into a mockery of his former self, a dark twisted creature made in the visage of a lizard. So hideous that the very sight of him was like to make a man scream in terror. Then, Vevin banished him from the plain of the gods, leaving him amongst men who could view him only with horror and disgust.
In truth, Willam had not an inkling as to whether or not the story of the beast’s origins were true. Some believed them, while others simply took the creature to be little more than a ravenous dragon whose acts were merely the mindless violence of an animal rather then the vengeance of a god. Either way, its every appearance was marked by death and destruction. Cities had burned beneath the inferno of its breath. Men to it were like dried timber. For one man to challenge its fury was the sort of foolishness the bards wrote of. Aghile was neither a man for songs or poems, but he was intent on the creature’s death.
For his own part, Willam had merely wished for adventure, and his life prior had allowed him little of it. If Aghile were the earthly image of his story barbarians then Willam’s father was the exact opposite. He was a kind, charitable man, whose wealth was of the honest sort, earned through hard labor tempered by luck. But his disposition was too relaxed, too soft for Willam’s taste. He allowed such tales of daring into his home but he didn’t believe in them. The warriors and vagabonds that so endeared themselves to Willam were foolish in his eyes.
“What do such men bring to the world?” He would say. “You should seek to build things rather then destroy them, son. A man of integrity, of wealth can do so much more than an angry man with a sword.”
Willam had listened to and followed his father’s advice and through it he saw himself growing into a man of tranquil complacence. But a part of him always stirred on toward more daring endeavors. In wealth he would find comfort, but men of peace were rarely remembered. For generations Draten had been ruled in peace by wise, kindly kings and though people thought of them fondly and with respect, in a thousand years none would recall them. Willam so wanted to have his name amongst those heroes remembered, but knowing it unlikely, knowing that his life was to be akin to his father’s he had settled for the vicarious enjoyment of other’s exploits.
It had begun with small things. He would follow the city guards, listening to them recant to one another anecdotes of their work. Rarely was anything of note mentioned. A few stories told of chasing down thieves. The hauling off of men who having imbibed more then their fill took it upon themselves to wander the streets in drunkenness. There was once a good tale, narrated by a minor captain of the watch, of a brigand his wits lightened by mead, that had insisted he’d been robbed and then took it upon himself to retrieve his purse by force from every other man in the tavern.
“I never saw such a brute in my life,” The captain had said. “He’d killed five men before we arrived and when we subdued him his purse had been at his side all along.”
With time though, Willam, growing bored had tried other spots for eavesdropping, with little luck. The forges he learned were rarely populated by anyone more then the smiths themselves, who smelled terrible and knew little of interest if they would even speak to him. The prison’s were completely off limits. All that was left to him were the taverns.
He ignored the ones in the better parts of the city. He had been in some of those before and the people that attended them were far too reputable for what he had in mind. So, quite nervous, he had ventured into the seedier parts of the cities. It was foolishness, he had known that from the start. The guards rarely entered the slums, caring less for what went on inside as they did for keeping it there. Meanwhile, Willam himself was nothing imposing to look at. But look people did; entering his first inn every eye in the place had been on him, wondering at this rich boy drinking and eating amongst the poor.
It was stupidity, but he had loved it. Everything he had sought but failed to find in the past, he found in these places. Thieves, mercenaries, and even the common folk in general, they all came, they all talked, often more loudly then Willam suspected they meant to. Mead he soon learned loosened a man’s tongue, and many of them were braggarts to begin with. Seated amongst the cutthroats of Draten, he had found paradise.
It was that very habit that had led him to Aghile. It had been in a small inn on Wicket Street. He had been sitting at a table, nursing a mug of cheap mead when the Hillsman sat down across from him at the table. He had been like something out of a story of the north. A tall, muscled man with thick tangles of orange, unwashed hair. His beard was trimmed roughly, and his face had born the weathering of a man whose life had been defined by conflict.
“You don’t belong here boy.” He’d said. Willam had heard such from similar men in the past. The downtrodden he’d found, were suspicious of the rich by nature and when they caught him staring or listening they were swift to offense. He fled quickly if it came to threats. Wealth could only shield one from so much and the men who drank in those sorts of taverns had little fear of the city guard.
Something in the Aghile’s voice however was different. There was no hostility, no anger. He sounded almost curious.
“I have paid for what I have.” Willam said, replying more forcefully then he usually would. “I have just as much a place here as you.”
Aghile laughed at his bravado, leaning forward. “If you will not be warned away then I shall have to stay with you.” He whispered. “The men at the table in the corner -don’t look- were mumbling of slitting your throat for that fat purse of yours.”
Willam had no idea who this stranger was speaking of. The tavern was moderately filled, and Willam’s attention had been on the tables closest to him. He might be safe inside but he would have to leave eventually, and he had no weapon nor knowledge of their use.
“Mayhap for a copper I’ll walk you home.” Aghile said, leaning back in his chair with a grin on his face. Willam’s would-be muggers wouldn’t want a fight. Why else pick him? To save his life he could forfeit a copper.
“I think that’s a fair trade.” Willam said. “But I’d like to finish my food first.”
“Aye!” Aghile said loudly. “And I’d like to order some! Eat, boy! We can talk more of why a silk bottomed child like yourself would risk himself in a sod house like this.”
Willam had liked Aghile at once. He was like something from a story, a brazen man of the north endowed with a gusto almost greater then his visible strength. His thick accent and coarse speech reeked of a lack of refinement that Willam relished and the tales he told, of raiding on the seas, of leaving the Riverhills as a mercenary. Willam had listened on such conversations for months, never once dreaming that he might be included in them.
Trying to reciprocate, Willam shared with the Hillsman some of his favorite tales of war and adventure. Of mishaps turned to fortune. Aghile listened attentively, but it would later on come to Willam’s realization that he must have sounded like such a fool. Like nothing more than a boy in love with flights of fantasy that glossed over the brutal truth of reality.
“Have you ever heard the tale of the captain of Dratan?” Aghile asked after a time.
Willam nodded, it was a common story, especially so in Draten itself.
“Then you know of the Banished God?” Aghile asked.
“Yes,” Willam replied. “How he came from nowhere and ravaged the armies battling at the city gates.”
“But then,” Aghile said taking the reins of the tale. “Before he could turn his demon’s breath on the city itself he was challenged by a lone man of unwavering courage. The beast in its arrogance, believed the warrior no threat. The warrior managed to strike a blow however and to the monster’s dismay drew blood. In its shock it fled back to its ashen roost far to the east, leaving the battered survivors to slaughter each other anew.”
Willam listened with unbroken attention. The way the Hillsman told the story was like nothing he had ever heard before. It wasn’t just his accent, it was the feeling put into it. The way he emphasized the inhumanity of the dragon. The look in his eyes as he spoke of the warrior, a mercenary captain hired to bolster the lines of Draten’s defenders was one of longing, of envy.
“You left out the part where the warrior died.” The tale commonly told that before retreating into the skies the Banished God had devoured the brave captain with a single snap of its jaws.
“Aye,” Aghile replied. “I suppose I did.”
The innkeepers daughter passed by. Aghile ordered them another round of mead, his face taking on a contemplative look.“You say you want adventure, Willam. How far would you go for it?”
Willam looked at him quizzically.“What do you mean?”
“I mean, my friend, that I intend to slay the beast from that tale and I would like you to come with me.”
It was a mad scheme, destined to fail, but the thoughts it roused in Willam’s mind, the potential for glory, they battered back any reason that might have saved him. He agreed, at once knowing it a mistake.
“Good.” Aghile had said. “I hope to leave soon. Tomorrow even if it can be managed. You needn’t bring anything lad, save gold. We will need that and I imagine that you have more of it then I.”
“Why do we need gold?” Willam asked, knowing it to be a stupid question even before it escaped his lips.
“For supplies, of course. We’ll need food on our way to Medera and I wouldn’t dare have you traveling such as you are now. We’ll need to dress you more plainly, perhaps arm you, or you’ll be the plumpest target of every would-be bandit and highwayman on the road.”
“Medera?” Willam asked. That city lay far to the south. The Banished God was believed to live in the ashen lands east of Draten.
“Aye, that is the other reason we need gold.” Aghile said. “I will not lie to you boy. I imagine we’ll need to be trusting one another a lot in the days to come and it wouldn’t do to start that off badly. Do you recall the captain’s sword from the story?”
Willam nodded. “It was made of the dark steel of the south.”
“Aye, forged from rocks that fell from the sky. A too fine blade for a mercenary captain. Usually they’re reserved for princes and kings.” The Hillsman replied. “I’ve always wondered why none questioned where he got it. I suppose it matters little. All I know is that in every tale of the Banished God the swords of men can do nothing to harm him, save for the captain’s.”
“You think it was the dark steel?” Willam asked.
“I won’t know until I’m fighting the damned thing.” Aghile replied. “It would make sense though. If this creature truly is this molester god Adamus, then perhaps Vevin sent those stones as a token of pity so we mortals might have some chance of dealing him back for all he’s taken from us. Were I to save ten years lad, I could never afford it-”
“But I can.” Willam replied. “Then you don’t really want me along, do you?”
Aghile smiled with a soft sincerity. “It should be nice to have some company, lad. I have been alone for a long time.” Then with renewed gusto. “Besides, you may just consider it your fee.”
“Fee for what?”
“Why the pleasure of my company, of course!” The Hillsman laughed. They finished eating and Willam paid the bill.
Willam woke to pitch blackness. It was not something he was unused to at this point but nonetheless, it was an oddity to wake to it. Not a day had passed in recent memory that Aghile had not woken him at sunset. The change in routine left him uneasy.
“Is everything alright?” Willam asked.
“Yesterday was hard. I thought you could use the rest.” Aghile replied. Willam sat up from his bed on the desert floor, not bothering to brush the day’s accumulated filth from his body. When morning came he would just be dirty again. He surveyed their tiny camp. Aghile had been busy during the hours he had let Willam sleep. There scant belongings were packed and ready for the continuation of their journey.
“You should eat.” Aghile said.
Willam nodded and the Hillsman ventured into what little remained of their stores, serving them both a meager breakfast of stale bread, hard cheese and water. Just looking at the portions knew they would do little to fill the growing void in his stomach. He had never truly known hunger before now. The wealth of his family had kept him ever fed and even on their journeys the gold that he had stolen from his father had ensured that he and Aghile ate their fill whenever they had the opportunity. Had it been left to him he had no doubt that he would have eaten almost all their supplies within the first days of this mad trek. So it had been left to Aghile and through the Hillsman’s guidance they had made it this far. Nonetheless, as Willam bit into his ever declining share, he couldn’t help but wish that his companion would just cave in and let them gorge themselves on what little remained.
For a time they chewed without words. The bread crunched uncomfortably between his teeth and swallowing it felt little better. He was tired. The heat of the days allowed only for a restless sort of sleep, and his dreams were often besieged by dark imaginings of the monster that lay before them. He lifted his cup, filled barely with water to his lips. Catching a shaded glimpse of his reflection, he paused. Back in Draten he had been a handsome boy. Not muscled or admirable in contests of strength, but rather endowed with soft, pleasant features. His face now was gaunt. Their time in this unholy desert had melted away his flesh it seemed like a smelter . His lips were dry and cracked. His hair, once glittering blond was matted with a filthy grime of sweat and sand. His eyes seemed like pits in his skull. He wasn’t handsome anymore. He drank the water and waited for his companion to signal the continuation of their march into oblivion.
“You were falling behind yesterday Willam.” Aghile said, suddenly. Willam looked up from his cup and met the Hillsman’s gaze in the dark. In truth, he had been falling behind for days. Aghile drew stamina from a seemingly endless well of determination. Willam knew that his strength was running short but Aghile seemed only to grow stronger, only picking up the pace and never slowing. After the first sandstorm, Aghile had bound their bodies with a long rope. Willam had slowed so that the rope was always taut between them.
“I’m sorry.” Willam replied, trying and failing to hide the weariness that laced his voice.
“It’s alright, lad.” Aghile replied. “Just don’t hold us back any longer.”
But Willam could hear the truth in the Hillsman’s voice. The subdued bitterness, the desire to press on unhindered by the shortcomings of a foolish boy; for all his many strengths Aghile hid his emotions no better than Willam.
“Why are we out here, Aghile?” Willam asked, letting his exhaustion and shame loosen his tongue. “We’re going to die out here, Aghile.” Willam continued. “We haven’t enough to last more than a day. Our water is almost gone.”
“Willam-” Aghile started.
“No!” Willam said, silencing him with a sudden fury. “I went with you, Aghile! I paid for the forging of that sword and I followed you into this forsaken place! Whether your want me here or not, I came and you owe me the damned courtesy of telling me me why! Why do you hate it so much?”
Aghile sat silent for a moment. His hands drifted to the sword at his side, wrapping around the hilt in an absent minded grip that nonetheless spoke volumes. The hatred was there even now, ever present, ruling his every thought and action.
“You’ve always liked stories, boy.” Aghile said grimly. “Would you hear one more?”
Aghile sighed. “Years ago, more then I count it often seems, I was born in the far north. Even in the Riverhills my home was referred to as the north. It was a cold place but my clan prospered. We had long since grown accustomed to the winters and the snow. We sowed our crops. We raised cattle and fished. And we raided. Of that part of my life you already know much. I have told you of my joys of the sea, of the feel of the oar in my hand and smell of sea water mist in the air.” He paused, his eyes dropping to the ground while he searched for the words to describe the memory that hung over him so heavily. “We were coming back from a raid on the shore lands of our neighbors. There were three ships in addition to my own. I was working my oar. Below the decks, with the other men resting, was our plunder. Weapons, ore, women, cattle and even some gold where we had found it. There were some chickens I had hoped might serve as part of my share. We had lost some when last I was home and my wife would have liked them.”
He had never spoken of a wife before. The puzzlement in Willam’s eyes was plain.
“Aye. When we wed I was thirteen, she fourteen. How I loved her. Her and my children. I had three then. Two daughters and a son. The girls were my joy and the son my pride. He used to sit with me watching the longboats depart, telling me how he much he wanted to have one of his own someday. He would ask me which one was mine and I would point to it, nestled in its place at the docks. He wanted so badly to join me when my turn came to go out. He would have done well on a ship, of this I am sure.
“We were drawing close to home when we first caught sight of the smoke. Normally, we wouldn’t have thought much of it, there were always trails of it billowing from the horizon from cook and bonfires. This smoke however was thicker, blacker. The drumbeat hastened and we worked the oars faster. The men from below, tired as they were from their shift, joined us. My muscles soon ached from the labor. We drew closer and the destruction became clearer. The flames were still burning, gorging themselves on the port. The village, the countryside; for miles if there was not fire then there was the aftermath. Ash rained like hellish snow from the sky, catching in our hair as we abandoned our ships for the shore.
“Few survived and those that did could tell us little of what happened. It had not been a battle, so much we could tell. The carnage was too great, to merciless to be any work of men. We found only one man who had seen it and remembered. All he could speak of was a shape, a form like a lizard descending from the sky on wings so wide their flapping broke the air like thunder. It was black, he said, its scales seemed seemed to drain the very sun of its luster. From its gullet came flame so thick and hot that anything in its path was reduced to cinders. Buildings, animals, people, it mattered not. I ran to my home, just outside the city, but there was nothing left. Ashes fell from the sky and I knew that amongst them were my wife and children.”
He stopped for a moment, his throat quivering as he struggled to choke back a pain that threatened to overwhelm him.
“Were there men in the world happier then I? I know not. But on that day I knew there has never been any as pained. I can’t even remember their faces anymore. When I think of them all I can picture is the ash on the ground, in the sky, stuck to my body like a mockery of my pain. My children, nothing but ash…” He trailed off then, his sadness turning visibly back to hate. His hand clenched the sword with renewed rage.
“What remained of us departed. My brothers in arms set sail for another shore to rebuild what had been taken from us. I do not know what happened to them. It’s likely they joined up with some others of our clan and continued living as we had lived before. I could not. I left, taking with me what little that remained to me and journeyed south hoping to learn more of this creature-”
“-So you might kill it.” Willam said.
“Aye.” Aghile nodded. “Men treat it like a force of nature, an unthinking storm cloud that settles from time to time over the doomed and unfortunate, but I have never believed that. I have never believed that one day it left its roost and by chance alone chose to fly north instead of south. The murder of my children was no act of fate, it was the choice of a monster. Nothing shall keep me from its death. Nothing.” He uttered the last word with a bitter resolution. Willam said nothing and for a time they just sat, heads lowered sharing mutual grief at woes past and those yet to come.
The winds died down and with it the sandstorm that had blinded their steps, subsided. There were a few moments of disorientation. Willam’s squinted eyes stung from the sand that had battered them. A few feet ahead of him Aghile pressed on in unshakable stoicism. They did not stop for the sandstorms, pressing forward through the stinging blindness. There was a risk to it, in the darkness of a storm they might walk right passed their goal unawares, but there was little time left to them. Besides, Aghile was certain to a fault that their foe would never let them pass so easily, not when there was opportunity for the letting of blood. Still struggling to see, Willam pressed forward, keeping his eyes on the blurred form of his companion. He noted that the rope between them was growing slack. Aghile’s form drew nearer. The Hillsman had stopped walking. Willam picked up his pace, working his way swiftly up a slope despite the shifting of the sands beneath his feet.
“Aghile?” He asked. The Hillsman raised a silencing hand.
Willam stared out at the terrain before them, his eyes slowly regaining their clarity. A few miles out a rocky plateau rose from the desert floor. Were it not for the hill they stood on now it would have been visible far sooner. For hours it seemed they stood there, the Hillsman’s gaze focused keenly on the platform ahead. Willam too watched, a sense of unease growing inside of him. The rock of the plateau was burned like everything in this evil land, but it was somehow unique. The dark crown of jagged stone that ringed the top seemed to reek of evil.
“Do you see it?” Aghile whispered suddenly. Willam shook his head. “Watch the stone at the top. Watch it carefully.”
Willam squinted until his his eyes burned. For a time he saw nothing, but soon he caught what Aghile meant. Beyond the outermost stone that crowned the plateaus top there rested what seemed to be more rock. It too was black, darker then the blindest of nights, and it rose and fell slowly like the breathing of a dog’s chest in slumber. There was naught else that it could be. They had found the Banished God.
The anxiety that he held in silence grew into fear.
“Untie the rope Willam.” Aghile said. Willam nodded and undid his side while Aghile did the same on his end. “We will move slowly, keep low and follow my movements as best you can. Stay silent. Do not risk even a loud breath after this point.”
Willam nodded and they were moving again. Their pace the past days had been torturous, leaving him all but broken. Now it seemed they traveled like crippled snails, moving at a half squat through the sand. Nonetheless, the gap between them and the monster seemed to close in mere moments. With each new step Willam could feel the terror inside him grow. They would die here he knew. Whether or not the beast killed them they would not live to tell of this. He had known this for days now and it had not scared him. The fear he felt now was of an inexplicable sort, spurned on by an unholy sensation of danger that no reason could vanquish. Aghile he suspected felt no such fear, but Aghile could draw upon a hatred so deep and unadulterated that it trumped all terror. They made it to the base of the plateau. Willam realized he knew nothing of climbing, how would he-
The thought was cut off by an unearthly roar that deafened his very mind. His eyes fell on Aghile’s face. The Hillsman’s eyes were wide and in his hands he had drawn the dark steel sword. A second sound split the air once, twice, three times like the terrible rhythm of a demon’s drum. It continued unabated, and into the sky rose the Banished God.
Its body was long and thick. Its scales were a sinister shade of hard, ugly ebony, grinding against each other roughly as the beast ascended. Its tail was tipped like a spear. Its talons stretched on for feet, each one a razor sharp scimitar capable of hewing a man in two. Its mouth was lined by teeth that could have been daggers. Willam knew in an instant that the pitiful sword they had forged in Medera would be no match for this monster.
He screamed now. The fear that had been building inside him had finally boiled over, filling his lungs with unnatural strength. He shrieked like a cornered animal, like a child come face to face with a terror greater than its worst nightmare. He screamed knowing that if it had not yet spotted them that he was giving them away. He prayed Aghile would forgive him. He prayed-
He screamed no more. It wasn’t for lack of trying, he just couldn’t. His bellows came out as gurgling gasps that ended in the pit of his throat. He felt a warm slickness trailing down his neck. He reached up to touch it and bringing his fingers out where he could see them recognized the crimson hue of blood. His throat was cut.
His gaze growing hazy, shifted to Aghile. The Hillsman looked at him in silence, still holding the sword that dripped now with Willam’s blood. He tried to speak, not sure what words he wanted to say, but his voice failed him. His body grew cold, grew tired. He wanted to rest. Falling to his knees his eyes stayed on the Hillsman. Aghile watched him, a mysterious expression on his face. Remorse perhaps? Guilt? No. Not guilt. Never guilt. Nothing, he had said. Nothing would stop him. Nothing.
Aghile scaled the rock wall carefully. The beast had taken off into the sky and no more than a moment it had settled again into the recesses of the plateau. Willam’s body remained below, sprawled out in the sand. The dark blade rested again in its sheath waiting for its intended victim. The walls here were jagged and sharp. Sharp enough to cut, sharp enough to kill. He moved with patience that was hard to muster, but nonetheless necessary. A single mistake could end him, and the stone was treacher`ous. Some of it wasn’t stone at all. The monster’s had melted many places down to glass that, stained and charred black, resembled rock from afar but was as slippery as ice to the touch. Each inch of progress was an effort of probing with his now raw fingers and then slowly, deliberately pulling on rock that he could only pray wouldn’t give away.
Making it to the top, he lowered himself into the rocky thorns that surrounded the plateua. He pulled the sword from its sheath slowly, silently and proceeded. The plateau was a maze of brutal stone. Sometimes the spaces between the rock were wide enough to fit five men while other times he had to squeeze through spaces nary big enough for a child. All the while he could hear the breath of the god, sighing in and out, filling the air with the acrid smell of unholy degradation.
He replayed what it had looked like in his mind. His glimpse of it had been brief, but nonetheless he wanted to have some sort of plan before he challenged it. Even if the sword could cut its scales he knew it wouldn’t do to attack it head on. The way they had ground on each other, the thickness of them; their strength had been visible. He would strike between them, attacking it as one might aim for the gaps in a man’s armor. He would have to be swift, even with luck on his side he was like to only have one chance.
“Come forward.” The voice was deafening, but nonetheless echoed with a sick sweetness. “Come forth and may shall not burn.”Aghile hesitated for a moment, knowing it to be the creature, to be the banished Adamus. A mockery of his former beauty; Vevin had made him a form of unrivaled wretchedness but left him the honey tones of his former self.
Aghile weighed his options. It was aware of him, and likely had been for a time now. Avoiding the beast was impossible. One could not sneak up on a foe already knowing your presence, and if he didn’t do as it said it could very well ascend into the sky again and burn him as it had so many before.
He made his way through the rock and soon found himself standing before it, facing down its terrible form. Willam had lost himself in fear, but Aghile stood strong, his courage rooted in unshakable hatred. He stood before it as he would any other opponent, surveying his surroundings and above all searching for weaknesses.
“You’ve come a long way, man of the north.” The beast said, trying to distract him. He ignored it, letting its words brush past him like a harmless breeze. “Where is your little friend?”
It had seen them then. Willam had died for nothing. For a moment Aghile felt a pain creep into the pit of his stomach, but he pushed it away. He would not let the monster manipulate him. It rose on its hind legs exposing its chest as it made a show of looking around. It was an error on its part, Aghile surveyed its body and found exactly what he was looking for. In the middle of its chest there was an area where between the scales were gaps. The sword would not fit perfectly, but if it did what it was supposed to it may yet pierce the beasts flesh. His fingers tightened around the grip of the sword.
“Did your blade like the taste of that boy’s blood?” The dragon asked. “How old was he? By my eyes I wouldn’t have thought him to be more then sixteen.”
Anger welled up. “Shut up.” Aghile barked. It was a mistake to talk back, he knew he was playing into its game.
“Tell me man of the north, had he even the chance to know the feel of a woman? To know even half the joys and pains a life can offer?
“Don’t you talk to me about him!” Aghile snarled. “Don’t you talk to me about the ruin of lives!”
“Oh, but why shouldn’t two murderers discuss their trade?” The beast said, issuing forth a sickening laugh. “Tell me Hillsman, why did you come all this way?”
“Because you are a blight on this world.” Aghile replied. “Because you ruined all that ever mattered to me. You killed them all!”
“And the boy?” It asked. Aghile said nothing, he prepared to charge. The hatred now, it seared his insides like an inferno raging. The wind gusted again, stirring up the ash about them.
“If you have come here for vengeance than I fear I can’t help you, Hillsman.” The beast said. “It is Vevin you seek.”
“I care not for the lord of the gods, monster! He did not slay my wife, my children. You did!”
“Did I?” The creature asked. “Once yes, I forced myself on onto a woman, but it was he who made me this. It was Vevin who transformed my passion into a lust for death. Do you think that I don’t hate what I have become? No more than an animal unable to hold back my violence? Try as might I always succumb, always.” The dragon’s face bent with bitterness. “Your quarrel is with my creator for loosing me on this undeserving world.”
“I don’t believe you!” Aghile roared. “It wasn’t mere chance that you fell upon my village, my family!”
“True.” The beast replied. “I felt the violence rising inside me and I acted. I chose to fly north to the cold, frigid regions lest I ravage some city of countless thousands. What you have had me do? I sought only to lessen what I was bound by Vevin to do.”
“You expect that to appease me?” Aghile spat. “Is that supposed to make it okay?”
“No.” Adamus said. “No, I imagine it wouldn’t. You have come here for blood and you will not leave until you have drawn it again.” It paused. “In honesty I care little anymore for whether I live or die.” The twisted god pointed to his chest. “I will give you your vengeance if you want Hillsman. All you must do is strike here and I shall be no more.”
Aghile stood for a moment waiting for the beast to lash out, to strike at him. He waited for its jaws to snap and its tail to whip about in violence. It didn’t. The god merely stood before him, pointing beneath a single scale amongst thousands. Aghile hesitated no more and loosing his rage he charged.
Within his grasp the black sword turned into pure wrath, thrusting forward with the unabated agony of too many years. As he had so many times dreamed the blade sunk into the monster’s chest until only the hilt was left showing.
Adamus, roaring in pain reared up, letting out a final jet of flame that lit up the sky like an infernal sunrise. Then with almost startling suddenness it fell back to the earth, collapsing in the death that it had promised. Aghile darted out of the way, just narrowly avoiding being crushed beneath its massiveness. It hit the ground and dust and ash filled the air. Aghile squinted through it all, not wanting to miss a single moment of its destruction. There was little left to see.
Breathing in shallow, labored breaths its movements grew swiftly weaker and stopped. Its black eyes closed and its claws only a instant ago clenched in murderous pain loosened and opened. It breathed no more. It moved no more. It was dead.
For a time Aghile just stood there staring at the silent body before him. It seemed impossible that it was actually done. For all the times he had imagined himself slaying the beast, he had imagined it killing him a hundred times more. Then it fell on him that had it chosen to fight, had the monster decided to resist, things would have likely gone as he had always expected. He had not defeated it, it had let him win. With the realization came a new hatred. Even in death it could allow him nothing. He had come here seeking vengeance, and instead had granted it release from its own pain. It had used him.
It was then that Aghile lost himself. He charged the beast again, pummeling its lifeless form with his hands and feet. They fell upon its corpse harmlessly. Tears streamed from his eyes and in agony he screamed. Around him the wind picked up again, throwing his world back into darkness and ash. It whipped around him like so many memories of pain that would never settle, that would never abate. He looked out onto the dark horizon and was alone.