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Dragon Hunters

Book Two: The Path of Honor

© 2001-2002 Draconus / Stratadrake of NEWST

Chapter Two: Curses and Lamentations

Even as the sun rose from its eastern horizon to cast a warm glow over the next day, Katra was still unconscious. Also, in his condition, he could have easily been mistaken for dead. The room he lay in was now getting brighter, yet Katra still did not move. The eagle had left for a nearly morning fly over the forest, and perhaps a meal, leaving the room completely quiet, where only Katra's slow breathing could be heard.

Katra himself was, more or less, a mess to look at. Whatever had happened to him when he last saw Hunter, Katra still bore the after-effects of it. His hands did not resemble that of normal human hands, but rather like the talonned paws one finds on a gryphon or drake. With talons like those, it was obvious how Katra had left claw-marks on Hunter's arm, but the reason why, or more importantly, how, could not be told.

Katra's head was currently of a darker color than is normal, and slightly out of shape; his hair retained its copperish color, but at this point, one cannot tell whether his head was decorated with normal, human hair, or with something else like ridges. Katra's uniform was torn in many places along the front, sides, and arms; and the back half of Katra's uniform was now missing. Katra's backside held the same color as his head and arms--too dark for a normal skin color, and with a texture too rough. Even Katra's leg-armor was damaged, broken in places; Katra's shoes were no better, either. In short, Katra could be best described as if he had attempted to dress as a monster for Halloween, only to be shredded by a real monster. Underneath his damaged uniform, though, Katra himself was uninjured. There was no real idea exactly what had happened to him.

A figure, obviously a man of some nationality, soon stepped quietly into the room. Quietly, he examined Katra, giving Katra an unrequited look ful of puzzlement and wonder, mised with a touch of anxiety. The man went to one of the shelves near the wall and withdrew a book. He sat down near Katra, opened the book up, and began browsing through it. The man was murmuring to himself as he browsed.

"It's been two days now, and still no change. Sometimes, young one, I wonder if you really are going to pull out of this. You must, though; you have to."

Nonsurprisingly, there was no response. The man sighed, and flipped to another page in his book. "I have no idea whether you are still with us, or to what extent, but perhaps you should listen.

"There is a story told from long ago, back where the magic was free and the rules lax. Freedom was that rule. Over the rule of the world, it was kept in balance by an eightsome of Guardians."

Guardians. This is a term unfamiliar to those of the Ancestral world (such as Katra, Hunter, and Marcus), yet here, on the "other side", the term 'Guardians' refers to deities of sorts. Back at the beginning of time, eight such beings were called forth into existence and assigned to rule over the world. In a story of creation, each guardian infused the world with their power, bringing forth the elements and another variety of life.

The gusts of air gave the world its atmosphere, and all the birds of the air were created to enjoy it; a feathered race of sentients was made to rule over these avians. This feathered race called themselves the "Aerissa". Their loyalty was to the Guardian of the air, known only by her name, Aquilia.

Water was poured into the deepest areas of the world to create the oceans. Rivers stretched their arms across land to expand the possibilities of life. The fish of the oceans and seas were formed to enjoy the freedom of the water. A race of sea-dragons was created to rule and govern the seas with their intellect, their dues paid to the Guardian of the Sea, Aquaria.

Then came the land. Mountains were formed, valleys created inbetween, and canyons cut across the surface of the earth. With the land came most of the plants, and some animal life, such as the gryphon and airwolve who are themselves mixtures and balances between earth and air. A feline race of sentients, called the Requato were placed at the top of this animal kingdom and assigned to rule over it. The loyalty of this feline race was to the Guardian of earth, called Serratos in short.

As water collected in the high regions of the world, the Guardian of Frost converted it into its solid form of ice. He took the frozen water and shattered it across the atmosphere, raining snow down upon the highest peaks. All wintry life was created to enjoy this; cold-weather creatures like bears, and at the top, a cold-proof species, the Snow Dragons, were created to rule the mountains and to pay their respects to Shaivos (pronounced "shy-vus") the Guardian of Frost and Ice.

The Guardian of Fire, Empyros, heated the world, creating volcanoes. Areas with precious little water were reduced to deserts, and volcanoes permitted to burst fire into the sky. Phoenixes, the fireproof eagles, were created using the lava itself mixed with air and given life. So similarly were snakes, scorpions, cacti, and other desert life formed to survive the waterless regions of the desert. A third race of dragons was created to master the fire of volcanoes and deserts.

Thundros entered the world as a storm, stirring up the clouds of the air and creating the weather. Seeing the need for a spark of wit and innovation, humans were created to provide the world with its largest civilization ever. While weak in prowess when compared to the other ruling species such as dragon, humans were not left alone; by making armor to protect themselves and weapons to fight with, their abilities could rival that of any other ruling race. All they needed to do was to remember that their spark of wit came from the Guardian of Thunder.

Darkness soon acquired and enveloped the subterrainean portions of the world, and it echoed a certain fear into all forms of life, that they should know their own boundaries. Davenos was the embodiment of this darkness.

Finally, Light shone upon the world, and its guardian, Luminos, entered the world to establish an order. Luminos was designated to rule over all the other seven Guardians, and to provide the law of honor to the world. Darkness was driven from all areas touched by sunlight, permitted to roam freely only in areas hidden from such light. The Law of honor was given to each ruling race in a varying degree, according to their natures and ability, Honor was, naturally, reciprocated by the shadows of dis-honor and evil; but wherever there was light, there could be no shadow. Luminos set forth a race of his own choosing--a sort of "dragon people", given the name of Dracan. Their duty was to serve the callings of Honor, with their skills of interpretation to allow them communication with all other ruling races.

" 'Magic' was established as a force in the world; magic being a limited variety of abilities loaned to the races by the Guardians. Such... is the story of the beginning." The man closed the book for a moment and looked at Katra. No surprise here, Katra was still comatose. The man saw fit to read another story.

"The world was created at peace, but through time, with the darkness as a guide, evil spread to cause struggles and war. Wars and conflicts must happen, but at the time of legends, almost four thousand years before today, the Guardian of Darkness began participating in such wars, turning them into chaos."

Chaos, the opposite of order. All eight Guardians were called forth into the world to establish their own orders, and to keep a balance between them. Davenos Guardian of Darkness, however, left the call of balance and order so as to bring a measure of chaos into the world. This was considered an ultimate offense among the other Guardians, and legends say that they had talked of banishing Davenos from existence.

By the time the Guardians met in their hallowed ruling chamber, though, limited measures of chaos had spread throughout the entire world. The forces of each Guardian began to desire the conflict known as war. Even the Guardians themselves began to consider a worldwide war just as a means to satisfy the races. In debate and argument, the Guardians convinced Luminos that a war was necessary to the world. Luminos believed differently, knowing that an ultimate conflict between the Guardians would throw the world into Chaos, or possibly destroy it. Reluctantly, though, Luminos agreed to the contest; after setting conditions and "ground rules" which the Guardians themselves were to obey. One rule was that of transformation: Luminos knew the potential for abuse of this magic of shape-changing, so he sealed it. Under his seal, only the Guardians could arbitrarily transform one creature into another species; and even then, only if the creature itself permits such a change. The races of the world could be divided up on a first-come-serve-basis, but once chosen, they could be re-allocated to another guardian only by their individual will and choice. Each Guardian was allowed to infuse their warriors with a portion of their power any way they saw fit; except for Luminos who held that privilege in reserve, the Guardians used such ability to expand the realms of magic, creating "pseudo-magics" fueled not by magical energy but by the physical energy of their user.

War was begun with all of the Guardians dividing up the races amongst themselves. Humans, despite being Thundros's creation, were desired by all the Guardians and split up accordingly. Luminos himself requested a few humans for his force; acquiring only the most honorable warriors, knights, paladins, and other heroes. Of all human civilization, only seven men and two women met Luminos's requirements of honor. The single most noble, most honorable knight of all Luminos's forces was chosen to lead his army, and to serve as an eternal symbol. Luminos transformed that one human into a new species of dragon: a White Dragon.

A few forces quickly became allies during the war. Shaivos and Aquaria, with their armies of ice and water, joined forces; so similarly did the Guardians of Air and Thunder, Aquilia and Thundros. Serratos spurned alliances, as did Empyros, and Davenos squared off against Luminos. After a time of preparations, the proverbial green flag was waved, and the war was begun.

The fighting amongst the races was fierce and chaotic, lasting for five years. Empyros took refuge in Luminos's forces for protection against their foes; an alliance between Fire and Light soon followed. Davenos focused his strategy on Luminos himself; believing that Luminos was hodling their powers back and should be banished from existence. To that end, Davenos was also able to divert many of the other Guardians' attentions away from each other and towards Luminos as well; the war had quickly become six against two.

Luminos himself was nearly destroyed by Davenos himself; Davenos could not destroy Luminos completely, for doing so would cause his own destruction as well; but by doing so, he hoped that Luminos's forces would break apart. Rather, Luminos's defeat served a greater purpose: Luminos changed the remaining eight humans in his force into White Dragons as well, and gave to them the task of ending the war by any means possible. In particular, Luminos requested that all eight Guardians be sealed up so that the world would recover; Luminos and Empyros were both sealed away and given to two of the White Dragons.

"By any means possible", tempered by the law of honor, became the motto for the White Dragons. With Luminos seemingly out of the war, Davenos focused his attention back to the other Guardians, and they focused against him. The White Dragons used this opportunity to spread the words of honor and resolution amonst the other forces, and soon gained allies against the darkness. Davenos was the next Guardian to be sealed away; with him, the cause of the war, sealed away and given to one of the White Dragons, the war would be resolved. Still, as pertaining to Luminos's request, the remaining five Guardians were sealed away and given to the White Dragons, too.

In the new postwar world, the White Dragons became the most revered species of all. They begat several successfull generations of White Dragon offspring, giving and receiving help to and from the other dragon races, and in so doing, created a stable shire of White Dragons.

"As the world was recovering, a little more than three thousand years back, the original generation of White Dragons knew that their work was not finished. They left the world through a means that, to this day, remains a mystery. Prophecy states that they are still out there, but no one has yet been able to discover where, when, or how."

Still no response from Katra. The man folded the book (now completely read through), and soon put it back on the shelf. He grabbed another one, then sat back down.

An unfamiliar voice came from the entrance of the room. "Are you reading to him again??"

The man stood up and looked back; a comrade of his was standing in the door. "Of course. Unlike some people I know, this young boy actually listens to them."

"Hah!", came the response. "You can't even tell if he's still human or not, much less if he's still even alive. Perhaps it is better for you to leave him and get back to your work."

"This is my work, remember. He's stricken, and I am here to see he recovers."

The man at the door leaned against it. "Perhaps.... But for once, let someone else watch over the boy."

"No; not anyone else. I was the last person he saw before he passed out; I need to be the first one he sees when he comes to. Otherwise, his recovery will do more harm than good."

The man at the door shook his head and sighed. "You mean, if he comes to...."

"Not like that. He has survived thus forth, the boy will recover."

"Sometimes, I really don't understand you," the man at the door said. "Why do you insist?"

The man near Katra nodded. "I know exactly why. Look it up in the legends and prophecies if you have to; this boy's arrival was foretold; and with him, a great peril is to return. You might be able to simply brush it off as the ravings of some lunatic, but I can't; true or not, I can't afford to take any chance. Fasten your wings and prepare for a storm, there may be one coming."

The man at the door shook his head. "All right, then. I'll tell Chieftan your decision. He may not like it, though."

"Don't you worry; Chieftan and I have known each other much longer than you have. We're the same people, remember... he'll understand. Even if you won't. Now, unless you have anything else to say...?"

"I hope the boy recovers fast, too; the sooner, the better. Although, I just don't know what he'll be when--or if, for that matter--he does wake up."

"You see, there's the difference between us two. We're both staring fear in the face, but you're the one who is flinching. Good day...."

The man at the door left. The other man opened his book to read, sitting down on the bed near Katra. "Prophecies... indeed. First Strato, the best Dragon Knight ever to walk the surface of this earth, disappears. And now you, my boy, arrive. It is a very interesting time that we're living in. If I'm right..." the man looked at Katra; "If I'm right, we'll be lucky to survive the coming months and years.

"There is at least one more tale you should know, said to have occured nearly one hundred fifty years ago. A city, called...." The man tried to recall a good name. "Argentos, yes. Back in time, there was a thriving city of Argentos, whose inhabitants were descended directly from those ancestors who had served under the fire guardian Empyros."

Argentos. Whether this was the real name of a country, or whether the man had just made up the name, no one could tell. It was a country with a wrecked history. Argentos had two powerful warriors--almost legend, one man and one woman--in their guard. The two warriors were friends, lovers, and soon to be mates; together, they were unstoppable, and Argentos's best weapon.

One day, the foreign nation of "Notzbury"--most likely not the name of any real country, but chosen by the storyteller for reference--was transporting some contraband goods through Argentos. One of the legend warriors stopped them for questioning; but soon after, the entire transport was attacked by a force unknown, later determined to be a dragon. The Notzburians were killed by the dragon; only one of their men, and the Argenton warrior, survived. It was unfortunate, but the Notzbury Chancellor was killed in that attack. They received word of the attack by their survivor, and so did the Argentons receive word from their warrior. Each was a completely different account; the Argentians were told the truth, about a dragon's attack, but Notzbury was told a lie; they were told that the Argentians were responsible.

Notzbury declared war against Argentos. Argentos's army would be hardly a match for Notzbury's vastly superior numbers (five to one), so they knew that they needed an edge. Their two best warriors sought out an enchantment so that they would be able to shape-change into dragons for our defense. Such an enchantment did they find; given to them, ironically, by one of the two High Wizards of Notzbury. The wizard knew that his actions were easily considered treason by his country; but he suspected something else at work besides a simple assassination, and he granted them this power regardless of what fate his choice may bring him.

After two successful engagements with the Notzburian military, the playing field was soon level. Argentos's two new warrior-dragons proved to be more powerful than the Argentons themselves thought, and soon cut the Notzburian army down to a more manageable size outnumbering the Argentons only 5 to 4). Notzbury discovered the help given by one of their High Wizards, and they put him on trial for war crimes and treason. The wizard defended his position, stating that he knew full well what he did and he gave the Argentons their power because something felt wrong. Nonetheless, the wizard was given two choices: remove the spell from the two Argenton warriors, or be executed for treason. It wasn't much of a choice; the wizard couldn't possibly revoke the spell of shape-changing from the two Argenton warriors. He simply did not have the power to do so. However, he did not allow himself to be executed. He banished himself, using a shape-changing spell to permanently transform himself into a gryphon, and fled.

With one of their High Wizards no longer available, the task of dealing with the Argenton dragons fell to the other High Wizard of Notzbury. The High Wizard arranged for one final battle that would decide the fates of Argentos and Notzbury, and he would lead the command. This Wizard knew that he wouldn't be walking away from the battlefield, so he planned to make the final battle as destructive and powerful as possible, and packed one of his most powerful spells for the trip.

The day of such final battle did come, and the forces of Notzbury and Argentos clashed for a final time. The wizard watched as the Argentons fought valiantly against the Notzburian mage warriors; it was a veritable stalemate. With only a few comrades in his personal division, the wizard made the decision to distract the two Argenton dragons.

It was a fateful decision; hopefully, by distracting the Argenton dragons long enough, this would open enough opportunities for the Notzburian military to smash all of Argentos. However, the Argenton dragons were more powerful than the wizard knew; in combat, they quickly laid waste to his division. The wizard, knowing that his own death was imminent, cast the one powerful spell he had been saving for a day. He cast a magical curse upon the two warriors, so that by their own power, they would never be able to change back into their human forms. They would, for the rest of their lives, be trapped in the shape of dragons.

Assuredly enough, the wizard did not live any longer than that; the two dragons realized what he had cast upon them, and they literally tore the wizard apart, killing him. The two Argenton dragons then returned to the front of the battle and proceeded to vanquish the Notzburian military.

The final battle lasted not even a single day. But the losses were clear. The Argenton warriors numbering ten thousand before, were now down to only a few hundred. Their cities were in ruins from the Notzburian assaults. Notzbury suffered similarly; a complete, one-hundred-percent loss of their entire 50,000 soldier army, plus a few hundred mages and their two High Wizards. Their only victory was that the two Argenton warriors would never again be able to restore their human forms.

The Argentons fled to a different country after the battle, knowing that the Notzburians might try to retaliate. It was unknown exactly to what country they fled, but they did so for their own protection. The price of the wizard's was known to the two Argenton dragons; while their dragon forms were a vast help in war, now, they wanted to return to their normal, human forms. But, unfortunately, they couldn't.

"In time however, not even the bondage of a magical curse could break the bonds of love still existing between the two Argenton dragons. As they were lovers in their human forms, so too were they mates in their dragon forms. In time, they gave birth to a baby dragon of their own. This was most unfortunate for them; while the two Argenton dragons themselves knew that they were among their own people, their offspring, a pure dragon from birth, would not. It was too dangerous for their two dragons to raise a pure-bred dragon in the midst of humans; and so forth, the Argentons banished the two dragons and offspring from their presence. Even to this day, no one knows what became of the two Argenton dragons or of their offspring."

The man closed that book. "Such is the story of two of the most powerful spells allowed to humans. First comes the ability of shape-changing; although Luminos had sealed the magic nearly four-thousand years ago, there was one exception to his seal: a special ritual which grants the power of shape-changing to an individual; the ritual itself was structured so that it could not be abused.

"The second most powerful human magic was that of the magical curse. Structured carefully, the desired effects of a curse could last for more than just a lifetime. Poorly structured, though, a curse could be broken on the slightest whim. It is a magic that the Wizard's Council had prohibited the teaching and learning of, one thousand two hundred years back.

"There was one determining factor that precipitated the Council's banishment of curse magic. A story was told of an apprentice mage and his mentor wizard. The apprentice was not the best example of a mage, but wanted to be one, so the wizard reluctantly agreed to train him."

Curses, magic, and wizards. This particular story began with the apprentice's final test. It was a test of wisdom; and the mentor's variation of that test was to leave on a journey, and to give his entire abode to the apprentice for safe-keeping. The apprentice accepted the challenge vigorously; yet when he realized that the wizard was no longer around, his parctices deteriorated. The apprentice took special interest in a "black book" in the mentor's library. Included in the black book were instructions for the placement of a magical curse.

The mentor returned within two months to check on the apprentice. The wizard told the apprentice that his training was cancelled; this was the final test for the apprentice, which would reveal whether or not the apprentice had mastered the wisdom necessary to control magic. The apprentice became enraged, a sure sign that he indeed lacked the wisdom to be a mage; in his rage, the apprentice cast his first (and his last) magical curse, transforming his mentor into a wolf. His mentor quickly fled.

The apprentice had dished out the curse due to sheer rage; had he been thinking rationally, he would not have done so. Overcome with sorrow, the apprentice drowned his troubles in the wine cellar of the mentor's lodge, and promptly forgot that it had happened in the first place. The apprentice still, however, remained at the mentor's lodge, believing that his final test was still not finished and that the mentor would return any day.

About three months later, the mentor did return. He had discovered the means to undo the curse; the apprentice's curse was sealaed haphazardly, and it was broken the very moment that the mentor met the apprentice at the lodge. The mentor gave no anger or rebuke to the apprentice, but rather, told him that he would continue to train the apprentice.

The apprentice's fate was sealed when the curse was broken, for when broken, curse magic rebounds and causes the same effects to occur upon the caster. The apprentice began feeling strange within two days, and at about that time the mentor had to leave so that he could give the Wizard's Council his latest report.

The mentor returned about two days later, but was only mildly surprised at what he saw. The apprentice was slowly being affected by the power of the rebounded curse; the apprentice was himself being transformed into a wolf. Strangely, while the effects of the curse were near-instant when it was cast, now that the curse was on its rebound, its effects were manifesting slowly. It was now four days since the curse was broken. The apprentice was now a pitiful half-wolf form. He could not wear his normal robes, instead being clothed in gray fur. He could no longer stand on his two legs, and had to walk about on all four. He had grown a tail by now; along with the ears, legs and feet, and the face of a wolf. He still retained his human mind though, but due to the alcoholic hole in his memory, he had no idea what was happening to him, and he was entirely scared, almost to death. The mentor gave the apprentice a lecture about what had happened three months ago, and that the apprentice was now being afflicted with the very curse he gave to his mentor. This spurred the apprentice's memory, patching the hole in it, and he remembered.

The mentor did, to a small extent, rub the apprentice's wolfen nose in it. He badgered the apprentice with the knowledge of what was happening; the apprentice slowly losing his human qualities and taking on those of a wolf; his humanity slowly leaking away, day after day, with no hope of reversal, cure, or salvation. The mentor said that he had to return to the Council for a few more days. During this time, the final steps of the apprentice's transformation had taken place, and when the mentor returned two days later (for a total of six days since the curse was dispelled), the apprentice was no longer any part human--not even in mind. Nor was the apprentice anywhere near the lodge; he, or "it", had left for the wilderness and life of a wolf. The mentor discovered the memoirs of the apprentice; a journal that the apprentice kept and recorded daily in, even during his transformation and his final days as a sentient individual.

The mentor gave the memoirs to the Wizard's Council, and it was soon distributed among libraries. It was marketed as a work of fiction, despite it being true. However, truth always has a way of leaking out, and when the public began to learn that the story was a true one, public opinion turned sharply "anti-magic". The Wizard's Council was soon left with few choices. In order to save their public-relations hide, the Wizard's Council announced that they would banish the curse-magics from their books and presence. It was politics in the purest sense; the Wizard's Council had to appease public opinion or risk worldwide ostracism and criticism.

A group of fanatics among the Council formed the "Wizard Police", and took it upon themselves to erase the curse-magics from the world. Such was a silly quest; but the Wizard Police were a group of fanatics who would not listen to any other views except their own. In the next twenty years, in a time known as "The Terror", the Wizard Police were said to have committed the very atrocities that they believed they were protecting the world against. Fortunately, though, their position was so fanatical and so extreme that the Wizard Police were disbanded after a generation; no one was willing to take up their extremist cause, so as the fanatics passed on, so did their group, the Wizard Police.

"Remnants of curse-magic still survive in the world today. Rogue wizards, those that do not abide by the views and decisions of the Council, are said to harbor the knowledge of curse-magic. However, they keep such knowledge "under the table", telling no one of what they are truly capable of."

The man put the book back on the shelf, then had a bite to eat. He took a look at Katra again; Katra was still in a coma, his appearance still a horrific, inexplicable mix of human and animal parts. Even the man standing in the room, the one who had possibly saved Katra's life, had no explanation as to what had happened. All that could be done is for him to watch, and wait.