This story is by Alexa Leung and was part of our 2023 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The cool air of Mount Fractal could freeze an exposed limb in less than a millisecond, but as Marketh followed behind Gregory the Dragon Slayer, he questioned the accuracy of that knowledge. From the way that Gregory’s broad, naked shoulders and chest remained intact, emanating a constant warmth, it seemed that his information was dated, or even incorrect.
Either way– it was cold, devastatingly so. Each whipping wind caused a violent shiver to wrack Marketh’s fur-wrapped body. Although, it hardly affected Gregory, who only wore tattered strips of leather and cloth.
“Gregory,” Marketh started, but was quickly stopped by a meaty hand that shoved its way to his face.
“The Dragon Slayer.”
“Gregory, the Dragon Slayer,” Marketh amended, “the castle isn’t for another few hundred leagues. Wouldn’t it be prudent to head back to, you know, somewhere warmer? Less harmful to human skin?”
Gregory let out a gregarious laugh, his large body shaking with the motion. “Nay, Protector of the Sword of Legend! After years of attempting to claim the heroic blade,” and he unsheathed the glowing metal from its scabbard for good measure, swinging it haphazardly in the frosty air, “I finally have it in my grasp. With it, I shall slay the feared Zevos! You were the one who insisted on coming along.”
Marketh did not respond. Instead, he heaved his furs closer to his shoulders and cursed the oversized leather gloves that encased his thin hands.
The sword gleamed in the bright pale white of the mountains.
It took another five hours of scaling the mountain for Gregory to agree to rest. The two holed themselves away in a craggy crevice that was cradled by clinging icicles, glimmering in the small beams of sunlight that managed to muscle their way through the white, powdery clouds above. While Marketh began on a fire, Gregory swung the Sword of Legend.
Marketh felt like a right idiot. What was he doing out here, away from his cozy crypt? All because he may or may not have given away the Sword of Legend to some dolt who probably didn’t deserve it, and will thus die by his father’s hand the moment he finds out that his first day on the job resulted in the sword getting swiped by the exact type of fool his father told him to watch out for?
Yes. Yes, very much so.
He shoved a piece of damp tinder into the growing flame and was comforted by its flowing warmth. It reminded Marketh of his office hearth, cozy and orange-red; the fire always burned just right, and it never left that lingering smoky scent that campfires did. And that thought only elicited a strong pang of despair that slithered through his body like a bad potion, roiling his stomach and upsetting his mind.
From behind his crouched form, Gregory asked, “Tell me, Protector, what makes this sword so legendary?”
“You claimed it without knowing what it does?”
Marketh stared blankly at the hero. He said, “It was forged in the flames of the planet’s core; it has been passed through the hands of history’s greatest heroes and always returns to its stone bed after the world is sleepy with peace once more. My father whets its blade against the stones that gods once walked upon, which allows it to slice through any foe, no matter its size.”
Gregory nodded sagely. “And that is what makes it so powerful?”
“I suppose,” Marketh said and shrugged. He tossed another handful of tinder into the fire. Gregory sheathed the sword and sat next to Marketh, his hands reaching out to the warmth.
“Has your father ever used it?
“Do you want to?”
In the din of a closing, goading night, a pair of cornflower eyes drifted toward the silver scabbard of a sword that never lost its sheen.
Gregory the Dragon Slayer was soon to become Gregory the Slain because, by the way the fight was looking, it was not in his favor. Distantly, Marketh wondered how many dragons Gregory had slaughtered to have gained his title of “the Dragon Slayer.”
At least one, right?
Hidden behind a growing pile of rubble and debris, Marketh’s gaze drifted upward. In the wide reception hall of the dilapidated castle, an open, destroyed ceiling gave way to a sky sparse with frosted clouds. The sun reflected off the light dusting of snow that coated the ground like sugar, providing little traction for the boots of Gregory the Dragon Slayer who slipped as he attempted to dodge the incoming gnash of teeth from Zevos’ musty maw.
Gregory hit the ground in a puff of white. The Sword of Legend clanged on the ground, skidding until it reached where Marketh stood. He swooped down to grab it, but just as his hand hit the hilt, the squelch of teeth upon flesh rumbled through the hall.
Zevos had his jaws around Gregory’s hips; his great fanged mouth chewed the hero as if some plaything a dog would rip and tear into a cottony mess. He gnawed on his pelvis until the sick crunch of bones reverberated throughout the empty castle.
Gregory howled. His body trashed, gripped tight in the maw of Zevos.
“Protector!” he shouted. “The sword!”
Fool hero. Zevos’ sharp, horned head swiveled to where Gregory had directed his command. His jaundice eyes glimmered; spitting Gregory out onto the ground in a red-soaked heap, he prowled toward the rubble that Marketh cowered behind.
Panic beset Marketh then. There was only one way in and one way out– at the far east end of the reception hall was a wide pair of double-doors that Gregory had kicked down only minutes before, proclaiming he would be the one to slay the dreaded dragon. Now, it sat behind Zevos’ massive body, his red scales twinkling like rivulets of blood in the glorious morning sun. Marketh only vaguely registered that his best option was to make a mad dash for it until Gregory shouted once more.
“Slay the dragon! You have the sword!” he cried.
But Zevos moved as if water, a malleable, fluid thing that shifted forms with each step, manipulating his body to weave through the scattered pillars that remained standing. His pronged tail lashed suddenly, knocking over one of the pillars.
His voice was snarling; he spat flames with each word. “I have seen that sword before,” he hissed. “The Sword of Legend.”
“I’m not afraid to use it!” Marketh exclaimed. He held the blade in front of his face for good measure, too. Zevos’ skulking form drew nearer as his ramrod arms held the glistening sword.
“Tell me, Protector,” he said, flames lolling with every flick of his split tongue, “what do you think will happen if you use the sword?”
Marketh did not deign that question with an answer– instead, fueled by adrenaline and a desire to live past the age of twenty-one, he dove toward Zevos with the blade pointed at his neck. But the great dragon only slid out of the way, his body a liquid that moved in inscrutable ways, and Marketh hit the ground on his hands and knees.
Zevos spoke once more. “You will die. You will die a thousand deaths– each worse than the last. You will be eaten, crushed, pulverized until you are no more than a slow, pulsating mass of blood-flesh and teeth. That sword,” he growled, now approaching Marketh’s prone figure, mouth sparking with each word, “is your death. Just like all the heroes before the great Zevos.”
Zevos took a large, ballooning breath and allowed the inferno to gather in his maw. Orange and fire-red, just like Marketh’s old hearth that never smoked, never lingered. Never burned like hellfire from a dragon’s gusty breath.
Marketh screwed his eyes shut; if he was to die, then he surely didn’t want to see it happen. He held the sword in sweat-slicked palms and cradled in on himself, cursing the name of Protector forever.
But it never came. Instead, a resounding, thunderous crack reverberated through the hall, followed by the heavy breath of Gregory. Marketh peeled his eyes open to see a large, golden pillar had been toppled on to the dragon’s head.
Gregory held his stomach, and perhaps that was the only thing holding his entrails inside him. “The sword,” he spluttered, “kill him.”
“I…” and now there was no excuse to not do it. “It’s a liability issue. If I use it.”
There was always an excuse.
Gregory sat down and leaned against Zevos’ warm, scaly body. “Now, Protector, else Zevos will awaken once more to drown us in fire and flame.”
“Protector,” he murmured. “Marketh, do it.”
The blade was heavy in Marketh’s hands, and it seemed that it had now lost its constant, shimmering hue.
It was dull. So, so dull.
Marketh raised the Sword of Legend and sliced Zevos’ head in twain.