Only days ago, I awoke on an abandoned battlefield with no memory of anything before that moment. The only clue to my identity was the tattoo on the back of my hand of a snake
Only days ago, I awoke on an abandoned battlefield with no memory of anything before that moment. The only clue to my identity was the tattoo on the back of my hand of a snake wrapped around a sword surrounded by a ring of fire. Because of it, some have tried to help me, others have tried to kill me, but none have told me what it means.
You can read what’s gone before here, and the ongoing tale below.
A brief moment of silence followed Ishtir’s command, as the whole assembly absorbed her words. The ring of hundreds of blades being drawn broke the stillness and echoed through the temple.
With a scream of pure terror, the crowd surged away from the arena, only to meet the oncoming tide of War Dogs.
Faced with the furor of the crowd, and with their own fanatical devotion to Ishtir’s will, the War Dogs wasted no time discerning the followers of Shimash from the rest of the mob and slew everyone they came to.
Ulstir and I looked on from the edge of the balcony as the wave of death approached us.
“Are you any good with that sword?” Ulstir pointed to the blade at my belt.
I glanced from the oncoming army to Ishtir sitting on the marble throne below us. “Not good enough.”
Ulstir looked up at the arena walls. “Can you climb?”
“What?” The din of certain death had almost engulfed us.
“Climb!” Ulstir shouted, no longer a question.
We scrambled onto the balcony railing and leapt up, grasping for higher handholds. I caught the edge of the next balcony, and pulled myself up. Ulstir managed to grip a hanging banner, which stretched ominously under his weight.
Below us, the War Dogs drove what remained of the crowd back to the edge of the balcony to slaughter everyone, except the few who leapt down into the arena.
The upper veranda was empty, which gave me a moment to help Ulstir up. There were no more galleries above us, only sheer walls stretching up to freedom. Down in the arena, the few spectators who still lived were gathered in the center of a closing ring of War Dogs.
“Enough!” Ishtir’s voice thundered through the temple.
I grabbed Ulstir’s arm. “Come on, this is our chance.” Drawing my sword, I dragged him off the balcony and down into the curved stairwell that led from it.
Ishtir’s voice echoed around us. “Would even my brother be so brazen as to come alone into my temple? Why then do you seek his servants here? If you would follow my orders, then go out into the city.”
“They can’t.” Ulstir panted. “The city’s runes will prevent them.”
As we passed the first floor balcony, I glanced out at one of the War Dogs kneeling before Ishtir, probably saying something like Ulstir had said to me, but her voice didn’t reach me.
The sound of steel crushing bone did.
Ishtir’s voice boomed louder than before. “Why do you bore me with trivialities? Or must I do everything myself?”
Ulstir and I reached the ground level and skirted the rearguard of the War Dogs, who were all turned toward the goddess with rapt attention. With freedom in sight, Ulstir sprinted ahead and through the open gate. I tried to follow, but ran into an unseen barrier at the threshold. I tried to push through it, but it was as solid as the stone walls.
From the other side of the exit, Ulstir mouthed to me, “Your sword.”
I sheathed the blade and stepped through the open gate into the city proper just as the host parted to allow Ishtir a clear path.
I felt her gaze on my back like icy hands dragging down my spine.
“We made it. We’re safe.” Ulstir paused to catch his breath.
“I wouldn’t count on it.”
Ishtir walked slowly, deliberately, to the invisible barrier that stood between us. The great sword in her hand dripped fresh blood onto the stones at her feet. With a smile she raised the blade and pushed it through the gate. The sword moved as though the open air was tar, but it steadily passed the ancient runes.
“We need to get out of here, now.”
Ulstir and I ran back toward the center of town.
I turned back in time to see the pommel of the sword pass the threshold.
A great crash sounded from the edge of the city, like a mountain cracking in two.
With a wolfish howl, the War Dogs poured out of the temple of Ishtir, swords in hand and the mad light of fanaticism in their eyes. They fell on any passersby with an unquenchable bloodlust.
Ulstir and I fled.
As we ran, he shouted over the rising din, “If she’s broken the spell, then the city is lost.”
“Agreed. The War Dogs will raze it to the ground.”
“No, you don’t understand. Those runes weren’t to keep us from fighting. They were the chains that bound the Serpent of Tirradon.”
As we rounded a corner, the shattered gates of the city came into view. All of the stones bearing the runes had crumbled, and without them the gates had collapsed under their own weight.
Ulstir ran with renewed speed. “Come with me. There’s a village to the west of here that will give us aid.”
I pushed to keep up with him. “No, the War Dogs destroyed it.”
“Are you sure?”
“I came from there.”
He swore. “The next nearest refuge is many days to the north.”
As we approached the shattered gate, a pillar of fire erupted from the ground ahead of us. The force of the blast threw us back to crash against the cobbled street. The heat washed over us, drenching me in sweat. The back of my hand throbbed. My eyes stung, but I forced them to take in my surroundings. The flames stretched nearly a hundred feet into the sky before disappearing back into the hole they’d come from.
The rubble of the gate, which had been the focus of the blast, was gone, leaving only rivers of molten rock draining into the fresh pit. As I watched, a titanic, serpentine head rose from the depths, molten stone clinging to it.
The Serpent of Tirradon was a dragon.
To Be Continued….