Tidbits from Gary

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Sunday, August 4, 2013

The End of an Age

"The End of an Age"
an excerpt
Gary Baker, July 2013

The dance went on for ages, a time that lapsed into the subconscious mind where it was quickly forgotten and barely noticed. Tips of steel and violent edges of hardened wood traced hornet trails in the air, leaving dark crimson mist in their wake.

Yet still Lithomir moved like a god at the heart of making the sun and moon and planets work, orbiting and lifting and launching here and there under cosmic certainty that nothing too horrible could happen to him so long as he kept his pace with the rhythm dwelling deep down. All he had to do was simply keep moving, to continue swinging and arcing and shifting the extensions of his hands, two lengths of folded iron with a taste and hunger for human flesh.

One good thing for the ever-unsatisfied blades was that soldiers swarmed the scene around the Dragon King like a nest of wasps turned over in midsummer when the insects were more apt to be driven to fury. Half of the sightless human forms in the midst of battling chaos seemed to intend almost utter silence as they fought, a choice completely and unintentionally unwise, as the other half “hum-bumbumbum”ed and thus avoided the sharp agony of an encounter with Lithomir’s blades.

It had been Leeka’s suggestion, mentioned over the fire as they had come together for what would was expected to be the last time. The inner circle had all been there, from the oldest of the bunch to the newest in their ranks, a total of more than twenty in all. They had planned the battle to the smallest detail over that fire, from the way the ranks would be formed to the timing at which they would react to specific encounters. They had chosen to have the Drakesmen held back until the last minute, hidden away in the lowland hills until the furthest walls had been breached where the frontmen would set off the destructive trail of hailfire and collapse the tunnels beneath the inner fields. From there, in the ensuing chaos, the Drakesmen would come in from the sides and divide the invaders by cutting off the foremost from the advancing reinforcements.

And it had all worked like a charm.

When the men came in thunderously rattling the earth with the pounding stomps of their drake mounts, the invading frontmen had faltered in fear. Their position just in front of the more capable Centurions had been effectively severed and thus nullified their hope of getting out of this alive. So when the fearsome Dragon King, Lithomir, charged in wearing a magnanimous set of black scale armor made from Tecuelhuatzin’s sheddings, while riding the infamous beast, itself, more than enough of the frontmen had fled in all directions except where their commanders shouted to go.

The result was a clear bubble of closing death for any left fighting when the dragon had come into the fray.

Yet when the Centurions breached the Drakesmen and poured into this gap, the real struggle for the land began. This was what they had been afraid of all along, men as trained in swordplay as Lithomir, himself, battling it out side by side with the small group of former High-Centurions. This was where the battle then focused, and the gleam of silver combined with the spray of gore as though this were the very essence of the land being brought asunder.

It had been hours since that moment, passing like disease in the farm.

Now Lithomir openly fought with eyes closed to better concentrate and therefore stay alive. His men had been ordered to continue the hum as they fought, a sound that the Dragon King could easily pick out from the fray, to allow their lord to fight beside them in his best capable way without worrying about taking off the head of a commander of his own army. The inescapable dilemma was that the men he now faced had just as much, if not more, experience than he did, and for once he felt exhaustion creeping in after just a handful of soldiers defeated.

Had he not been born a prince, Lithomir knew he could never have had the training to survive this. As is, the intensive excursions he’d been sent on as a youth in order to keep up the sight of the royalty being more capable than the men and women under them were barely keeping him ahead of the game. He heard the swishes of metal in the air and ducked and dodged instinctively before he even recognized what he’d heard, and men fell with gashes in their armor before Lithomir could physically comprehend whose blade had done it, his or one of his men?

The only thing that Lithomir knew for certain, however, was that him still being alive had some great amount to do with the horse-sized, oblivion-scaled beast that darted all around him, dealing death like a master cardsman. The Centurions that got too close had to choose between taking out the Dragon King or taking out his right hand man, a beast of legend that had given the king his title in the first place.

Sure, the man could be removed later and subsequent to the slaying of the beast, but taking out the dragon would involve more work and attention than they could afford to give with the one-time Centurion Royal Guard fighting so close by.

And then he heard it: a sound unlike any other in the fray of bodies and cleaved flesh.

One of the king’s inner circle had been pushed closer to him than previously decided, and a bow had been drawn tight. Except the bows had been planned for the initial strike, not for the later battle. Yet the sound was irrefutable and legitimately unmistakable, which could mean only one thing....

Lithomir spun, eyes suddenly open to the bright daylight and misty red air, to come face-to-face with the dark shaft of an armor-piercing arrow drawn to it’s fullest, held by Junia Ki. Lithomir almost sighed with ease at finding it really was one of his own, until he spotted the grip begin to loosen and the arrowhead ease forward toward the Dragon King’s sweat-covered nose.

Time slowed to less than a crawl.

In the same instant that the real double agent began to loose the bolt, Lithomir saw that Tecuelhuatzin was flying at the man with a venomous roar, unlike anything Lithomir had heard in his lifetime. Junia noticed at the last possible instant and spun lightning fast toward the beast, moving his bow hand as he did so, and instead of taking out the Dragon King, the arrow tore right into Tecuelhuatzin’s open maw.

Lithomir blinked, unsure of what he was seeing, sure he was hallucinating.

Then the ear-piercing wail of the dragon’s pain struck the battle like godly thunder. It was as though Odin had arrived at the heart of the chaos to stop it in mid stride. The men nearby slowed, the remaining survivors shrugged off their bounds and stood free of deadly fear for their own lives, leaving both sides staring at the king and his beast.

Tec fell liked a downed horse, the bolt audibly coming to a stop against the inner side of the armor scales closest to his hind legs. Steaming crimson shot from his mouth as he stumbled with his continued momentum and crashed into upset soil and gravel strewn with human gore.

In that moment, Lithomir watched as his heart was torn asunder by a bolt actually meant for it. The pain that Tec felt was as real to the king as it was for the beast, and for once the dubbed name of Dragon King fit perfectly.

He found himself kneeling at the fallen dragon’s dying form before he could even be sure of how he had gotten there from his previous position in the battle. The king’s hair had fallen from the plait during the fray and now collected into red ribbons as Tecuelhuatzin’s blood was absorbed.

All around him the chaos stood still, seeming to have been paused in time.

Who taught you emotions, Imhovier?” The old hag’s words echoed. “Do you really think battle will bring anything but death?

Lithomir -- cast out from the control of his own body by the inner monstrosity of Imhovier, the true Dragon King -- stood slowly, his fingers thick around Grimoir’s grip, flesh melding with steel by mere pressure alone.

No one moved. The circle of soldiers on the chessboard of reapers couldn’t bat an eye, couldn’t bring an intake of breath, they couldn’t even register that Imhovier had brought himself to his feet until long after his famed blade had halved Junia Ki.

Finally Lithomir lifted from his crouch opposite the traitor and turned to take revenge upon the man only to watch as Junia’s torso slid from his still-standing legs. Then the pain registered and the man squawked for several long moments while his hands tried to reassemble his parts and bring the chords of his intestines back inside what remained.

The man's death was slow-coming, and no one moved to hasten it.

You and he are bound by fate,” the hag had scolded, “to deal each other death for an eternity twice over,” Lithomir turned back to the dragon laying prone on the blood-soaked farmland, breathing heavily with eyes wide in fear. The old hag, the seer whom Lithomir had sent away due to his childish disbelief, had known this would happen; she’d warned him time and again, each time she had snuck back into his castle. “And again you will bring him his death, and when it happens it can only be you, Imhovier.” Because they both knew, the hag and he, that the beast-lord Tecuelhuatzin would never die by any other hand; that unless Lithomir were to do the deed the beast was virtually immortal.

But Lithomir knew that even immortals could be frozen, screaming, by endless pain.

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