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Dragon Hunters

Book One: Out of the Ashes

© 1999-2001 Draconus and Stratadrake of NEWST

Chapter Four: The Avalanche Has Started

The weather seemed largely foggy as the sun cast its rays across the hills and down onto the city below. It was the type of fog that seems as thick as chowder, limiting one's visibility to a scant fifty paces, and the same type of fog that makes signs impossible to read, at any distance.

It seemed that a crowd was gathered. And out in the open, Strato was in action, fighting the founder of the Norset Guards in locked combat. Strato, with one of the two fiery blades of legend, was fighting against Draconus de Nathos. Draconus fought back with his own sword alighted in a blueish fire. Everyone in the crowd, including Katra, was watching in awe. For it seemed that Draconus was on the offensive, trading blows with Strato, and Strato blocked every one. Whenever there was an opening, Strato countered with his own attacks; but Draconus successfully blocked them.

This seemed largely an account of the day that Draconus was slain, fifteen years ago. Something, however, was different. Katra was only six years old at that time, but standing here in this fog, there he stood at his present twenty years of age, watching the fight. Right in front of him, he saw what seemed to be his younger, six-year-old self, who was the only one in the crowd calling out to Draconus in the fight.

Strato hopped back and swung his sword in a wide arc; one that Draconus easily blocked. Draconus countered with a swing of his own. It was a swing so powerful, so rapid that the very fire on Draconus's own sword seemed to blow off in the wind; it traversed across the area as a fireball. Strato blocked it, though, and somehow, the fireball rebounded off of his own blade. It struck the Gallery, which caught fire as if it had been formerly been doused in gasoline.

The rest of the Dragon's Fist mercenaries arrived, and the entire Norset Guard was being called out to defend the city. The mercenaries engaged them one on one. Some of the mercenaries set fire to the buildings with flaming arrows, and plumes of smoke were being driven into the air.

Out of the fog, on the south-eastern entrance to Norset, two soldiers seemed to be entering the fray. One soldier kept at a distance, taking careful aim with his bow and wounding one mercenary after another. The other soldier entered the fray as well with a sword so bright that it shone like the sun, seeming to evaporate most of the fog in the area. However, it also seemed as if the fog itself had worn all the letters off of every sign in the city, for none were readable.

The citizens of Norset tried taking shelter near the buildings. However, as the mercenaries lit more buildings on fire to burn them to the ground, it seemed that fewer safe areas were available to hide in, and many fled the city for their lives. Draconus and Strato continued their mortal fight. Draconus's sword was flaming again, and Strato was still fighing as well as ever. In a surprise move, Draconus threw the flame from his sword again, and this time Strato failed to block. He took the fireball full front and fell to the ground.

The Royal Military was now arriving from Lancaster. However, at the same time, it also seemed that more mercenaries were invading the town to strike back at the military. They did that well, and began fighting the military into a retreat. As those soldiers retreated back towards Lancaster, the mercenaries kept up their chase against the armed soldiers.

The two soldiers from the south had fought off their local foes and were approaching towards the battle. As Strato began to stand back up, it seemed that something was said between the two soldiers. Strato swung at Draconus. Draconus blocked it, countered, and ran Strato through near the heart with his blade. Strato collapsed onto the ground. However, as history had proven true, Strato was not killed by the blow. Strato seemed to move. Katra shouted in their direction, as if to warn Draconus against what was about to happen. Draconus cast a glance at Katra, and just before receiving his fatal blow, Draconus threw his sword and the medallion towards Katra. Katra caught them both as Strato, unlike history's record, threw his sword at Draconus. The ethereal blade ran Draconus through right in the chest, and slew him. Although strangely, it seemed that Draconus's body disappeared into the fog bank as he fell.

Katra kept the medallion in one hand, armed his father's sword, and ran towards Strato as the crowd of civilians seemed to vanish from the area. The two soldiers from the south rushed in to fight as well. However, as they approached closer, it seemed that Strato himself changed. His injured form faded into the fog and disappeared, and in its place appeared a large, 15-foot tall and 50-foot long, coal-colored dragon, with eyes the same fiery color as magma, claws of a dark golden color, and spinal scale plates of obsidian color.

As the two comrades approached to Katra's position, Katra looked at his father's sword. Try as he could, he still could not figure out by what method--so-called magic or Ancestral technology--that Draconus was able to use it with the power of fire which Draconus could. The black dragon lunged upon them, nailing Katra to the ground underneath one of his claws. While the two other comrades came close, the dragon knocked one back with its sharp-plated tail. That comrade landed about 30 feet back. As Katra looked, it would seem that Hunter was that comrade, and Marcus was the other.

Marcus took a bow--his bow--and shot the dragon with it. However, as the arrow impaled itself in the dragon's wing, the dragon bit off the shaft of the arrow with its teeth and threw it aside. Hunter lunged at the dragon with his shining sword and slashed it in the foreleg. Katra was released from its grip and took a step back. The dragon took a jump over them, and using its wings to fly up, moved out of attack range. It seemed to still be within archery range, though, and Marcus hit it in the same wing with another arrow. The dragon felt the injury, lost flight, and crashed into the ground. Hunter slashed at it in the head with his sword as it quickly got back up on its four feet.

The dragon whirled around in another spin, hitting Hunter with its tail and knocking him back a larger distance, approximately 40 feet this time. It reared its head back for a moment, inhaled, and doused Katra in a large berth of fire-breath. It seemed that something blocked the fire, though, as Katra was unharmed by the blast. It was as if his father's sword had absorbed the dragon's fire-breath into its blade and protected Katra.

The dragon attacked Katra, with its sharp teeth. Although Katra made sure that the dragon bit down upon the sword's metal blade, the dragon seemed unscathed and came after Katra again, knocking Katra to its side with the brunt of its head and brow. It then pinned Katra to the ground underneath one of its massive paws. It squeezed.

Marcus tried attacking with his bow again, but somehow, it seemed that even with the dragon's large size, it dodged the arrow and countered with a large, concentrated burst of fire at Marcus. With Katra pinned against the ground, the dragon looked at Katra through its red eyes with a piercing glare. It was the kind of glare that gives an impression of true fear to its victim. Katra struggled to break free of the dragon's grasp--

And he woke up. Although as he looked up, there still was a dragon-like face staring at him closely. It licked him. Katra reacted in surprise, and tried to roll to one side. In doing so, he knocked Vrynn off of him. He looked up alertly, noticing Hunter (who was standing up, viewing Lancaster's skyline) and Marcus (who was watching Vrynn with amusement). Vrynn rolled to the side, stood back, and looked back at Katra with some sort of smile.

Katra's heart was still racing from that surprise. He looked at Marcus. "Was this... was this your doing?!?"

Marcus laughed. "No. Don't worry about a thing, though...Vrynn's taken quite a liking to you."

Katra wiped his face. "What?"

Marcus smiled. "That is one way their kind shows affection and friendship to one another. And Vrynn is often a good judge of character...."

Hunter turned, and looked back at them. "Have a good night's sleep?"

Katra shook his head. "Not exactly. I had a dream; and yet again it was about Norset."

Marcus looked down and kicked a small dust ball off of the roof. "Anything interesting?"

Katra looked back. "Totally, but not of the good variety. It was wierd, and yet it made almost no sense whatsoever."

Hunter returned his view to the skyline. "Some would say that dreams aren't supposed to make sense. Then there are others who say that dreams are some sort of message. And then there are the rest of us who don't know what to think of them. What happened?"

Katra filled them in. "Well, first of all, there was Norset. Father and Strato were fighting, almost like 15 years ago; I was in the crowd watching them. And the funny thing--well, one of them--was that I could see myself in the crowd as well."

Hunter looked confused. "Two of you? That indeed doesn't make sense."

Katra nodded. "Well, I myself was standing amongst the crowd. And then there was me, as a young child, standing at the front of the crowd watching. It was almost like how I remember it. Father nearly killed Strato by running him through; but Strato survived it, got back up, and killed him.

"Then it got really strange," Katra continued. "The Dragon's Fist mercenaries showed up and beseiged the city, just like recently. Norset's citizens fled in all directions, and the mercenaries set fire to the entire place. You two arrived from the south as well...

Katra began thinking harder, as the details of his dream was already beginning to melt from memory. "Somehow, this huge dragon appeared and attacked us. Strato..." Katra paused. "I dunno. Strato disappeared, but we all began fighting with the dragon. And then..." Katra pointed at Vrynn. "And then, he woke me up. Not that I'd blame him, it seemed we were losing the fight."

Hunter looked off towards Lancaster Castle; Katra continued. "And what's really strange? Lancaster's Royal Military showed up and..." Katra paused again. "...Well, they did some fighting on our side. But they were... I think, they were driven off by the Dragon's Fist."

Hunter turned back to the group. "Well, if we're all ready, we should get going to the Castle. Shane said we're to be there by noon, if not sooner."

Marcus nodded. "Although, first, we should get some breakfast."

"Would that make us late for the meeting...or whatever?", Katra spoke up. Hunter shook his head, and opening the door leading to the lower floor of the Starlight Inn--where the Innkeeper was now serving breakfast to the paying clientèle--he led the way down.

Marcus ordered rare steak for Vrynn and the "Morning Special" for himself. Katra and Hunter ordered their personal favorites, and after their orders were processed, they ate breakfast at the Inn. Vrynn, who tore apart his meal into pieces before devouring it, was quite the morning spectacle. In fact, a few customers questioned why the Innkeeper allowed such a creature indoors, and he told them that Marcus assured him that Vrynn would remain under control.

It was perhaps ten in the morning by the time Hunter, Marcus, and Katra had finished eating and were ready to leave. Marcus gave the Innkeeper a sizable courtesy (tip) for tolerating Vrynn's presence, because most other Innkeepers would not allow anything but human clientèle. Shane met the group en route to Lancaster Castle and its legislative Houses. Once again, Vrynn did not like Shane, and kept on the opposite side of Marcus as they travelled.

Upon arriving at the Castle, they were recognized and signed-in by the door guards and given permission to go straight to the Warrior's House. As representatives of Suthcross's three other major-city Guards, they were allowed to take their seats on the main floor of the Lancaster Warrior's House. Other guests were always allowed in the sessions, but only in the guest areas set off to the side of the well-sunlit room. The three Chiefs of Wartime sat at their desks in the front-center of the room, and King Leonardo was personally attending this session. Marcus was allowed in as an additional representative from Norset as well as on Hunter's request; and the guards had no objections regarding Vrynn who was now sitting next to Marcus's seat.

They were right on time. One of the door guards conferred with one of the Wartime Chiefs, and after apparently checking a list, he made an announcement. The court writers were preparing for a busy session of recording the ensuing dialogue for this session. The guest area was packed, primarily with former residents of Norset. Given the Dragon's Fist's attack on the city of Norset, rumor had it that war was in the air.

Wartime Chief Martaka, the senior Chief among this branch of the legislature, spoke up first. "Everyone has arrived. And so forth shall this session commence." Martaka gave the floor to King Leonardo, who stood up and addressed the House.

"Citizens of Suthcross, we have received word about the Dragon's Fist's sacreligious activities in our country. Two days ago (as many of our guests know very well), these mercenaries attacked our snow queen city, Norset. It now lies in ruins; its Guard all but annihilated and the items in its Gallery reduced to ashes.

"We add this to their list of crimes against civilizations. They have long raided the Catacombs for reasons known only to themselves; and it was only a few years ago that they shattered Namros into pieces. They have given our country two wounds; and have given the world many more. As King of our country, I feel that they need to be taught a lesson. They must learn the price for their crimes; and as such I am declaring war against these mercenaries. If they invade our cities, they are to be arrested, apprehended, or killed on sight. If they attack our people, we will strike back, and we will strike them harder...."

The King continued on his speech. Marcus leaned against Hunter and spoke quietly. "I don't believe it..." Hunter leaned back. "Nor do I."

"...And for this reason, I believe that our Royal Military might not have the strength necessary to quell these outlandish brigands. This is why I have summoned you, the representatives of our country's Honor Guards, to our capital city. We ask for your strength in the upcoming battle. We ask that you give us whatever hand and assistance you are able as we go out and fight."

Marcus stood up and boldly interrupted. "What are you doing, King Leonardo?"

Chief Martaka recognized him, saying, "Marcus Antare, representative of the Norset Tracker's Guild."

King Leo responded back. "Marcus Antare; you may speak for now. It is only by your reputation, and Norset's destruction, that you are permitted to say those words!"

Marcus continued. "I have observed the Dragon's Fist for years. I have seen many of their attacks firsthand. They only strike at those who take up the role as an enemy. When they struck Norset, they attacked its Guard because the guardsmen decided to fight. The citizen population of Norset--those who value their lives more than their honor--were allowed to leave peacefully and unharmed."

King Leo questioned Marcus. "And what are you implying?"

Marcus gave him a brazen response. "It should be obvious. They have not struck at our other cities because, quite simply, they have never needed to. If you declare war, and send our military out to fight these brigands, you'll only give them a reason to attack this city Lancaster!"

The crowd gasped. King Leo stepped back but still remained standing. "Your point is taken, Marcus Antare, but we will continue on this course of action. We cannot allow our kingdom to acquiesce the presence of these brigands. We cannot allow their crimes to go unpunished." King Leo repeated himself. "And that alone is the reason why our country is declaring war. We are striking back at them."

Marcus sat down and shook his head. He spoke softly to Hunter. "He doesn't listen. What's the use?"

Shane stood up, was recognized by Chief Martaka as the representative from the Alexis Guard, and was permitted to speak. "I agree with the King on this issue. These incursions must be dealt with." Without awaiting a response, Shane sat back down.

King Leo acknowledged Shane's support. "When there are no more questions or concerns, our Honor Guard representatives are to speak with their local Guardsmen about enlisting in the Royal Military. You are Guardsmen first, and according to your creed, will help out with our military so long as it is in the best interests of the country and in the name of honor."

Katra stood up, and was recognized. "Sire; the Dragon's Fist brigands have a leader named Strato. Would it not be logical to deal with that man alone, than to strike at the entire band? He is the one giving the orders..."

King Leo cut him off. "...and his band, Katra de Nathos, are the ones who are executing those orders. They must be dealt with as well. However..." King Leo gave the stand to Chief Martaka.

Martaka adressed the representatives as a whole. "History teaches us of the Namros war. A former country to our north, they declared war against the Dragon's Fist. However, their fault was not to defend their cities against attack. They were besieged, their leaders killed, and the country divided. We are not making that same mistake. We will attack the Dragon's Fist with a contingent of our forces, not as a whole. Then, when they come running towards our borders, we will greet them with the full force of our Military. We will defeat them."

As Katra sat down, Marcus murmured to him, "...or die trying. Those mercenaries won't fall so easily."

Marcus stood up, and this time he was recognized by Chief Martaka before he spoke. "I still don't believe that this war will benefit our country. Is there any way that you would retract the declaration?"

King Leo thought for a minute, as Marcus continued. "Namros lost to the Dragon's Fist in an extended war. Their king and government officials were not killed in battle; they were assassinated by Dragon's Fist infiltrators."

King Leo came to a conclusion. "You have shown us an idea, Marcus Antare. True, the government of Namros was assassinated by single infiltrators and spies. If these mercenaries are led by a single leader, perhaps we can dispatch their leader in the same manner. If successful, the loss of Strato will deal a devastating blow to the mercenaries, and we will defeat them easily in the coming battle."

Marcus spoke up again. "But would it not be better to strike at their leader even before thinking about combatting their forces?"

King Leo responded with his vision. "Are you volunteering?'

Marcus was shocked, but having no reponse, sat back down. King Leo continued. "Very well. Katra de Nathos, Marcus Antare, and your brother Hunter; I hereby request a special assignment of you three. You three are survivors of the Norset battle. If you can arrest Strato and bring him to trial here--or kill him in the process--I will remove the declaration of war against the Dragon's Fist."

Chief Martaka spoke up. "This session of the Warrior's House is adjourned! Visitors from Norset; the Resident's House will convene in a few moments, and you all may attend. A good day to you all..."

Hunter, Marcus, Katra, Shane, and the other representatives were escorted out of the Castle. Marcus seemed a bit irate. "How stupid! I still can't believe King Leo is mis-interpreting the lessons from Namros, and is declaring a war!"

Hunter consoled Marcus. "Fortunately for us, King Leo offered a way out. If we can catch Strato, at least he has agreed to take back the declaration."

Marcus was watching Vrynn chase after and catch a butterfly. "I hope you're right." Marcus noticed the Lancaster Royal Military on the grounds; they were forming up for their mission, and being briefed about the situation by their commanding officers. Marcus looked to the north. "The last I heard, the Dragon's Fist was spotted residing in an area north of Windfall River, near the border.

Shane walked off to talk with the Military officers. Hunter looked at the soldiers. "With an enemy like the Dragon's Fist, we had better find some way to capture Strato, and soon. The Ancestral weapons they have already recovered... if they use them in battle against even the Royal Military, it'll be a massacre."

Marcus nodded. "Indeed. We should get going early. The Military isn't going to be leaving for perhaps another hour; and the Dragon's Fist will likely be expecting their contingent to arrive sometime tomorrow. If we approach their camp at dark, we may have the element of surprise on our side."

Hunter looked at Marcus, a bit perplexed. "That sounds like a suicide tactic."

Katra thought up an idea. "Not necessarily! We could approach them from their rear. If we wait for the Military to engage them in combat, we can berak in during the ruckus of combat--and we may even get a clear shot at Strato."

Marcus thought about it and, saying words that would later come back to haunt him, spoke up: "If it works, this'll be the shortest war in all of history."