Written by C. W. Shern.
To honour the brave souls who stand for us, by us, and with us, I offer this token of acknowdgement. A short story of the dramatic arc in which we were experiencing.
‘You’re not going to join them?’
The spearman stands silent after asking the question, letting it linger in the air while she chews on a grass stalk in her mouth, relaxed, and sitting on the ground. The sky casts a grey tone, the sun barely shining through. Winds howl across the plains.
The woman in armour waves one hand at the scene downhill, where several figures are engaged with a massive black dragon, and losing.
‘They’re doing fine. The Man of the Forest is with them.’
‘Yes, and the dragon is very large.’
‘Corruptus Draconus are always large, don’t you know? Besides, Raky’s going to join them soon.’
A large golem of coruscating semi-precious stones sinks its heavy feet into the dirt next to the two people.
‘What did I say about calling my nickname when at work?’
The woman grins, flicking the chewed grass stalk with her callused fingers towards the majestic colossus.
‘Rak’yat is a mouthful.’
‘You’re just lazy. I always call you by your full name.’
‘Only because it sounds strange when you try to shorten it.’
The golem scratches its chin, ‘Are you sure? Har–‘
The spearman interrupts, as the black dragon notices them uphill once the huge golem stepped into its field of view. The creature rears its head back, ready for a fiery acid onslaught. ‘Incoming vitriol.’ He tightens his helmet down.
Too late, the dragon roars, sending a cone of piercing discharge towards the three figures. Burning doom rushes to them like destiny–
And a masked man bursts out of the ground, grasping two curved shields to slam directly into the trajectory.
The fatal flaming projectile splashes everywhere except where the three are. The spearman hops around to avoid the scathing load, and even Raky retreats a step. The woman, however, sits languidly on the grass with a confident twitch on her lips. Not a droplet lands on her.
She plucks another fresh grass stalk, and puts it in her mouth. ‘Took you long enough to come out of your cave, Vox the Pops.’
The shieldbearer stands straight, shaking off the last of the acid fire from his impenetrable barriers. He throws a disapproving look at the woman, and a surprisingly soft and intelligent voice emits from the mask, itself a simple stylized scrawl of a human face.
‘I see that you still stay to form, ever irreverent.’
‘It’s called affection.’
‘I’m flattered.’ He turns to gaze at his longtime battle comrade and nods. ‘Hello, Rak’yat.’
‘You see? That’s how you do it.’
The woman winks at the golem.
A figure breaks off from fighting the black dragon, loping with grace uphill. Her gait flows through the grass, almost difficult to catch her in full detail. In time she reaches the gathering, a low growl coming from her powerful jaws.
The spearman, golem and shieldbearer all kneel.
Vox intones with his soft voice. ‘Your Majesty.’
The Sovereign Cat pad forward, placing a clawed paw on the shoulder of the kneeling shieldbearer.
‘Stand, my subjects.’ Her feline growls giving a constant undertone to the words she utters.
The woman stands, putting the grass stalk away, and curtsies.
‘Greetings, Mother Tigress.’
The Sovereign Cat twitches her fanged jaws in an imitation of a smile. ‘My, my, she actually has manners. We are amused.’
The spearman bows. ‘How goes the engagement, Your Majesty?’
The Mother Tigress spins on her spot, sending a small breeze at the sheer speed of her motion. She stares with predatory eyes at the black dragon downhill.
‘Important challenges require formidable foes. That is when we know who heroes are.’ She flicks an ear of irritation. ‘Some have fallen.’ A short pause. ‘We lost many People of the Sea. Cerebro. Hutan Hujani.’
Vox widens his eyes. ‘Your generals.’
The Mother Tigress bares her fangs in enraged mourning. ‘Their deaths are our lessons, and we shall not waste such education. We know its weakness now.’
The armoured woman raises her eyebrow just a tad, too subtle for anyone to notice. Except the Cat. Nothing passes by the Cat.
Rak’yat slams its gauntlet fists together, sending reverberations. ‘How will the monster fall?’
‘It will require all our concerted effort. No margin of give, no hesitation of resolve. To waver is to perish.’ The Sovereign Cat swishes her tail with emphasis. She shifts her massive head to the spearman. ‘Summon my Everflight.’
The spearman brings out a horn in the shape of a hibiscus, and blows his lungs into it. A song of loss and resolve echoes across the grassy plains.
A shriek from the sky answers.
Everyone except the Sovereign Cat and the woman look up.
A widespanning white eagle, a large hornbill, a swift canary, and a beautiful parrot, all battleworn but vigilant, blot out the sun momentarily with their encompassing wingspan, passing by above.
They tilt their wings in deepest respect to the Mother Tigress, and dive down to bring claw and beak into the discourse. Their speed and agility are a thorn in the dragon’s side, injurious to its tail and wings. She nods in greeting. ‘Go with them, your comrades below will instruct you on our revelation.’
As the newcomers clash, the golem and Vox bow. ‘Your Majesty, with your permission.’
She roars, the grass bending before her might and fury.
As one, Rak’yat and Vox, eternal partners, charge downhill to their obliteration, unquestioning.
The spearman takes a step forward to join them. The Sovereign Cat growls. ‘Stand fast.’
‘But, Your Majesty.’
The woman puts a hand on his quaking shoulder. ‘Not yet.’
A great moan emits from one of the figures.
The spearman whips to see. It is Lord Gaur, the powerful beast that charges through any obstacles.
The dragon smashes its claw across the bovine snout, tearing both horns off the head, and caving in the nostrils. Lord Gaur presses on, landing hits after earthshaking hits into the torso of the black beast.
The dragon grasp the Lord’s head, and with a mighty breath, unleashes the full force of its flames at point range. The bovine general moans, collapsing backwards in death.
The spearman cries. His helmet shades his teary eyes.
The woman is unfazed.
The Sovereign Cat roars in honour of her general’s sacrifice.
As the spearman continues to weep, the feline monarch licks one of his shaking palm.
‘Fall not to despair, Undi, child of Merdek, heir to the Vision Throne.’
‘Your Majesty, we are dying. Our forces are succumbing to the Black Beast Draconus.’
‘Yes, we are.’
The spearman casts an outraged stare at the armoured woman. ‘And all she does is throw seeds into the dirt each time we bring our people to confront the monster.’
‘Yes, she does.’
‘Why is she here, Your Majesty? And why I cannot fight?’
The Mother Tigress roars into the face of the spearman, her wrath great and terrible.
The woman raises her palm at the Sovereign Cat. The feline monarch snuffles, and lopes downhill to join the struggle.
The woman taps the spear in his hand. ‘Do you know why you have this?’
‘No, it is a tool. Justice needs no weapons, only tools.’ She takes it gently from him, and goes into practice forms, taking his breath away with her speed, elegance, and poise.
The female warrior speaks as she wields the spear.
‘The spear is the signature of sentries, guardians, and sentinels. Their prime task is to protect, not to attack.’
The spearman hears the death cries downhill but strains to focus on her. ‘But what am I protecting if I am not to fight?’
At this, the woman strikes the spear right at the loyal soldier. He jerks out of reflex, but she only hook his helmet off his head. The cool breeze wafts his hair.
The armoured woman shows him the inside of his helmet, and he gasps.
Inlaid within the linings and the surface, are flowing sigils, text in arcane language that travel around constantly, never stopping. The woman beams.
‘You carry the Constituar, a Living Pact neither mortal nor sentient, but its spirit infuses in everything we do.’ She places it on his head. ‘So long as you hold it high, and keep it from the Taint, we shall not fall, falter, nor wither.’ She puts the spear firmly back in his hands, and guides them to point the tip of the spear downhill. ‘Observe.’
And the spearman, young Undi of only fourteen summers, finally sees the bleeding gashes on the black dragon, broken bones sticking out from various spots of its body, torn ligaments of its wings, and dripping ichor from the monster’s eyes, ears, snout, and maw.
Corruptus Draconus, against all odds and belief, is slowly but surely, reaching the end of its vigor.
The armoured woman smiles at the open mouth of the young spearman, and closes it with a snap of her fingers.
Indomitable Gajah trumpets her final call, with the dragon sinking its poisoned fangs into her neck. She falls to her side as her adversary gnaws deep into her vitals.
At this, two deers, one large and one comically tiny, race around the dragon, holding in their mouths a thick string. Undi realizes they are pulling into the wind the largest kite he has ever seen. Its intricate beauty belies its significance as a standard bearer of his monarch.
The dragon swings its tail, lashes its claws, snaps its jaws, but the fleet-footed runners are always just a step away from painful oblivion. The more they race around the monster, the higher the kite soars.
The woman starts to saunter downhill. Startled, the spearman follows, waiting for her to rebuke him to stay.
She does not.
As they walk closer, the spearman starts to feel the heat of the dragon’s flames as it burns to crisps the soldiers around it. The grass crackle with black fire, and the earth scorched.
Undi notices the corpses of the other generals who perished in earlier waves. The broken remains of an antelope, the crushed organs of a snake, even the cracked shell of a mighty turtle, long decomposed and leaving only a shadow of its existence in charred bone fragments.
The hornbill slams to the ground, its left wing crushed. The dragon grabs the white eagle next, flexing its powerful shoulder muscles to tear the wings off the bird of prey. It shrieks in defiance above its agony. The Mother Tigress trapped under the wide foot of the dragon, her spine severed, her jaws biting the tough dragon hide.
The spearman and the woman are now at the feet of the Black Beast. Undi strives to remain steadfast, the gravity of his role heavy on his head.
The woman goes down on one knee.
Undi, perplexed, looks down.
Strangely, amazingly, incredibly, a small green shoot is sprouting from the badly burnt land.
She caresses its tiny leaves. While the dragon roars above her. Her voice, always taunting, now carry a somber weight.
‘It has been a long time, child.’
The dragon senses the two figures beneath its bulk, and turns its bloodied eyes at them.
‘For many seasons, our people clashed against this monster, defeat after defeat. For many nights, we hear its sickening sound of feasting on the dead of our beloveds.’
The dragon lowers its face, getting in range to bite off their heads. Undi, with the greatest of will, stands fast.
‘You are now of age, and ready. The Moon Kite joins its twin in the overcast skies.’
Undi sees the Moon Kite glow in ethereal splendor, charged by the waning sun. The two runners are at their last stretch of reserves. As the Kite glows, Undi realizes so does the armoured woman.
The dragon now faces her, a mere hairsbreadth away. It gives a throaty laugh, its triumph at hand.
‘You see our people in agony or death around us, our heroes in pathetic, beaten form.’
The dragon relishes its final blow, opening its maw to finally crush its most hated foe.
Eternal Harapan raises her palm to the sky, her fingers suffused with blinding light that Undi refuses to blink away from.
It is then he notices two things.
His helmet, the Living Pact, glows and pulses in response to her presence.
And the aura of warmth surrounding the dead and trodden all around him, enveloping his people.
‘But you know what…’
The dragon furrows its brows in confusion, sensing doom but doomed to never see it.
‘…Heroes…’ she grins, her eyes now full bright, the Moon Kite connecting her to the sun, now an unbroken line of aether.
Corruptus Draconus, in panic fed by instinct, lunges at Harapan.
She looks the monster in the eye.
– The Beginning –
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C. W. Shern is a university lecturer for Videogame Design. He writes for games and screen, and he has been volunteering for over a decade in a neighborhood-level programme for young people that uses stories to guide their creative and inner development.
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