The First Draconian

This story was one I wanted to write for a competition that required stories about magic.  When I realised I was never going to get it to fit the 500 word limit, I decided to keep writing it independently and post it on my blog when it was finally completed… and now it is.  I hope you enjoy what I’ve written.

Welcome, weary travellers, to the mystical realm of Viridia!  Please, don’t be afraid!  I am Magnus Ruber, leader of the Draconians.  We are this land’s mightiest and most magnanimous defenders, and our story is the most fantastic tale our land has ever told.  Please, sit down and rest while I tell it to you.  I promise you shan’t be disappointed.

I was once a boy named Magnus Bookerman, only child and apprentice of Horace Bookerman, a meek and studious herald from a little town called Haycroft.  Surprising, isn’t it?  Anyway, that meekness must have rubbed off on me, for I was a frail, timid child who was a popular target for bullies.  By far the worst of them was an oafish young squire named Tommy Bones.  If he and his cronies got me alone, they would poke me, kick me, pelt me and sing their favourite taunt until I cried.

“Dead mummy Bookerman!”

My mother, Sylvia, had died giving birth to me.  It doesn’t take a genius to see that teasing me like that was pretty low.

But I found a chance for retribution one day when I was sixteen.  My father had sent me down to the river to fetch water.  As I neared the bank, I saw Tommy and his gang hurling dirt clods at a flaxen-haired girl in a purple cloak.  Since the gang hadn’t seen me, I took a chance to get revenge on Tommy while also saving the poor girl.  I crept closer, hid behind a tree and let out a throaty bellow.

“RAAA-OOOAR!  RAAA-OOOAR!”

I was imitating the roar of the dire bear, Viridia’s most feared wild beast, which I had once learned from a huntsman’s son named Peregrin.  Now, lots of people say bullies are really cowards, and I must say, Tommy Bones and his gang were certainly not an exception to that rule.

“Run for it!” squealed Tommy.  They scattered.

I helped the grateful girl to her feet.  Underneath her cloak, I could see she was fair of face, but slightly nervous, as I often was.  Her name was Rue, and she offered me dinner at her father’s house two nights hence as thanks for my courageous actions.

Guess what?  Rue’s father was a wizard!  Even better, Gnaeus (that was the wizard’s name), had a wondrous gift to offer me, and with good reason.

“Magnus, Lord Morbus is about to invade Viridia.”

My blood turned to ice at this.  Morbus was an evil mage who had usurped the throne of his homeland, then conquered all the surrounding kingdoms, ruling over them with obscene cruelty.  His name was a byword of fear in Viridia, for his dominion now bordered our lands and we were quite sure that he would seek to claim our verdant lands before long.

“His army is twenty times the strength of ours,” Gnaeus explained.  “If he invades, we shall be vanquished within weeks.  But there is an untested spell I have been working on that may bring about his doom.  This spell would create a single warrior who alone is mightier than the greatest army.  All I need… is a volunteer.”

A look of mutual understanding passed between us.  Wonder and dread flooded my soul with equal measure.

“I will give you until morning to decide, Magnus,” Gnaeus said sagely.

Next morning, he and Rue led me to cave under a nearby hill.  Long ago, a thousand knights had fought and killed the great dragon Negrus near this spot, yet with the last of his strength, the vengeful beast had dived towards the warriors, crushing many of them beneath his bulk.  The remains of both men and beast were buried in here.

“Through my magic arts,” Gnaeus explained, “I can call upon the souls of Negrus and the warriors, imbuing one man with all their strength, skill and resilience.  Are you ready to be that man, Magnus?”

For most of last night I had lain awake asking myself that question, weighing up the risk of being killed by an untested spell with the horrifying possibility of Morbus’s tyranny reaching Viridia because I had done nothing.  I fixed Gnaeus’s eyes and gave my reply.

“I am.”

“So be it,” breathed Gnaeus.

He raised his magical staff and began a great, resonant chant.  A gale swept through the cave, nearly knocking me over.  Then a great vortex of smoke formed before me.  It enveloped me and rushed into my open mouth.  I glowed as if encircled by lightning and then… an incredible transformation began.

At first it was agonising, as my bones warped, fangs pushed through my gums and claws sprouted from my fingers.  But then my body swelled upwards and outwards, and a wave of euphoria surged through me.  My pathetic human garments burst apart and I roared in bestial delight.  I felt invincible!

Magnus Bookerman was gone forever.  Now, where he stood, was the being you see here before you; Magnus Ruber, the first Draconian.  I stood upright as a man would, with humanoid arms and legs, but my body was now part dragon, with gleaming ruby scales, a snaking tail, sharp yellow spines running down my back and great bat-like wings sprouting from my shoulders.  And what a body!  It was ten feet tall and as strong as a herd of elephants, with steely muscles bulging from every square inch of it like knotted iron.

“And now,” I snarled, flexing a boulder-like bicep, “To vanquish Lord Morbus!”

Smashing out of the cave, (the entrance was slightly too small to admit me) I beat my wings hard and soared into the sky.  I powered upwards until I reached cloud level, then turned to see the massed phalanxes of Lord Morbus’s troops near Viridia’s south-eastern border.

Only two divisions of Viridian troops were stationed in that region and Morbus had expected a swift, decisive victory.  He sat behind his forces on a great sedan chair, smirking at the thought of his men crushing Viridia’s forces like ants.

Oh my friends, how rudely I awoke him from his dream!

Swooping down on Morbus’s army, I cut down a whole column of soldiers in a single dive!  As the soldiers screamed in confusion I dived again, smashing another column out of existence.  Archers and crossbowmen shot at me on the third pass, but their arrows and bolts bounced off my scales like raindrops!  I laughed sardonically, then swelled up my broad chest with a great breath.  The foolhardy troops perished in a jet of withering flame.

Even though I was one against fifty thousand, the fight was no contest.  Endowed with the strength, discipline and fighting prowess of a dragon and a thousand knights, I was now a one-being army.  My muscles, as fluid and powerful as ocean waves, drove blows from my fists, feet and tail that shattered bones, buckled armour and smashed siege engines to splinters.  My fiery breath and the downdraft of my wings felled others still.  Soon Morbus’s surviving troops were fleeing like frightened mice and his lordship was shrieked and stamped in bitterness and rage!

Time for the coup de grâce, I thought.

Snarling, I took to the air, streaked towards the cursing tyrant and seized him by the ankle.  I carried him high above the battlefield and held him over my head.  I smiled with satisfaction at the thought of how utterly powerless Morbus now was.

“MERCY!” Morbus screamed.

It was only then, my friends, that I hesitated.  Only hours ago, I had been a callow youth who could never have dreamed of killing another human being.  Now I had slaughtered tens of thousands of men and was ready to do away with a man who was begging for clemency.  Would I truly become a monster if didn’t give Morbus a second chance?

But then I remembered the news we Viridians had heard from the kingdoms Morbus had conquered.  How often had that monster stood over a helpless victim, delighting in his merciless disregard for their humanity as he ordered them tortured or murdered?  No, he did not deserve the mercy he had denied so many others.

I opened my jaws wide, saliva dripping from the fangs within.

“NO!  NO!” Morbus shrieked.

But his pleading was in vain.  I clamped my jaws round Morbus’s waist and bit down hard.  His scream of agony stopped as suddenly as a candle flame being snuffed out.  The two halves of the evil mage’s lifeless body plummeted towards the tortured ground, spilling a fresh fall of crimson rain upon it.

Oh my friends, make no mistake; it was a terrible day.  A day of blood, savagery, screams and endless death.  As I flew back down to the ground, remorse clawed at me as I despaired at the thought of all the lives lost that could have been so much better used.  I hung my great head and prayed for their souls.

Yet out of the tragedy came glorious triumph.  With Morbus dead, his empire fell apart within a year and all the citizens of those lands wept with the joy of once again knowing they were free.

Overnight, I became a national hero in Viridia.  Feasts and festivals were held throughout the land and my victory became an official holiday.  The king built me a mansion house, specifically designed for my great size, along with a training ground and gymnasium.

Better yet, Gnaeus went on to use his spell on other timid and feeble young men, transforming them into a legion of unspeakably powerful warriors who would forever keep Viridia safe; my Draconians.  Oh, my friends, how proud I am to lead them!  Even now we fly far and wide over the free lands, righting wrongs and having many a wondrous adventure.  Monsters and villains flee at the mere mention of our name, while good folk stand tall and cheer as we pass!

But it wasn’t just men who Gnaeus transformed.  As time passed, I fell deeply in love with his daughter Rue, and she with me.  Yet how could she truly become my lover when she was human and I a Draconian?  Gnaeus had the answer.  He modified his spell to transform Rue into the most lovely dragon woman, with emerald green scales, a svelte, sinuous figure and deep golden eyes that flamed with passion.  Viridia rejoiced anew the day we kissed beneath our wedding bower.

What’s that?  Ah, no, that’s not quite the end of my story!  You see, the first time I returned home to Haycroft as a Draconian, all the villagers turned out to welcome me.  My father was taken aback at my monstrous transformation, but was still weeping with joy as he threw his arms round my sinewy neck and I held him in a powerful embrace.

As this happened, however, I scanned the crowd and found one person in particular was absent.  Excusing myself, I flew high and scouted the area.

Can you guess who I was seeking?

Well, I found him sneaking away north through the forest, almost unrecognisable under the hooded cloak he was wearing.  I swooped down and blocked his path.

“Tommy, why are you running away?” I asked calmly.

Yes, it was Tommy Bones, the boy who had bullied me so mercilessly when I was a boy, showing without any doubt how false his courage had been.

“Don’t you know why, Magnus?” Tommy whimpered.  “You’re going to rip me apart, aren’t you?  You’re going to get revenge for all the times I’ve been horrible to you!  Tell me you’re not!”

Suddenly, for all my strength, I felt very humble.  Visions of the slaughter I had caused and the memory of Morbus’s helpless screams came back to me vividly.  I sighed, put one colossal hand on each of Tommy’s shoulders and looked down at him with all the gentleness I could manage.

“Tommy, you were a cruel and thoughtless boy,” I said, “But you are clearly sorry for your deeds and I would be worse than any bully if I used my powers that way.  Come back to Haycroft with me, so I can prove to you how forgiving I can be.”

I tell you my friends, when the townsfolk saw me flying back to Haycroft, bearing a smiling, laughing Tommy in the centre of my broad back, the celebrations became twice as joyous as before.

So what became of Tommy, you ask?  Well, nowadays when the Draconians are on parade, Rue and I ride at their head on the back of a magnificent gryphon.  He’s a wise and gentle beast with an eloquent tongue, and we love to share news, gossip, poetry and the occasional cheeky joke in our spare time.

That’s right, my friends.  Gnaeus agreed to transform Tommy too.  I am proud to have him as a friend in times of trouble, just as I have Rue to love me.  Gnaeus may have made me stronger than a thousand men, but take it from someone who knows; all the strength in the world is meaningless if your heart is empty.

Rest well, travellers.  Pleasant dreams until the dawn.

 

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