The Substitute, Park 2

Happy New Year’s! As said in the title, this is the second part of a story, the first part of which can be found here. I hope you enjoy this!

The company headed out early the next morning, hurrying on to the beleaguered town subjected to the rage of the dragon. Bravis rode reluctantly in the front, next to Lord Karkomin. Behind them was a small group of brave soldiers and volunteers from among the noblemen.

Bravis had never felt dread, or fear like this before. He had been nervous, frightened that someone might see through his disguise, but he had never felt a threat on his life, much less gone toward the source of that danger. Shouldn’t they flee the dragon, rather than confront it?

But he had resigned himself to his fate. He was going to fight this dragon, even if it killed him, though still wasn’t sure why he had decided that. Some stupid excuse about honor. He didn’t even have honor, so why did he care? Perhaps because this might be his one chance to gain some.

The road took them up and down and around hills as they went southeast, and the mountains grew larger and darker in the east as they went. They made Bravis uncomfortable, since the dragon probably resided somewhere in their depths.

After several hours of riding, they came to the crest of a hill, a place where they could see the surrounding countryside for miles – at least, save for the obscured backs of the hills. But on one of the hills was a city, and smoke rose from it. There, wheeling through the black ash, was the dragon. It was a long, red, snakelike, specimen that made Bravis want nothing more than to turn around then and there. But he didn’t.

“There he is!” exclaimed Karkomin at the sight. “Come, let’s finish him, and prevent him from further damage to the kingdom!”

They quickened their pace, hurrying on in worry toward the ruined city. Along the way, dozens of refugees ran past them, seeking respite and sanctuary from the menace that had left them homeless. Bravis steeled himself, trying not to let the fear in these refugees infect him as well. It wasn’t working.

The last to flee down the road was an entourage of soldiers and guards, who stopped before their lord, breathless and worried.

“He just showed up an hour ago and began destroying the countryside around us,” said what appeared to the be chief guard. “He only moved inside just as the refugees began leaving. We tried fighting him, but we couldn’t hit him – he’s too fast in the air, and his armor is too strong.”

“I understand,” replied Karkomin. “Thank you, captain. Attend to your charges.”

The guards left, and then there was nothing between Bravis and the dragon. They rode on in tense silence, the air still and heavy, save for the clip-clop of the horses’ hooves on the road, the low roar of the burning town, and the occasional roars of the great dragon. But these were just background, and Bravis was deaf to them all as he approached his doom.

For better or for worse, the dragon got to them first. He swooped low over the road, blasting fire from his gaping jaws at the company, causing them to scatter in all directions. Bravis quickly turned back, though, in time to see the dragon wheeling back around for another run. Karkomin raised his hand, and there was a flash as lightning lanced across the sky toward the dragon. But it missed.

Along the road there were already wounded and burnt members among their number, and yet the dragon had only made one pass. At this rate it was going to be able to just fly back and forth, untouchable.

“Lord Karkomin,” said Bravis. “I see that you’re a sorcerer. Is there any way you could get this dragon out of the sky?”

“I don’t think so,” replied Karkomin. “We should head into the city – the ash should provide some cover.”

“Right.”

Bravis spurred his horse, and he and the rest of the company hurried into the town, vanishing in the black smoke and ash rising from the burning buildings. He heard a roar as the dragon passed overhead, foiled for the moment. Karkomin summoned yet another bolt of lightning, but this one did little more than illuminate the rising cloud and show more clearly the silhouette of the dragon.

The company stopped by a ruined building not far from the wrecked gate, all the beams and wood turned to black charcoal already and the floors coated in ash. They drew swords, looking out into the surrounding darkness as they waited for the dragon to reappear. Soon enough, they heard the stomp of great feet, and they knew that he was searching for them. Bravis lamented his decision to help again, but he had passed the point of no return a long time ago.

And then there was nothing. The sounds stopped, and the company looked around in confusion as to why the dragon had stopped moving. But then there was a roar, and the dragon suddenly pounced on them. Flames flew down, consuming some of the soldiers, before the reptilian head turned its attentions to Karkomin, swiftly crushing him between its claws and the ground. Immediately Bravis raised his sword and pointed it at the beast, bravely staring into its great eye.

“Welcome, Torun Bravis,” said a voice suddenly, echoing around him.

“Who are you? How do you know my name?” he replied, trying to look around for the source. But now he found he couldn’t move, and his eyes were fixed in one direction: at the dragon’s eye.

“I am your current foe, perhaps. I can see into your soul.” It was certainly the dragon. But what did it do to him? “Such a poor specimen. So much garbage in here.”

“I’m not garbage. Release me!”

“No! And I was referring to the garbage that made you come here. Why? You know you’re not needed. You should have left – you can still leave. And no one will think any less of you for running from a dragon. After all, I am about to kill the great sorcerer Karkomin. You’ll be much happier staying out of such dangerous affairs like this one. Go home, Bravis.”

The war that had been raging inside of him ever since dinner the night before suddenly boiled up once again, fresh and new. It seemed his cowardice had found new steam, but he was at a loss to see where it had come from. The dragon’s argument was very persuasive, yes, but he had heard those arguments a thousand times in the last twelve hours and more and had rejected them. That was why he was here.

“Bravis! What are you doing? Kill it!” A voice suddenly broke through his thought, sounding much like Karkomin. He blinked, and looked away. His sword had drooped since when he had held it out against the dragon, which now roared in anger and the foiling of its tactical gambit. Bravis took quick advantage of its brief outburst, and thrust his blade into its eye.

The dragon roared again, tearing the sword out of Bravis’s grip as it thrashed around in agony. It smashed its head, its body, against buildings and the ground as it attempted to cope with the pain. It wasn’t going to work. And after several moments of this, the beast at least rested its head, dead.

The remaining company began crawling out of the rubble, looking at the last damage the beast had ever caused. Karkomin crawled out from under the dragon’s claws and stood, embracing the shocked dragon slayer.

“Thank you,” Karkomin said. “You’ve proven yourself an admirable warrior. Regium would be proud.”

“I should thank you,” replied Bravis. “You gave me the opportunity make him so.”

“It was nothing. Would you like the opportunity to see what a real celebration looks like, rather than a polite dinner?”

Bravis nodded. “Though, I think I’ll brag less and listen more. I must search for something to do with my life.”

“A wise decision,” said Karkomin, smiling. “Come.”

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