The Latest Trend in Alternate Realities

The dragons were a given, as ubiquitous as rainbows after rainstorms.

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An Epic Fantasy *With Dragons…

Somehow I got roped into joining the fine establishment known as the Edgewise Words Inn. It probably had something to do with what I drank that night. Then I saw my blog post about Thanksgiving was plastered all over social media. That did it for me: enough was enough.

Now I’m supposedly a regular contributor. Semi-regular, in my thinking. Possibly even a demi-semi-regular, who knows? For my first contribution, I thought I would share the opening scene of my brand-new work-in-progress. Granted, the sharing of new and untested material is always a risk, but I’m just bold enough to throw it out there for your entertainment!

If you wish to know how I got hooked into writing this new novel, you can click over to my regular blog.

I call this new novel EPIC FANTASY *With Dragons …because, well, that’s what it is!

1

The Beasts Above

The dragons were a given, as ubiquitous as rainbows after rainstorms. These aerial beasts, however, had developed such a vile temperament in their endless quest for dinner that Corlan had no choice but to rip the lead winger out of the formation.

It wasn’t that he enjoyed culling the herd; it was his job. And he didn’t much care how he came to be employed in such a capacity. He would say “Politics, mere social squabbling was all it was, not what people assume!” to anyone who asked. One day he was the son of the king, the next an outcast making his way across the battlefields of the Americus offering his tactical services where he could. Then, retiring from conflict, he took up the massive dragonslinger weapon, as long as he was tall, and hired himself out. Fear gripped the lands in those days so it was lucrative, more than mercenary work. The best payer so far was his current employer, the foolish young prince of Nerk who seemed to fear dragons more than anyone Corlan had ever met.

However, such an act of violence, Corlan knew, would compel the reptilian lieutenants to turn upon him with the full fury of all the gods and all the devils united in flesh-ripping horror. Like dragonslayers before him, their lives were measured in minutes. A toasty end to regrets unimagined and mostly unfulfilled.

Corlan had little concern at the moment, refitting his weapon with another iron bolt, the metal dart as long as his arm, trident-barbed. For good measure the tip also included the best poisons man could create encased in a capsule which would burst upon impact and hopefully spill its rotten juice within the body of the beast—in case the wound itself did not take down the creature.

As he prepared to fire the weapon again, he kneed his broad-shouldered muscular mount, the hefty hippor, into the shadows of the cliffs where they would be safe a moment longer than in full view. The hippor grunted its disagreement but complied. The quivers of bolts hanging from each side of the hippor rattled like chains on the devils in Hell. As heavy as the collection of metal was, it required a hippor to carry them.

Corlan scanned the sky, measured the distance with his well-trained eyes. It might be a good day, he decided. The more dragons dropping from the sky, thought Corlan, the better the sky. The better the ground, as well. And his fine clothes! He hated stepping in dragon shit.

Pressing his foot against the side of the cliff, Corlan dismounted, dropping to the dirt beside the red-brown hippor he rode as others did who needed to range far and wide through the mountains. The hippor was a slow-footed, wide-shouldered creature yet the only means of travel left to his people other than by foot.

Fat and easily guided, the hippor yawned. Its broad throat opened for a full minute, flashing its long twin tusks before closing and firing a snort out of its long nostrils.

Corlan cursed, kicking dirt over the toes of his boots to dry the mucus sprayed from the hippor’s slimy nose. He tore a cloth from his saddlebag and wiped his leg from knee to hip. Keeping his eyes on the incoming dragons, he let out a long breath. If only horses still existed. The last horse was already dead more than a hundred years. It had been kept in a small pen on the palace grounds where the prince’s grandfather thought it would be safe from hungry peasants. In the end, it was not safe.

The wizards in their long white robes used Clona magic to create this new riding beast, he had heard. It was a long, expensive process so he felt special that the prince would offer him one. First, the wizards took dust from a dead animal that had been kept in a jar and locked in a secret vault. Then they mixed in many potions and set it all into an oven. What came out of the oven was placed into a larger container and fed many liquids until, after many days, a beast could be seen. It grew from a thimble of flesh into a full-sized baby animal in a few weeks. The animal then grew normally within the confines of a farm pen. Or, in the case of the hippor, in the marshes below the palace walls.

Some people said dragons came into being the same way. A few deviant wizards chose to mix their potions and create the flying reptiles. That happened a few hundred years past. They came into being either as the result of a rogue element of magical turpitude or as an accidental outcome of attempting to produce a new food source for a starving populace. “What starving fool would dare eat the flesh of a dragon?” Corlan mused whenever anyone sought to discuss such history. It was now well-known that dragon flesh was poisonous. No matter how they entered the world, from that initial formation they had grown into nine distinct species roaming all regions of the world, some of them with viable subspecies.

Overhead the dragons were circling, locating their prey against the side of the mountain, Corlan’s red-brown clothing merging into the red-brown cliffside—as did his red-brown hippor.

The familiar cries did not alarm Corlan, an expert in this necessary occupation. With boots planted, he leaned back against the hippor, urging it to move tighter against the cliffside. Then Corlan took his stance, the bolt loaded, another leaning against his knee, ready to load next.

A large gray bull with teal throat markings came in first, wings open and talons drawn, making a ridiculous spectacle.

Corlan’s shot went through the dragon’s throat and the beast instantly dropped from the sky, falling past the human’s position on the cliffside, down to the valley floor.

In went the next iron bolt, prepared, aimed.

The second, a tan female with orange wing tips, came at him, apparently upset about loosing her mate. He could tell that by her fluttering throat skin and the high-pitched cry of anguish. She gave Corlan an exhale of noxious air which, with a deliberate hiccough, caught fire. The dragon blew the fireball at the cliffside and Corlan crouched quickly under the hippor.

Squealing, the hippor bumbled forward, its bulbous rump and hairless tail lit and burning. There was nothing Corlan could do. A canteen of water would not be enough. And he needed the water for the journey back to the city. He had ridden the hippor for the past season, lent to him by his employer, the prince. It was an expensive accommodation, thought Corlan, standing and staring hard at the tan dragon, still approaching the cliffside for further vengeance, making an arc in the sky and returning.

The iron bolt was set into the weapon, Corlan’s hands working without thought. He raised the weapon, released the bolt, and struck the dragon under its lower jaw.

The beast crashed into the cliffside, a wingtip scraping along the trail that hugged the rocks. Corlan dove aside—as his eyes caught the last of the hippor disappearing over the side of the cliff, its rear end well-burnt and smelling almost delicious.

In the same moment, a large beige dragon swooped up from below him and snatched the fat animal in its mouth. The dragon sailed high into the sky—boasting of its prize, it seemed to Corlan. With a quick toss upward, the dragon caught the hippor in its mouth and bit off half, letting the other half fall. The dragon then swooped down and saved the second half, downing it in a second tremendous gulp. Taking on the extra weight forced the dragon to a lower course than the clan. Others seemed to scream at him to keep up. The dragon only burped in response and a cloud of black smoke formed around its mouth, then trailed the beast as it flew on.

The formation decided to continue, he saw. They could not spare any more time or energy to deal with another pesky gamekeeper. Three of them already lost on this passage through the mountains. They should count themselves fortunate. Beyond the mountains, Corlan knew, was the valley where they would settle for the cold season and do their mating. After the cold season, the nests would be full of little dragons.

If only he could make his way there and destroy all the nests before they hatched. Then the kingdom would be safe for humankind. And the less he had to step around dragon droppings, the better. He was already into his third pair of boots this year!

Now he had no beast to carry him and his supply of the heavy iron bolts through the mountains and back to the city. It would be a hard journey on foot.

The hippor was a sturdy animal with thick legs and large three-toed feet, with a back wide enough for a large man like him to have lunch on. The animal’s small eyes were set far apart above a cavernous mouth full of large, rounded teeth designed for chomping the stalks of river plants, an activity which occupied them most of their days. Until they were tasked for travelling.

Corlan brushed off his sleeves, straightened his leather jerkin, blithely ran his fingers through his long auburn hair as though he were about to step into the private chamber of a certain lady of the Court whose attentions he had garnered in recent weeks—yes, her! the lovely blond buxom Petula!—and not merely setting himself on the road back home. He could not continue his hunting without more supplies.

His boots had gotten scuffed and the snot of the hippor made every particle of dust cling to them. He sat on a rock and pulled off his boots to clean them properly. As he worked, the winds picked up and he could hear the fading cries of the dragon clan as they winged their way west. It was a smaller clan than he usually saw so perhaps his work was actually reducing their number.

“Pity,” he grunted, examining the results of his cleaning.

When the dragons were all gone, he would be out of a job. No more enjoying the Prince’s favor. No more the ladies at Court to dabble with after the feasts. They loved being with a dragonslayer. He was the only true man in the Great Hall—or in any tavern.

He shook his head. No more the steep hikes up into the mountains on the back of a hippor to hunt dragons at  their own elevation.

“Pity….”

Rebooted, Corlan set out at a brisk pace, arms swinging, the heavy spring-loaded dragonslinger, one last bolt loaded,  dangling from a strap over his shoulder. It would become heavier as he hiked. A side blade swung at his hip for lessor dangers.

He decided to whistle a tune as he walked the trail, the cliff rising to his right and dropping to his left, the space for footwork only double the width of his shoulders. Likely the hippor would not have fit this section of the trail and they both would have tumbled over the side. Then where would he spend the night?

“Lucky day,” Corlan snorted, clapping his hands.

 

More has been written, but I shall not bother you with it at this time. Be confident that I shall continue until the last word is written, no matter how long it takes, no matter what obstacles I need to overcome, no matter how many dragons I, or my stand-ins, must slaughter. Thank you for your indulgence!

Author: Stephen Swartz

I write every day...like it is the last day of the week. Some of it gets deleted by vengeful gremlins.

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