Sunday, May 2, 2010

Faerie Hunter - Chapter 5: Dragon Enchantment

The dragon towered over me as I lay trembling on the ground, its red scales glinting in the firelight as if they were made of solid fire. Smoke poured slowly from its nostrils and from behind its razor sharp teeth. Huge claws dug into the ground, one tearing up a boulder as if it were made of sand.

My eyes met the dragon's, and I found I couldn't look away. Everything faded as I gazed into those eyes that seemed older than the ground I stood on. Dark thoughts began swirling through my mind. All the things I hated about myself, every bad memory I had came to me then, tormenting me, making me wish I had never been born. I began sobbing uncontrollably, convulsing on the ground, wanting desperately to just die.

After what seemed like hours of lying there, I slowly began to realize how ridiculous I was. If I really wanted to die, then I had nothing to fear from the dragon. I laughed through my sobs as I thought about that. Ignoring the despair, I stood up slowly, holding my knife to the dragon in defiance.

He stared back at me amazed, and his mouth spread wide in what I understood to be a smile. His sides heaved in low, booming laughter, and I nearly crumpled to the ground again as if struck with a blow. The voice made me feel a deep shame, and I wanted urgently to do something that would please the dragon, even if it were to walk toward him unarmed so that he could kill me more easily.

Instead I gathered my wits, gritted my teeth and yelled at the top of my lungs, "Why are you laughing?"

The dragon fell silent, then looked straight at me. I couldn't tear my eyes away from his.

"I find it amusing that you seem to think you are a match for a dragon such as myself."

His voice echoed through my head, and I felt that everything I had ever known or seen was a lie, that only a voice like his could speak truth.

"You stand there armed with a knife—or is that a toothpick?—and jeans. No shield to protect you from my flames, not even a shirt! I could think of thirty different ways to snuff you out before you even began to tickle me with your toothpick."

Every word he spoke was like a dagger in my heart. I felt ashamed as I stood there holding my puny knife toward him, and each derisive insult drove me deeper into despair. Thoughts of taking my knife to my own heart or dashing myself against the rocks came to my mind.

I desperately tried to remember something I wanted to live for. Finally, Sally came to mind, and my head cleared a bit. I had to live so I could save her.

"Oh, great one," I said, and though my words seemed silly and foolish compared to his, I went on, "It may seem that I am powerless before one such as you, but there is more to me than meets the eye."

I saw a glint of doubt in his eyes before he covered it up. "No man, woman, child or beast has ever bested me, foolish boy! I am dragon! I have lived countless lives of men. Hundreds of knights have fallen by my fire! An army was unable to destroy me! I have fought giants, trolls, men, dragons, demons, and none have overcome me."

Fear completely swallowed me so that I could hardly even see straight. "That doesn't sound too impressive." My tongue felt dry in my mouth.

"I am dragon!" he said again, anger swelling in his voice. "I am called Destroyer, Hellfire, Destruction, Flame of Death. Men pay tribute to me, gods fear me, I have been the death of countless men. I am the last thing you will see before you die. All who see me despair."

"But that's just it!" I continued, not at all believing what I was saying. "All who see you despair, and do they just cower and then let you kill them?"

"They despair, because they know they are completely powerless before me."

"Sure," I said, "But is your flame really as hot as they say? Are your claws really strong?"

At this, he roared loudly, and spewed a giant ball of fire above me in a blinding flash. He tore into the cliff with his claw, and giant boulders flew over me and crashed loudly into the water. He snorted and looked back at me.

"I suppose that's impressive," I said, as casually as I could. "I mean, I've seen worse."

At this remark he glowered at me, letting me know how dangerous this game was.

"But you know," I continued, a desperate idea coming to my mind, "All of that strength and fire are for nothing if someone just gets in a good thrust with a knife, or a bullet from a gun."

"Are you blind?" the dragon screamed. "Do you not see my scales? They are stronger than steel. Nothing can penetrate them!"

"I don't believe it. They can't be all that thick."

The dragon roared loudly, then took his claw, ripped a scale from his chest, and threw it at my feet. I picked it up. It was heavy, feeling vaguely metallic. I wasn't thinking about the scale, though; I was thinking about the spot that it left open.

"Right. Well I suppose a knife couldn't cut through one. But have you ever been hit by a bazooka?"

The dragon snorted. "Foolish is the man who thinks he can kill me with one of his toy weapons. I have lived thousands of years. Men have used countless weapons on me, and none have prevailed. Do you really think you will?"

"There is more to me than meets the eye." I said again, not really believing it.

His eyes narrowed at me, and he leaned close so that his face was only inches from mine. "You think that you are special? That no one before you has ever stood in front of me, pretending to defy me? How many do you think defeated me? How many have I spared, letting them walk home unscathed?" He began to laugh quietly. "Of course, mighty giant-human. You are different than the others. You are so clever that you have gotten me to take a piece off my armor with the vain hope that you might thrust your toothpick into my flesh. Is that not so?"

I stood there, staring blankly. He had simply been toying with me the whole time.

He laughed again. "Well, human? The hole is there. How do you propose getting the knife into it? But then, once I'm dead, what do you propose doing? Your sister is with the goblins, likely dead already, or worse. The goblins are not known for compassion. Your brother and your parents too. Do you really think they are still alive? You are dealing with a power greater than anything you could imagine."

I shifted uncomfortably, my heart beating fast as I realized how foolish I was to leave my dad alone. How did I know that some goblins hadn't stayed behind? And my mom and brother were far away and I could only hope that whoever had sent the goblins didn't know where I lived. But somehow they'd known what house we were staying at.

"Well at least you have the Hunter, James," the dragon continued, "He'll protect you, of course, from all the dangerous creatures, but—where is he now? Funny how when it comes down to it, he's never around to actually face the monsters. He'd rather let others do the killing for him."

He smiled widely and went on, "But the real question is, who is James trying to kill? Would he really send a kid who knows nothing about fighting to face a mermaid? Or let him fight goblins alone? Or a dragon?"

Doubt crept into my mind. It occurred to me that I didn't know James at all. Suddenly, the image of him in his chaps on the beach seemed menacing to me. His aloof attitude when I first met him now felt arrogant and scornful, his over-excitement an act. Why would he have shown up at that exact moment when the mermaid took Kyle? Why did he send me down to a mermaid without any warnings or protection? Did he really expect me to live? And why did the goblins show up at the house after he casually stopped over for dinner?

I had had enough. Sally was as good as dead with the goblins, my brother and parents were also likely dead, even my girlfriend—my ex-girlfriend, I reminded myself—was probably dead too. I truly had nothing to live for. All my hope was in vain.

The dragon laughed at me, interrupting my thoughts. Suddenly I realized that the despair I was feeling was not my own. It was being forced on me unnaturally. My mind was under attack. The dragon's real power was in his mind, and though I still felt no hope, I looked up at him in anger, ready to take my last stand.

I spat at the dragon, then jabbed my knife in his eye. He roared loudly and drew back his neck. The knife had done nothing, his eyes were as hard as glass.

A flickering light appeared at the back of his throat and I sprinted to the right just as huge flames enveloped the spot where I had been standing. I felt the fire lick at my back as I reached the cliff wall and ran alongside it toward the burning debris. The dragon stopped spewing fire and turned to face me again.

I grabbed what seemed like a long sturdy stick from the fire and turned to the dragon. To my surprise, he was so close I could feel the heat building in his throat as he prepared another burst of flame. I jammed the wood down his throat, and he doubled back, choking. I ran up to his chest, trying to get close to his missing scale.

There was a loud crunching sound above me. I looked up to see the dragon spitting splintered wood far out into the ocean. I looked back at his chest. A bit of pink flesh was staring at me from between his scales. I jabbed my knife toward him, but he turned, and the blade hit scales. His neck twisted around so that even though my back was against his side, his face was in front of me again.

I dropped to the ground and rolled under his body to the other side. I jumped up as he began turning to face me. I kept under his wing, following him as he moved. Suddenly he stopped and kicked his hind leg at me. I ducked and rolled under his body again. This time he thrust his weight downward at me while I was under him. I barely managed to roll way in time. I got up, but his face was right in front of me. With nowhere to go, I jumped on top of his snout. Surprised, he shook his head to get rid of me, but I held on tight. He jerked his head upward, and I did a back flip, losing my grip and sliding down his neck, falling to the ground just below his chest. Looking up, I saw the exposed flesh again.

I jumped up quickly and thrust my knife deep into the hole. The dragon jerked upward and I was thrown off my feet as I held on tightly to my knife, still stuck in the dragon. I grabbed onto one of his scales with my other hand, and pushed the knife harder into the wound. A desperate scream sounded from the dragon. The wings opened up, and he pushed off from the ground. Frantically I tried to dislodge my hand, but the scales were pinching my hand with the motion of his body.

Wind rushed around me as we soared high into the air. The dragon pitched from side to side, trying to rid himself of me. Finally he rolled over, and as I was facing the stars, my hand slipped out of his flesh and I found myself flying free. Then waves came rushing toward me, and I curled myself into a ball and hit the water hard.