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Dragon Hunters

Book One: Out of the Ashes

© 1999-2001 Draconus and Stratadrake of NEWST

Chapter Eleven: And Its Name Was Andrake

Pain. After a fight like theirs, Katra had been the recipient of an indescribable amount of it from the enemy's blade; it cut through Katra's mind like a wildfire through grass. There were faint images, and sounds, flowing through his mind in a darkness in which he felt bound. There was a figure seeming to stand before him, as if calling or beckoning for him to follow.

And, similarly, there was a figure standing over him. Katra lay in a bed at the clinic with Hunter watching over. Katra was completely still and deathly silent--true signs of a comatose state--from the attack. It was noon-day. Marcus had been off running errands, but Hunter felt that he needed to stay near Katra just in case Katra came to.

Marcus returned for a moment, with some lunch for them. Even Vrynn seemed mournful on a day like this. Marcus offered some to Hunter. "I can watch over him for a bit. Is there anything you'd rather do?"

Hunter shook his head. "No; I've got to be here. He can still-- I mean, he could still recover. Couldn't he...?"

"It's all up to him, I'm afraid...", Marcus shrugged. "The academics are still looking up documents regarding the legendary swords. I do believe the blade held by our opponent was one of them."

Hunter sighed. "That would be just our luck. I've never felt so powerless as I did up against that thing. There was no stopping it...."

Marcus nodded. "Indeed. The Courier's Guild just received an emergency mail from overseas. Reportedly, Strato was sighted near the city of Adgers; and not late afterwards, it was attacked by that same monster. To think that Strato unearthed a formiddable monster from the past...."

Vrynn was watching Katra with a worried expression as the medic entered the room. "Still keeping hope, I see. That is quite noble of you two. Your friend was still most fortunate that I begin so early in the morning."

Hunter looked at the medic. "Any prognosis?"

The medic shook his head. "Still no change; I did about all I could to help soothe his burns. The rest, though, is up to him. He either makes it, or he doesn't make it. There's no sign of which way he'll go."

Vrynn tried nudging Katra's arm, but no response. Hunter looked at Marcus. "Learn anything new?"

Marcus nodded. "The first results from the academics came in this morning. Details are sketchy, but that metal monster from last night dates back approximately 3,000 years. Just like the dragons of legend...."

"...dragons...?", came a weak voice from the bed. Hunter and Marcus turned to Katra in surprise. "Katra! Are you still with us?"

Katra struggled to keep focus. "There was... this...." Katra tapped his medallion. "Dream.... there was.... me.... I was... were... was a..." Katra passed out.

Hunter walked over. "There was a ...what? You were doing what...?"

Marcus put his hand on Hunter's shoulder. "Never mind, for now. He'll make it. Whatever he was trying to say, he'll say it when he gets better."

Hunter seemed puzzled. "Maybe... but something feels different. I'd bet lunch that when he gets better, he never finishes that sentence."

Marcus smiled. "I can watch over him for awhile. Don't you have things to do, as well?"

Hunter remembered. "That's right! The smithies; how's their progress coming along?"

"They're finished, and waiting for you."

Hunter nodded, and walked outside to pick up his repaired sword and shield.

Even now, four days after the attack and Strato's escape, the damage done to the city was still being repaired. The holes broken through the courthouse wall still remained, and the broken jail bars still lying on the floor; the building nearby was still a wreck on its second floor. Hunter still could scarcely believe the sheer power of their enemy, as he walked by both sites on the way to the smithies.

The blacksmith recognized Hunter's description the moment he walked in. "Glad to see you here, sir. Marcus said you'd show up sometime to pick 'em up. Good as new...." The blacksmith left for a moment, then returned with Hunter's sword and shield, and Katra's sword as well. He set them both down upon the counter. "I don't know what kinda thing could just melt through these both in a mere flash, but I had to completely re-forge them to repair the damage. Can't have a weakened product, ya know...."

Hunter smiled. "What do I owe you?" The blacksmith smiled. "Nothin' at all; yer brother Marcus paid in full for their care. They're completely yours." Hunter smiled again, sheathing his renewed sword and slinging the shield over his shoulder. Hunter took Katra's sword and, for lack of a sheath, put it in his empty quiver for carrying. "And what of the other sword?"

The blacksmith shrugged. "I dunno what that thing's made of, but it's nigh-impossible to mangle. 'Twas not a scratch on it; no way I could melt it, either. Tried myself, just to see if I could; no matter how hot I made me forge, nothin' affected it. Wherever your buddy picked up that blade, it's a real beaut."

Hunter nodded. "It was an heirloom, I think. Katra always held it in high regards; I guess I can understand why." He looked outside. "Thanks for your help."

The blacksmith said 'good day' as Hunter left the shop and returned to the clinic. Katra was still unconscious as Hunter walked in. "Anything?"

Marcus shook his head. "Not since you left; he's still out like an empty torch. At least he's hung on for this long; he'll make it. It's just a matter of time."

Hunter nodded quietly. "Right...yet, I still hate waiting. Especially with word in that Strato's overseas and doing damage. And we still don't know anything about the thing that attacked us last night."

Marcus nodded. "Check the library, then. I'll take watch and send for you if he comes to."

Hunter thought about it. "Good idea. And I'll let you know if I find anything." Hunter nodded, and left the clinic for a trip to the library.

Upon arrival at Border's library, it was clear that there was activity afoot. A larger-than-normal group of visitors was inside, looking through the sections on historical records and artifacts. Apparently, news about the attack had well spread throughout the town, and the citizens were now trying to figure out anything they could about it.

Hunter walked over to one of the librarians. "Busy day?"

The man nodded. "Indeed. Ever since that attack, we haven't been able to keep all the books on their shelves..." The librarian looked Hunter over. "Wait a minute; you're Hunter, aren't you?" Hunter nodded.

"Your brother, Marcus, gave us a search request a few days ago and said that you might be dropping by to check. A most interesting inquiry, at that...." The librarian began walking off to a separate room, and motioned for Hunter to follow.

In the back room, the librarian unveiled a few old, dusty books. "Of all our searching, these two volumes are the only ones to mention both of the items that Marcus queried." The librarian opened one of the books, and flipped to a bookmark placed in it. A large drawing was on the page, showing a sword engulfed in red fire. The page next to it had a drawing of a similar weapon, except with a golden fire. "These are images of the two legendary swords--Atom Blade and Dragon Buster. The Atom Blade is this one..." the librarian pointed at the red sketch. "...and the Dragon Buster is that one."

Hunter nodded. "Right. What does it say about them?"

The librarian continued. "In millenia past, when the Ancestors ruled, it says that they were always trying to increase the scale of warfare. Legends say of warriors exceeding ten and twenty feet in size; and of weapons that could destroy entire buildings and even cities...."

Hunter smiled. "Assured; but where do these two blades factor in?"

The librarian nodded. "According to legend, the Ancestors built these two weapons for use on a smaller scale; hand-to-hand, or melee. The Atom Blade was designed to tear apart any surface; any material. Wielded properly, it could carve up even their largest and strongest suits of armor or weapons. It was a purely offensive weapon, and was designed so that no armor could stop it.

"Nothing, that is, except its fellow blade, Dragon Buster. Fearing that their prized weapon could fall into the wrong hands, the Ancestors developed a counterpart for the Atom Blade; the Dragon Buster. The Dragon Buster was forged of a different energy, and was capable of stopping the Atom Blade in combat. Whereas Atom Blade was pure offense, Dragon Buster was made for defense. Even so, Dragon Buster was almost as strong as the Atom Blade when used on offense."

Hunter sighed. "You can say that again. I was there when that thing attacked us; it cut my shield and sword in half as if they were mere paper and sticks. It could burn through sheer brick and iron in a flash. And Katra..." Hunter stopped. "It nearly killed Katra in a single attack."

The librarian cringed. "My sympathies, to hear that you almost lost a fellow man." The librarian moved the book aside. "Legends say that the Dragon Buster was placed in safe-keeping, most likely somewhere in the Catacombs. The Atom Blade, though.... It disappeared from legend and history." The librarian grabbed the other book, opened it, and began flipping through its pages. "that is, until re-appearing in legend somewhat near Judgement three thousand years ago. Here we are..."

The librarian stopped at the next page. An aged and faded drawing of a metal soldier was etched into the page. "One group of Ancestors went to work creating metal monsters like this one. That is approximately where the Atom Blade was last seen in legend."

Hunter examined the drawing. It was of a magenta color. But no--the drawn creature seemed to be female; it couldn't possibly match what Hunter remembered. "May I...?" Hunter flipped to the next page. Another figure, different yet similar in both design and color, was on that page. But it still did not match what Hunter remembered. Hunter flipped through some more pages. A third one; clearly blue and green in material, but still no match. A fourth, carrying a lightweight frame, striking orange color, but still no match. A fifth, but no--its grey color wasn't it. A sixth; with a dark gray and reddish color; and a seventh of a sky-blue material. Hunter blinked, and flipped back to the sixth drawing. Hunter examined it closely. Orange eyes, a dark frame offset by colors of red--"This is the one!"

The librarian was surprised. "This one? Quite a coincidence! This is the only page in this volume that also mentions the Atom Blade. According to it..." The librarian scanned through the page. "Here we are; according to this, the Atom Blade was given to this monster."

Hunter froze; with that mention, it was clear what had attacked them. "What is it?"

The librarian read through the page for an answer. "It was pure warrior, and it was given the Atom Blade for a weapon. But unfortunately, there is no other information about it."

Hunter flipped back through the pages to the first drawing, and then flipped forwards, examining them a second time. "What happened to those creatures?"

The librarian shrugged. "It's hard to say. Legends say that six of them disappeared without a trace, also about three thousand years ago. The last one--the same one given the Atom Blade--was said to have been lost, or buried, somewhere in the Catacombs."

Hunter nodded. "And now, it's loose; and somehow, it's following Strato's agenda."

The librarian folded the two books. "Is that enough?"

Hunter looked outside. "It is...for now, anyway. Thanks for the help."

The librarian smiled and shook Hunter's hand. "It was a pleasure, Hunter. It's a horror to learn that two of the Ancestor's weapons attacked us four nights back. Because just one of their weapons can cause that much damage; knowing that there were seven such monsters is a nightmarish thought."

Hunter remained in the upper room for a few minutes, thinking. Had he not participated in the fight himself, he still would not be able to believe exactly what happened. But of course, it had happened; the damage and Katra's deadly injury were two lingering signs. Hunter decided to walk back and watch over Katra at the clinic.

When he arrived, Hunter asked Marcus if anything had happened. Marcus shook his head. "No change...."

Hunter nodded. "Well, then; I guess we just plain wait for him."

After a nondescript evening--dinner, and more waiting for Katra to come to--the night was long. Hunter and Marcus both decided to get some worthwhile sleep, and watch over Katra in the morning. Vrynn was the only one who stayed up all night, as if volunteering to do the watching himself.

Morning came, and Hunter was the first one awake. Vrynn was now asleep, and Marcus was dozing. Hunter leaned against Katra's bed, thinking out loud. "At this rate, it's going to be a long day...."

Marcus woke up soon. "Still no change, right?"

Hunter nodded. "Indeed." Hunter drew Katra's sword and analyzed it. "You know; I stopped at the smithy yesterday. The blacksmith couldn't figure out what Katra's sword was made of. According to the smith, it's indestructible. And now that I think about it..." Hunter recalled the battle, now five days past. "When Katra fought against it, their blades crossed several times, and even against the Atom Blade of legend, Katra's sword still held firm together. It's a miraculous sword...."

Marcus nodded. "For that matter, Katra's a miraculous soul himself. According to the doctor, the only thing that kept the enemy from running Katra through was that medallion he keeps. Somehow, the medallion absorbed the fury from the Atom Blade, and in so doing, saved Katra."

Hunter looked at Marcus in surprise. "No way?"

Marcus continued. "To withstand a strong blow from the Atom Blade, Katra's medallion must be just as indestructible as his sword. What is it, anyway?"

Hunter looked at Katra's medallion. "The only one to know was Katra's father, or possibly Strato. All that Katra told me about it was that his father, Draconus, said to keep it with him for all time. To guard it--"

"--guard it, as a sign of heritage", came a tired-sounding voice. Katra woke up, slowly. "Dad said to just keep it with me. Something important..." Katra looked at them.

Hunter stepped back. "Katra! How are you feeling?"

Katra looked back. "Did you... get the name of that sword's smithy? I've felt better...."

Hunter nodded. "It was a blade of legend. Can you get up?"

Katra struggled for an answer. "I think so...." Katra rolled off the bed feet first into a standing position. He could stand, but weakly. "What has happened?"

Hunter began explaining. "You've been out for almost five days. The doctors consider it a miracle that you surived; and the blacksmith considers it a miracle that your sword survived the battle." Hunter sheathed Katra's sword for him, as Katra leaned up against a wall for support.

The doctor was astonished when he walked in and saw Katra. "By jove, you're awake! I'd have almost given up on you, boy!"

Katra blinked and nodded. By now, Vrynn was starting to wake up--slowly at first, then quickly when he realized that Katra was back up. Vrynn jumped onto the bed for a closer look and a good sniff of Katra. Katra looked back at Vrynn and pat him on his head and muzzle; Katra was glad to see him.

Hunter looked at Katra. "Whenever you're ready, we can continue tracking down Strato."

Katra nodded. The doctor checked them out; they had breakfast, and even by then, Katra's strength was returning to him. Afterwards, considering that it was approaching sunset, Hunter asked if they should continue travelling westwards. Strato was overseas; and Port Town in the west could easily afford them a ship abroad.

Fortunately, Port Town was but two hours of travel across the remainder of Aarid Desert. Katra weathered it quite well, considering the wound he had previously received. Indeed, it seemed that Katra had already completely recovered from that wound and was as good as new. Some might call it a miracle, and others might just accept it as is, but Katra was, in fact, better than new, in part because he had new reason to keep his sword and medallion handy at all times.

Port Town is Danverse's largest city in density, but rather low in its actual population because most of the people in Port Town are visitors, merchants, and tourists. It has a larger Merchant's Guild than even West Falls, a small Honor Guard station, and a large city income from tariffs and levies. The city's income is well-balanced by a regular amount of exported goods, in which the city sponsors the tariffs that the outgoing ships must pay upon their arrival at foreign ports. This import/export practice makes Port Town an even more favorable port than larger cities like West Falls, and with the money to spare, the city council spends a lot of time beautifying the area.

Being in somewhat of a rush, Hunter's group checked in at the Honor Guard only for a few moments before booking a ship. This night, they were fortunate, as a cargo vessel was readying itself for an export journey. The C.S. Titanic, as it was officially named; or as its sailors call it, "Old Weatherable". It was a relatively small cargo ship, with a crew & captain numbering at twenty men. After paying for their trip, they decided to stay on deck rather than retire to their assigned quarters. It was the tenth hour of night when the C.S. Titanic set sail.

A storm was brewing on the horizon; but under the captain's course, neither the rain nor the wind hampered the sailing. Katra was a bit uneasy as they travelled over the water; this was not due to any seasickness, but rather, Katra had a fear of sailing. Perhaps it was the wind, or the masses of oceanwater surrounding them; but Katra remained near the center of the ship, hanging onto one of the stairway rails with a strong grip. There were a few bolts of lightning between the clouds as the ship continued on through the rain. Vrynn didn't like the lightning or the thunder, and stayed right at Marcus's side. Hunter, though, was looking onwards with dis-regard for the weather or the storm.

The ship rocked left suddenly, as if a sudden gust of wind was trying to tip it over. No such luck with a ship of Titanic's small size and skilled captain; but the next sight was an unexpected and fear-striking one. A glow of red appeared in the distance, and it quickly flew closer. Hunter and Katra instantly recognized it as their foe. The crewmen raised a frightened chatter as it flew through one of the sails (burning a hole in it) and landed near the front bow. The crew was gathered--with Hunter, Marcus, and Katra amongst--near the door to the captain's room. It looked at the crew and gave its demands.

"You have sworn enemies on this vessel. The captain will promptly turn this ship around, and head back to port, or you shall face the consequences!" It waved the Atom Blade in a threat.

The captain was a bit frightened, but not enough to succumb to this demand. "Who the storms are you, and what can you do if I don't turn her around?"

The soldier identified itself. "My allies knew me as commander Andrake. As for my enemies..." Andrake slashed the Atom Blade through the Titanic's main mast, snapping it off near the base. It fell over to the side, and the ship tilted with it until the mast-cables snapped. The mainsail then crashed into the water. "Must I repeat myself?"

Hunter stepped forward, a bit away from the crew. "This ship's crew has no quarrel with you. If it's us that you want, don't attack the crew!"

Andrake laughed. "Of course..." Andrake flew off to the starboard side of the ship, and fired his grapple into the ship's side. In a yank, he retracted his grapple and ripped a large, gaping hole--about 8 feet wide and 5 foot high--into the Titanic's hull. Water began spilling in through that hole; the Titanic was sinking.

A few members of the crew did their best to evacuate everyone from the ship's lower decks. Furthermore, they shut, locked, and sealed the stairs to the lower decks so as to be air-tight; with luck, this would buy more time with which to evacuate the ship. The crew scrambled to get to the lifeboats; the Captain called after Hunter, Marcus, and Katra, but Hunter responded by telling the captain not to worry about them and to escape in safety. For with them as Andrake's enemy, their presence on the life-boats would only endanger the crew.

Except for Katra, who still hung near the center railings, Hunter and Marcus ran over to the ship's side. "What are you doing?!?"

Andrake flew in closer, taking the Atom Blade and carving holes in the ship's side along the lower deck to quicken the ship's sinking. He cut clear from bow to stern, ignoring the evacuating crew and continuing to carve up the ship while also ignoring Marcus and Hunter above .

Andrake then cut up the side of it, making a vertical gash in its hull, before landing on the deck behind Hunter and Marcus. He cut through the rest of the Titanic's masts, bringing its other two sails down and to the waters aside the ship. "I could destroy you right now, but there's no need..." As a flash of lightning bolted through the sky, Andrake doused the Atom Blade, put it away, and flew off.

The stress of the ship's broken masts and sails caused it to break apart between front and back. The escaping crew, a few minutes away from the ship in the life-boats, could not be reached as Hunter, Marcus, Katra, and Vrynn fell into the ocean. Vrynn took flight and kept aloft above the waters; Marcus managed to grab onto a plank for safety, Hunter found a board large enough to sit on, while Katra struggled to find something to stay afloat with.

The larger, denser pieces of the ship began sinking beneath the ocean's surface, creating a slight downward current in the water. Marcus and Hunter were knocked off of their holdings, and Katra was still trying to swim. Even weighted down with his pack and shield, Hunter could still stay afloat. "Katra!!"

Vrynn noticed Katra first, and took a dive into the water to help him. Katra grabbed Vrynn, as Vrynn kept swimming along the surface of the waters, wings spread to keep both himself and Katra afloat. Marcus found another plank to grab ahold of; Hunter was still treading water, and Vrynn was trying to guide Katra to some semblance of safety.

In another moment, Katra was safely gripped to a floating piece of hull, with Vrynn alongside; Hunter had found another piece of hull to grab ahold of, and Marcus knew exactly how improbable the chances are of making it to shore in a rain and storm like this one.