Minä sinulle auki
“The sun rose and fell. Verdräskinn leaned against the cold stone, unmoving. The chilled wind kicked up dust and rock across his face and chest, rain soaking the bandage about his head.
“This cannot be the end, he told himself. There must be a way.
“There had always been dragons in the forest. The forest survived because of the the dragons…and Brann, the black dragon, had forgotten that.
“Gripping his pack, Verdräskinn pulled the flask from a pouch and held its mouth along the rocks crevice. Water trickled down into the flask.
Terrin smiled like a fox, winking at the children. “Down the scorched mountainside, over bumps of stone and through cracks the water ran, ignoring the land. For the nature of water could be channeled, but not stopped.
“It was then that Verdräskinn smiled. You are powerful, my brother, but not that powerful. This is not over.
“Into the night he pushed.”
“But it’s dark at night,” cried out a little girl, “and my mommy says you get hurt when you wanted in the dark!”
The bard grinned wide, his eye following suit. “Then it is a wonderful thing that dragons can see in the dark!”
All the children threw their hands up in a cheer, getting a few chuckles from other patrons.
Terrin wagged his finger thoughtfully, “His keen eye was able to cut through the darkness as if it were noon day. Fury and the need for justice fueling every step. ‘I will make you pay for this, my brother,’ Verdräskinn cursed, ‘I will make you pay with your life.’
“For two days he pressed, his focus ever upon the next ridge. There were no birds to sing, no rabbits or deer…”
“Were there butterflies?” a tiny boy asked, followed by a sea of wondering eyes.
Terrin raised his hands, palms up, “Not even a beautiful butterfly could be seen, for the black dragon have burned all the flowers.”
“The black dragon needs to be punched in the nose!” cried one child.
“…and Verdrapsken should step on his tail too.”
All children nodded in agreement.
The bard nodded also. “The call of Verdräskinn’s home pulled at his bones, giving strength to each step. He caressed his wounds as he walked.” Terrin lightly rubbed his own arms, “Though the cuts had sealed, the fight with Brann left deep wounds that would take time to heal.
There would be no sign of Brann, for the coward had fled.
At least for now.
Brann would not be able to heal his wounds so easily. Unlike those he betrayed, the black dragon, once called Vebranmiekka—the dragon of the Fiery Sword—could no longer take mortal shape or call upon the healing powers of nature around him.
Verdräskinn frowned then.
Which is why I am yet weak. You sought to cripple me, brother, didn’t you, burning the very life of the land around us? To cut us off from our most sacred magic?
During their combat, Brann had taken his eye, but Verdräskinn, the oldest of their kind, had torn a wing from his enemy’s back.
Verdräskinn sniffed the air.
Red eyes peered out from behind a distant outcropping.
Slowly, he let the pack slide from his shoulder, his hand grasping the woodsman axe.
“Let me pass, brothers,” he spoke aloud, maintaining a deep, yet firm voice. “I know you are hungry,” he added, “but you will not find anything but trouble with me.”
The growls rose in volume as several more wolves joined the pack, appearing from behind rubble and stone.
Large and powerful, the beasts looked more like bears than their smaller cousins…gleaners of the forest, who now had nothing left to hunt.
Verdräskinn inhaled deeply, expanding his chest, and emitted a growl so low and deep, the stone rumbled beneath him.
For a moment, the wolves hesitated.
In his true form, Verdräskinn could command even the most irate or rebellious beasts, for the Dragon Lords were first and foremost rulers of the animal kingdom. While trapped in his human form, he was left to reason with the will of any animal.
Saliva dripped from gaping maws, yellow teeth jutting out like daggers as crimson eyes shifted, watching each shift in his posture.
It’s more than hunger, Verdräskinn realized, now noticing the singed fur and skin—and two wolves with extensive facial deformities. Every beast of this forest knows of my kind. They think this is my fault.
The problem was, the wolves would be right.
Brann had violated the laws of their race and betrayed Verdräskinn himself. Yet he had extended mercy instead of exacting justice, and in consequence of that offering, their race had been betrayed. Instead of the death of a traitor, Brann murdered all but three of his kind in his rage and revenge.
Then set the heart of their world aflame.
“This is not over,” Verdräskinn repeated aloud. There will be justice.
Raising the axe defensively, he let out a final growl in warning. “Let…me…pass my friends. Do not force my hand.”
Another flash of lightening.
Verdräskinn threw his head back just in time to evade the snap of wolfs teeth—a lung for his throat. Spinning his shoulders, he took advantage of the momentum and punched the beast in the neck with a clenched fist.
A loud snap resounded as the body flew backwards, landing roughly and then sliding up to the feet of the pack, lifeless.
“I’m sorry—but you will not have me today, or any other day.”
There was a single snarl…and the darkness erupted.
Teeth and claws lunged through the night, snapping and spinning, trying to sink fangs into the prey, while others formed a circle to prevent escape.
Too many, Verdräskinn gasped, rolling over the back of one beast to set up a kick to the face of another. I’m too weak to subdue them all in this form. Even now his muscles strained with each exertion.
As if on cue, the sky erupted with a rapid succession of lightening, arching high overhead and lighting the landscape.
Just outside the ring of wolves, a narrow ravine dropped down between two boulders. It looked far too small for the Range Wolves, yet not too compact for a man.
Using the slick stone to his advantage, Verdräskinn grasped a handful of fur along the ribcage of a wolf he’d dodged and pulled hard. The force of the tug threw the beast off balance, slinging the armed man under the beast and between its legs. Pulling his arms in to his sides, he slid between the stones and out of view.
Confused, the wolves danced about, yapping and snarling, looking for their prey.
Almost home, he told himself, jumping out the other side of the ravine. Kävedet towered before him, the ground slowly sloping upward. It was the riverbed, once roaring with mountain spring water, now dried out and unmoving. It was too late to turn back and use gentler paths to get to the cave.
He’d have to climb.
With the axe gripped firmly in one hand, he swung as he lunged upward, catching the steel head along a ridge of stone.
Just need to get up this…
Teeth bit through flesh.
Verdräskinn gripped the axe with both hands, arms and shoulders straining against the power of the beast, as jaws yanked at his leg.
A second set of teeth sank into his flesh and pulled.
Bellowing in pain, Verdräskinn hit the ground face down, knocking the wind from his lungs. Fangs clenched tighter, blood seeping from wounds as the wolves dragged him back into the fray.
Hands flailed about, fingers desperate for a ledge or lip of stone to hold onto.
The canines danced about Verdräskinn as he slid across the ground, growling and snapping at the smell of blood in the air, eager to rip him apart.
A large stone brushed against his forearm.
Yapping and howls echoed through the night, the sounds of a triumphant catch that would now end in bloodshed.
Surrounded by wolves once again, Verdräskinn’s prone body was dropped within the circle.
…and the feast began.
The largest of the Range Wolves lumbered forward and took one sniff of the Dragon Lord, lips rolled back in a snarl, before Verdräskinn rolled forward, swinging the large stone in his hand. It collided with the beasts skull just under the eye.
With a sickening crunch, the creatures head folded inward, dislodging the eye from its socket and spraying fresh blood through its wound, nose and mouth. Front legs buckling, the giant body collapsed to the ground.
While a few beasts yelped and hesitated, the remainder of the pack launched forward in a frenzy.
Again Verdräskinn growled deep from within, letting his anger surface. An anger which drew upon his true form to thrive.
Should he die, the Verrdrä…his people…would cease to be.
That was not a future Verdräskinn would allow.
Skin drew taut and bones lengthened. Muscles grew to double their size. Knuckles cracked as nails curved outward from his fingertips and ears rotated back as Verdräskinn’s jaw and skull shifted.
It was not his true form in full, but it would have to do.
The second wolf lunged with a snap, but it was too late. Verdräskinn was already rolling closer to the beast, and taking the rock in hand, smashed one of its front paws beyond recognition.
A high-pitched yelp pierced the air, and several of the pack fell back, hesitating.
Verdräskinn did not.
Continuing his rolling motion, he flung the stone with his might, caving in the ribs of a third animal.
Before the pack could react, a fourth beast fell, raked with razor claws across its front knee. Fur, skin and blood gave way to openly exposed bone, which was followed by the blur of a second blow. The knee powdered beneath the impact, causing the beasts to collapse.
In one fluid motion, Verdräskinn swung his leg over the wolfs back, mounting it, and bit down upon the beasts neck with his new found teeth. Daggers the length of a mans finger, able to tear through oak like flesh.
Blood sprayed as another howl pierced the night. Legs kicked wildly as the wolf struggled to get up.
…the howl quickly faded.
The pack drew back now, watching cautiously as Verdräskinn fed upon his prey, tearing open the carcass with tooth and claw, fiery yellow eyes glowing in the night air.
Slowly the dragon head rose up.
“I warned you,” he growled, his voice now deep and coarse as the earth. “This fire was not of my making, but of my enemy. Your enemy…,” he looked down at the bloodied corpse between his feet. Already the fresh blood was coursing through his veins, healing the wounds in his legs. “Let me pass…or die.”
Even in his partial form, Verdräskinn knew the pack could fully understand him now. It was a dragons natural ability to project emotions and complex concepts to lesser creatures than its own.
One by one, the pack turned and left…leaving the Dragon Lord in the cold rain, amongst the dead.
He stared out into the night until the last lumbering beast vanished into the downpour. The rain washed down his chin, neck and chest, taking the blood with it.
He gasped. Water!
Sprinting towards the cliff face, Verdräskinn lunged upward, his now transformed legs carrying him further than before. Sliding his palm within a crack between two rocks, he created a fist to anchor himself, then reached down to retrieve his axe.
Placing the wooden handle between his powerful jaws, he climbed.
Up and up he scaled the mountainside, swinging from one ledge to another, fingers straining with exertion until he reach the peak.
The perching ledge was gone.
A place where he had stretched in the sun, expanding his wings to their full length, it was where he could watch over his domain. Now melted away, it was no more than a crumpled hunk of black slag, folded into the side of the mountain.
It was here, beneath the ledge, where the twin springs of Kävedet gave life to the forest—and hidden from site, the entrance to his home. The waters came up from the inner spring chambers and poured over the cliff face, bursting forth from the mountain like fire from the belly of a dragon.
Yet the falls were completely dry. Only the fainted traces of moisture could be found in the recesses of the rock, leaking out into the onslaught of the storm.
If the waters are not flowing outward, he worried, then they must...
Pulling a scorched log from the hillside, Verdräskinn braced it between the hillside path and the lower ledge, forming a small bridge.
Crawling along the lip of the waterfall, he inspected its openings. Dragon fire was hot enough to melt stone, creating magma.
Long fingers traced the flow of blackened rock, dripping and curling inward. “You sealed off the path of men,” he growled, “but you failed to destroy me so I could not return.”
Turning the axe handle around, Verdräskinn struck the layers of melted stone with the thick back of the metal head. Blow after blow the mental rang out in protest, but in the end, the rock relinquished its hidden treasure. Each strike cracked the newly formed barrier, causing pieces to fall away.
Verdräskinn smiled to himself triumphantly.
Turning his broad frame, he slid between fallen rock and rubble.
The entrance opened up to a single chamber, clean and bare, with stairs leading downward, cut into the stone.
“Ah the frustration you must feel, my brother, to come so close to the prize—unable to walk these halls.”
Kävedet was the den of a dragon, but only a man or woman could walk through its entrance. The stairway descended between solid stone, hundreds of feet below the surface—immune to even dragon fire. Without the means to skin-change into a mortal, Brann was powerless to get to the treasure all Verrdra would die to protect.
“Yet they are all gone,” Verdräskinn whispered, the painful truth causing him to reach out and steady himself. Powerful fingers clawed at the smooth stone walls, “I will never see my siblings, my friends…never hear their laughter or fill the night sky together with our wings.” He choked, “Never fill the forest with the song of our voices!”
Deeper into the mountain Verdräskinn sprinted, darkness eventually giving way to light.
Clear globes, filled with tiny illuminating fish hung from webs of delicate silver—shedding light upon the growing cavern. The stairs gave way to a bridge, branching off into three different tunnels.
If the water is not pouring from the ledge, it must be trapped, he queried. The springs have not ceased for a thousand years, so it must have gone some…
No, no, no, no, he panicked, heart beating wildly. The gods have mercy, no!
Pushing around bends and leaping over ledges as fast as his feet could take him, Verdräskinn slid up against a giant polished wedge of stone. It stood the height of six men, a wedge surrounded by arcane symbols not known to man, nor to the oldest of mägo.
Placing his hands upon the wedge, he cried aloud, “Minä sinulle auki!”
Crystal blue light burst forth, flaring in obedience from the symbols,…and the stone wedge rolled aside.
Bright light, filled the space from all directions.
His hands shook violently as he wept openly.
Verdräskinn collapsed as exhaustion.