Tattoos of Magic
Ryan D. Siwel parries another blow, swiftly striking back. He smiles as his small opponent leaps back. His opponents are three young children; he was instructed to teach them a few weeks ago.
While he is not good with children, he accepted them. He understands why others would want him to teach them; theoretically, he is one of the best swordsmen around. He takes a second to brush his right hand through his brown hair. It is a sign to attack.
Another charges from the left, coordinating with the third from behind. He swerves until he is in a position to block both at once. As soon as the blows are about to hit, he parries with his wooden training swords.
“Good!” He thrusts at one of the two, scaring the young man off. For the other, he delivers a soft punch to the gut.
“A coordinated attack is key in any fight. Whether it be a dragon, a single man, or an army, just charging into battle will get you killed. With strategy, though, any fight can be won.”
“Wyan, tat hurt!”
“And how do you think a real sword feels? A punch to the gut is nothing. I could aim at other, extremely more painful places. A real foe would. In time, you will learn to anticipate those attacks and evade them. That is, if you want to live. Real foes use real swords.”
The oldest of the three speaks up. He can’t be much older than seven, but training starts at a young age. “It depends.”
“How much a real sword hurts. A sword to the leg is painful. But a sword to the neck or head is painless because you would die.”
“Good logic! It’s true as well. Technically, it would hurt, but the pain would only last seconds.”
“What if spiwits feel pain?”
“Then I suppose it would hurt even more. But without a spirit to talk to, if you even believe in spirits, I have no way of knowing. But you three are learning how to fight, not how to become a philosopher.”
“Yes, Sir Ryan.”
“Oh, I’m not ‘sir’ just yet, though I do appreciate the compliment. Now, to work on swordsmanship. I specialize on tactics and that. You finished the tactics session of the day just now. So on to your skills with a sword. For other things, such as, philosophy, you have other teachers for.”
“I heard you’re a good bowman as well, Sir Ryan. Why don’t you teach us that?”
“Oh, I’m only an amateur. My bow skills are basic, at best. Most of my knowledge of how to use them comes from years ago. I’m a bit rusty. I might be able to use a bow, but certainly not how to teach others to do it. There are much better archery teachers out there. Now, shall we?”
The four practice for another hour. Ryan calls it a day after striking the oldest with a jab. While some teachers expect students to be able to surpass them in some shape or form, Ryan knows better. They’re still so young with much to learn, against an expert theoretical swordsman. Many more sessions will be required before they can hope to hit him; he knows that. “Keep practicing! You three will soon join the Dragoslan Warriors with that skill, just like me.”
When the three run off to practice, Ryan is left alone. He sits down and rests for a while. Knowing that he’ll eventually be on guard duty, he puts on his leather armor. He wears the standard military issue sandals. He wears light armor around his legs. For his upper arms, he wears similar gear. For his lower, a simple leather guard does fine. Leather gloves suit him fine as gauntlets.
He finds his real sword and straps it to his belt. He takes a quick glance around the area. From what he has heard, the area was once two amusement parks in one before the reset. The reset…the time everything changed. Why can’t I remember anything from that period of time?
Whatever it was, though, it now houses the few thousand Dragoslan Warriors and about five-hundred civilians. It now serves as Enchanted Wave Fort. It suits all of their needs, with enough environments for anybody’s tastes. Amongst the diverse environments are a forest, a desert, and a lake.
Outside is much more desolate, much less habitable, though. Only desert stretches for miles upon miles. The only landmark within visual range is the Canyon. Some say it was once a creek, river, or road. They are not sure. Whatever it was, it now is a seemingly endless gap in the earth, continuing on for miles. While it is rumored that across the canyon many miles away, a forest is said to lie, there is no evidence of this. Sure, survivors exist in other areas of the world. But scouting parties have searched for the forest and found nothing. For all serious purposes, the fort is the only real place to live.
All of the survivors from the reset live in the fort. Those that set out without a predetermined point to turn back never return. The fort is their only hope of living. His section is one of three; it is the smallest, reserved for only the elite. All of his surviving family lives there, albeit in different locations.
With nothing better to do, Ryan begins wandering around his section. Nearly everyone there he knows. In a section with only a few hundred calling it home, people learn to speak with other people to maintain sanity.
He wanders past a metal barrier. It is comprised of several sections of slightly rusted metal, with gaps located everywhere. It runs many feet above, but serves no real purpose. Several colors once existed there; now, he only sees the rust. It could not possibly have any purpose to a mindset like Ryan’s.
At least, not anymore. His father, when Ryan is that bored, talks about the past often. While his father taught him everything he did not instinctively know not involving fighting, Ryan finds himself at a distance from him. In his revering, his father insists it was once on of Ryan’s favorite rides years ago. All Ryan can see is a lump of metal, waiting to be melted down.
A large grind informs Ryan that somebody is working on the rails. My father is nearby. Ryan signs. He’s working on connecting another one of these things together. I am glad I no longer have to live on that mobile home. The only reason this metal remains is that he somehow managed to convince people that it was worth it. Emergency sources of transportation, or something like that. In truth, it is because he interlinked them for nothing more than a memento of the past.
He keeps on walking, ignoring the sounds. He knows that he is in the center of his section; he has a choice of where to go. He can view nearly every single spot in his section to visit.
My brother is on a mission. My friends are training at least until lunch. Being as good as I am, I’m the only one who doesn’t need to train with them for anything other than keeping my skill up. I’m not going to my dad; he is too insane, even for my tastes. I need someone to pester. I suppose that only leaves…
“Ryan?!? What in the name of Nogard are you doing here?!”
“I’ll take that as a ‘get out, NOW!’.”
“So what are you still doing here?”
“Pestering you, of course! When was the last time I did what you told me to?”
“When I blackmailed you a year ago.”
“Really? I could’ve sworn it was two years…”
“Okay, though, seriously, what are you doing here?”
“We haven’t seen each other since your birthday, months ago.”
“Isn’t a brother allowed to worry about his little sister?”
“That wasn’t a joke. Not this time, anyway. Yes, I’ve got nothing better to do. But mom died during the reset, and Lisa died during a dragon raid…”
“Yes. I know…”
“I worry about my remaining family. In this world, even today…”
He pauses. His sister takes the liberty of finishing his train of thought. “You could die any day. Any of us could. Even in this fort, we are not entirely safe. You want to spend as much time as possible around friends and family, because you may never get the chance again. Right?”
“Yea. That’s pretty much it.”
“I understand. Though…despite the fact that this is the public pool for this sector, you really shouldn’t be here.” She gets out of the pool to face her brother. The pool for the area is not particularly large. It had to be built from scratch. Ryan has the layout memorized; in his free time, he’ll occasionally swim during the night. A hot tub lies next to the pool and changing rooms are nearby.
His sister sits down on a nearby bench. “General Marthulus and his goons hang out around here a lot.”
“Don’t they have their own pools?”
“Yea, but those sickoes come here often, looking for a date.”
“They should be here soon. I’m normally a mile away by that time. And they hate anybody who could possibly be competition. You’re just talking to me, but they…I sometimes wonder how Marthulus ever became a general with an attitude such as his.”
A group of men comes to the pool. Ryan backs slowly away. He tries not to meet the eyes of the leader of the group, staring down. “Yo! Ryan! What are you doing here, today?”
The general gets closer. Ryan is forced to meet the crimson eyes that many despise so much. The man whispers, “You might spoil the ladies’ moods.”
As if. Any who actually go out with him will cut the date short.
Ryan remains where he is, seeing no threat in staying put. “Learn your place, kid. You are strong. You will one day lead the DES. I once did as well. After that, you may make general, like me. But until then, I am your superior.
Ryan backs away some more. He watches his sister leave the premises; that is all he needs. “They’re all yours…” With that, he runs off in disgust.
His sister approaches. “Why do you let him do that?”
“Bully you around!”
“He is greater than I—”
“I’ve seen your strength! Don’t give me that junk about him being stronger; I know you’d win in a fight.”
“True. I could win in a fight. But that’s not what I meant. He is greater in rank. I cannot stand up to him without being punished.”
“That is just…stupid!”
“Unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do to change that. Believe me, nobody wants change more than I do…but at the moment, nothing can be done…”
“Sir Slayer, are you sure there are two dragons we are to hunt down?”
“Positive. There are two. We’ve traveled quite a distance from the village; it won’t be much farther until we have proof.”
“As DES, it is our job to find out.”
“…And exterminate, I know.”
“Relax, sergeant. You’ve only done this once before. It takes great nerves taking on a beast like the dragon. Their magic can crush us. Their flames are mighty and can burn us. But they are not invincible.”
Daniel the Slayer, leader of the DES, stares at the two sides of the canyon. His party had descended into the crack two hours ago when they saw signs a dragon was nearby. Daniel determined there were two dragons by the magical remnants they leave behind. From many past hunts, he knows that a marker can only extend so far and be noticeable. Two hours later, though, and he has yet to find their lair.
“We know they are near. I am the best there is for tracing magical energy. They could use magic to conceal their lair; keep on guard.”
“Yes, sir. We will wait for you to find it.”
The thing is, this is harder than I thought. These dragons are good. It is fortunate they all have similar tastes, though; experience tells me they dug a hole into the wall of the canyon. They are nearby. I can feel it. It is only a matter of time until I can feel the magical barrier concealing their cave. No…I feel it already. It’s!
“There! A hundred yards on the left side! There is a strong presence there. Positions!”
Most of them climb to the top again. By now, the fort is long out of visual range. Two hours in the canyon could equal three or more heading back. They position themselves just above the point Daniel specifies.
They set equipment up. Three ballistae and a catapult are assembled. The archers ready themselves. Giant rocks are positioned above the cave. In addition to those above, two ballistae are in the canyon, primed and ready. If the dragon were to expect them, it could wipe out half of the forces at once—but the other half would nail it. Decoy men enter the cave, walking through and dissipating the invisible barrier.
No matter what strategy it uses, we will kill it.
A minute passes. The men emerge and duck for cover; their part is done. The beast breaks out and tries to take flight. The men push out the stones, pummeling the dragon. No matter how thick a dragon’s hide is, no matter how tough their scales are, rocks this big hurt. This dragon was too surprised to use magic to break them; now, it will not be able to fly.
The dragon hits the canyon floor. The ballistae and archers will not be needed anymore. It is safe from them, but now is vulnerable to the swordsmen. With magic and well-aimed fire, though, the beast can still cause great damage; caution is needed more than ever.
From the looks of things, this is a female. This is truly a rare thing to find. Most dragons these days are males. This is indeed a precious find.
Daniel descends into the canyon. His men are trained to act fast from all angles; the dragon might be able to batter some of them away, but never all of them. They acted fast; ropes bind the dragon to the ground as Daniel hits the ground. He wields a sword enchanted with the blood of a dragon to more easily puncture the dragon’s underbelly. He moves in for the final strike.
“Kill me, human. Just get it over with. I have been held here against my will; I have suffered greatly. When you came, I had hoped to escape. I hoped I could leave; I hoped for freedom. That is futile, now. The only freedom I can have is death. Ease my suffering and end it already; I will give no resistance.”
Daniel hesitates. As far as he is concerned, all dragons are evil. This has to be a trick. Still, it could just be a stalling tactic. But if the dragon is telling the truth, a free kill is a free kill; he grants her request with a swift death.
Now, what trickery is this? No resistance? I know she said she wouldn’t, but still…why? He remembers the other dragon. And where is her friend? The thought hits him. Based on the evidence he has, it makes sense. But he hopes it is not true. No…
“Sir? Shall we begin the skinning? We need to salvage everything we can, right?”
“We need to get back to the fort…NOW!”
“The other dragon! It’s heading for Enchanted Wave Fort! We’ve been set up…”
Ryan is just about to head to the barracks. Most of his friends will have just completed training; he wants to talk to them. Maybe a little sparring as well; he wants to do anything that they would consider entertaining.
…But then, the alarm sounds. A roar tells Ryan all he needs to know: a dragon is approaching. Just our luck! A dragon attack when the Dragon Extermination Squad is away! Oh, well…DES or not, the dragon always loses.
He reports to his battle station—the gate. He is just an expert swordsman with minor experience with a bow. But this is where he is of most use; if the dragon lands nearby, he can bring it down. He stands the greatest chance of killing it. If not, he’ll be an archer at a strategic position.
Marthulus approaches, spouting orders here and there. The men are panicking. He holds them together. I must admit, despite his other flaws, he’s good at what he does. During situations like this, I understand why King Leonidus appointed him general…
Then, Marthulus approaches Ryan. What does he want with me?
“Ryan Siwel…I have a task for you.”
“With the DES, I wouldn’t even need to be here. Daniel would take care of it all…but with their absence, I am responsible for the safety of the fort.”
“I know, sir. My orders?”
“We will certainly kill the beast…but there may be civilian loses. Many of them. I believe you know this better than any other.”
“Yes, sir. I do. I’ll do anything to help save lives.”
“Good, because what I want you to do might just cost you your own…”
Ryan is alone. He is outside of the fort, about to confront a dragon with nothing but a horse, his bow, his sword, and a message. This is a stupid idea…a really idiotic idea…why did I accept?
The general’s words ring in his ears. ‘It may only have a one in a thousand chance of working, but if it works, no life will be lost.’
This isn’t one in a thousand! This is one in a million!
‘I want to try diplomacy. Deliver this message: General Marthulus Premius, by authorization of King Leonidus Arshan, offers peace. You will perish of you attack. We can discuss this, or you can leave. The alternative is death.’
I really hope right now that the pen really is mightier than the sword…
The dragon comes to the ground. Ryan obviously leaves the impression of a messenger; at least he isn’t fried…yet. Ryan gulps. He delivers the message, hoping he won’t end up charred. The dragon laughs.
“You really have guts talking to me like that, trash! Diplomacy is only a stalling tactic allowing enough time for your slayers to return! It is true; I could just leave. But I’d be back. Nogard is coming. He is coming at full force; the time is approaching. It makes no difference to me, so I shall consider it. In fact, I’ll make up my mind…as soon as I’ve had you as a snack. It is hard to think on an empty stomach.”
So much for me living. When dragon and man clash one-on-one, or even TEN to one, the result is the same: dragon wins. At least even a dragon has a sense of humor, though. It is right; thinking on an empty stomach is impossible.
Ryan feels the dragon’s power. The magic is pouring through him. He abandons his horse. Or more accurately, the dragon’s power forces it to flee. As a last sign of superiority, the dragon lets out a roar, sending a massive amount of magical energy into the ground.
It passes right through Ryan. He can feel the vastness of this dragon’s power. The magic morphs the desert in a one mile diameter around the fort. Desert, in the blink of an eye, becomes dead grass, plains.
“I am showing you just how outclassed you are, human. I just wasted all of that energy transforming the landscape. This is the largest drain of power I know of. Yet I have plenty to spare. That was just a fraction of my power. Meet your end well; I like playing with my food.”
Ryan is desperate. Against a foe so powerful, what can he do? He draws his bow and readies his sword. He notches an arrow, readying it to fire. If he is lucky, he would leave a dent. I don’t want to die! Not yet!
In his desperation at the moment the magic passed through him and the dragon gave its speech, a mark appeared. He did not notice the black dragon wrapped around his right arm. He had been focusing on other things and still does not see it. Yet it is there, its dormancy over.
At that same time, an invisible magical force spread around the world. Now, others would find themselves with similar marks, if they would care to look.
Daniel is desperate. From what he knows, when DES is absent, the most civilian casualties are inflicted. For that matter, most in the army do as well. He wipes the tears away; like dozens of other, he has lost a relative in the attacks. He urges his horse to run full speed.
He curses at himself for wearing his full battle armor; it slows him down greatly. The metal gauntlets have a firm grip on the reigns for his horse. He wears a large steel plate. His upper arms have chain mail, while his lower arms have metal braces. His legs are covered in the plates as well. Knee armor has spikes attached to it; similar spikes are on his feet.
All in all, it is a load. That is not including the two days supplies he carries on his horse. His sword weighs a good deal as well. He can only go so fast on his horse; he fears it is not soon enough. In his rush to return home, he does not notice an identical mark on his forehead…
Ryan’s sister has been in the shower for nearly an hour. She had been in the pool since the morning. Her friends have morning duty on their career choices. She, and most of her friends, had different careers in mind…but with the reset, they became invalid. Veterinarians would be useless. She had no reason to attend school, since she had nothing to study. She had learned everything she needed to know.
While a decent swordswoman, she experiences a similar problem to her brother: she is theoretically good…but when it comes to actually killing a foe, she wimps out. Her brother had hidden it…she could not. So she had to settle for waitress duty at a restaurant. Unfortunately, the morning positions had been filled already when she applied for the position. She got stuck with evening duty.
Like normal people, though, she gets up early in the morning…and has nothing to do. She practices many things often, but after a few hours, gets bored. With nothing better to do, she will swim. She swims nearly every day out of sheer boredom. Ryan might be a nuisance, there only to annoy her, but the interruption earlier was a nice distraction.
She would get to chat to her friends for a few hours after her shift, which she is preparing for now. She has to get the chlorine out of her hair, after all. Since she is isolated in the shower, she has nobody to point out the mark forming on her back…
The distant forest is no myth. Everyone knows, at least, subconsciously, that all the forests in the world could not be wiped out. In fact, some forests actually grew. Some sprouted out of the ground in what once was a desert.
So it is no surprise that there is a distant forest. This magical forest is one of the few that was magically created during the dragon war. What is surprising is that there is human life in the forest. While not exactly normal humans, that is the best word to describe them. A young woman amongst their numbers looks at her right leg—to find something she knows too well. The mark…I see. So…the time…yes, yes…the time…
Many soldiers had been in the barracks, finishing training. Then the alarm had sounded. They instantly put their equipment on when they heard the roar; they all feared the dragon coming. It would be their duty to protect the fort. In their rush, about a dozen of those others experience the same thing, though they do not notice.
About ten others, though, have a different reaction. Some of them had died years earlier; their comrades aren’t invincible. Even so, they all have a similar reaction. They initially don’t notice it…but rather, feel it and look.
A certain man on the railway looks as the dragon materializes on his left hand. That’s…! This means that…no; not yet. It is close to the time. But not yet. I think Venat wanted one last thing to happen…
I feel a magical pulse nearby. No…wait…two of them! One is evil. My guess is that it is an agent of Nogard. That dirty…that monster is why I am in hibernation. I don’t know where my remaining family is. Most are dead. But I know some live, like I do. I just don’t know where they are.
I want to. But only a magic user of pure heart can do it. All of my kind like that have been dead for four years. I don’t think I can be awoken any more. This shell around me may be permanent. But this other is human. Wait…how does that work? Human? It is rare, but not impossible. Oh…yes. I see. He will wake me…
Ryan ducks for the cover of the tall grass, avoiding another large blast of flame. The heat singes his skin. His sweat evaporates instantly from the heat. The fire begins to spread. He can barely keep his eyes open; the heat presses against them, wanting them to close and never reopen. A wave of smoke saves his eyes…but destroys his lungs.
He rolls again and again, avoiding the fire, avoiding the smoke, but most importantly of all: avoiding the dragon. The magic of the beast could destroy him in an instant. Another jet of flame and a hail of lethal icicles bombard him.
He gets out of the way, firing a quick shot from his bow. Much to his surprise, the arrow connects and punctures deep into the beast’s skin. He looks in shock. The wide-tipped arrow would cause more damage…but would have trouble piercing even the hard underbelly of the dragon. “I…hit him?”
The dragon hits the ground. The vibration in the ground is fierce; if he wasn’t there, he would think that it was an earthquake. “You! I had not expected you to have the time to fire! If I did, that arrow would never have made it. My magic could have shattered it in an instant. And worse…you got lucky. You hit one of my lungs.”
I…hit a lung? I didn’t even aim!
“I can’t fly on only one lung. At least, not for long. Believe it or not, it takes a lot to stay airborne. A single good blow can cause enough pain to break my concentration. Blows like that…You just made me angry! It is time for me to stop messing around. You…die…now!”
And I actually thought I’d live for about three milliseconds. Why do humans cling to those illusions? Hope can be a cruel thing. On the ground, my bow is useless…
Ryan draws his sword. The short sword is nothing special; it is just standard issue. The decent length sword is double-edged. It primarily is for hacking and slashing, though can be used equally as well for stabbing. The hilt is not custom made for his grip; it is a universal size for one hand. The guard is wide enough for one hand to be protected. The pommel is small, giving just enough of a counter-weight.
I wish I had one of those DES swords. It wouldn’t help much, but I know for a fact that they are at least customized to the user! He dares to stare into the dragon’s eyes. Their ruby gems glow with rage. He looks away immediately and surveys the black scales for any weakness.
A scar is all he is able to find. A giant scar on his neck shows a pattern he has memorized; the pattern is that of a dragon bite. By the size of the mark, a giant dragon tooth had caused great damage.
He fought another dragon. From that scar, a rather large one, too. It had to be powerful; dragons are said to have great healing capabilities. While it could have been a normal dragon, I seriously doubt that. The only way that could be true would be if this dragon was bitten while still young. By the looks of things, this dragon is old.
It’s hopeless, but in the impossible chance I get close enough, that is where I’ll aim.
Fire is launched. Hails of arrows appear out of nowhere. The grass begins to turn into blades…and all of it is aimed at Ryan. He dashes towards the dragon, zigzagging his way past the attacks.
A wall of magic slams him back. Only a swift recovery prevents him from being charred by a stream of fire. Another blast of magic hits him, this time puncturing his stomach. The magic is physical, now.
He feels a tear in his left arm. It lays limp at his side. The last magic blast had left a nasty mark. He rolls to avoid the next fire blast. He coughs up blood. Not good! He keeps dodging. He grows more desperate. He is getting rips and tears in his armor, slashing at his skin.
But then, he can suddenly see the previously invisible magic blasts as clear as the fire shot at him. He sees the magic tearing at him. He keeps on dodging. Now, he stands a chance. He closes the gap again. Another wall of magic is pushed towards him; he develops a split-second strategy. He flows with the wall, backing up with it instead of against. Within a few seconds, he passes through.
Much to the dragon’s surprise, Ryan is right next to him. Ryan strikes with all his might and speed at the scar, delivering a powerful thrust. His sword briefly appears to have made it through, going a few inches in.
…But after that, it shatters. Oh, great! There goes my hope! The fragments embed themselves in the scales of the dragon, vibrating. The wound has opened. The dragon lets out a roar of pain.
Though it would not die from the wound. Ryan’s one chance…wasted. The sword had caused great harm upon impact, but the dragon would push the pain aside and instantly retaliate…or so, Ryan expected. To his surprise, the dragon doesn’t strike back.
It lies there, in pain. The wound obviously had caused more harm than it appeared to. Maybe magical dragon scars always leave a streak of pain? He doesn’t know. But he does know one thing: a few seconds later, and it will recover.
If that were to happen, Ryan would die. Reactive purely out of instinct, Ryan draws out a thinner-tipped arrow. He doesn’t need a wide target; nearly any place in the neck would be lethal. What he does need is penetration. He drives it into the narrow gash.
Another roar of pain from the dragon erupts. It echoes; nobody in the fort can’t hear it. Blood pours over Ryan’s hand. The crimson liquid covers the mark he did not notice during the entire battle. And then, there was silence.
Daniel coincidentally comes into visual range of the scene at about the same time that the roar exploded over the horizon. To his shock, there, in the middle of the field, lays the second dragon.
A single figure is out there. Not a whole army, not a squad, just one lone man. Ryan collapses from exhaustion, yet feels a rush of energy through him. The conflict causes him to lose consciousness.
Ryan had just done the impossible. Daniel cannot believe his eyes. Ryan had just done something that not even he can do. Ryan had done it without backup. Ryan—with literally just one hand—had just killed a dragon alone.