I wrote The Last Night and Return to Orlos a while ago and then this week I wrote Time for Change; I’m wondering if this could become a thing!! A dragon thing!!!
The Dragons of Orlos.
The Last Night
In a country far, far away the moon sails atop the Steel Mountains painting the world with silver. Now it is the wonderful night of the dragon lights when all the juvenile dragons win their wings and find their flames. It is the greatest night of the year.
The graduating dragons line up in front of the statue of the Great King. Their glorious dragon scales are polished into gleaming iridescence, their bright dragon eyes shine with the thrill of it, it is their moment, their time and it is wonderful.
Where the dragons gather in the edges of the woods, their excitement glitters amongst the leaves but there, look there, next to Alpheus see how the darkness deepens, see how the light falls in on itself, see the blackness, blacker than a crow’s wing, blacker than the heart of a demon. Where a dragon should be there is nothingness, more than emptiness, more than a void it is nothingness.
The other dragons begin to notice, the glitter in their eyes is jittery now, they nudge and push against each other. Alpheus feels the cold, smells the strange, damp, oiliness of a dragon pit. He shuffles nearer to his neighbour…
Is this magic, is it a trick, is it simply mistiming which will come aright when Perteus the sixteenth dragon arrives, embarrassed by tardiness. No, that cannot be. The woods know, the great Steel Mountains far away know and the night knows. This is the magic of the dreadness, the black magic of the otherness.
They have heard of it, all in the kingdom have heard of it, but never since the time of the great King Orlos has it manifested. There have long been stories of stolen dragons, their magic and their mighty power purloined by the evil magicians of other worlds, taken and sold into slavery. Can it be that tonight, of all nights, the malevolence has broken through from the outside and snatched the young dragon, spirited him away on the very threshold of his validation, when his potency is at it’s most intense.
They feel it, the breath of it, the scent of it, the dread of it, spiralling around them, through the woods and over the mountains. What has come here screaming on the great wind? What menace has marred this great Dragon Light Night to sear it into the memory of all who watch? What will be written in the tomes of history, and what fearful tale will the minstrel take to the court of the king. What has happened?
Alpheus feels the fear of his comrades; he drinks in their terror and subsumes their disquiet. His mighty shoulders roll, are they not dragons? the greatest creatures that ever walked the earth. Mightier than the grey bears that live above the snow line, braver than the saber toothed lions prowling the Forbidden Forest, are they not the chosen creatures of the Gods? He snorts and paws at the ground, he turns his mighty head reviewing the surrounding countryside, if the magic of the dreadness is truly here then so be it, he will face it, he will destroy it and he will become the greatest hero in history.
As the others turn to him Alpheus swells in stature, he can see in their puzzled gazes that they have recognised his strength and his resolve. He alone isn’t cowed by the pit, he alone raises his great snout and breathes into the night. Mighty clouds of steam rise from his nostrils, building, building and then at last the flames of his ancestors tear into the air around him. The others gasp, they know that while the pit is amongst them they will never breathe the flames of purity but Alpheus has staked his claim, he amongst all of them has made the declaration, he has challenged the darkness and he has won.
Ah but alas, how seldom is the valour of youth tempered with wisdom and so without further reflection the bravest, the truest and the most daring of all, acts.
He turns, the moonlight gleams a million magical colours as his great body shifts, his eyes flash with stars as he steps towards the darkness. He will go, he will find their brother and save the night and the fire and the wonder will continue. With a great roar he leaps towards the nothingness and with the flash of a thousand bolts of lightening Alpheus too disappears.
In the Kingdom there must always be one hundred dragons. On this dreadful night, this fateful night, far from the woods, in the pinnacles of the Steel Mountains an old dragon takes his last great shuddering breath at the same moment as Alpheus leaps into the dragon pit. With the loss of three dragons there is no longer enough dragon spirit to maintain the Kingdom. As he leaves Alpheus takes with him the spark of their being.
The stars freeze in the sky, the rivers still and the great green oceans sleep motionless on the sparkling sands. No grass grows, no birds sing. All of life is suspended.
Alpheus catapults through the tunnel, the dark assaults his senses, the graphite walls push him onwards bouncing, turning and twisting. As he plummets, so his body is changed, lengthened and trans-mutated by the wonder of the underworld and the goodness of the divinities and so he is rendered human in form and style. Only the memory of his otherness remains in the dragon of his heart.
As the day claims a foreign sea shore and the birds shake and preen then a stranger walks toward the ocean. His hair is gleaming ebony his eyes the green of the forest canopy and his skin is smooth and clear. He is Alpheus, he is dragon made man and he will search for his brother and reclaim the Kingdom or Orlos.
But ah back in the great Kingdom nothing is known of these things and so everything sleeps and is sleeping still.
Return to Orlos
It shouldn’t have been possible, there was no way that it could have ever been planned, but such is the wonder of the multiverse. Alphine had laid her egg many years before. It was before the dreadful Dragon Light Night which saw the great Kingdom of Orlos plunged into a state of suspended animation.
As all female dragons know, as they are all taught from childhood, there is only ever one egg, it is more precious than gold, it is more valuable than all the wondrous jewels in the treasure house at the palace. It is quite simply priceless.
The eggs must be kept safe, they must be hidden and they must be secret and it is the responsibility of the mother dragon to ensure all goes well. When the time came for her to lay her egg Alphine went to the foothills of the Iron Mountains and battled through the mighty Redwoods. Deep in the forest she found a glade, beside a stream and with soft welcoming soil. She knew, that when the egg hatched she may well be far away and so there must be water, there must be safety and there must be magic to help the tiny dragon to thrive in its first days of life.
The magic in the forest is thick, the air is heavy with it. Tiny glimmers of wonder flick between the dark branches, the enchanted stream glitters and shines as it sings its way over the gold flecked rocks. It is a place of peace and harmony and it is perfect and so Alphine digs with her great front paws. She forms a soft, dark nest, a burrow lined with love to receive and hold her egg and cradle it with the tiny, singing dragon safe and secure inside until it is time for it to hatch. What Alphine doesn’t know, can’t possibly know, is that the song in the egg is a duet, eight tiny paws twine and two baby dragons live inside the silver shell. Alphine has produced double magic and though she won’t understand for many years, it is the magic, the only magic, which can save Orlos.
She lines the earthen cradle with soft moss intertwined with fragrant flowers and then gently covers the whole with the warm soil from the glade. She doesn’t know; how can she? that as she pats the earth above the nest flat and lays a branch above it, a fold in time opens deep in the earth. Instead of waiting in the shallow depression the egg slips through the opening and slithers down the damp mud to rest far, far below. It is below the depth of the winter freezing, below the level of the summer heat and below the influence of suspended reality that curses Orlos when the dragon spirit leaves the kingdom. There it lies for many years, the tiny dragons singing their unborn songs, playing with their paws and twining and curling their tails. Their sparkling eyes open into the gloom and they wait.
With no animation in the kingdom they could have been fated to wait forever were it not for the great furnace at the centre of the sphere. The furnace is surrounded by a lake of inert Orlosium which melts once in a hundred years, at the time of the double moon, and the magical element becomes liquid. The heat from the molten sea warms the surrounding strata and the transferred warmth wraps the dragon’s egg in a blanket of tender balminess.
As the heat increases so the tiny inhabitants of the silver ovule sing the hatching song and fight their way through the ancient shell. They emerge, not to the blessed greenness of the forest floor and the tinkling giggle of fast flowing water but to the gleam of jewel specked ore and the harsh grit of a diamond studded tunnel. They move off, instinct as old as time drawing them towards the light. They claw and struggle forward, mewing a little with the effort, onward and upward until they reach the softness of earth and the tangle of tree roots. Blinking in the relative brightness they emerge to the woodland and with them bring life, and hope and joy back to the Kingdom. Two living breathing dragons, tiny they may be, but they are enough, once more there are one hundred dragons in Orlos and once more the kingdom may thrive and breathe and live.
On a beach many dimensions away an old man, silver hair falling as rain around his shoulders, faded green eyes peering from the wrinkles painted by time on his wise old visage, raises his head as he hears, faintly, echoing in the distant corners of his mind the song of the dragons of Orlos so he turns from the ocean and the light and treads, struggling at first against the pull of the sand, but stronger with each pace as he straightens and grows in strength and stature and Alpheus answers the call, just in time, oh so very nearly too late and he enters the cleft in the rocks, bows his head and awaits the whirling cyclone that will take him back to the kingdom, the storm that will speed him home…
It is written in the annals of history that because of the maternal dedication of a great mother dragon, and the magic of the underworld and the benevolence of the deities the great Kingdom of Orlos rings with laughter once more, children run in the streets and the Dragons of Orlos mount guard. That wondrous night following the hatching, they found their fire and breathed in terrible unison to light the great Dragon Light and the King looked down from his battlements and smiled on his people. What is also written, is the story that Alpheus has told, the story of his search for their brother dragon and what became of him on the night when the great pit swallowed them. It is forbidden to read the text, it is forbidden to even want to read the text but two young dragons, feted and adored as they are, feel the need to know, the need to discover the truth and with the impetuousness of cherished youngsters they begin to form a plan to formulate their ideas. They determine to know it all, to understand everything. Not the truth about their birth, that is renowned in song and story, but the truth about Perteus, the missing dragon and the reason that only Alpheus returned when the kingdom renewed and lived again.
Oh little dragons, leave it, don’t enquire where secrets are hidden, don’t pry in corners steeped in mystery. That way lies disaster.
Time For Change
Alpheus gazed down from the entrance to his cave in the Iron Mountains. The great kingdom of Orlos stretched before him, a collage of fields and lakes, villages and, in the distance, the City.
Early morning sun had kissed the snow and painted it rose and vermillion but now the white was sprinkled with diamantes. Air blew cold across the summit but he knew that down on the plane mirages would shimmer above the desert sands. All was as it should be and some of the tension eased. Another bright morning, another day.
At times such as this he could almost convince himself that it would be alright and that he was worrying needlessly. For years now things had been calm and good and Orlos had flourished. Then he saw them, a flash of blue/green, a shimmer of gold and the flare of flame. Alpheus sighed, there they were, two young whelps the miracle of the ages and the great worry that tore at his old dragon heart.
They flashed and flew through the morning air. They were spoiled and feted and worshipped. Not for them the great Dragon Night Light, no they had taken their fire early. Without the ancient controls it had simply been there for them. They had entered the Cave of the Inferno because no-one had stopped them. They had said the words because they could and they had taken the fire. It was too early, before they were ready, before they had been taught their responsibilities.
They swished now above an orchard, shooting flame indiscriminately and roasting the apples on the trees, baking the pears with their breath. As the sweet caramel aroma of cooked fruit rose on the breeze he felt anger rise and beat it back. It wasn’t their fault. They couldn’t be blamed for giving no thought to the fruit farmer who now had a ruined crop or the shepherd who the week before had lost half of his flock as the sheep had panicked and fled, leaping and falling into the River Gorge. They had burned crops and destroyed woodland and yet, and yet he couldn’t believe that they were evil. Out of control, thoughtless and dangerous but surely Phoebus and Verick weren’t evil.
He watched them turn and head towards the foothills of the Iron Mountains and knew that they would come, they would try to find him calling repeatedly to where he rested in the back of his great cave. They wanted to talk to him, they wanted to know the truth about his past and the mystery of the last Light Night and his wanderings looking for the brother dragon.
He turned from the light and paced into the gloomy depths of the cavern his great shoulders slumped and the gleam of his eyes dimmed with concern. The day would come when they would be brave enough to step into his space, they would beard him in his den.
With a whistle of wings the two young dragons skimmed to a halt on the rocky ledge. They pushed and jostled as young things will do. Phoebus carelessly ignited the branches of a small holly bush and in one moment decimated two years of struggle to grow on the inhospitable mountainside. Not intending to be outdone Verick spun and took the few steps towards a bed of Alpine Chamomile.
“Don’t.” Alpheus didn’t shout, he barely spoke above a whisper but the vibrations of his presence in the thin air carried the word to the ear of the whelp where it echoed and pulsed in his brain. He turned towards the cave, the entrance was empty. He swallowed and looked to his companion who was idly charring the new grass around the base of a silver rock. Phoebus showed no sign of having heard anything. Verick turned back to the flowers and drew in a breath. “I said don’t.” Now the power of the words brought tears to his eyes and made his toenails tingle. He flicked his gaze from side to side, Phoebus had moved on to melting the pebbles in the bottom of a shallow pool boiling the water and filling the air with steam.
Verick stepped backwards, and sidled towards the great dark hole in the mountainside. Could it be that at last they would meet Alpheus, if they could only meet him face to face then, he knew, they would wheedle the story out of him. The last great mystery and perhaps, perhaps he would take them to where the exit from boring Orlos was hidden deep in the woods. They had searched and searched but those things hidden by magic will not be found unless they are meant to be and until now it didn’t seem that it was meant to be. A shudder of excitement caused a tiny hiccup of flame to char the grass. Yes, he would this day speak to Alpheus, it was time, now he would go into the cave.
He pounded across the flat space as the ground rumbled beneath his feet, at the very edge of the promontory a boulder wobbled on the loose surface. For a long moment it rocked on its uneven base but then as it began to settle Verick took a great breath and blew across the narrow space. The boulder rocked wildly and tumbled over the ledge. It rolled faster and faster down the steep slope taking smaller rocks, baby trees and shale with it and startling a family of bledger birds into the air where they circled screeching and crying with dismay, their scarlet feathers blood against the snowscape. As the rock gathered pace it rived and tore at the tiny mountain flowers, flattened a small cairn and destroyed the three sided shelter erected in case of sudden squall. All squashed, destroyed and obliterated in a matter of moments and still it rolled on towards the gathering of shepherds huts and a wooden shelter used by Feynow the medicine woman.
“Oops avalanche.” He grinned at Phoebus but the delighted expression faded as the sound of great footsteps echoed from deep inside the mountain. The gale as Alpheus stormed from the cave and swept into the air knocked the panicked youngsters from their feet. The huge dragon whirled into the sky and swooped earthwards with a roar that rolled and rattled amidst the summits bending the great Pines and Bullbush Trees. He swept in a great arc and then, fire blasting from his flaring nostrils he scourged a ditch across the face of the Alp. Barely in time the cascading debris fell into the hollow he had made and as the last slithering stones and rocklets came to rest the air settled save for the cries of the distressed birds as they searched for their dessimated nesting place. There was nothing that Alpheus could do for them and he watched with sad eyes as they flew towards the distant trees. He had watched them daily, seen them mate and build and rear their young and now he knew it would be years before his mountain had recovered enough for them to return.
Above him two young dragons peered nervously down the newly scarred face of the alp and looking back to them Alpheus knew, it was time now to take them in hand. Someone had to teach them the old ways and he knew, as he had always known deep in his soul it must be him.
Read more: Short Story: Return To Orlos | Shortbread