My troubles began when a cleric sworn to protect me knocked on my door. Her name was Melody, and she arrived in full plate armor like a fabled knight. Over two kettles of tea, she explained that her order had sent her to protect someone known as a dragon heir. She’d heard about the dragon scales coating my back that had grown to wrap around my shoulders. It was hard to deny since I’d been showing them off for most of my life.
The bluish-purple scales were tougher than most shields and had fended off everything from blades to ghoul bites over the years. Hubris got me into most of those scrapes, but fighting was the only outlet I had for the lighting stored within my bones.
Less than a week after the cleric knocked on my door, a putrid blight washed down our rivers. Our once bright, flowing drinking water turned gray and cloudy with the blight’s arrival. Throughout my life, I looked out over the water at night and saw an illuminated mirror of the starry sky. Now the water sat like sludge, and we still had to drink it. We boiled and treated it to the best of our abilities, but we began to grow blinder with each passing day.
Melody warned me that the blight was likely a trap to lure me out in the open. Reluctantly, I followed her advice. A war party assembled, without me in it, and they went off to solve our water crisis. Meanwhile, Melody kept me healthy and whole. My vision would occasionally grow soft, but like a guardian angel, she cured the blurriness eating at the edges of my sight with a single touch.
Maybe if she had let me lose my sight, I would never have ventured outside the city’s safety, but I was too frustrated and powerful to listen to her reasoning anymore. The first war party never returned, and it was time I stepped up to do what was necessary.
“You are doing what he wants,” Melody said.
“Who, exactly? Who is this threat you cannot name?” I asked her. It was too late to change course, but she had single-handedly cured hundreds over the days we had waited. I at least owed her a chance to try and talk me out of my rush to battle.
“I do not know his name. The Goddess Osheagu informed my matron that a paladin massacred the temple he was sworn to protect. Whatever he stole, it is enough to make the gods tremble. I don’t know the full breadth of his schemes, but apparently, you and the other dragon heirs are a big part of it,” Melody said.
“I thought I was the only one until you showed up. It seems like we’re very good at hiding and even better at protecting ourselves.”
“You can’t dismiss what’s coming. The gods are scared. Osheagu fears for your life, and not only yours. Many will die if this madman wields the power stored within you. What you are capable of is not something to take lightly.”
“Then let’s not go lightly.”
Wizards that could hardly be bothered to leave their libraries paired themselves with rangers who rarely kept company. We had fey-touched warlocks standing side-by-side with arcane-trained knights who otherwise considered each other nuisances. Melody cleared our vision before our march, and we’d have to go without water until we cleared the river.
We trekked through a once crowded forest that was now quiet and abandoned. The threat ahead had managed to scare away everything with a pulse beside us. The remaining foliage was edged with a rust-colored rim as the blight worked its way into the green plant life.
The bushes and brambles ahead cleared a path as our rangers bent the forest to their will. We made our way slowly and quietly to the intersection of two river streams. Ahead of the confluence, the water shined rich and blue from reflecting the beautiful sky above, but the same clean water ran through a small herd of walking corpses milling about in the river.
The unfortunate souls meandering in the water were marred with terminal hacks and slashes, showcasing the story of their demise. Most of the bodies had been chewed on before rising as zombies. The first war party that never returned was among the standing corpses. Their once hearty faces were left haggard from days of decomposition. Our enemies had cursed them to stand beside the opponents that felled them, and now they poisoned the same waters they had failed to reclaim.
As I moved to rise over the hill, Melody put her hand on my shoulder.
“Don’t tell me you want to turn back now,” I said.
“I’ve dealt with this sort of thing before. Besides, you can cast your lightning fine from here. Stay back and let me deal with the undead horror. Got it?”
“Fine by me,” I said while lying back down against the grass.
“For Osheagu,” she said, and like a banshee adorned in full plate armor, she sprinted down the hill.
Our archers cleared her path. The shambling corpses fell without much resistance. By the time our enemies noticed they were under attack, Melody was charging through the water. The undead began swarming her, and she said a short prayer in response. A glimmering hammer manifested from light appeared beside her. With a mind of its own, the holy hammer smashed into the face of the nearest ambling corpse before deftly swinging to take down another. Meanwhile, Melody held a shambling zombie back with her shield before cracking the monster over the head with the steel hammer in her hand.
“What is she waiting for?” an elderly wizard croaked beside me.
“She’s corralling them all together,” I responded.
Melody beat back the undead mob descending on her with her spirit hammer and the steel in her hand. I was close to giving the call to break ranks and charge, but the cleric was growing on me, and I had a bit more faith than usual.
She raised her shield high over her head and chanted to her goddess in a language I did not understand. A burst of holy light sprung from Melody, and the necrotic forces animating the corpses beside her drained away. Radiant energy weaved its way under their dead skin, and with a gust of wind, the zombies fell apart into clumps of ash. Their remains dissolved into the river, and the water beneath Melody ran clear once more.
Before we could celebrate, Melody’s limbs locked together as if bound by rope. I recognized it as a potent paralysis spell used against her. I figured it was the work of the same necromancer who had raised the dead to pollute the river. The necrotic magic that allowed necromancers to animate corpses gave them the power to restrain the bones of the living, making them an absolute nightmare to deal with.
My eyes darted to the woods on the other side of the river. Figures were moving beyond the tree line, and armored soldiers emerged. Unlike the shambling zombies stewing in the river, these undead variants retained most of their muscle. They were wearing rusted armor, and they gripped sharpened swords polished before the battle. These armored variants looked trained for war and vicious to fight in close quarters.
I stood from the hill and measured the distance to the undead horde descending on Melody’s standing yet paralyzed position. My eyes crackled into blue and silver sparks as my hair stood on end. I bent a lightning bolt around Melody and then ramped up the charge as it tore through the new threat. The putrid army continued their run without pausing to acknowledge the damage I was doing to them. I tapped into my reserves and upped the voltage as it erupted through them. Charred from electrical burns and still smoking from the lightning’s heat, the dead fell in a jagged line from where my lightning tore through them.
Arrows flew out from our position. Bursts of arcane sailed to the other side of the river and erupted into explosions of fire. I readied another lightning bolt and hurled it at the undead army pouring from the trees. My bolt extended far into the shaded forest and turned the tree trunks into jagged shrapnel.
I reached Melody and found her shivering. Even with the added weight of her plate armor, it was only a short sprint back up the hill. I prepared to lift her, but a voice stung my mind. It was as if someone thrust me under a layer of ice, and my body went into shock.
“Thank you for making an appearance. I was rather disappointed you didn’t join the first expedition, but it was only a matter of time before you came out into the open.”
I turned around, ready to unleash my deep well of lightning against whoever threatened me, but no one was there. I said aloud, “Let’s settle this. Show yourself!”
“The battle’s already over. The artifacts I stole do more than simply track the likes of you. They even let me control dragons.”
The cohort I had traveled with marched down the hill ahead of me, ready to meet the enemy behind me. My jaw lowered beyond my control, and crackling electric energy concentrated at the back of my throat. I tried to force my mouth shut, to turn off the storm churning within my belly, but the voice in my mind had taken control, and I exhaled a wicked wave of dragon’s breath over the neighbors and friends that trusted me.
Despite all the will in my body begging me to stop, my body had become another man’s weapon. There was a dagger in my belt I considered using on myself. I reached for it with all my will, but my hands were clenched in fists as the voice within me dominated my very being.
The wizard I had conversed with on the hill was cut in half as he fell prey to the destructive wave of my lightning breath. A pair of knights held up their shields. Their skin and most of the meat underneath evaporated under the immense heat. Their skeletons kept the same hunched poses as their metal shields tipped over and crushed their bones.
An arrow shot from the woods pierced my torso where my armored scales had yet to grow. Judging from the shaft and the fletching, I knew an ally had fired the projectile. I wished for a hundred more to pierce through me like a pin cushion and stop me.
A man in golden armor strode beside me while the river raced beneath us. I couldn’t see his face as he wore an obsidian helmet shaped like a dragon’s skull. Beyond the menacing armor, the man radiated an aura of malice that I could taste on the back of my throat as if choking on blood. Melody had warned me about the paladin who hunted me, and the man beside me certainly fit the bill.
“Fix him, at least for now,” he said. It was the same voice as the one controlling me but spoken aloud for someone else to hear.
A patchwork-scarred hand fell on my shoulder as a healing spell coursed through me. The woman it belonged to heaved with haggard breaths. I was horrified to find that she had stitched most of her body together. Her wrist was bound to her arm with winding wires, and she used her free hand to tighten the stitches securing her body together as the seams began to loosen. Even her jaw was sown to the rest of her face with threads. Whatever ritual kept her alive in this state, I prayed I’d never learn it.
The arrow through my chest slid out, and the resulting wound was nothing more than a scar. Two additional arrows pierced my body. One passed through my stomach, and another sailed through my throat. They slipped out of my body as if I was made of butter so long as the stitch-scarred witch held her hand on me and healed my wounds.
The man in golden armor forced three horrible words into my head that I could do nothing to protest. “Do it again.”
My mouth unhinged, and a wave of destructive energy poured forth. The soldiers ahead of me fell. The lucky ones died quickly, while the wounded were hacked apart and chewed through as the armored undead moved through our ranks.
Melody and I were the only prisoners and survivors. The paladin maintained his control over me while the stitched-together witch focused on restraining the cleric. My bones locked me into a kneeling position, and our captors’ control kept us from talking. Melody and I were powder kegs of magic, but without the spells at the tips of our tongues, we were as vulnerable as anyone else.
The rest of their undead forces operated on autopilot as they robbed our allies of their weapons and armor. One by one, each slain friend rose from their stillness to join the work of the surrounding horde. I imagined I would be joining them soon.
“Can I keep the cleric?” When the witch spoke, it seemed as if the simple motions tore at the binds keeping her jaw wired to the rest of her face.
“She’s all yours,” the man beneath the dragon helmet said.
The witch rested a hand on Melody. She withered and gritted her teeth as the necromancer seemed to grow stronger. The gaps between her torn skin fused together with the stitching underneath still poking out over her somewhat healed skin.
She looked down at Melody. “As you can tell, I need a bit of a blood bank to sustain my current state. Plenty of the soldiers you fought today died with a single touch, but you are remarkably resilient, my dear. I imagine you’ll be able to sustain me longer than most.”
She waved to some of the armored undead nearby, who dropped the corpses they were sorting through. They proceeded to lift Melody and carry her off into the woods, with the necromancer following close behind them.
Melody still couldn’t speak, but she mouthed a few terrible words to me I wish I never saw. “I’m sorry. This is all my fault.”
Anguish wracked my body while I remained motionless and kneeling. Her goddess had given her a holy quest to save the world, and because of my hubris, she failed. I offered a silent prayer to Osheagu, begging the goddess to protect her cleric. I didn’t bother asking the gods to look after me. I understood this was my end.
The man in gold armor took off his obsidian helmet to survey the death and destruction around us. He looked a few decades older than me, possibly in his sixties. I assumed he was a former military man from the clean shave and high and tight haircut. While he maintained discipline, his devotion to serving others appeared long gone.
“I should probably thank you for tipping the scales in my favor in the coming war. With your heart, I’ll be able to resurrect a dragon. I’m sorry it had to come to this, but I need that dragon to kill the gods. I promise your sacrifice will not be in vain,” he said.
The man Melody had warned me about plunged his sword through my chest. He let go of the hilt, and the blade continued sawing through my rib cage as it excavated around my heart. The lightning seed within would be his to control, and my failure today would allow him to start his war.
Life faded from me, and my part in this story was at an end. As I readied myself for an eternal slumber, I could only hope the other dragon heirs listened to the clerics sent to protect them more than I did.
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Hi Max! I see this is your first story - Welcome to Reedsy!! I enjoyed your story. It was original and engaging. A few notes about the writing - try to write in the active voice versus passive - i.e., 'paladin massacred the temple he was sworn to protect.' The use of 'was sworn' makes the sentence passive. Try to put things in present tense or active voice. Just a few techniques I think you could use to take your writing to the next level: READ the piece OUT LOUD. You will be amazed at the errors you will find as you read. You will be ab...