Posted by Universal Shift
The Dragonslayer rode into town the day before I was to be sacrificed. He wasn’t a handsome man as men go, his head was too large and his face jagged with scars, but the way he carried himself made him attractive. He wore armor like no one had ever seen before or since: scaled mail polished like a glass mirror; pieced together with tough straps of leather and shiny bits of metal. He carried a variety of weapons, some unlike anything my imagination could muster. I could only muse as to which evil wizard he’d bargained with to gain the enchanted arsenal. He glared at the gathering crowd with cold blue eyes. “You people having a dragon problem?” he spoke with a thick Nordic accent.
The village elders broke through the throng and approached. “Are you he?” asked High Elder Wymond excitedly.
He nodded once. “Aye. I am Dragonslayer and I’m here to slay yer dragon.”
“It’s not our dragon,” Wymond spat, “It just eats our women and burns our countryside.”
Dragonslayer nodded. “Sounds about right.”
“Will you help us?”
“Of course. It’s what I do. What can you pay?”
“We have little gold or coin, but what we do have is yours if you rid us of the beast.”
Dragonslayer scoffed. “What do you have? Nary but a pittance I’d say. I’ll not risk my life without worthy compensation. Now stand aside.”
“What are you doing?” said Wymond nervously and stepped in Dragonslayer’s path.
“But-but you can’t!”
“I can and I will.” Dragonslayer maneuvered his horse through the throng of villagers.
“We’ll give you the virgin! If you save her life, she’s yours to take as a wife!” Wymond called after
Dragonslayer halted his horse and turned around. “Alright. Let’s see her.”
I was pushed from the crowd and dragged before Dragonslayer by Elder Wymond. “She’s some beauty, isn’t she? Her flowing red tresses, crystal green eyes. Why, she’d be a perfect mate for you.” The way he peddled me to this strange beast of a man made my skin crawl. But I had a duty to my village.
Dragonslayer ignored the Elder and eyed me with a predatory gaze. “So you’re the virgin,” he said with a smirk.
“That I am,” I said and curtsied.
“Tell me, virgin, how old are you?”
“My name is not virgin. It is Diot. And I’ve seen 14 summers.”
“Would you like to live to see fifteen, Diot?” said Dragonslayer.
Everyone’s eyes were on me, waiting for me to answer the direct and uncomfortable question. “I suppose, if it were possible.”
“And you’d be my wife?”
“I will do what is required for the good of my village.” I jutted my chin forward proudly.
Dragonslayer’s demeanor softened and the corners of his mouth upturned. “You’re a good lass. And just stubborn enough to survive…probably. Throw in what gold or coin you can muster and you have a deal,” he said to Wymond. He dismounted and handed his reins to the Elder. It was a nightmare of a steed, large and bred for the killing field. The beast was black as pitch and its eyes burned like the fires of hell. The stable boy swore to me later that it had fangs instead of teeth. “I’ve ridden long and my horse tires…”
“Of course,” said Wymond, ignoring the man’s insult and passing the reins to the stable boy. “I’ll have Diot show you to the empty hut.”
“What manner of armor do you wear, Dragonslayer? I’ve never seen any quite as pretty,” I teased as we made our way across the village.
“My armor is made from the very scales of the dragons I’ve slain,” he answered. “And my weapons are recovered from their treasure hordes.”
“How heroic of you. How many dragons have you slain?”
“Seven is a rather large number,” I challenged.
“The world is a rather large place,” retorted the Dragonslayer. We stopped in front of the vacant hut.
“Thank you for your help. Now, leave and give me my peace.”
I left him to his devices and crept around to the back of the hut and spy on him. He removed his weapons and armor with great ceremony. He carefully sat his armor in the corner and laid his weapons around it, save for his sword which he kept at his side. He fell to his knees then and mumbled a prayer after which he kissed a sigil of Thor strung around his neck. Then he removed the tunic and stretched out naked on the sleeping mat. The sight of his hairless bare flesh was startling. His chest and upper back were horribly scarred and appeared to be burned in many places. His skin shone golden in the candlelight and almost seemed to shimmer like his strange armor. He sighed hugely and closed his eyes before turning his head in my direction. “Get out of here, girl. Give me my peace.”
The Sacrifice happened the same way it had since the time of my great-great grandfather, when the dragon first appeared. A solemn procession of villagers wound their way from the village to a spot in the nearby mountains overlooking the sea called, “Dragon’s Rock.” The virgin girl (for it was only virgin girls the dragon ever accepted) was chained to Dragon’s Rock, where she awaited her final dawn. The virgin sang her Farewell Song and the villagers returned to the village chanting dirges and wailing. Once returned to the village, the villagers gathered in the square and waited for the bright flash of light that signaled the dragon’s acceptance of the sacrifice.
When there was no sacrifice, or the virgin was not acceptable, the dragon would wreak havoc, scorching fields, setting huts aflame and killing men and women alike with the deadly lighting that came from the beast’s eyes. The dragon had unleashed its wrath twice in my life time: once when Wymond tried offering his idiot child and last year when there were no acceptable virgins of age. That’s why my coming of age was so important.
My sacrificial procession started hours before dawn. Villagers wearing cloaks of mourning lined up and proceeded up the mountain to Dragon’s Rock. Dragonslayer followed behind, his head lowered in silent meditation.
I was chained to Dragon’s Rock and my parents kissed me one last time, tears streaming down my father’s dirty face. My mother clung to me until the last possible moment. She was a willful woman, my mother was, and resisted all urgings to depart until she was dragged away by my father. I heard the dirges echoing off the rock until the horizon cracked with light. Dragonslayer hid himself close by and clutched a funny weapon in his left hand and a sword in his right. And together we waited for the sun.
I heard the dragon’s roar long before I saw it. It appeared out of the sunrise with a tail of fire and smoke. The dragon didn’t appear to be a creature of flesh and blood. It was shaped like a large triangular shield with two triangular wings protruding from its sides. It skimmed the tree tops, igniting a few, and stopped abruptly above me. It hovered there, roaring at me the entire time. I could only scream at the sight of such a terrifying monster. Suddenly, a hole opened in the dragon’s smooth metallic underbelly and a pillar of light surrounded me. At that instant, Dragonslayer leapt from his hiding place and the light flashed brightly, sending me into a swoon.
I awoke to a scene of awful violence. Dragonslayer was swarmed by several small gray men with large heads and pitch black eyes that assailed him with weapons firing arrows of light. These arrows were deflected by Dragonslayer’s enchanted armor. He expertly returned their fire with light arrows of his own and in a few moments the skirmish ended. Dragonslayer stood encircled by dead gray men, covered in blood and gashes. “Little bastards!” He hacked the head off a gray creature that tried to rise.
“Be they elfin?” I managed to stammer.
“Imps,” Dragonslayer grunted. He kicked the headless corpse and spit on it. “Gather their weapons and put them in the magic circle you’re standing in. Quickly!”
“Did…did the dragon eat them too? Do they live in his guts?” I asked as I worked.
He laughed. “Actually, the ‘dragon’ is a flying ship with imps at the helm. Now stay here while I finish killing them.” He handed me one of the imp’s weapons. “If they come in here, point this end at them and squeeze this trigger with your finger. And most importantly, don’t leave this magic circle, you hear me?” I nodded vigorously, but stubborn and curious lass that I was, I snuck after him as soon as he disappeared.
Dragonslayer hacked and slashed his way through a small corridor, tossing imps aside like a great bear does a harassing wolf pack until he came to a door marked with strange symbols. He checked his weapons and entered the room with me following close behind. What I saw nearly shattered my sanity. The chamber was full of shiny metal tables with women strapped to them. Imps worked on these women, inserting long objects into their womanhood. Other women were already great with child. These unfortunate women screamed and bled on the tables as they suffered through labor. One end of the room was a large cage filled with wailing women of all tribes and races.
My screams drew attention, but Dragonslayer didn’t appear to notice. The imps swarmed him as before, and this time he went down, disappearing into their writhing mass. I could see them, cutting and slashing at the Dragonslayer, trying to get between his armor. He would be dead in moments. I had to do something.
All I had was the odd weapon given to me. I took aim with a trembling hand and squeezed the trigger. A light arrow tore through the pile, causing them to turn their attention to me. “Keep firing!” Dragonslayer yelled and rallied back.
I fled to the magic circle room and fired on imps as they raced through the door. Their cold, black eyes displayed no emotion. No fear, no anger, nothing. They kept coming at me with the same blank look plastered on their faces.
Dragonslayer heaved himself to his feet. Blood marred his vision and he was weak from its loss, but he still found the strength to finish what he’d started. After he tossed the corpses aside, Dragonslayer hefted his sword and slaughtered the crowd trying to get me. The sight of that hulking warrior cutting through a throng of imps and coming to my rescue heightened my spirits and, I admit, melted my heart.
“Fine. You want to help then come on,” he said after slaying the last imp in the room. He dragged me back into the nightmarish chamber. “Free them in the cage. Push that green button to the side there.” Then he turned to the women bound to the tables, begging for release. He walked over to one that had the same golden hair has he. “I am sorry,” he said softly and stroked her hair. “May you find peace at home with the gods.” With a choked sob, he slit her throat and stabbed her in the womb. He continued this from table to table, as the women pleaded for their lives he killed them with a tearful prayer to Thor.
“Stop! You’re murdering them!” I beseeched him and threw myself on his sword arm.
He slung me roughly to the ground and held the point of his bloody sword at my neck. The women I’d freed screamed hysterically and begged him not to kill us all. “Listen to me! All of you!” he snarled. “They’ve been impregnated with impish seed. And their offspring aren’t humans, they’re Changelings. The imps switch these half-breeds with real human babies!”
“How do you know that?” I demanded.
“Because,” he grunted and hauled me to my feet. “I’m one of ‘em. Now, take these screeching banshees back to the other room and stay inside that magic circle!”
“What about you?”
“I’m going to slay the dragon and save your life. Now listen to your future husband and go!”
I herded the terrified women into the magic circle and Dragonslayer, limping, disappeared into the dragon’s head.
Only two imps guided the dragon’s actions. One held his hands above a swirling red orb and the other sat at a table with twinkling lights pushing switches and pulling levers. Dragonslayer beheaded the imp at the orb and shot the other one with his light weapon. The light arrow passed through the imp’s head and into the twinkling table, causing a small explosion and sending the Dragon careening toward a nearby mountain range.
“Thor’s hammer!” Dragonslayer rushed to the lighted table and flipped a switch. Nothing happened. “Come on you stupid machine!” He flipped the switch a few more times but the flying ship still sped toward the coast and a range of jagged snow covered peaks resembling the gaping maw of a dragon. As we passed above a wooded area, Dragonslayer pushed another switch and watched through the dragon’s eyes as the women appeared, tiny as ants, in the forest below. Satisfied, he walked over to the orb and saw me peeking from the doorway. “Odin’s eye, woman! Can’t you do what you’re told?”
I lowered my eyes and mumbled a pitiful apology.
“Sorry don’t do us a lot of good now,” grumbled Dragonslayer. “There isn’t much time before this thing crashes.”
“Can you pilot the dragon as the imps do?” I said.
“I can when I don’t shoot up the consol. The only option we got left is to wreck it so no fool yokels stumble upon the remains.” He waved his hands over the red orb and the dragon started descending. “Come on!” Dragonslayer yanked me through the door and back to the room with the magic circle.
Dragonslayer pulled me into the magic circle and pulled out a sling. “Get ready. The landing is gonna be rough,” He said as he loaded it. He twirled it three times before releasing it with a flourish. The pellet soared through the air and impacted a switch on the opposite wall. “Ha!” Dragonslayer said the instant before the great light flashed and without warning we were tumbling down the mountainside.
Dragonslayer and I watched as the dragon flew itself into the mountainous maw it resembled and exploded. A black column of smoke rose to the heavens in the aftermath. “Can’t get to it now. And the women made off with the shooters we gathered.” He shook his head in disgust.
“Now what?” I said. “Are you going to have me?” I lowered my head to hide my blushing cheeks.
Dragonslayer eyed me thoughtfully and shook his head. “Nay. I won’t spread my seed.”
I didn’t understand. “Then why would you accept me as payment?”
“Because your willingness to be sacrificed testified to your selfless love and devotion. There is too little integrity in men. And that kind of spirit is worth more than gold. Speaking of gold, we better get back to your village.”
“How? I don’t even know where we are!”
“By boat. We crossed an ocean during our adventure.” He turned around and began trudging down the mountainside. “You coming?”
“Where are we going to get a boat?” I called as I raced after him.
“What do you know of Vikings?”