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.
Fear rooted me to the stone. The dragon’s head rose as its long serpentine body emerged from the pit it had been sealed in. The black-scaled beast stretched nearly a dozen yards above its subterranean prison before the first clawed foot appeared, gouging great chunks out of the cobblestone street. Its leg was short, almost stunted compared to the immense girth of the creature’s neck and body, which flowed seamlessly one into the next. As the monster pulled itself up, its belly scraped against the edge of the breach.
High above me, the dragon’s enormous, forked tongue flicked out briefly. As if displeased with the taste, it turned and spewed fire onto the grand houses of the Serpent Quarter. The flames pierced through the stone buildings like a knife through parchment.
The screams of doomed men broke my trance.
Stiffly, I got to my feet. A short distance away, Ulstir writhed in agony where he’d fallen. I stumbled over and knelt beside him.
His exposed face and arms were cracked and blistered. He’d only been a few feet in front of me when the blast hit. And yet….
He stilled when he saw my face, and his cracked lips tried to smile. “Sh-Shimash be…praised.” His voice was barely more than a breath escaping the parched cage of his mouth.
“Don’t speak. I’ll take you to get help.” I glanced around at the growing carnage. The Serpent Quarter blazed like a torch under the dragon’s repeated attacks, and the cries of the War Dogs echoed from the other side of the city, mingling with the screams and moans of the dying. The fore claws and dragging belly of the monster would overtake us soon.
Ulstir feebly grasped my arm. His hand felt more like cracked leather than human skin. “No. Go…north…Darnov. Warn…what we….” His voice was drowned by the shouts of a handful of reckless War Dogs who burst onto the main street.
I looked up in time to see them engulfed by a river of flame.
The dragon’s bulk was almost on top of us. “Ulstir, I need to move you.” I grabbed him under the burnt remains of his arms and dragged him out of the path of the oncoming beast.
He didn’t complain, though the short trip must have been torturous for him. When we stopped, he tried to speak again, but his voice was too weak for me to hear.
I leaned close to him. “What?”
His breath was hot against my ear. “The blood…of Sh-Shimash flow…strongly…through you.” His final words spoken, his eyes dimmed and he breathed no more.
“Ulstir? Ulstir!” I shook him violently, as though physical pain might bring back the dead.
When I realized the truth a moment later, I laid his body on the broken cobblestones. “The blood of Shimash flow strongly through you.” They weren’t the right words, but I had none more fitting to leave him with.
A splash of molten stone fell like a tear beside Ulstir’s corpse.
I looked up into the huge, unblinking eyes of the dragon. It loomed over me, a silently swaying pillar of destruction.
For a moment I thought I sensed a kinship between us. Its colossal serpentine mouth opened, revealing rows of massive, crocodilian teeth and a growing orange-red glow at the back of the throat.
On instinct, I threw up my arms, as if the incoming blast was a blow I could ward off.
The heat hit in an oppressive wave that sapped my strength and dulled my mind. A small blessing from the horrific death that would soon follow. Then the flames reached me with a force that drove me into the ground. Mercifully, my numbed mind could not acknowledge any pain beyond the first. My hand, the highest point of my body, shrieked with a pain that men who have not been burned alive cannot comprehend. I tried to scream, but the very breath in my lungs had been consumed in my pyre.
I was saved from my suffering by the blessed abyss of death.
White pain seared through the blackness of my mind, clearing the way for a single thought: Why does being dead hurt so much?
I tried to push away both the thought and the pain—after all, what use are they to the dead?—but the burning refused to subside. Maybe this is penance—a punishment for evil deeds committed or good deeds left undone. I sought back through my memory.
I remembered killing three War Dogs in the woods, but they’d attacked. Was that still worthy of an after-life of torment? I searched further back in my memory, to the abandoned battlefield where I awoke. I’d been a soldier of some kind. I must have killed others.
But why couldn’t I remember them?
Try as I might, all my memories before the scavengers on the battlefield were hidden behind a thick cloud of fog that even the white light of pain refused to illuminate.
But deep within the murkiness, I sensed a glow, and it pulled at my spirit. There was something in there. Something powerful, which should not have been forgotten.
My thought ventured into the mist. What’s there to fear? Can the past harm the dead?
As I passed through the fog, I was assaulted with images. Faceless men and women that I should have known, towers and burning cities I could not recognize, and strange words with unfamiliar letters.
I ignored all these in the search for the glow which beckoned to me.
At length, I came upon that which I sought. Two eyes stared out at me from the mist, each glowing with its own radiance. One was a poisonous green, the pupil a serpentine slit. The other, which looked more human, was the roiling red-orange of fire.
Below the eyes, illuminated by their glow, was the symbol of a viper, coiled around a sword, surrounded by a ring of fire.
The tattoo on my hand. An image scarred in ink. On my hand which had burned under the dragon’s flame.
The white pain returned, driving out my clouded memories. But this time it brought with it a duller pain, almost unnoticeable under the searing whiteness.
I seized onto this dullness to escape the horrific burning that threatened to drown all other thoughts. As I focused on this lesser pain, it grew intense and demanding.
I opened my eyes. Stars shone in the night sky far above me. I glanced around. I was starving, naked, and alone, in a pit formed of melted stone.
But I was alive.
End of Chapter One.