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Dragon Hunters

Book Two: The Path of Honor

© 2001-2002 Draconus / Stratadrake of NEWST


In a time where technology was high and everything was explained by principles of science, ancient countries and peoples, now remembered only as the "Ancestors", ruled the earth. They had made many advances in their sciences, but they had also paid some terrible prices. War was one of those prices; and when it broke loose from all the laws and regulations that kept it sealed away from the nations, the world paid dearly. Losses of life were estimated at 99 percent and higher, leaving almost nothing left alive. And so, the modern world was born.

Through a miracle attributed only to eight legendary dragons, civilization managed to survive even that catastrophe, and began to rebuild. Now, after three thousand years of time, the only things left of the high-technology Ancestors are the "Catacombs"; vast underground caverns built by the Ancestors and filled with the clues of their power. Many artifacts had been recovered from these undergrounds and brought forth for display in museums and galleries, provoking a movement known as the Restoration; but recently, a mercenary group known only as the 'Dragon's Fist' had begun to invade the Catacombs and plunder them of their treasures. Led by a powerful Dragon Knight, Stratos Valkyros de Khatalus, they were a group of mercenaries who destroyed any and every one standing in their way.

Everyone, that is, except the Honor Guards. Established in most major cities, Honor Guardsmen are the only soldiers brave and determined enough to take a stand against the marauders. Among them are: Hunter Antare, a senior officer of West Falls; his brother Marcus, a tracker from the city Norset, who is Honor Guard material only by blood relation to Hunter; and Katra de Nathos, given to the Norset Honor Guards ever since the death of his father, Draconus.

Provoked by the Dragon Fist's assault on and destruction of Norset City, these three men vowed that they would capture the Dragon Fist's leader, Strato, and bring him to justice. As the Lancaster Royal Military attacked and combatted the bulk of the Dragon's Fist, Strato laid seige to Lancaster City and assassinated their king, Leonardo Rutherford de Suthcross. With the death of the king, the Guardsmens' vow became a duty, given to them by the Lancaster Government.

Travelling towards Aarid Desert and into the city of Border, Strato was finally brought to justice, and all's well that seemed to end well. However, Strato's fate would not be sealed so easily. With the recovery of a powerful Ancestral soldier named Andrake, who was armed with a plasma sword known as the Atom Blade, Strato escaped on a quest of his own undertaking. Hunter, Marcus, and Katra, after a terrible defeat at the hands of such a soldier, gave chase once more after Strato, now overseas.

Strato would not forget them, though, and Andrake was sent to hunt them down. After Andrake sank their ship in the high seas, Hunter, Marcus and Katra were washed ashore on an island known only as Atlantis. There, they discovered a major clue to the legends. A dragon--a real, live, breathing, dragon!--had lived on Atlantis Isle for nearly three thousand years, and offered his help, flying them towards the continent they sought. The dragon also told them of the Ancestors' greatest achievement, sealed away by three "keys".

After finding the first key, Hunter successfully bartered the second Key from Strato's posession, and with the two Keys together, they proceeded off into the mountains to locate the Ancestor's treasure. They found it. A sort of portal--one linking their world to another!--was hidden deep underground. Strato revealed himself to be a foreigner who was long stranded on this side of the portal, far from his home; and Katra's late father, Draconus, was also discovered to have similarly travelled through the portal. After a duel, Hunter and Marcus managed to successfully lure Strato away from the portal. Katra, wanting to learn of his homeland--his true homeland--volunteered to travel through the portal to the other side with Hunter, and they did.

Something horrible happened once on the other side of the portal. Katra's most prized posession--a golden medallion given to him by his father and brandishing the symbol of a dragon--reacted to the portal and unleashed a powerful wave of energy. Katra survived it, somehow, but soon fell ill. Worse, something seemed to be happening to Katra, 'changing' him in a sort of ways, and neither he nor Hunter knew enough about what was occuring to help him. Hunter stopped a passer-by for assistance, but this passer-by evidently knew something about what was happening that he did not want to share, for after one look at pained Katra, he demanded without explanation that Hunter leave the area. When Hunter refused, the man called for an ally of his own, and knocked Hunter out cold. Together, the two individuals absconded off with Katra.

Hunter awoke to the sight of his brother, Marcus, who had travelled through the portal as well to deliver a dire message to Hunter. Strato was there, in the unusual and strange new world, and who knows what trouble he could be causing. But first things first; with their comrade Katra abducted, and a different gold medallion as their only clue, they needed to begin searching.

To find Katra first, and then to apprehend Strato; the saga of Dragon Hunters has just begun.

Chapter One: A Step Into the Unknown

Taking the only real advice offered by the strangers who had abducted Katra, Hunter and Marcus forged their way northwards. According to the stranger, the nearest city was twenty miles north. However, neither Hunter nor Marcus knew exactly what clues they would find. Hunter observed the one clue they had to Katra's location; a golden medallion. It had the same shape as Katra's, but it clearly was not his. It was lighter weight, and of a brighter, more reflective color; and rather than the dragon-image inscribed on Katra's medallion, this one had the image of an eagle. Hunter showed it to Marcus. "I don't suppose you know anything about this...?"

Marcus shook his head. "Not at all. In fact, I think you'd know more about it than I do. What do you think about it, anyway?"

"Well, it's similar to Katra's, but it's clearly not his. If I had to guess, I'd say it was left behind by the two that attacked me."

Marcus examined the medallion himself. A highly reflective yellow-gold in color, pure in metal, with much the same size and shape as Katra's. Yet it was not Katra's, but it was clearly someone else's. Vrynn sniffed the medallion, but didn't react like he did with Katra's medallion.

Together, they came upon and crossed a stream to continue north. There were no trails and no roads to follow, but something seemed to point the way north. After awhile, Marcus had figured out exactly what. "--Hold on a second...," Marcus told Hunter. He stopped and listened. Hunter stopped as well. "What is it?"

Marcus was listening to the forest. More accurately, he was trying to listen. As they were walking, the forest had grown rather quiet. The only sounds audible were coming from far to the west, east, and south. The direction northwards was quiet. Too quiet; it was the same type of quiet that Marcus knew usually preceded a large predator or other animal in the vicinity. Even Vrynn was standing at alert. Marcus responded to Hunter. "Listen...."

Hunter listened to the silence. "I don't hear anything...what do you think?"

Marcus drew his bow. "I'm not sure, yet. We should check it out; come on!" Marcus ran ahead with Vrynn, and Hunter followed.

Soon, they came upon the source of the silence; the forest gave way to a clearing. In the small clearing was a city--more accurately, what was left of a city. The entire place was a shambles; a few fires were smoldering in places where buildings had once stood; the very ground itself had been burned; the smell of smoke lingered in the air, mixed with a trace of blood and creating a very unpleasant atmosphere. Slightly visible among the ashes were some charred remains of human bodies--buried, gracefully enough, amongst the rubble. Except for the faint sounds of smoldering fire, the area was deathly quiet. Scenes of destruction are always quiet; for few if any animals dare venture near.

Hunter looked around. "I don't understand... The man who stole off with Katra said that there'd be a city about twenty miles north from where we started. This was a town all right; but is this what he was referring to?"

Marcus looked around. There were only three people visible, at the far end of the area. They appeared to be doing some sort of examination. "This destruction is recent; I'd guess about two or three days past. But I've never seen anything quite like it."

Hunter examined the area himself. "Strato couldn't have done this. Absolute destruction, total massacre of its citizens, this isn't Strato's style. Besides, there's no way he could cause all this damage by himself, Shock Bow or not. Even the Atom Blade must have some limit to its power. I wonder who did this...?"

Marcus pointed across town. "Let's ask those men over there. Remember, we're the foreigners; they're bound to know more about this than we do."

Hunter nodded. They walked across the burned villa, towards the other side. The threesome on the other side saw them as well, walking forward. Their two groups met in what would be the center of the town. Hunter and Marcus examined the group. One was obviously a courier, for he sported a pack full of scrolls to write on, and was busy writing on one. The other two men were escorts, dressed in moderate-weight metal armor and carrying their own sheathed weapons. The armor design was sturdy, yet unfamiliar. Hunter broke the silence. "What happened here?"

The courier responded. "That's what we're trying to figure out. We received word from survivors yesterday that this here Khatalus City was attacked and destroyed. There was no warning and no indication of who it was. Judging by the patterns of damage, if the dragons aren't responsible for this devastation, I dunno who is. Who are you, sirs and wyvern?"

Hunter had reservations about telling the man everything they knew; if the courier was any indication, he was looking for a story to report. "We were travelling through the mountains, but we've since lost our way."

"Sorry to hear that, fellows. Happens to people every so often. People think they've figured everything out, and then a revelation hits them about just how much they don't know after all, and they lose their way. Sometimes, they never find it again...."

Marcus chuckled to himself. "Not like that. We have no map of this country, and are lost."

The courier shrugged. "Well then, what you see here is the ruins of Khatalus. There are few cities in this country; the only one I know of is my home city, about three day's travel northeast--"

Hunter interrupted. "One moment, courier. What did you say this town was?"

"Khatalus," the courier answered.

Hunter looked at Marcus, who nodded. "Isn't that the town that Strato--"

"Strato?" The courier interrupted. "Yes, the legend Dragon Knight, Strato Valkyros, was born here, many decades ago. Everyone knows that; why, there isn't a soul in the world who hasn't heard of Strato! Pretty respectable soldier, and...." The courier examined Hunter and Marcus. "...wait a minute, I can see it in your eyes. You've a story to tell, correct? You must have some information on you! Where came you?"

Hunter looked at the courier, thinking about how often he disliked reporters of any sort. "It's a long story, and unfortunately, we're a bit short on time."

"Well then, summarize it," the courier stated.

Hunter looked at Marcus for some help. Marcus nodded. "Strato is wanted in our home country for a countless number of crimes. We were sent to take him out, and our search has led us here."

"You are a terrible liar." The courier looked at Marcus sternly. "Strato never harmed a soul in his days as a Dragon Knight. And I don't know why you're searching here for him, either... he disappeared about twenty years ago. Absolutely no whereabouts ever since."

Hunter looked back at the courier. "That's no lie. He is wanted for beseiging our capital city, assassinating our king, assaulting and destroying another city, and its Guard... his list goes on for quite awhile."

The courier examined Hunter, and then Marcus. "You're... not lying, are you?" The courier thought for a moment. "If what you say is true, then this means.... And because of that.... Oh my, if you are telling the truth, this is dire news and the Council must be informed at once!!"

Hunter was puzzled. "Informed of what?"

The courier began writing down the details from their conversation. "This could be a terrible omen. In fact, I think that explains the attack on Khatalus here. Not everyone admired Strato (they say the dragons still haven't forgiven him of his actions long ago), and if he's returned, that explains this city in ruins. A terrible omen indeed; if Strato has truly returned, then there are dark days ahead...."

Hunter and Marcus looked at each other in astonishment while the courier continued writing details down. "I guess it's safe to assume who attacked Khatalus. ...If I may so ask, sirs, how recently have you seen him?"

"We last fought him about a day or two ago. Since then, he escaped into this country."

The courier blinked. "You've actually fought Strato? And lived? I don't believe it--! Strato must have been holding back or something for you to have survived; in pure combat, Strato rarely left his opponents alive, let alone in good health or condition. I'm sorry to keep bothering you sirs, when I am suddenly on a tight schedule myself, but could I ask your names?"

Hunter thought about it. "It may not do any good, but the name's Hunter Antare. This is my brother, Marcus."

Marcus spoke up momentarily, pointing to Vrynn. "And his name is Vrynn."

The courier nodded. "Thank you, sirs. the Council shall be told about this; they will inquire further as to whether it is something to worry about or not. And, if we meet again, perchance I may have the time to ask more of your experiences. You've got a wealth of information on you, but sorry again, I cannot keep my mentor waiting too much longer. I must return at once...!" The courier finished writing and put the one scroll away, and then motioned to his escorts that it was time to leave. They left quickly, heading northwest, and were soon out of sight.

Hunter sat down on the ground. "Tell me that the courier went off the deep end...?"

"I can't do that," Marcus said, sitting down nearby with Vrynn. "He believes what he said as much as you and I believe what we said."

Hunter looked up. The sun was beginning to set in the west. "That's what I was afraid of. I hope we don't get caught up in its events this quickly, before we have even had time to learn about it."

Marcus looked up at the sky. The moon was beginning to shine as the sun slowly crept its way below the horizon. It looked like the same moon they often looked at from their side of the Ancestral portal. Despite how many things were already different fro mtheir own world, at least the moon looked familiar; in a way, it felt familiar, like a friendly beacon shining across an unknown and stormy sea.

Marcus looked around, the smoldering buildings glowing softly in the sunset. "As much as we could camp out here, I don't think we should. This place gives me the creeps."

Hunter stood up. "You too?"

"Completely," Marcus said, standing up. Vrynn was still sitting down, watching the area and listening. Areas of destruction, like these ruins of Khatalus, would generally be a place devoid of wildlife; but something about the area felt amiss. According to the courier, dragons were likely the ones who devastated the city. Even though the only dragon that Hunter and Marcus ever saw was the one at Atlantis Isle, the notion of "dragons" -- assuredly implying that dragons existed and in significant numbers -- was unsettling.

Hunter began walking towards the north side of the town. Marcus called Vrynn, and they followed together. Hunter looked to the northeast; a visible roadway bore through the forest in a relatively straight line. Hunter looked along the roadway. "Three days' travel.... It's going to be a long walk."

Marcus thought about it. "Indeed. But then, it's always a long walk, isn't it?"

Hunter nodded. "True... so therefore, let's get started."

The moonlight was bright, providing ample illumination for the path they travelled on. The sounds of forest wildlife resumed as they left the area of Khatalus, and their worries eased a bit.

It was about the tenth hour of night when they reached a stream. The road took a significant jog to the right at this point, but in order to make haste, Hunter opted to keep travelling straight. It seemed odd that the road, a straight line up until now, would make a sudden detour to one side.

A little bit along through the forest, though, revealed the reason why. The forest grew quiet near this area, and soon Hunter and Marcus reached a clearing. Near the clearing was a sizable opening for a small cavern. An odd smell was in the air.

Hunter looked around. "What is this...?"

Marcus shook his head. "I have no idea, but it's probably dangerous. Listen to how quiet the forest is."

Hunter took a few steps forward, into the clearing. He soon realized that doing so may have been a mistake. A loud roar shook the earth, two green eyes appeared from the darkness of the cavern, and out of it stepped the very type of creature that Hunter and Marcus were afraid of: another dragon.

This dragon, although similar in presence to the one on Atlantis Isle, was quite different. It was somewhat smaller, perhaps only eleven feet in total height and thirty-two feet total length, and its wings were a slight bit smaller. Its scales were rather a vivid red-orange (even though moonlight renders them nearly black) in color, and were interleaved somewhat looser than the other dragon they had seen. Its eyes were an emerald green, its claws and other sharp scales were of a slightly different shape and, unlike the dragon on Atlantis Isle, this one lacked a nose-horn. Also unlike the dragon of Atlantis, this one lacked the appearance of crystalline armor, instead being clothed entirely by the usual, natural armored scales.

Furthermore, this dragon was glaring at them in a hostile manner, its green eyes glowing in their entirety. Hunter stepped back in shock; Marcus held his ground carefully, and even Vrynn was wary of the large dragon. Marcus looked at Hunter. "Perhaps we should have stayed on the road?"

Hunter thought about it. "Not just yet, Marcus." He dared forward a step, reaching approximately forty feet from the dragon. Without warning, the dragon inhaled quickly, then spat out a fireball. The ball of fire landed just in front of Hunter, nearly catching him in its splashfire. Hunter jumped back in astonishment.

Marcus shook his head. "Hunter, this is the dragon's territory, and it considers us to be invaders. We should leave, and get back onto the road."

Hunter watched as the dragon's fire burnt down into the ground. The fuel spent, the fires died down in a few moments. Hunter took a good look at the ground. "Marcus. This blast-mark; it looks a lot like the ones in Khatalus...."

The dragon let out a roar, as if either in response, or to simply ward Hunter away. Marcus was a bit shocked at Hunter. "Of all the things--!? Hunter, don't go tempting fate; that dragon gave you a warning, and I don't think it wants us anywhere near its cave. We should head back. Now."

Hunter agreed, walking back. The dragon remained in its place, but it seemed to calm down as Hunter retreated. Now at a relatively safe distance of sixty feet, Hunter stopped. Marcus looked at him. "Why'd you do that, Hunter?"

Hunter blinked. "There's something about this creature, this dragon. I'm not sure what, though...."

Marcus smiled. "Maybe so, but that was quite a stupid attempt. I'd bet almost anything that the cavern is the dragon's lair; and I don't think it wants us anywhere near."

"I wouldn't worry. I've always believed that each one of us is entitled to at least one really big, incredibly stupid screw-up in our lives. Besides, I've never seen a dragon like that before...."

Marcus chuckled. "Neither have I. The dragon at Atlantis was quite different, and before that, who knew they even existed at all? But still--" Marcus stopped abruptly and looked at the dragon. Was his observation fooling him, or was the dragon actually listening to them? "Hunter, look...."

Hunter looked at the dragon. It was now lying down on its four feet, wings folded, and watching them with a bit of interest. Hunter took one step forward, and the dragon stood back up again, changing its countenance from inquisitive back to defensive, and it growled at them. Hunter stepped back. "Well, if that is so, then perhaps we shouldn't talk in front of it. Let's head back...."

The dragon seemed a little miffed at Hunter's statement. Together, Hunter and Marcus walked back towards the road. This time, they followed it as it curved to the right and around the dragon's territory.

Marcus still couldn't believe what Hunter had pulled. "Hunter, that was an erroneous move on your part. Never try to press forward against someone else's will. What on earth were you thinking?"

Hunter thought about it. "Thinking about Katra, I guess...."

"Katra's medallion? The image of a dragon? Something?" Marcus asked.

"Right," Hunter responded. "I hope Katra's all right... wherever he is."

"He'll be all right," Marcus responded. "He's a survivor, both of Norset and of the Atom Blade's power. Whatever he was struck with, he'll make it." Marcus's statement was reassuring, nonetheless, but Hunter was still worried about Katra. He was thinking to himself, Katra, if somehow you don't make it through this time, you'll have a lot of explaining to do...

Katra, even if he knew that Hunter and Marcus were searching for him, could do nothing. He lay on a soft mat bed, completely unconscious, almost comatose. The room he was in was dark, lit only by a single torch and some moonlight. A varied array of small bottles and manuscripts filled a table in the same room. Across the room, near the window, was a nest made of brush and mud. A large, shimmering-red eagle sat in the nest, wings folded, watching over him.