By Alicia Steen and Nathan Steen
Sranus. Toledoth, Jeshrun. Year After Shadow Two Thousand One Hundred.
From this vantage point on a nearby peak, I can see Dragon Mountain well. I should be able to watch every moment of the upcoming fight between Ecalai and the shadow dragon from here. Erianna and Mykai will have their own moments, but this is Ecalai’s challenge.
For Ecalai as well as all of Jeshrun, this will be an important fight. I doubt Ecalai knows the full significance of what he will set in motion should he win. Even if he did know, it wouldn’t change his mind. Shadow must be eradicated. No matter the cost, for the alternative is not an option. Complacency has its own consequences. This is what drives Ecalai.
Now to see whether the young lord will learn the truth the staff represents.
Ecalai. Dragon Mountain, Jeshrun. Year After Shadow Two Thousand One Hundred.
As the group nears the peak of the mountain the shadow begins to fall away. As it turns out, the blanket of shadow only extends part way up the mountain, leaving the top third untouched. This will make fighting the shadow dragon easier, but it also means they themselves are easier for the dragon to find. The group has to reach the peak before that happens.
The dragon is quiet as they near the peak of the mountain. Ecalai has lost track of it, making the situation all the more dangerous. Lest the beast catch them unaware, Erianna, Mykai, and the guide are all on alert.
Evading being detected by the shadow dragon had not been easy. Many times Ecalai’s group had to stay and wait for the dragon to move to a different side of the mountain. Fortunately, the dragon had not appeared to be aware they were there. After all, if it had been looking for them, very little could have stopped it from finding them.
Almost there. Ecalai sees a break in the trees up ahead. After that it will be a short but dangerous climb, for there are few trees or boulders to hide them that Ecalai can see. Even so, avoiding detection is hardly his biggest problem at the moment. Even if they manage to reach the peak, he still hasn’t found a way to kill the creature. It is a dragon after all, and no ordinary dragon at that.
Ecalai has travelled far, but rarely has he seen any dragons. Most of what he knows comes from legends or tales told by other travelers. Most of those tales agree, that although dragons are fierce creatures, they rarely show aggression toward anyone but shadows. This dragon, however, is a legendary shadow dragon. According to legend, long ago it gave up its fire in exchange for shadow flames. What legends fail to mention was whether shadow dragons have any weaknesses.
Now that Ecalai has seen one, he has no doubt that this creature will not hesitate to incinerate any living thing it caught in its territory. As if all that isn’t enough, Ecalai does not have any blades with him, thanks to Sranus. All he has is the simple wooden staff Sranus had given him afterward – not the ideal weapon for this situation.
For a moment, Ecalai questions the wisdom of moving forward past the trees. Jeshrun is vast. Perhaps the clues necessary for his quest could be found in another place. That certainly seems better than attempting an impossible task.
No. Even as Ecalai considers his options he knows what he has to do. It may be foolish and against all common sense, but this mountain is where the wind is blowing. The Ancient of Days had led him here, and live or die Ecalai is determined to heed that call.
As soon as that thought crosses his mind, Ecalai realizes the shadow dragon’s weakness. The dragon may be strong and powerful, but there is one way that is sure to bring him down.
Ecalai fingers his staff, considering the fight about to take place. He knows what he has to do to kill the creature, but he will have to get close. Erianna and Mykai have ranged attacks that should ground the beast; then it is up to him to deal the finishing blow. The biggest unknown is how his staff will perform. For his plan to work, he will have to concentrate much on his magic into it. If the fragile wood were to overload, it would break or even disintegrate, leaving him vulnerable.
Ecalai sighs. Using his blades would be so much easier. In his experience, metal can withstand much more magic than wood.
No time to think of that now. They have reached the mountain’s peak. Curiously, there is no sign of the dragon.
Contrary to what Ecalai expected, the peak is actually quite a large place. Aside from the occasional tree or stack of boulders, it is largely flat. Cliffs mark the edges on every side except for the one they came up. There even appears to be some manner of ruins on this peak, though what they were for is more than Ecalai can guess. Perhaps the legends of this mountain are at least somewhat true after all.
Thunder announces a storm rapidly approaching. “That figures,” Ecalai grumbles.
Sranus. Toledoth, Jeshrun.
They have reached the peak of Dragon Mountain. I see the shadow dragon circling the peak in wide sweeps, considering the trespassers below, but I doubt Ecalai can sense him. Dragons, even shadow dragons, can pass unseen if they wish. Until the moment they decide to fight.
From the way Ecalai holds his staff, he does not seem to have entirely grasped the strength a staff can wield. Not yet, anyway. He must learn quickly, or I must act to prevent their guide’s words from coming to pass.
Ecalai. Dragon Mountain, Jeshrun.
Minutes pass and rain falls without any sign of the shadow dragon. Ecalai begins to feel uneasy.
“Where is the creature?” Mykai asks.
“It may have gone away to hunt tor back to its den to take shelter from the storm,” the guide replies.
Erianna ignores him. “Ecalai, do you sense anything?”
“Nothing,” Ecalai responds. “Yet somehow I feel as if it hasn’t gone far.”
“Unlikely,” the guide disagrees. “It may not be back for several days.”
Ecalai continues to search for the beast with his senses as the argument goes on.
“Dragons are smarter than you give them credit for. Even shadow dragons are far more than mere beasts. They are creatures of magic, and thus are self-aware,” Mykai counters.
The guide is still unconvinced. “Shadow dragons are not like the others. Most people believe losing their fire transforms them into dull-witted beasts incapable of reason.”
“That is likely true,” Ecalai interjects. “Nevertheless, the shadow within them has its own twisted logic that likely influences the creature accordingly. In fact, if I am not mistaken, it would seem…”
“The creature is stalking us,” Erianna finishes. The lightning, rain, and thunder continue but Ecalai is sure he hears a different roar behind the thunder. Suddenly, a flash of flame lights up the sky and the wind roars in the wake of a mighty creature. The shadow dragon has arrived.
The group dives for cover as the dragon unleashes a flame that lights up the mountainside in dark flame. As it passes overhead, Erianna and Mykai prepare their magic, but the creature is quick. It whirls around and blasts a second flame on the group, leaving them barely enough time to escape the blast.
Ecalai watches the dragon soar high above and arc around for another pass. “I did not realize the creature is so maneuverable.”
“These creatures were built for battle and are armored as flying fortresses,” the guide responds. “I hope you have a plan, or we will all be dead in five minutes or less.”
“Don’t worry. This isn’t the first terrifying foe we have faced,” Ecalai answers just as the dragon roars in again and unleashes a third flame. Erianna’s eyes glow as she forcibly redirects the flame harmlessly above them. This gives Mykai enough time to land a direct sonic blast on the dragon, knocking it off course and leaving it slightly dazed. With the dragon in a vulnerable position, Ecalai uses his own magic to launch himself at the creature. His plan is to concentrate enough magic in his staff to damage the dragon.
Ecalai swings his staff and hits the dragon’s wing with all the magic he dares to muster. The dragon is not impressed. He recovers quickly from Mykai’s blow and returns to the sky. Ecalai doubts the dragon even felt his blow. Again he wishes he had something sharp instead of a seemingly useless staff. Why had Sranus given him such a thing? “If only I had my blades I might at least make the beast notice me!” Ecalai fumes.
Nonetheless, the dragon has apparently decided to change tactics. It lands on the mountain and proceeds to slash at them with razor-sharp claws and teeth. It is all the group can do to avoid getting sliced in half. Mykai manages to trap a claw with a sound barrier while Erianna disorients the dragon with a sudden burst of light. Ecalai finds himself behind the creature and seizes the opportunity to strike, but the dragon remains unphazed. With a flick of its wing it tosses Ecalai backward, almost knocking him over the cliff.
“Note to self- a dragon is never helpless,” Ecalai thinks as he hauls himself up. The dragon takes off again and lets loose another burst of flame. Ecalai wonders how he will ever gain the opportunity he needs to take the dragon down.
Sranus. Toledoth, Jeshrun.
The torrent of rain around the mountain obscures the battle but not my sight. The dragon is gaining the upper hand. Erianna and Mykai ward off the dragon’s flame, giving Ecalai more room to maneuver, but there is only so much they can do against this mighty creature. Now it has Ecalai pinned down close to the edge of the cliff, and is trying to force him over the edge.
The shadow dragon roars, declaring Ecalai’s end. It rips up a tree with teeth and claws, then tosses it at Ecalai. Backed up against the edge, there is nowhere for him to run.
The young lord almost has it. Just a little more and he will understand. My own staff longs for battle, but patience, patience. Ecalai will discover his strength soon. The days of terror of that dragon have come to an end.
Ecalai. Dragon Mountain, Jeshrun.
“If only I had a blade!” Ecalai agonizes. In his final moments, as the tree hurls toward him and the cliff closes in behind, he pictures a blade in his mind. He focuses on that thought and on the weapon in his hand. As the tree brings his time to a close he slices downward.
And cuts through the tree with his blunt wooden staff. The two halves of the tree fly off the cliff behind him to crash on the mountainside below. Ecalai flashes his signature grin. “That’s more like it!”
Infuriated, the dragon lashes out with claws, teeth, wing, and tail, but Ecalai’s sixth sense alerts him to every danger. He avoids all the dragon’s attacks with flawless precision. Seeing an opening, Ecalai dashes toward the dragon with magically enhanced agility. He uses his staff as a blade, just like before, and slices directly where his sixth sense tells him the dragon’s heart should be.
Nonetheless, even Ecalai’s magic blade fails to penetrate the dragon’s scales.
Ecalai leaps back as the dragon roars in fury and races over the edge of the cliff to take flight once more. In that half second Ecalai makes a decision. The dragon will not get away. In the blink of an eye, as thunder roars and lightning flashes, Ecalai dives off the cliff’s edge onto the back of the creature.
The dragon roars again as it attempts to shake Ecalai off. The ride is dizzying, but somehow Ecalai holds on. As the dragon gains height, Ecalai recalls the moment he realized the shadow dragon’s weakness. He had considered going back, but the wind had called him here. Now he was on the back of the dragon with the opportunity he needed to silence the creature.
Now! As the dragon levels off, Ecalai raises his staff and forms his magic blade at its tip. The weakness of the shadow dragon is the same fire it had cast aside. “Ancient of Days, if you have chosen me as your Lord of Magic, lend me the strength to end this creature that defies your name!”
Summoning a fire not his own, with a shout Ecalai drives his flaming bladed staff through the dragon’s scales and into its heart.
Sranus. Toledoth, Jeshrun.
Laughter fills my soul and the wind around me. Ecalai is no dragon rider, yet he does not hesitate to leap onto the back of a shadow dragon. Now he knows it. He knows where his strength lies.
The storm clears, and Dragon Mountain is visible once more, as it has not been for centuries beyond memory. With the death of the shadow dragon, even the cloud of shadow that had gathered at the mountain’s base has thinned and vanished. With no shadow hindering it, the wind blows freely.
Ecalai. Dragon Mountain, Jeshrun.
Ecalai stands on the edge of cliff with his eyes closed, feeling the wind blow through his hair. Erianna and Mykai stand a little behind him. They too feel the wind.
“I get it,” Ecalai says. “This is why I am here. This is what we are called to do. The Shadow must not have Jeshrun. The Ancient of Days will proclaim dominion of this land, and we will exterminate the shadow from his sight.”
“That was an impressive display,” the guide remarks. “However, don’t think you have seen all there is to Shadow. This was merely the outer regions of it. True shadow is much thicker, much darker, and much more deadly than this.”
Mykai, Erianna, and Ecalai answer the guide in turn.
“That may be true, but where the wind blows,”
“And the where the Ancient of Days leads,”
“There he will light up the path no matter how dark the night.”
“So where to next?” Erianna asks.
Ecalai’s gaze turns to the Tri-City area in the distance. “Wherever the wind blows.”