“My queen, he has come.”
“Send him to me then,” replied the queen nonchalantly.
No sooner had the servant delivered the message, than a man dressed in glistening mail, holding a broadsword and accompanied by a contingent of look-alike soldiers, strode into the room. He brushed aside mannequins and costumes while the queen’s tailors gasped. The queen turned casually from where she was being pinned for a new robe, but her casual look faded upon seeing him. With purpose, the man removed his helm and whipped his long brown hair back from his face, fell to one knee, and took the queen’s hand.
“My queen, She has come.” To emphasize the announcement, the chamber shook with such force that mortar cracked in between some of the stones. The bowing man looked up and around at the others who had followed him into the chamber. Their expressions like his, looked both shocked and grave. Most had drawn their swords, and here inside the queen’s dressing room, it seemed almost ridiculous. It reminded Gidean of a play once the palace fool put on about a garment that caused a big war in the land. A comedy that was. But this was no theatre.
“You must come with me, now, for your protection!” Gidean pulled the queen’s hand, who grudgingly followed him towards the chamber door. She left pieces of cloth in her wake. Gidean knew that this part of his mission would be the most important. The queen was like her husband. Hot headed and strong willed. She didn’t like to lose, and worse yet, was not keen on being told what to do. And one must be careful, because the queen never forgot an injustice. Ever.
She looked around as if she was forgetting something important. Even in this imminent danger, she was regal, Gidean thought.
“My husband, where is Lord…” The queen’s defiance was now tinged with worry. All in court knew that unlike her father, the princess’ marriage was not one of politics. Put simply, she had met her prince, and she had fallen in love. Their wedding had been a blessing to the kingdom. Unlike other royal unions, it was real and because of that, inspired it’s populace. That is, until the dragon came.
“The King is defending the Keep, he is…engaged. The beast has not come alone this time, m’Lady.
“Not alone? But who has come with her?”
“My lady. It appears as if the dragon has amassed an…army.”
“An ARMY?? An army of who? From where? Gidean, what is this mad…” stammered the queen who stopped as if the shock of this statement was more than she could believe. He pulled her along now, no longer caring about her hot headedness.
“M’lady, not an army of who, of what.” They were moving far faster than she wanted to go, and she tried to stop but just at that moment, another tremor erupted around them. They were now moving through one of the palace passageways and the bricks of carved designs all around them shook, the marblework cracked, and one section of the hall crumbled in a haze of dust. Great crevices snaked their way along the walls and floor. The blast startled them all, and knocked one soldier to the ground. Large stones piled on top of him, crushing the screams from his mouth. His body lay still, arms and legs snapped in bent positions by the debris.
“NOW M’LADY!” Gidean’s face had become urgent and wide eyed. More quakes around them blasted here or there and the soldiers, instinctively, moved into tighter formation. They were willing to give their lives for the queen, but each was driven by their mission. “MOVE! You men! The queen, move the queen below to safety!”
Now in a full run, the soldiers, swords drawn held their shields in a way to protect their precious queen from falling debris. They raced through the castle passageways, deeper and deeper in the keep, as dust and dirt from the giving stones above them fell in streams. Gidean knew they were getting close. If they could make it to the treasure chamber, they had a chance. They had planned for just such an attack as this, in fact, they had prepared for just this moment, and he knew that the dragon could not hold the keep indefinitely.
Onward he pulled his queen, onward the men followed. Gidean tried to remember the plan that he had reviewed so many times with the king. Remember Gidean, to the chamber. Make it there, and she will remain safe. Until our troops from Tso Canth arrive. Hasai will not be able to hold the keep, you will wait with her. I will give you the time you need, and once I know she is there, will come with reinforcements. Do not fail me.
I will not, Sire.
The screams and yells were now audible. The fight was coming closer. They needed only to move to the next stairwell, descend and unlock the chamber. “We’ll make it,” thought Gidean, and just then, from a side passage he saw a shadow of something that shouldn’t be.
“Halt,” he whispered harshly staying the others with his hand. But it was too late, they were in full view of whatever was in the passageway’s shadow. From the darkness beyond the light of the last torch, two sets of gleaming blue eyes appeared. For a brief moment, they hovered in the air, and then grew larger as the forms they belonged to came into view of the flickering flames. Out of a nightmare, walked two impossible monsters. Large reptilian faces, as if they were men and dragon mixed. On their backs were folded wings like those of a bat, and each held a wicked sword. In a guttural language, one spoke to the other. And as the one advanced, the other fell back into the darkness.
“Defend the queen!” Gidean’s honor was unmatched among the guard and was none the different this eve. He flung himself into the beast, but it’s muscular arm simply swiped him aside. One clawed hand grabbed the soldier’s throat and held him against the wall. It then slid him sideways near a lit torch in it’s sconce. His ear’s flesh and his long curls began to sizzle and burn while he yelled. All the while the creature’s wicked sword slashed at the other soldiers who engaged it.
“Give me the keyssssss,” hissed the beast in a mockery of Common. It’s snout full of sharp teeth was pressed against Gidean’s face. He could smell it’s coppery breath mixed with the smell of his skin and hair, burning.
“Nevvvvver,” croaked Gidean. His face was enveloping in a fiery blaze and his eyes were bulging.
“My misssstreesssss will take the girl. Ssssheee comessssss…..”
With Gidean’s dying breath he yelled for the others to move the queen on. He reached to draw a dagger from his boot, which was, like the rest of him, suspended above the ground. But as his hand grazed the handle, the creature, watching the others move onto the stairwell, turned back in his direction. It’s blue eyes gazed right at him, and Gidean saw that they were indeed the eyes of a reptile, of a snake. They were dragon’s eyes. The eyes of the beast. As the creature plunged his sword right through the noble soldier’s heart, Gidean knew only that he had failed his king. His eyes closed, and he knew no more. It cackled and hissed and without so much as a look back at it’s victim, it came on towards those few soldiers still protecting the queen. Behind it, Gidean’s body burned. The sword had been pushed so deep between the stones that he hung there, arms and legs limp, against the walls of the keep.
“MOVE!!!!” Shouted Gidean’s captain, and his men stuttered in formation down the passage as fast as they could. They shielded their queen as best they could, as the reptile creature’s comrades crept on behind them. Down the stairs.
The others in the company wasted no time with the enemy coming on and they reached the stairwell quickly, stumbling upon the stones as swiftly as their feet would take them. The soldiers in the rear spread out their shields, but the creature which had murdered Gidean roared and slashed. They tried desperately to keep it at bay by slashing it with their swords. The creature simply used it’s claws to swipe away the weapons. On it came. The yelling grew louder from all the different passageways above and they could now hear the distinctive sounds of battle above them. Men were dying. But was the enemy? “We’re nearly there! Form a wall in the Treasure Chamber!” screamed Gidean’s captain to one of his men. Producing a key, the Captain raced on in command. “Hurry, my queen,” he called, waving her on, while behind her the guards swung at the shadowy creatures, “Hurry!”
The Captain, like Gidean moments before, grabbed the queen’s hand and ran on, while several other soldiers fell back into a tight formation. They would be the last defense. Or so he thought.
Their swords swung into action, as another of their comrades fell to the creature’s claws. In tight formation, with their shields interlocking, they formed a wall, and planted their feet. Luckily, one of them struck a mighty blow through their self made barrier, and the beast who had murdered Gidean fell. But, just as it had fallen, another took it’s place out of the darkness, and then another.
Now behind them, in the treasury, the queen waited trembling as the captain fumbled for his key. He knew his soldiers wouldn’t last long. It was up to him now. He could just….
A sound that was like sizzling meat tore through the halls and echoed in the chamber.
“What the…?” cried a guard who surrounded by the others, stood behind his shield. He couldn’t see the stairwell up above, nor could any of them, they were making a protective barrier, come what may. He forced himself to steady his hands and insert the key into it’s slot as he had trained. But he couldn’t help himself and so he looked up.
There, rounding the final steps of the treasury stairwell, the Captain saw his guards in the torchlight, the shadows behind seemed to shimmer. He began the incantation that would peel the door away. Giving them only a few moments of time, it would seal itself off until another spoke them again. It was going to be close, but they could make it. With the remaining guards keeping these foul demons at bay, they could buy her the time she needed. He clicked the key in place, and twisted. Slowly the door began to slide outward as he mumbled the words he had been trained and selected to speak, for just such a night a day as this. He looked towards his queen, to let her know she would be ok and could enter soon, and in the blink of an eye, he knew she would never make it.
Standing, waiting for the door to open, he glanced back in the direction they’d come. From behind, and above in the stairwell, where torchlight should be, was now darkness. But that was not all. A dark, slick, and blue form like a wave of water oozed down towards them, along the wall it crept. Lithe but giant, sleek but rotten, a putrid and metallic smell filled his nostrils. The form was fronted by a colossal mouth, with shimmering teeth and two eyes, like the smaller he had seen before, but vastly larger in size. The dark blue scales rippling along it’s body scratched the stones of the chamber. Through the darkness fell two gigantic legs, with claws that ripped the stones they fell upon. The torchlight illuminated the full form of the beast they had trained for these many years. The beast that had terrorized them, a beast that filled the room up as though it were a doll’s house. Nothing could have prepared them for this.
But those building the wall, could not see as he had. “What is coming?! Can anyone see? Ready your swords?” Yelled the men behind their shields, but their words were never answered, for at that moment the air sizzled. The metallic smell grew ripe as when one enters a blacksmith’s shop, and something seemed to push them from behind, not from in front where their shields were. They were sliding towards the gaping maw that was outstretched not feet before him. They yelled to keep their formation tight, but it was as if a magic had been put upon them. Raising his sword, the captain could perfectly see the dagger like teeth, the tongue whipping and in the very center, towards the back of it’s throat grew tendrils of sizzling energy. Like tiny bolts of lightning they convulsed and centered and with a gush, they struck outward at his men before him. He watched as his guard, bolts of lightning ripping outward in zigzags jolted their hearts, charring their flesh. They died with their mouths open and an immense hole which burned outward right through the center of where their chests used to be. As the queen watched terrified, the burning fanned out to the rest of the body. In sickening speed, it blackened and flaked off of like ashes from a fire. Behind were left the white bones of what was only moments before the finest of the guard. The bodies fell over, and behind them, stood the queen in her dressing gown next to the Captain, who had nearly finished his incantation.
Hair now disheveled. Fear and defiance ablaze in her eyes. The queen looked upon the beast. The dragon moved the rest of it’s legs, wings and tail down from the stairwell, but kept it’s snout pointed at her. It crept closer. Never taking it’s plate sized eyes off the queen, it spoke not to her, but to the guard at the door, the only guard it had not killed.
“Pleasssssssseeee soldier of the keep, you musssttt finisssshhh the incantation for meeee. I would hate to leavvvee empty handed.”
The guard did not answer. But nor did he finish the words.
“Your queen for a treassssssurry, young one. Sssspeak the wordssss, or I will kill her anyway, and peel the ssssskin from your body for ssssssport.”
Without looking up, trembling from the dragon fear. The guard rose and slowly turned his body from the dragon’s mouth until he was facing the treasury door once more. His hands shook so violently that he inserted the keys, but his knees gave way and after completing the phrase, he fell aside as if struck on the head.
“After you, my dearest queen.”
The queen backed toward the chamber door. Her breath was caught in her throat, she could smell the same metallic stench, and a rushing of wind began to pull her towards the dragon as before even as her legs moved her into the treasury beyond the now open portal.
For the tiniest of moments there was an awkward silence, while above them men screamed and metal upon metal rang out. The queen knew if she could just squeeze inside, she would be safe once it closed. For this is exactly what the chamber had been created for. As her husband had planned, she would then wait for him and for Tso Canth’s guard to arrive. She could do this. She could live. She could see her love once more. Around her, the Captain and his soldier’s bodies lay in piles of charred corpses. Their bodies were nothing more than skeletonized bits of blackened flesh lying on the chamber floor. For her they had died, she must live, if only to honor them.
“HASAI! By the Light, what have you done to her!!!!”
The dragon turned it’s head, roping it’s neck backwards above it’s body and in between it’s wings. The queen looked past the dragons’ body too and up the steps, where a man in a golden suit of mail stood. It was the king!
And he was badly injured. His sword was held behind him in an odd way. His other arm, his shield arm, was missing. Below the elbow there was nothing. Blood was caked and matted all over his armor, and as he took the first step of the descent, she knew he wouldn’t make it. Behind him even as he came, were more of the dragon men, and with what was obviously his dying moments, he walked step by step while they clawed at him, and hacked at him with vicious and sharp weapons. His last few sword thrusts just slid off their scales.
Everything happened in an instant. The king toppled then and slid down the final steps coming to rest at the base of the stairs. He tried to lift his head, but got only as far as turning it in the direction of his treasury door sliding open. He yelled the name of his wife. It went on until it became a long drawn out whimper. Perhaps he was trying to will her to the door, perhaps he was trying to keep her alive by keeping her name upon his lips as long as he could. Perhaps, it was the agony of his failure.
The queen cried out to her beloved, bending over with horrible agony. But the queen, despite the shock, knew she had just one instant and as quickly as she could, scrambled inside the door just as it was closing itself again. She screamed with rage and sorrow, as the dragon roared for it had not noticed he portal door closing so soon. It tried desperately to get it’s snout in at her but the door was closing too fast. There was no more room for it to reach her. Pulling herself in all the way with a tug of the treasury wall, she landed atop a pile of the kings coins.
The dragon sprang against the portal and threw it’s might against the chamber door, realizing it had been tricked, and would not be able to open the door with her inside.
“We’ve beaten you, worm! Crawl back to where you’ve squirmed from!!!!! I’ve lived, and Tso Canth will come for you! My vengeance will be upon you!”
The beast roared, and the queen, all tears and sweat and torn garments, laughed at the sound. She had just witnessed her beloved’s death, and for that, there was only her life as victory, but it was hers. And it was his too.
The door was coming to the end of it’s motion. The anguish of the defeated dragon dying beyond the magical enclosure. And just when it had all but evaporated, a lone talon stuck itself in the last of the door’s closing gap.
The queen stared at the single claw nail, massive and hard as stone, and the breath stuck in her voice, the laughter died in her throat. Something began to push her from behind. She realized then that it was the air, sucking out of the chamber through the small, miniscule gap where the talon was. Looking down, she saw, as if by some magic, some of the coins rising in the air. Between them danced little bolts of energy. Like lightning.
“My life is my revenge,” she thought, “and somehow, my love, we will have our vengeance.”