This story is by Michael J. Miller and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Rasma looked past the parted fangs before him, grimacing at the cords of spittle that entangled his frame as he struggled to breath in the humid chasm. Below him, his boots dug deeply into the contortive flesh of a giant, serpentine tongue. Feeling warm blood drain over his face, he wasn’t certain whether it was his own or that of his enemy, but it didn’t matter. Channeling the last of his strength, he plunged his sword deeper into the beast’s soft upper-palette, making sure that it would at least suffer from his blade’s sting long after he was gone. An agitated shudder coincided as the maw opened to release a pained bellow, drenching him in salivary whirlwinds. Then he saw it. Beyond the palisades of parted teeth stretched a lush land of rolling hills and forests, all leading to a great mountain-range in the distance. It was beautiful, Rasma thought, yet painfully ironic that his life should end in the very same place that it began.
The grandeur of the Kingdom of Armithede encompassed all the lands before him, known the world-round for its beauty, prosperity and might. And yet, all its splendor could not stop the fiery judgement that fell upon it. They came without warning, turning the great cities of Armithede to ash and ruin one after another. News spread quickly of the dragon scourge’s arrival into Armithede, spreading unbridled terror among the citizenry.
Legions of knights were dispatched under the king’s orders, invading the home of the dragon hordes within the central mountains. So began the great slaughter as both man and beast fought savagely in a battle whose reward was the loser’s outright annihilation. In the end, the pyrrhic victory went to Armithede’s massacred knights of which one had firmly established himself as promising. Rasma, then a young knight, had become a terror even unto the dragons, slaughtering them often single-handedly and taking their scaly-hides as trophies. Claiming to have killed even the very last dragon on the mountain, Rasma’s legend spread far and wide amongst the recovering country, gaining him the admiration of many.
In the peaceful years afterwards, Armithedians enjoyed the plenteousness of the land and their loyalty to the beloved monarchs that now rebuilt the kingdom. And it was one of the beloved whom Rasma had been given charge.
Amongst the citizens, Princess Tarina’s beauty was rumored to be beyond human-comprehension. Her lengthy and uniquely white hair had all but shocked Rasma when he first met her. So too did her soft, crimson eyes that gazed into his heart with ease and discerned his desire. As the King’s reward for his service, Rasma was made her guardian as she travelled across the kingdom. However, the king might have reconsidered had he known of the heartfelt cords that would grow between the two.
In secret, Tarina often spoke with Rasma and they began to understand one another beyond their titles of duty and royalty. Before long, the spark between them grew into a roaring flame. They regularly snuck off on their own across the country, adventuring across the lush-lands as they engaged in a forbidden attraction of commoner and royalty, never far from the other’s side. But fate did not prove kind.
In passing through the Central Mountains one day, Rasma and Tarina found themselves in what seemed a replay of history. Several dragons appeared from the heavens, seizing Tarina away before his very eyes then disappearing just as quickly into the skies.
Believing the worst had happened, Rasma rode down to the nearby towns, warning them of the dragon-threat. News spread quickly of the return of the dragons, and with it, the faultiness of Rasma’s reputation as slayer of the last of their kind.
Rasma himself was brought in shackles before the grieved king and queen whose sorrow he secretly shared, for part of their hearts had been stolen away within the claws of dragons. Rather than executing him for abandoning Tarina to her fate, the anguished King instead offered him a chance at redemption. Scorned as a liar and seen as a coward by his people, Rasma sought this chance so that he may in the eyes of the living redeem himself by way of certain death. But beyond that, he clung to a desperate hope that somehow, the fire behind those crimson eyes was not yet extinguished.
Upon returning to the mountains, he encountered the dragons slumbering in their caves. With silent precision, he slit their throats, changing the great lie told of him back into truth with every kill. Yet he found no sign of Tarina. Moving to the last cave, however, he looked on with horror at the princess’ torn dress lying ownerless on the floor. Rasma went to investigate further when his final foe lumbered into the cavemouth, a green-scaled dragon whose jaws contorted into a malevolent grin upon spotting him. Without a second thought, the knight leapt to the fight at hand. A great dance of fire, claw and steel ensued, so fierce that both man and beast fled the cave’s blazing interior, leaping down onto an open plain below. Fighting to his last-breath, Rasma slashed the dragon’s heels, bringing the mighty creature to its knees. He made for the decisive blow to the throat, but the dragon guessed his intentions, swiftly angling its head to catch the knight in its agape mouth. Instincts kicked in as Rasma jabbed his sword deep into the descending pallet, holding its jaws at bay.
Now, after seemingly endless struggle, Rasma felt his strength slipping away. He would die here, he knew, never knowing what had truly befallen his princess. But perhaps he would be meeting her soon enough. Clenching his teeth, he banished the thoughts of death from his mind, resolving to find Tarina at all costs. Garnering his remaining strength, he pushed the dragon’s maws up and withdrew his sword, hurling himself through the open-curtain of teeth. However, just as escape seemed certain, the beast bit down on his leg, leaving his body dangling limply outside its mouth. Without a scream or moment’s pause, he swung his sword, rending away flesh and bone before falling freely to the ground.
Just as he did, a roar split the skies. Both man and beast glanced up as the heavens broke apart before a second mighty dragon. With an explosion, it landed some ways behind Rasma, sending up clouds of roiled earth into the air.
Through the haze glowed blood-red eyes that settled firmly on its kin. The first dragon hissed, ready to defend its catch. Rasma could only watch with an unfounded curiosity. Those eyes, they looked so, familiar. Slowly, the second dragon emerged, its every step shaking the ground itself. Pale-colored scales covered its monolithic form that proved more than twice its counterpart’s size.
The first dragon’s determination waned, and it backed away. The massive newcomer strode forward, now standing over Rasma. Its giant maw let loose an ear-shattering roar, forcing its fellow to retreat to the skies. Red eyes now turned to the plain’s second occupant. Rasma felt its sharp, reptilian gaze fall upon him but felt no fear accompany it, only a strange sense of familiarity. The pale dragon examined him with what he could only presume was, concern? A claw gently picked up his bloodied body to observe him more closely. If he hadn’t been half-delirious and knocking on death’s door, he would have been certain that he saw a tear fall from one of the creature’s eyes, followed by a pained smile that creased its scaled muzzle.
Rasma dared to turn and meet the dragon’s gaze for the first time, uncertain of the insane hypothesis screaming at the back of his weary mind. At length, the dragon opened its maw, revealing a chasm of razor-edged teeth and a serpent-like denizen. Rasma didn’t protest, finding that his strength had all but left him. Rather, his mind remained fixed on those teary red orbs and the implications they held.
The dragon was careful to keep him away from its teeth, placing him onto its soft tongue. Rasma looked back through the maw at the world beyond, a surreal sight he knew many saw before their end. But was it his? The jaws gently closed, sealing him in darkness as the dragon’s warm breath washed over him. He felt it shift and launch itself back into the skies. Still numb to the pain, he wasn’t sure whether to fight on or simply give up. His weary state got the better of him however as he slipped into unconsciousness, only the faint memory of a fair princess bringing him some measure of peace. Outside, the pale dragon was resolved to save her lover from his wounds but felt some contentment at having him return to her side once again. With elegance and grace, she angled through the sea of clouds towards a majestic mountain-range far off in the distance.