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       The Disintegration of Dragons, Part 1: A Death in Vastervik, p.1

           Mark Bousquet
 
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The Disintegration of Dragons, Part 1: A Death in Vastervik


  THE DISINTEGRATION OF DRAGONS, PART 1:

  A DEATH IN VASTERIK

  By Mark Bousquet

  Copyright © 2014 Mark Bousquet

  “IS YOUR NAME really Kestrel?” the Queen’s Guardsman asked.

  “It is,” the young woman with cropped red hair replied.

  “Your parents named you after a bird?”

  “What’s your name?”

  “Bakig.”

  “Oh, yes, that’s much better.”

  Bakig laughed as he pulled open a heavy wooden door in the first basement of Vastervik’s castle. “After you,” he smiled.

  Kestrel looked down the narrow stairs, barely lit by intermittent oil lamps. “What’s down there?”

  “Your assignment.”

  “Is this because I’m a woman?”

  “Yeah,” Bakig smiled. “It is.”

  “What will I be doing down there?”

  “Guarding a door that never opens,” the veteran guardsman said solemnly.

  “Wonderful,” Kestrel said, and took her first steps into the deepest part of the castle.

  FOUR ROPES. FOUR horses. Four races.

  One wizard.

  The Riders of Judgment urged the war horses forward, stretching the magician’s body tight and lifting it off the ground. The middle aged woman had been stripped down to a white undershirt, stained with her own blood. Her dark hair had been cut and chopped, her nose and fingers were broken, and she kept finding pieces of broken teeth that she would have spit to the ground had not her mouth been gagged tight with a muddy cloth. They cut her throat as she swallowed them.

  A tall, helmeted man in black armor streaked with gold highlights moved in to straddle her body. A heavy long axe hung threateningly in his right hand.

  He was a Dragon, one of the fourteen Legionnaires who had come out of the Spine Mountain Range as heroes almost one year ago, and the wizard knew his presence meant her end.

  “Felo Jinkari, you stand accused of witchcraft!” the soldier roared, pulling off his black helmet with his free hand and dropping it to the crunchy, blood-spattered snow. The gathered crowd of fishermen and trappers from the western coastal region of Bel-tu gave an audible hush at the sight of the shoulder length golden hair, trimmed beard, and piercing green eyes.

  “Mogon!” someone gasped and the crowd buzzed to life. There was weeping and prayers, and some of the women fell to their knees.

  The captain of the 19th Legion of the Third Content, more commonly known as the Dragon Legion of Vastervik, raised a hand and the crowd fell silent. He, three of his Legionnaires, and his four Riders of Judgment were here to do grim work, and he would not allow the crowd to forget their duties.

  Mogon looked down at the witch, hoping he would remember her face or her deeds, but none came to him. She was a lower level spook, but far from innocent.

  No wizards were innocent. For almost three quarters of a century they had plotted and planned the takeover of the Third Continent, hiding away in the Spine and building an army of stone automatons as they waited for the right moment. Twelve years ago, that moment arrived, and giants emerged from the Spine, from the coastal waters, up through Genesi Lake, and out of Keskeinen Mountain, bringing destruction to all the races of the continent.

  Felo Jinkari tried to speak through the cloth, but his men had bound her mouth tight. With her jaw locked, her wrists bound, and her fingers broken, the wizard could cast no spells.

  “Felo Jinkari,” Mogon repeated, tapping the side of his axe handle into her side as he repeated the standard charge against wizards, “you are charged as an enemy of the Third Continent for your conduct during the Golem War. For twelve years did the races of the continent fight against the wizards and their puppets of stone and clay. Eighty percent of all goblins have been wiped from the earth,” he said, glancing to the smallest of the four riders. “Sixty percent of all dwarves, half of all humans, and twenty percent,” he said with a grunt to appease the humans in the crowd, “of all elves lay dead by the actions of your kind. How,” he asked, dropping to his knees and pinning her body back into the snow, “do you plead?”

  Mogon’s weight forced the air from Felo’s lungs. As she coughed and gagged, he stood his long axe in the snow, the top of his weapon resting on the ground and the handle rising above his head. The captain of the Dragons pulled a knife from his belt and sliced open the witch’s gag. “How do you plead?” he repeated.

  Felo laughed, low and guttural, and in lieu of answering, she whispered, “Alaga nush toti bala-”

  Mogon backhanded her with his left hand, his armor slashing her cheek. When the witch continued to chant, the Legionnaire boxed her ears, then reached into her mouth to grab her tongue. Pinching it tight, he pulled the tongue forward, sliced a large chunk of it off with his knife, and stuffed it down her throat.

  He rose to his feet, asking, “What is the sentence of the Riders of Judgment?”

  “Guilty,” the dwarf announced.

  “Guilty,” the female elf agreed.

  “Guilty,” the human villager said.

  “Death!” the goblin cackled, jumping around his horse's saddle.

  Mogon tossed his knife into the snow and pulled a small metal ball rifled with carved holes off his belt. Raising it to his lips, he blew through the holes and a harsh whistle cut the air. Instantly, the war horses surged forward and after a brief moment of struggle, tore the limbs from the wizard’s body, dropping her gushing torso into the snow. Felo’s screams were wild and primal, and she coughed out her tongue.

  “You will be dead by the end of the moon cycle!” she roared as her screams devolved into wails, before falling silent. Without arms or legs, her body spurted blood into the snow, and her last images in this life were of the Third Continent’s most beloved hero dropping his long axe through her face.

  With the witch eviscerated, the crowd cheered lustily, surging forward to stab at the dead woman’s body with knives and pitchforks. They reveled in the conquest of another wizard that had been discovered, caught, and torn to pieces, punishment for the war crimes of her kind.

  The man in black betrayed no emotion as he reached for his helmet. “A thousand pieces!” he ordered to the surging crowd. “We cut the witch into no less than one thousand pieces and scatter her bits across the Third Continent! Let her death be a warning to the handful of wizards that remain that their kind is no longer allowed in our lands!”

  The soldier’s words were almost lost amidst the bloodlust, but Mogon did not mind. This was grim, but necessary work. From the moment he and his men had exited the Spine, Mogon knew this was his sworn duty:

  Find all the witches.

  Kill all the witches.

  Scatter their parts across the Third.

  Leaving the villagers to their work, he allowed his eyes to sweep over the placid, beautiful face of Ishora, his elven Rider of Judgment, as he moved out of the town center and to the fringes, where three more soldiers in the Dragon Legion awaited him.

  “Think that damn goblin will ever get it right?” Olig asked through a handsome grin, shaking his captain’s hand.

  Mogon smiled. “That’s why I call on him last.” He looked back at the dismemberment. “The crowd eats it up. I think they’re finally coming around to seeing the goblins as allies.”

  Ensch and Norril rolled their eyes at one another behind Mogon’s back, but the captain did not need to see their act to know their hearts.

  “Do not forget, my men, that nearly over 500,000 goblins lost their lives to the wizards during the Golem War,” Mogan reminded them. “Eighty percent of their to
tal population. And that does not include the hundreds of thousands who died as the slaves of wizards in the decades before the war.”

  Ensch, a large chested man with a braided orange beard, scoffed. “There were 3,000 men in the 19th when we entered that cave. Fourteen when we exited. What’s that percentage?”

  Mogon turned and offered his lieutenant a sharp rebuke. “Fifteen, Ensch. Fifteen of us exited that cave.”

  Ensch spat into the thin snow. “Traitors do not count. If he wasn’t locked away in a prison so deep not even the dwarves could find it, I’d be after him instead of the wizards.”

  “Then you’d be no less a traitor than he for ignoring your duties,” Mogon rebuked before raising a hand, partly as an apology and partly as an order. He had little desire to have this argument with Ensch again, especially with the letter from the queen he hid beneath his armor weighing heavily on him. “Prep the horses,” he ordered, his eyes glancing across the torn body to make contact with the elf. “Make sure the dwarf doesn’t get drunk and the elf doesn’t sneak off. I want to be on the road by sundown.” Mogon forced a smile across his lips. “We have eleven days to ride northeast to the capital. I hear they’re throwing a party in our honor.”

  Norril and Olig laughed and Ensch grumbled to himself as he stroked his braided beard.

  “It’s tough to be heroes,” Olig grinned, slapping Ensch on his back as Mogon walked away. When his captain was out of sight, the handsome Legionnaire dropped his voice. “Twenty will get you five Mogon will have to go looking for that cockless elf before the night is out.”

  Ensch’s scowl deepened.

  “Careful, Olig,” Norril laughed. “Ensch likes to think about where Mogon buries his sword even less than where you bury yours.”

  QUEEN ALLARIA LEANED forward to look out at the kingdom of Vastervik as her elven lover worked his magic behind her. It was her kingdom now, her father having fallen in the final days of the Golem War and her mother having succumbed to her grief six moons ago. Allaria was the ruler of all humanity now, one of the three great races of the Third Continent and arguably the most powerful being in all of creation.

  The nineteen year old loved it.

  Where her father had worn the crown as a burden and her mother wore it not at all, Allaria had lusted after the throne from the moment she realized it would one day be hers.

  She moaned as she felt Albero’s fingers trace runes across her naked alabaster back. Her raven hair fell forward across her eyes and she pushed it off her face. There was little she loved more than taking pleasure as she looked out at the land she ruled. They were in the uppermost room of the tallest tower in her kingdom, right in the heart of the Third Continent. Under her father’s rule, this was a lookout tower, but now that the war was over, Allaria had it converted to a private room where she could escape the gnats that were in constant buzz around the throne.

  The castle was made of dark gray stone, and a wide, double-ringed moat circled the building, protecting the sizeable, grassy courtyard from the city. Vastervik had risen to prominence during the Golem War. In the early days of the Third Continent, it was the least of the five great cities. The bountiful fields of Ryst in the south, the fishing ports of Bel-tu to the west, and the game-filled jungles and tundra of Theluji in the north held the most sway in the kingdom, while the Mazotic Gardens in the far east were solidified as the continent’s center of both knowledge and leisure.

  Allaria’s ancestors had built their castle far from the bountiful coasts, hiding it away in the middle of a large, grassy valley that rested between the strongholds of the dwarves in the Keskeinen Mountain and the elves of the Quill Forest. They had intended Vastervik to be a trading center, and in the early days the kingdom flourished, but as the humans, dwarves, and elves turned isolationist, the central hub suffered. It was politics that allowed the kingdom to rise again, as the Golem War gave all races a need for a central location to meet and plan their actions against the wizards.

  The young queen swore lustfully as she looked at the elf over her shoulder. His runes had been completed and now her back danced with blue flames, tracing the paths her lover’s fingers had created minutes earlier.

  Albero smiled wickedly as he leaned forward to grab handfuls of her thick hair, wrapping them around his fists like he would the rope of a horse. When the queen smiled her challenge at him, the elf knew she was ready for their session to end, and he gave himself over to the primal instincts his race had tried to bury for centuries, but which his human lover craved.

  The city before them bustled with activity. The sun was in its highest point and the Celebration of Dragons was six hours away. Tonight would be a celebration of the end of the Golem War, a celebration of the Dragon Legion for ending the war, and a celebration of the four races strengthening their bonds.

  For Allaria, tonight was also about showing the others her power. To be nineteen and a ruler of men invited challenges. The queen had already fought off several death threats, coups, and attempted marriages. For the first time since the Golem War ended, rulers from every human, dwarf, elf, and goblin kingdom would be gathered in the same place, and Allaria would make damn sure that none of them doubted her prominence by the time they left.

  For not the first time, her mind called forth an image of Mogon, the Great Hero of the Golem War. Was his loyalty enough to bring the continent under her control? Or did she need the bond of marriage?

  “By the … great … gate,” Albero grunted, his body soaked in sweat and ready to burst.

  Allaria’s purple eyes saw the three elven kings had arrived, moving with precision as their golden, silver, and obsidian armors sparkled in the afternoon sun. On another day, they would have held her attention, but it was the eight riders to the north of the elven formations that caused a thrill to fire through her body: Mogon had arrived.

  And with it, his answer.

  Allaria knew she must have him, one way or the other.

  “Now,” she ordered Albero through gritted teeth.

  The elf cast his final spell as his body exploded. The blue flames that danced across Allaria’s back turned purple as they roared higher and shot off her body, through the window, and into the air above Vastervik, where they reconstituted as the Amethyst Dragon, the ancient symbol of the city that now belonged to a nineteen year old queen with an unquenchable appetite.

  Her eyes danced from Mogon’s riders to the dragon in the sky to the elves in the faraway field, before finally resting on the Stocks of Law, where six dead human traitors hung by their necks. “Send word for the traitors to be cut down,” she ordered Albero, “but make sure the guards know to wait until the elves have seen them. I want them to know any whispers about my softness were brought to them by unreliable spies.”

  Albero pulled her body back to his and ran his hands over her body. “Were I a spy,” he smiled, kissing her neck, “it is the soft parts of you I would feature in my reports.”

  Allaria smiled and whispered, “Burn.”

  The elf’s heart began to burn and he pulled the human in tighter, reveling in the pain. “There is nothing I would not do for you, my love.”

  Turning, the queen kissed his chest and the burning faded away. Allaria smiled up into his sparkling green eyes as her hands worked their own form of magic on his body. Unlike most elves, Albero’s black hair was cropped short and his muscles rippled; he had turned his back on the orthodox rules of the elves that kept elves from developing to their full physical capabilities. “And in due time, Albero, I shall give you that which you most want.”

  “I just had what I most want,” he grunted.

  “I wonder where we will live,” she said dreamily, running a finger over one of the numerous scars on his chest, “when we rule over both human and elven kingdoms?”

  Albero smirked. “Is that why you love me? My disputed claim to the throne of the Quill? Or because by the time the wizard purge has been completed I will be the only magic user left alive willing to work for a human
?”

  “Don’t be silly, elf,” she smiled. “Your kind is just as susceptible to the temptation of coin as humans and dwarves. Besides,” she said, kissing his chest, “I love you because you are the best assassin on the Continent.”

  “Prove it,” he said roughly.

  Allaria glanced over her shoulder and across the mile to the great gate, which had yet to begin to lower. “I suppose,” she smiled, letting her body drop to the floor, “there is time to do just that. And later tonight,” she ordered, “you shall put those deadly skills to the test.”

  THE SEVEN NUBILE servants removed Mogon’s armor as the soldier sipped on a provided glass of clear alcohol. While Ensch, Olig, and Norril were quartered in the soldier barracks, Mogon had been given a place in Vastervik’s castle. While the captain of the Dragon Legion did not like to horde his rank over his men, he recognized that they sometimes needed to be left to their own devices.

  The curtains at the far window of the massive bed chamber rustled. Mogon had devices of his own that need to be satiated.

  “Do you have a name?” he asked the redheaded girl who nervously stood before him. She held his helmet as if it were a holy relic. Over the past year, Mogon had grown so used to this reverential behavior that it was almost beneath his notice.

  “It is Ergrid, my lord,” she said, unable to hold the gaze of his powerful green eyes.

  Mogon chuckled. “I am no one’s lord, Ergrid,” he protested, and then raised his glass of clear liquor. “What is this drink?” he asked.

  “It is a new concoction of the dwarves,” the redhead explained quietly. “They call it moonshine.”

  “It’s disgusting,” Mogon smiled, offering her the glass. “Would you like to try it?”

  The redhead smiled impishly as her soft cheeks tried to match the color of her hair.

  “Go on,” Mogon encouraged as the other six women dutifully continued to remove his armor and place it on a nearby table. Across the room, the curtains fluttered again, and Mogon made a show of ignoring them as he stepped forward after the last of his armor had left him.

  Ergrid sipped on the moonshine and made a face, handing the glass back to Mogon as she coughed roughly.

 
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