Tribute, p.4
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       Tribute, p.4

           L. D. Dailey
 
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began anew as her face turned away. "I hate you."

  Hate is a mixture for disaster, little brother, Borislav murmured, pitiless as ever. Without love in her heart, there can be no sacrifice.

  I’ve given you everything, Gurav bound the thought with rage.

  Not everything, little brother. Not yet.

  An answer coalesced through the fog of rage and heartache. "So be it," he nodded to the svelte woman still refusing to look at him. "I love you Celine." He severed the chain binding her wrists with one blow. "I went through the fire and darkness for you." A second cut released her ankles. "Now I understand what is required." He turned about, facing the noonday sun in perfect calm. "I will save your life and complete the ritual with my own."

  At last, the path appeared before him. Telepathic words squabbled over his decision. He wished to sever the link, and to his shock, it worked.

  "Khrys," Celine’s slender fingers massaged his scalp. "I love-"

  The wind raged against his face as a shadow obscured the sun. A winged lizard the size of a nobleman’s manor raced across the sky before lunging toward the citadel’s square. Panic coursed through the screaming mob as citizens fled for shelter. The beast landed before the platform, its metallic scales sparkling like silver coins as translucent wings creased against a bulging torso.

  Khrys’ awestruck gaze stared up at golden irises pierced with serpentine slits filled with wisdom. "The Old Gods." Ancient knowledge coursed through his blood, giving him their ancient name. "Dragon. Vanlith, the Grey Wind."

  Vanlith roared. Spittle and a century’s old stench streamed from a mouth rimmed with flesh-ripping teeth. HATCHLING. Khrys dropped his sword, shocked as the beast overwhelmed his senses through the mental link. IGNORANT HATCHLING. OATHLESS. FALSIFYER.

  "I offer myself-"

  YOU WILL NOT, YOUNGLING. A silent voice, young but as powerful as the drake, cold as the grave, ancient and soft, overpowered the melody in Khrys’ mind. YOU ARE DREADLORD, DRAGONKIN. And Khrys knew this person, lived his life with the first sip of the drought his master served that fateful night. The unheralded hero, the Dreadbane, The Nameless One, the first and current emperor obliterated his thoughts will an imposing will. YOU DRANK THE DRAGON BLOOD. Hooded faces assaulted his senses from all sides, VANLITH WILL NOT DEVOUR HIS OWN KIND. To the left, a hidden face admonished. YOU CANNOT FULFILL THE OATH. To the right, a shadowed visage challenged. YOU KNOW THIS. YOU SENSE THAT MY WORDS ARE TRUE. YOUR MOTIVES ARE CHILDISH. YOU HAVE MADE THIS SITUATION WORSE. Before him, unseen hands pulled back the cowl, revealing a human face with dragon eyes. YOU WOULD BREAK A COVENANT THAT HAS STOOD FOR A HUNDRED GENERATIONS? KILL THIS GIRL PRIEST BEFORE THE DRAGON FEASTS UPON HER HATRED AND CONSUMES ALL THAT I HAVE BUILT.

  Khrys shook his head, confused, afraid, suddenly a child back at that muddy village, an arrow through the gut, lifeblood watering the ground, "No." The hoarse rebuttal seemed wrong in his ears. "No!" Khrys found his blade, raised it in two fists, and charged the dragon with a mighty leap from the platform.

  FOOLISH HATCHLING. The drake seemed to relish the challenge as it chided. THE PACT IS BROKEN. I WILL SET THE PRICE TO RENEW IT. With a speed belying its bulk, the dragon whipped its mighty tail around and smashed the air from Khrys’ lungs, sending the Dreadknight spiraling through the air and crashing into a balcony of a nearby manor.

  An eternity sprinted by as Khrys lay dying beneath marble rubble. Screams filled his ears and mingled with the stench of death and burned flesh thick in the air as rising dust obscured the sun. Something rapped his head.

  The knowledge of the universe at your fingertips and you still think as a peasant. A shadow filled his vision, Get up, little brother, the implacable Dread Lord commanded. It takes more than pain to kill us. You know this.

  Unfriendly hands pulled under his armpits as a pair of brothers hauled him to his feet. Borislav waved an armored hand across the chaotic square. Look, little brother. See what your foolishness has wrought.

  Fire engulfed the square, burning men and property. Citizens wailed like children. Death rained down in waves of fire. In the center of the chaos, the High Priestess of Marrinae stood before Vanlith, an amber mist rising from her body into the dragon’s nostrils.

  Borislav unfastened his sword. It feasts on her hate. He stared at Khrys with a hint of expectation behind his gaze.

  Hopelessness never seemed so deep a pit to the new Dreadknight. He feared the answer, yet asked all the same. "What do we do, master?"

  Borislav shrugged impassionedly. Obey. Kill the girl. Sever the link. Then appease our cousin, somehow.

  All the destruction, the history, the logic could not turn Khrys from the desire to save Celine. "We can kill Vanlith."

  Horror painted Borislav’s visage. We will not slay our cousin. To speak of such a blasphemy is heresy.

  Then I’ll end this myself. Khrys donned a conical cap and charged the dragon, leaping over rubble, crashing through fire and death.

  Vanlith raised a massive snout and roared in exultation. YES. HOW YOU RESEMBLE THE ONE WHO FREED US SO LONG AGO. COME, HATCHLING! Vanlith maneuvered around the priestess, inhaled, and unleashed a fountain of flame at the Dreadknight.

  Khrys ignored the heat roasting him in his armor. Borislav’s advice proved true. The pain seemed superficial, distant. He closed his eyes and raced deeper into the flames, sword low, and ready to pierce. We both die here- cousin. He gloried as obsidian pierced flesh. The scorching heat died. He opened burned eyes and unleashed a horrified wail.

  Celine, blackened and smoky, lay impaled upon his sword. Burnt lips seemed to smile. The stench of Khrys’ wife, resembling seared pork, sickened him. Blood streamed down his blade and touched his gauntlet. The Dreadknight shrieked at the heavens. She pitched forward into his arms. Weak legs buckled as he knelt, weeping, howling. A shadow loomed over the couple as Vanlith’s huge muzzle blotted the sky. He inhaled and a sapphire mist flowed from Celine’s corpse. Vanlith’s wings, half again as long as his body, spread across the dilapidated square. THE OATH IS KEPT.

  Understanding crashed upon him, bowing Khrys’ shoulders. She sacrificed herself, like the goddess, for him, for love. The dragon promised to set the price. Understanding froze his grief. They used him, everyone. The eunuch taunted him, his father in law denied their love, Borislav changed him, and the dragon forced him to kill his wife. Was it all for this purpose? I will kill them all. Khrys removed the helm and tossed it aside. He met the dragon’s eyes. "I will kill you."

  Vanlith seemed humored by the threat and took to the skies. THEN COME, HATCHLING.

  Hate strengthened wobbly knees. As Khrys rose, a sharp pain pierced his heart. He stared down at an inky blade protruding from his chest plate. Something forced him back to his knees. A presence leaned toward his ear, "I warned you, son." Borislav removed his weapon and sighed, "Let the eunuch know that his plan worked." He turned away as darkness filled Khrys’ vision. "A wicked business, this. I hope I never see the like again."

  THE END

  About the author:

  L. D. Dailey, a happily married father of four, slaves as an engineer during the day and dreams of becoming a published author throughout the night.

  If you enjoyed the story, please leave a review at your favorite retailer and check out more stories below.

  More Stories from the author:

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