Wings Of Sacrifice

Back again for another story. This week I have another fantasy tale. Trying to do more of them to give myself a break from the Sci-Fi. I love writing Sci-Fi but sometimes its nice to do something different. Anyway, this week its about dragons and their intent to survive. Not going to say much more than that as I don’t want to give much away but I will let you know that it’s about 9,800 words long and I hope you enjoy it!

Salazar is soaring high over the world that is hidden beneath thick cloud cover when suddenly he pitches forward into a steep dive. He’s headed toward a plateau that is carved near the twin summit of Mount Vitruvius.

His twenty metre wings are no longer stretched wide on either side of his body. Rather, they are now folded back. Not like they would be if he were on solid ground but instead into a shape that is akin to that of a cape, and flutter as he descends. His eyes, large and amber in colour, are fixed on the outset of the plateau before which there is only empty air and a life ending drop. His mighty jaws barely parted as air flows around him while he cuts through it like an arrow. Then the plateau is upon him. He twists his body using his black scaled mass in conjunction with his wings to serve as an airbrake. It would be a magnificent sight if anyone other than other Firstforms, who are awaiting his arrival, were there to see it.

They are already on the plateau waiting patiently for him to join them. This day has been planned for a very long time but that did not mean he was not going to arrive first. He has a reputation to uphold. Salazar casts the thoughts from his head. He can consider and contemplate such things once he’s on solid ground.

His air braking makes it appear as though he has stopped in mid-air due to the drastic and almost instantaneous deceleration. But with the excess speed shed the mighty Firstform, which in layman’s terms is the name of the original dragons, unfurls his enormous black wings fully, beats them thrice and then extends his hind legs. They make contact. Salazar however does not dig his razor sharp talons into the dirt and rock beneath them. Rather, he takes several steps and then lets his front legs meet ground. A hop comes prior to a few steps and then Salazar grinds to a graceful controlled halt.

The black dragon casts his head around. Something akin to a smile slips across his long snouted face even as he shifts, his size shrinking down as his features twist and alter until finally he resembles a man. Nevertheless, his eyes are still amber in colour but that is all that connects Salazar in his dragon form to Salazar Winart, the human alter ego. At one time his name had been Salazar Windheart, but over the countless centuries names change, his included. Salazar has bore witness to it countless times and no one is guiltier of this change than man. They are forever changing the world, often not for the better. At least not in the eyes of a being like Salazar who has watched great swaths of the world burn as a result of the endless string of wars man has waged against every little detail they are not enamoured with. Sadly, that is most things as it seems man frequently grows bored of what surrounds it and as a result wishes to force change, ill conceived or planned. At one time that had been the Firstforms. It’s why there are so few left and all of those that are will be here on Mount Vitruvius today to witness him, and them, become the most powerful beings the world has ever known. It’s a plot centuries in the making. But this time nothing will get in Salazar’s way. He’s, they, have all waited long enough.

Salazar strides forward, his long dark robe which is a representation of his black scales hides his feet making it seem as though he is gliding, heading toward a trio of his kind. He can’t call them his kin. He has no kin. He isn’t the oldest Firstform, but these specimens, bar one, are far younger than he.

Those descended from the Firstforms, none of which are present here today, all lack a crucial gift and in truth is the reason for their absence. You see, the generations of dragons that have followed are incapable of altering their forms. Salazar himself has no progeny. There are many reasons for that. One is man. Another is the genetic failings of the progeny to achieve such, in his eyes, simple of tasks, the ability to shift shape. After all, why would he wish to bring life into this world that is not perfection? The truth is he does not. If his spawn and theirs cannot achieve the feats he is capable of then there is no reason in birthing them in the first instance. It’s not an uncommon opinion among the Firstforms, at least those that still live upon this world, that is.

“Lord Salazar, it’s been a good while since we last stood in the same space.” Parfin, a Firstform with thick curly shoulder length brown hair and a set of ice blue eyes comments upon Salazar’s approach.

Salazar by comparison has short black hair, shaved down the sides and back to almost bear skin and unlike Parfin and those around him does not dress in finery. He abhors it, though does not go so far as to judge his kind for partaking in it. He too did at one time. That was long ago, when he’d been… younger. He cannot say young for he is so many centuries old that he has lost count and to call himself young as a result would seem dishonest somehow even if it may not be. Curious, he thinks before moving on.

To Salazar’s knowledge no Firstform has ever died of old age. That affords them more comfort than perhaps many would suspect. After all, when death is not an affliction that can occur naturally you can be certain you are not afflicted by the insecurities it tends to bring. In his mind that is the issue man suffers from. They know their lives are finite. Incredibly so it seems, and that is why as a result they seem desperate, each and every one of them, to leave a mark upon this world that can be attributed to them. Unfortunately, each mark appears as though it is the property of he or she who birthed it and so when they pass so does that idea. Many a time Salazar has considered that this might be the cause of man’s chaos and yet it doesn’t seem to be the totality of it. There are other influences. Man calls them demons, devils, evil spirits. Salazar calls them excuses.

“Parfin, it has indeed.” Salazar replies forcing a smile across his thin red lips. Unlike his counterparts Salazar is far from pale. In his opinion each of the trio gathered before him looks sickly. He knows they are not and yet he cannot imagine that there pale complexions do not draw unwanted attention from humans. They are a curious sort; suspicious seems more accurate.

“We did not think this day would ever come.” One of the other Firstforms says with a mildly cocked head of red hair and a set of fire green eyes.

Salazar does not know this Firstforms name. They may have met previously but he does not recall them. He if were not certain that the ‘man’ before him was a Firstform he would already be dead. Thankfully, Firstforms can smell their own and this ‘man’ smells of Salazar’s kind. He doubts humans are aware Firstforms are capable of such things while he replies, “And why is that?” His tone is soft. He imagines a human would sound outraged due to them being thin skinned and quick to anger.

“Silence Varill, you do our host a disservice.” The other Firstform mutters. Salazar also is unaware of their name. However, it is clear he hopes that this Varill will not be heard by the other groups gathered around them, each of which is in awe as they stand dotted about on the plateau.

It is only these three who have dared to accost Salazar. He isn’t the leader of his kind, though he is considered the strongest, smartest and most resourceful. Part of that he knows is due to his escape from the hunts which lasted for and ended centuries ago. They were back when man had been determined to rid the world of what it considered to be the cause of their misfortunes. Foolish, the lot of them and yet it fit so perfectly with their simple view of the world that it hurt not to have foreseen that such a day would come. Hindsight is useless, Salazar reminds himself.

“No, let him speak his mind. We are not like man. All are welcome to voice their opinions. None will be slaughtered for their beliefs.” Salazar says with a sly smile across his lips, his amber eyes staring into Varill’s with ever increasing intensity.

“Man is on the hunt once more. They wish to rid the world of all they do not understand or agree with.” Varill stops for a little more than a second, yet not as much as two before continuing. “Dwarves have sealed their mines. Elves have disappeared across the tear with the faeries, hobgoblins and pixies to the realm of the Fae. We are all that remain now and so man is…”

“Man is not what you fear it to be. They are fickle, weak and easily fooled.” Salazar cuts in to stop Varill droning on anymore than he already has. If he is allowed to continue he might create panic. His words shouldn’t. They are all Firstforms here. They have all lived through this age of man. Seen its nature and yet the more time that has passed the more like those they live among the Firstforms have become. Salazar is uneasy because of it, the corruption of man’s mortality having twisted the once formidable might of his species to scared old relics desperate to hang onto a world they are convinced wants rid of them. If that were true they would already be gone.

“But Lord your mate, she… You must understand our…” Parfin begins. His eyes averted because he knows he is treading on failing ground and fears what words taken the wrong way could result in.

In response, Salazar sneers as a short, quiet growl leaks from between his teeth. Parfin almost jumps out of his skin and yet the growl is not a warning. Instead, it is Salazar unable to contain the disappointment he feels at hearing a fellow Firstform, one older than he, acting in this manner, a human manner. And that is the problem, this actions and interaction is far too much like a human, Salazar thinks. Soon after the black dragon in human form lets out a long exhale through his nose only to brush casually at his robe as it debris needs to be shed.

“I meant no disrespect lord.” Parfin quickly adds.

Again Salazar, the black trimmed Firstform, feels disappointment. At one time his responses to another of his species would have been seen as a call for challenge. A duel between a pair of magnificent beasts, to see who should speak what and would should stay mute. Those days are long gone and Salazar misses them more than perhaps he feels he should. He wonders if any of these Firstforms ever shift back into their principle forms. Something tells him they do not. Not a one of them and that is… He gives up on the train of thought. It isn’t worth continuing consideration, which is why he throws his arms toward the sky creating a v-shape and exclaims, “Today is not a day for quarrels or doubts. Today is a day for ascension.” His voice is loud, not meant for the trio gathered closest to him but for all of his kind on the plateau. Some must still hold a semblance of what they had all once been. Salazar cannot be the only one, or that is at least what he hopes.

The response he is met with our cheers. They erupt from all around. That gives him some confidence. However, not everyone partakes. It is to be expected. Salazar does note that Varill is among those unwilling to rejoice. He expected nothing else of the younger Firstform who likely cannot recall the rituals which their species used to partake in.

What will happen today shall be one of those rituals you do not recall, Salazar thinks. Well, it will be similar to one of those. In truth, he cannot recall any previous use of this particular act. It does not surprise him to discern that. From what he has transcribed from the ancient murals, this long since forgotten by all but a few practice was only performed twice before. This was back in the age of dragons. Long before the time of man, in an age when the winged lizards had ruled over all others forms of life. If only it could have remained as such. Salazar was born long after that. Parfin might not have been, though he cannot be sure as to say with confidence that that would be true. If it is it makes his plummet to the depths he now appears to occupy all the more tragic.

“We have waited seven centuries for this encroaching; the day when the three worlds will be at their closest. And on this day we will ascend. Take our place as the pinnacle of life and with that power return this world, our world, to peace. End the tyranny and violence of man. Give them a place all of their own beyond the reaches of our soon to be, once more, bountiful shores.” Salazar’s voice is filled with conviction. He really does believe the words that he is speaking. He even feels them resonating in his chest. They beat like a second heart, stronger than his actual solitary one. This determination is what has kept him going throughout it all.

It seems he isn’t the only one who is roused by these words, his words, as a much louder round of cheers, than the last, erupts in response to his speech. It is entirely improvised. He had held no intention of giving such a performance. It is what he would define it as. Not because it is manufactured in any way. It is not one iota that. It comes from the heart and he can feel the energy of those around him joining his own and wonders how it will compare to ascension. He will be the first but all his brothers and sisters will follow, even Varill and Parfin. They may not appear deserving but with the power that shall be bestowed upon them, according to what Salazar has pieced together, all that could very well change. Perhaps it might restore the old Parfin to his former self. If anything can, then it will be this ritual that is capable of achieving such a feat. And with it done the Firstforms will never again be forced to live for decades and centuries in forms that are not their truest.

“Then come brothers and sisters. Jon me in climbing to the altar which stands the shadow of the twin peaks carved by our world.” Are Salazar’s final words before breaking from his static position and beginning to surge, quite literally, forward as he heads up the muddy pathway.

His goal, their goal, is some hundred metres from the plateau. Not where it begins but where Salazar had come to a halt and been accosted by the trio. The ground beneath his bare feet is soft and shifts with every step he takes. He would be foolish to have not noticed how many of his species have their feet bound in what man dubs shoes. It saddens him to have noticed that but does help to secure his belief that most did not dare to return to their truest self to venture to this place. That will change soon, he thinks without slowing his trudge up the steep incline. On either side of the mud path there are brown shrubs. They look frostbitten and dead but something about them tells him they are not at all without life. A kind of energy, he would call it, seems to be emanating from them. And it’s a remarkably strong one at that.

All Firstforms can feel life. It is but one of the many gifts that are inherent to them. He wonders if dragons, those incapable of shifting, possess such a trait too. He has never conversed with one, though they are perfectly capable of speech. He is likely alone in having not, much like he is alone in not having ever partaken in the creation of progeny. Had his mate survived the hunt things would likely have been different. Salazar still misses terribly and often recalls his time with his dear Sinita. Anger boils up inside him at the mere thought of her name. It should be directed toward man, for it is they who were the cause, but it is not. The anger is directed towards himself, for his failure. You see in his mind he should have been able to save her. He could have saved her, he thinks, and that weighs heavily upon him.

In truth Salazar could not have saved Sinita. If he’d have tried more than he had he too would have been carved and butchered. Had that come to pass the Firstforms would almost certainly no longer exist. After all, it was Salazar who alerted the rest of his species to man’s attack. Yet, to this day he has not been able to decipher as to how man had got so close without detection. In the aftermath of that attack, the first of many, it had been insinuated that there was a traitor amongst them. It seemed mad, ridiculous, impossible. Salazar was considered above reproach in large part due to the sacrifice he made which saved the rest of his species. Still, to this day he cannot confidently say if a traitor had been the cause or not. It’s one of the few things Salazar thinks that he does not ever wish to possess an answer to. For a Firstform that is highly irregular to the point as being nearly unheard of. However, in this instance he feels no matter what the answer might be it would only leave him with more questions. Thankfully, other elder Firstforms had felt the same. Salazar doesn’t think any of them are here now. In fact, Parfin might be the eldest member of their entire species now. That is a sad thought and reality to be faced with and so Salazar does not consider it any further. Rather, he pushes such thoughts from his mind, instead taking in the world around him. The snow sprinkled rocks jutting high above his head as he and the other Firstforms continue their climb up toward the ritual sight. If they were attacked in this gully it would be a massacre with how narrow the crack between the vertical sides is. Stop dwelling on such things, he tells himself as dozens of conversations are indulged in behind him. It’s a distraction, he replies. From what, is the query he offers himself. From the ritual. You fear it? I… I don’t know. The answer he gives to himself is an honest one but not something he would ever admit to any of those following behind him. He is fully aware that they regard him like some deity. He does not understand why and never asked for it either. He simply wishes Firstforms to be free and this is the gateway, the only one he has found over the centuries, capable of achieving that.

In truth, he isn’t sure exactly what will transpire as a result of this ritual. There are no texts detailing the aftermath once performed. In fact, all it says is that this ritual will ascend those who partake and fix that which has been broken. Cryptic, perhaps to the point of worrying and yet it is all his significant study has rewarded with.

Suddenly the towering walls of rock on either side of the mud path bordered with brown shrubs that in places have managed to stretch up numerous metres as though they are trees, fall away to reveal a clearing. It’s a wide circle, closer to being oval to be honest. Around its perimeter are trees, evergreen, that lance toward the sky but which are foreshadowed by the rocks that form their background. The tree roots are blanketed by thick tangles of dark green vines in addition to a sea of grey moss and patches of grass that are far shorter than you would think they should be for a place that is in no way tended to by any living being.

Salazar stands staring at the clearing. It’s beautiful. He wishes the whole world was still like this. He barely remembers a time when it was. Since then, man has twisted and polluted it. They have erected forts, castles, high walls of stone and some of wood, villages, towns, sprawling cities with coastal docks into which they pour filth and detritus. Salazar recalls when the air had been clean. Much of it is not now, except it seems for up here near the summit of Mount Vitruvius. He inhales deeply; this is the second such inhalation since reaching the clearing, and as he does so he tastes the unfettered air blessing his lungs. It’s cool but not in a manner which indicates he is up high in the skies of the world. He’d forgotten what it was like to be in a place as pristine as this. It seems everywhere else the skies are choked with thick acrid smoke that stink of death and sweat. That mixed odour lingers long after the burning fires made up of the bodies of the dead have been broken down into charred piles of black cinder.

The other Firstforms continue past Salazar to begin forming into a wide ring that doesn’t quite complete due to the presence of the altar, which are formed from a pile of massive rocks sat in the shadow of the twin peaks. It is said long ago that the twin peaks had at one time been a single point but that a mighty force storm had rained down lightning until the peak had detonated. Those chunks were, under the force of the detonation, sent hurling across the skies creating the life that now inhabits this world. It is only a story. Salazar remembers it well. From when he’d been a hatchling. He was born from the great mother, not another Firstform. Their eggs seemingly willed into being beneath the luminous Drake Canopy. The tree is long gone now. It was burned by man. Their violence and desecration knowing no bounds was proven to the Firstforms on that day. It had been a hard lesson and perhaps the cause as to why no Firstform progeny possessed the shifting capability. Not that there is any way of knowing now. Salazar can only imagine what became of the ashes of the Drake Canopy.

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