Shape Render

Hi everybody! This week I’ve got a fantasy story for you. It’s shocking I know but it is true. Would love to give some details about it but if I do that it’ll give the story away. Seeing as I can’t say anything (other than that it is about 8,800 words) how about we get into it?

At long last the scenery ahead is changing from rolling hills of brilliant green broken up only by small clusters of ancient, gnarled brown barked trees. Mithra had started to believe she would never reach the fabled, edge of the world. It is where the Crater Caldera resides. Or at least that is where it is believed to reside. No one from her village had ever seen it. Not that there are many left from her now decimated home to ask.

The destruction of her home was a discovery she made months ago. She cannot recall how many to be frank. The long days of walking and resting under the stars have bled into one another. All that she does know is that this is not a quest for revenge. That particular option was taken from her before she could pursue it. She has mixed feelings about that.

You see Mithra’s village, she dare not speak its name due to the sorrow it will bring her, had been raised to the ground and pillaged by a long feuding neighbour, Arasanth. It was a village filled with murderers and thieves. They held no honour. Fought in no wars to protect the lands upon which they dwelled when invaders, such as those from the northern realms of Herentir, came to claim what was never rightfully theirs. That is where Mithra had been when the villains of Arasanth swept through her home. Few had survived, and those that did she met upon her return. Yet, she did not meet them in the remains of her village, as there are no remains. The ground swallowed up the ashes that had once been the people and their homes. Mithra had not believed such things, until she had seen it with her own eyes. A massive ragged split in the land sat right where the homesteads had once been. It stretched for miles and though it was recent it appeared as though it had been present for centuries upon centuries. Mithra hadn’t understood how or why but felt the Arasanth needed to pay for their crimes. Sadly, the Arasanth suffered much the same fate. Except they had all been in their homes filled with stolen loot and the memories of those they’d butchered. It seemed none escaped the catastrophe that befell them. Not a one. That had brought Mithra some comfort, just not enough. So with vengeance unavailable to her she felt she needed to know why these tears had opened up in the land she knew so well. What was the cause? These lands had never suffered the quakes infamous in the northern realms. The ones that had decimated and destroyed empires as though the world had decreed they had ascended too high for tolerance to be afforded to them and their actions any longer.

Eventually, Mithra, the warrior, had learned of a tale. It had seemed mad when she had first heard it. There was no way that this could all be part of some cycle, some prophecy, and yet Mithra felt she had to be sure. After all, there was nothing left for her now. Her home was gone, her people were all but gone and the war was over. They had defended the southern realms from Herentir, but it no longer felt like a victory, if it ever did at all. She isn’t sure and hasn’t been since learning of the devastation that reaches far beyond the limits of her home and that of the Arasanth. It seems much of the southern realms have suffered a similar fate. Whole villages, towns and even cities had, in the last couple months, been swallowed up. It was upon learning that that the prophecy which she didn’t consider one had begun to sound plausible.

It stated that at the edge of the world there is a place called Crater Caldera, and that in that place there lives a dragon, Kronos, The World Shaper, The Render. It was said to be he who is the cause of all this devastation and that he would need to be felled if the world was to continue on. Accordingly, it had happened before, so told the tale, and would again, unless Kronos prevailed and was allowed to rend the world; twist it to his shape, to his will. Mithra could not allow that. She had lost her village, her kin to this World Shaper, if it existed, and so many others during her time at war. The world needed a rest, a break from violence. The warrior was willing to deliver that. It seemed no one else was. So she had set out on her journey, heading for the edge of the world, for Kronos.

The green suddenly gives way to greys and blacks. All sound she finds is deadened around her by the ash and sand sized grains, known as rocksand, that blanket everything. There are no trees here, no flowers, no birds, no insects, no animals of any kind. It’s barren, dead and foreboding. Mithra’s hazel eyes scan ahead as the ground, covered and lifeless, crunches loudly under foot.

Mithra has to admit that she has never seen anything like this place before in all her days. Not even on a battlefield or in the aftermath of a battle. It’s… She doesn’t have the words to explain what she sees. Though, she knows exactly how it makes her feel, empty. The feeling is uncomfortable and sits on her chest as if she has a heavy rock there. Yet, her armour continues to bristle as she continues forward. Her exact goal is unknown to her. She has never seen this place before and until recently had not even known that it existed. That alone makes her wonder what other places she is unaware of. She doesn’t know and likely never will for she is under no delusions of the chances of her survival. Especially, as it is said that none who go to face Kronos ever return. It could be simple omission and yet she doesn’t believe it to be. She imagines a fight with a dragon capable of carving great wounds in the world will be a life-ending foe. Mithra just has to ensure that she takes the World Shaper with her. It must be an achievable goal or the world would not still be in existence. Mithra hopes she will prove worthy of that glory like those who are said to have come before. Yet, she does not do this for renown or future fame. She is doing this because of her sense of duty and so no life lost was in vain. For there is no greater waste than if a life taken fulfils no purpose. That is a teaching of her village.

The warrior takes a deep breath and then exhales deeply and slowly. The air tastes rancid. She can feel the burn at the back of her throat. Sulphur, she decides grimacing and wrinkling up her nose so much that she thinks she catches a small section of it in her vision.

Her principle weapon is slung across her back, a long shaft of wood wrapped in thick dark red leather and tipped with a sickle shaped blade. It’s a weapon that has felled many a northerner. Well, to her they are northerners. To many others in the southern realms she is the northerner. Her village had once sat unless than a hundred miles from the narrow sliver of land that connects the northern and southern landmasses. It’s why she had felt such a strong responsibility to lend her might to the war effort to keep these lands safe. After all, women are the warriors in the southern realms. Men tend the lands and build the structures. It’s an ancient dynamic but one that she always seen bear remarkable fruit, something that is cultivated and picked by the men.

Those from Herentir do not understand these ways. In their realm it is the men who go to war and the women who stay behind. To Mithra this proof of their folly and the principle reason for their defeat. They were not, even with their numbers, a match for Mithra and those who served beside her. So many lost, she thinks before realising that the view ahead of her will soon change again. That realisation pulls her from her thoughts so she can analyse, for a time, what this change is. At first she cannot make it out, but then, all of a sudden, it registers with her what she is squinting at, a bridge. Her brow furrows in response while she considers why a bridge resides here. She doesn’t know and hears no sound of running water. Unease creeps up her back. Her right hand swings and folds round behind her so that it might grip a section of the shaft of her sickle tipped weapon. Her left meanwhile tightens on the hilt of a blade that hangs off her side. The hilt of the short blade is decorated and engraved with jewels dirtied by the months of travel. The grime having got into the nooks and crevices around the stones of green and blue, which with the limited size of the pack slung across the small of her back meant she was unable to journey with the appropriate equipment for cleaning out such muck.

The short sword with its thirty centimetre long blade is not Mithra’s anyway. She did not forge it or have it gifted to her by kin. No, it is a trophy of battle, earned on the battlefield of Rograder. The last she saw of those fields they looked much like the landscape around her, barren. And yet, they still looked more inviting than this place. Maybe it was the birds still gliding high overhead or the thick mud that had been churned into ruts and channels within which standing stagnant water had formed and been stained red. She cannot say. It is just how she feels.

The warrior suddenly feels compelled and so looks back over her shoulder. She draws comfort from what little green continues to be visible to her. Still, it strikes her that she has walked further into this barren hellscape than she would have anticipated. Quickly she puts that aside and returns her focus toward what lies ahead. For the view has changed again. Not drastically but enough for hr to be acutely aware of it. For there is now an outline of a mass, tall and roughly triangular in shape, which looms. The mass stands, she can’t be sure if its stood truth be told, to the left of the where the bridge looks as though it begins.

Mithra, with her black hair feathered like a plume atop her head, pulls the short blade a few centimetres from the bland brown scabbard fashioned from animal skin which it is sheathed within. The blade is brilliant white and shines dazzlingly. The contrast with the dark ground all around is stark and sees the mass turn ever so slightly. It’s as if the gleam from the blade has hit it right in the eyes. Mithra smiles taking note of the reaction. Her brain already whirring and analysing how and when this mass might attack her. She cannot be sure that this is the masses intent and yet to dismiss the possibility would be madness as far as she is concerned.

Her right shoulder rolls to test and ensure that it is still loose. The last thing the warrior wants is for her shoulder to cramp and it cost her her life. She is better trained than to allow that. Such a fate would be that of a novice, a child, not a battle hardened warrior who has been at war.

“Stop right there, traveller.” A deep voice slow and booming declares once Mithra is just to the tip of the long shadow that is being cast.

The features of the mass should surprise her and do, however she isn’t going to reveal that. How the sight of a dragon could not she cannot say. Though, if this is Kronos she would have to admit that she is not impressed. He is far smaller than her dreams had led her to believe. Not that her dreams have been based on anything beyond what she has manufactured in her own mind. The prophecy gave no description of the World Shaper dragon, so perhaps she should not have imagined him as a giant serpent with a wide head, silver teeth, red burning eyes, green, grey, black, white and brown scales with four fleshy wings and two short arms tipped with claws the size of a cabin. After all, this dragon is far from that. Rather, it is perhaps three times her size, with a long neck of white and dark red. It’s devoid of wings, standing on four meaty legs with a trio of black eyes arranged in a cluster at the centre of its snouted skull and with a forked tongue that continually laps at the air.

The cluster of eyes stay glued to Mithra who returns the locked gaze with one of her own. She knows stare downs well. They are a competition of sorts. A first step which decides what comes next. She never considered that she would one day be having one with a dragon, or that a dragon would be aware of such things and yet here she is partaking in this age old tradition.

“These lands are not for your kind. Turn and be gone or face me, Dyalus, Protector of the Gate.” His voice is sure, strong, loud and hissing as his forked tongue continually flicks at the sulphur choked air. By the looks of things the taste does not bother him. Mithra on the other hand still hasn’t gotten used to the stench or the burn of it. She doubts she ever will. She only hopes that it will not be with her for the remainder of her quest.

“There is no gate here, only a bridge. I think it is you who may be in a place that is incorrect for the words you speak.” Mithra replies with an even tone. She isn’t afraid. Others might be if they were stood in her shoes, but she cannot be sure as to whether that would be true.

Dyalus snorts clearly unimpressed by the warriors words as he carefully picks apart her attire with his gaze. It’s been a long while since he last had a mortal foolish enough to come this way. Back then there had still been a gate to mark the beginning of the bridge. There is nothing left of said archway now. The beams of bleached wood have long since been swallowed by the river, the one the bridge stretches across. It spans a mile in all and is blanketed in ash. It’s why no sound of rushing water can be heard. Though, there is no mistake that the fate of anything that enters it is death. Nothing escapes the ashen surface. It swallows all. It’s why there is no life here now. He remembers when there had been. It had been sparse true, infrequent even but present nonetheless. Since those days the ash and rocksand have spread, killed what little remained and converted it. So gradual had been its process that Dyalus only sees it now. It makes him question as why he remains in this place. He is not bound here, in debt to another, but insists upon it. He likes to believe it is due to him serving a purpose, and that is to prevent an interruption. He knows of Kronos, though they have never met or spoken. Dyalus imagines his fate would be the same as any other who has descended into the caldera, death. It’s something he knows well. He’s fallen foul to its unsatisfying embrace on a number of occasions and yet he always rises again. Perhaps he should consider that one day, but it will not be now. He must deal with this mortal first.

“While alterations have transpired the meaning of what I speak still remains. You are not welcome here mortal, be gone or face annihilation.” The words sound less like a warning and more like a promise, a foregone conclusion. Arrogant Mithra has to admit but perhaps not unfounded. After all, this is a dragon that stands before her. The ancient stories of the reptilians speak of their might and prowess in battle. How they are formidable and brilliant beyond comprehension at anticipating an adversaries intent before they perform it.

“You are not Kronos, but do you serve him?” Mithra queries and while readying herself for battle. The dragon, quite curiously, seems to be oblivious to the change of her stance.

 You could be being lulled into a false sense of security, she reminds herself. She has to stay vigilant, she knows.

Another snort followed by, “I serve no one directly. Now heed my warning and flee.”

“And why should I heed your warning?” Mithra questions bluntly. She feels undeterred by the dragons and his warning. He isn’t frightening at all to her. His size is imposing but the warrior imagined she would feel fear. Like she had on the battlefield shortly before the battle would begin, but she does not.

“For victory is assured. The gate will be held. Mortals never pass.” Dyalus sounds incredibly arrogant now as he speaks. His surety is strong, perhaps too much so, as if he is trying to convince even himself of the words that pass his jaws. He has no lips like she does and how he makes the sounds he does Mithra cannot imagine. It’s remarkable but changes nothing. She is on a path to put an end to the loss inflicting this world. Loss beyond what people can control.

“Then we do battle.” Mithra responds with a smile split across her face.

“We do.” Dyalus confirms with a roar which he performs while pulling his long neck back. A moment later he spits a ball of something that looks sticky in Mithra’s direction.

The warrior leaps sideways deftly avoiding the glob. As she does so she pulls her sickle staff from across her back and then races headlong toward Dyalus. He rears back onto his hind legs. They’re covered in tough looking scales. Mithra does not aim for them. She instead aims for his head and stabs and slices at the air. Dyalus bobs and weaves his long neck is all sorts of severe and coiling angles to evade her swipes. It works to his benefit and leaves the warrior open for a swipe. He wastes no time and slashes toward the warrior. This is all part of Mithra’s plan, she had anticipated his over-confidence and jabs the curved tip of her weapon into the flesh between his claws. Dyalus roars and wrenches his foot back almost shearing the sickle staff from Mithra’s hands.

Somehow she manages to keep hold of her weapon and while Dyalus is partially turned away slashes across his back. Dark red blood wells up from deep within the wound. The blood fills and spills from the gash almost as soon as the cut is completed. Then she repeats her actions several more times. Roars of agony escape his toothy jaws, they are responses to each wound inflicted and come while his tongue continues to flicker. If he had a tail like most dragons he would whip it around, to take the legs out from under Mithra, but he does not and so throws his entire body into a spin instead. His long neck being used like a tail would be if he had one.

Unfortunately, he misses Mithra who leaps backwards and then flattens herself against the shifting rocksand and ash that coat the ground. This gives Dyalus the opportunity to rear back in preparation to strike. Mithra had a feeling this might be his plan and yet she had not anticipated the ground who be the thing that would hamper her. Sure, she was aware that it sunk and shifted beneath her feet. But now it is as though the rocksand and ash is trying to swallow her up, or at the very least keep her immobilised and helpless against her foe. It’s working, alarmingly so; her hands having disappeared from view. Plus, from the feelings, she doesn’t dare look to see, she is getting from her legs they too are suffering a similar fate. Yet, her sickle staff is fine as is rests upon the surface unaffected. Mithra does not understand this, so does the only thing she can think to, struggle. Doing that only makes her predicament worse.

Dyalus cackles in response to the mortals vain attempts to break free. It seems his previous intention of striking her down with a single crushing blow, likely involving his mighty jaws, has been forgotten by the dragon now that Mithra is helpless and immobilised.

“The sands of the crater are not the enemy you expected you would fight, which is why you have been bested. Mortals never learn. They come here. They seek what does not belong to them. Can’t see the truth of what stands here. Why it must exist.” Dyalus’ tone is mocking.

“If you’re going to kill me just get on with it.” Mithra utters while still struggling. She knows her attempts are useless and that she is only making it worse and yet… My struggling is only making it worse. That’s it! That is what Dyalus wants. He wants me to struggle, because if I do it means he won’t have to lift a finger. He doesn’t wish to fight. Coward! With that Mithra stops struggling. Soon after Dyalus realises this and stops cackling.

“What are you doing?” The keeper of the gate asks with a mixture of outrage and disbelief.

“Accepting defeat.” Mithra lies convincingly. Her words are accompanied with a half shrug meant to further her deception.

“No. No you are not.” Dyalus snarls. He does not believe the warrior. He has had enough interactions with mortals to know when they are lying. He doubts this mortal realises that. Not that it matters. The conclusion will be the same, her death, and so he roars and then lunges for Mithra.

The warrior, whose hands have risen back out of the rocksand due to her lack of struggling, dives sideways, rolls and then with a swift kick of her legs lands back on her feet. She pulls the short blade from its scabbard and drops into a ready stance. She’d be lying if she did not admit that she would prefer her sickle staff in hand over this short blade, but Dyalus is between her and it so she will have to settle for the war trophy. It feels heavy in her hand, unbalanced. She wonders how Herentir manage to wield substandard weapons such as this. The thought is fleeting and dispelled when Dyalus spits at her for the second time. The warrior isn’t sure what comprises the ball of matter that she deftly evades but settles on it being best to never find out. It could be anything, or nothing. With this dragon there seems to be no way of knowing for sure.

Mithra leaps forward and begins to wildly slash. Some of her swipes hit, resulting in chattering sounds from deep within Dyalus’ throat. Most are met by his claws and are harmlessly deflected.

Suddenly, following almost two minutes of slashing, Dyalus throws his long neck forward. Mithra is caught off-guard by it. Never had she considered he might risk his head and neck to gain the upper hand and yet that is exactly what he has done.

As a result of the dragons’ brash attack, Mithra stumbles backward. She narrowly avoids the gnashing teeth of Dyalus. Yet, as she falls she flicks the blade out of her hand. It’s instinctive more than anything. A reflex that stems from when she had been young and still in training, long before she saw her first battle.

Dyalus’ eyes, all three of them, go wide in response to the weapon flick. He tries to avoid the blade but it’s too late. The tip pierces through the underside of his jaw, right where it meets his neck.

With the flesh speared open, a gurgling sound erupts forth from the wound which is just prior to a series of wet wheezes. Right after that Dyalus crashes to the black rocksand and ash. His legs kick sporadically as the final spasms of life execute the remaining signals from his brain. Then he begins to change and shift. His body shrinks and morphs, twisting from the size and shape that it had been, that of a dragons, to the size of a man’s. Mithra stares on in shock, propped up on her elbows, her mouth agape. Her eyes blink rapidly over and over and over as she attempts to understand what her eyes are witnessing. She cannot. She has never seen anything like this before and wonders if Dyalus was unique. Whether he was or not changes nothing, she tells herself. He wanted me dead. Whatever he was he was not a friend. He was an adversary and has been felled like one.

Still, Mithra wonders, as she reclaims her weapons and stows them, what Dyalus had been. She will never know but he was a shifter and capable of changing his appearance to reflect any organic lifeform of his choosing.

Dyalus had chosen to take the form of a dragon as he thought it might deter mortals like Mithra from encroaching on this place. It had worked on most but not all. There were always those who wished to challenge what they feared. Dyalus had not thought Mithra was like that and yet he was still determined to end her where she stood. Yet, he will not remain in death. He never does. Kronos returns him every time. Or at least that is who he attributes his resurrection too. He can never be sure. Not that a single thought fills his head as he lies there dead, a pool of blood having spread around the gaping wound in his neck. His two pale blue eyes staring at nothing.

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