Kiril slipped silently through the stunning lakeside
foliage, his grip tightening on his dagger as he studied
the boy and wordlessly cursed what he had to do. The blond
youthâ€“Huet was his nameâ€“was about seventeen years old with
the kind of face girls lined up to kiss. A smile at the
right moment and this boy could have whatever he wanted.
Many times at court Kiril had wished for a face like this.
Kiril shifted. Huet hadnâ€™t moved in twenty minutes but sat
staring resolutely at the fire. Was he listening to
dragonspeak? Dreaming dragon thoughts? It didnâ€™t matter.
Kiril couldnâ€™t wait any longer. He had hoped to do this
the easy way, but he couldnâ€™t stand it any longer. He had
to finish this now.
He dove forward. Gripping Huet about a surprisingly
muscular chest, Kiril pressed the dagger against the boyâ€™s
â€śWhere is it?â€ť he hissed.
Huet didnâ€™t answer. He didnâ€™t even breathe.
â€śDo you know who I am?â€ť Kiril tightened his grip, pressing
down on the blade. A thin line of red appeared on the
boyâ€™s creamy skin. â€śI am Kiril, the kingâ€™s dragon hunter.
I spare no one who congresses with dragons.â€ť The
unfortunate truth. â€śBut I am tired tonight, and am
prepared to forgive. Give me the egg and you will live.â€ť
Still no response from the boy. For someone so young, this
one had nerves of steel. Unless... Was it possible? Had
Kiril been lied to? There was something very wrongâ€“
Faster than humanly possible, Huet swung around. Kiril had
been prepared, and yet he still couldnâ€™t match the boyâ€™s
speed. The youth shoved Kirilâ€™s dagger aside, spun past
his campfire and grabbed a large and obviously ancient
sword. Kiril barely had time to draw his own weapon before
his foe was upon him. Extraordinary speed. Lightning-fast
reflexes. And dâ€™greth, power in his stroke. Huet had a
killing strike with his blade.
Which mean a swordfight was the smallest of Kirilâ€™s
â€śItâ€™s not an egg anymore, is it?â€ť he asked, already knowing
the answer. Dag Racho had sworn the demon spawn wouldnâ€™t
hatch for another week at least. â€śWhere is it, boy?â€ť he
Huet wouldnâ€™t answer. He couldnâ€™t. He was dragonborn
now. Huetâ€“or Dag Huet now that he was joined mind to mind
with his serpent beastâ€“was losing his humanity by the
second. His thoughts were completely consumed by dragon
hunger, dragon power, dragon evil. There would be no
sparing him now.
Assuming Kiril survived the battle. He swung his blade,
parrying for all he was worth. The boy was in the prime of
his physical abilities; Kiril was old. Old enough to wish
heâ€™d never picked up a blade, at any rateâ€“dagger, sword or
And bloody claw, this boy was strong!
Then it happened: He heard the sound. Dragons were agile
and deadly; they were not silent. He heard the wings flap,
felt the breeze on his back. Kiril wanted to turn and face
the real threat, but Dag Huet attacked with renewed
The boyâ€™s blade had the speed of the wind. Thankfully, Dag
Huet and his dragon were both young, newly dragonborn.
That made Huetâ€™s movements jerky, his swings badly timed.
It gave Kiril time to find an opening, some way toâ€“
Too late. Dragon claws bit hard into his back, cutting
through his leather and wire loga like butter. The beast
tried to pick Kiril up, but was fortunately too small to
manage a manâ€™s weight. Dag Huet had the opportunity to
slice off Kirilâ€™s head, but the boy was too new to being
dragonborn to function as both man and dragon. He could be
a dragon or he could be a man. Right now, it was the
Kiril twisted, used his dagger across the dragon claws that
held him. The skin was new and so very soft. He felt the
spurt of black blood, and the wyrmâ€™s scream echoed through
the small lakeside clearing. The claws straightened
reflexively, and Kiril was releasedâ€“but not before he was
thrown high into the air, across a jut of the lake.
At least heâ€™d landed far away from his foe, he thought,
grimacing. Bloody claw, what was he going to do now? He
He looked up at the tree above him and realized with a
distracted kind of fatalism that he was about to die. Here
he was, Kiril, famous dragon-killer, lying like a discarded
doll against a tree, numb from the neck down. Well,
perhaps not totally numb. His hands had started to tingle
and his legs were beginning to burn with pain.
Glancing around, he wondered how much time he had left to
categorize body parts before he died. Dag Huet was the
lesser threat. The boy had begun the long trek around the
lake. Not even bothering to jog, the new dragonborn was
moving deliberately, no doubt trying to remember how to
walk. It would take him awhile to get here.
The Sapphire dragon, on the other hand, was an immediate
problem. It lived only to kill. Well, to kill and amass a
fortune whatever the cost, but mostly to kill. That now
its essence had a human component mattered only because it
made the beast harder to destroy. Both dragon and Huet had
to die at once.
A hoarse cry split the air, guttural and terrifying. From
Kirilâ€™s crumpled position it was impossible to tell if the
sound came from dragon or man, but it gave him hope
nevertheless. The cry of a mature dragon settled deep into
a manâ€™s bones, robbing the strength from limbs and reason
from even the most seasoned of warriors. A dragon in its
prime was impossible to kill; a man was defeated by sound
long before the beast drew near.
But this cry had been loud and grating, at best. This
dragon was still immature. Like the boy, it was unseasoned
and impetuous. Kiril could defeat it. At least, he had a
chance if he could move.
The tingling in his fingers abated. Sensation returned
slowly to his weakened limbs, and Kiril grunted as he
struggled to stand. His knees quivered with pain, and his
arm could not sustain the weight of his sword. The best he
could do was lean over, gasping for breath as he braced
himself in the cracked trunk of an aged tree.
Where was the dragon?
Shifting his gaze upward, Kiril swallowed, seeing the
answer suddenly appear. What at one moment had been a tiny
speck far distant, suddenly became an explosion of blue
falling from the sky. The Sapphire was diving. Straight
Kiril tried to straighten, but the shift in his weight
caused a lancing pain in his knee. He staggered, gasping
in agony, but a crazy grin split his face. Thank the Great
Warrior Tiril the beast was still young. If the beast were
a week older, Kiril would even now be engulfed in flame,
cooked to toasty perfection in a delightful meal for man
and beast. But the dragon was too young to have developed
fire in his lungs, and so the wyrm would have to capture
his prize and eat it raw.
Raw and still fully conscious.
Kiril gritted his teeth, trying to force his thoughts away
from his imminent demise. He knew mindlock was the
dragonâ€™s most potent weapon. But he was a trained fighter,
a seasoned dragon-killer. He should be able to think. The
dragon was still young.
And yet he stood, waiting for his own death.
He had to move.
He closed his eyes, forcibly blocking out the terror.
Then, with deliberate thought, he flexed his muscles,
calling for them to contract, to shift, to move.
Tense hip. Lift leg.
Contract thigh. Extend leg.
Shift weight...land in pathetic heap.
That last had not been part of the plan, but somehow it
worked. The Great Warrior Tiril must have been amused,
because at the moment of Kirilâ€™s inglorious collapse, the
dragonâ€™s claws passed mere inches above him. Kiril felt
the heated rush of air, gazed upwards in horror at the
serpentâ€™s glistening underbelly, then cried out in alarm as
the tree above him splintered and cracked from the dragonâ€™s
Stupid dragon. It had missed him and got the tree. A
thick branch caught the beast square on the shoulder at the
base of its right wing. Stunned from the impact, off
balance and flailing, the dragon tumbled backwards with a
startled croak and crashed into the lake.
If he had breath to laugh, Kiril would have done so.
Instead, he stared into the shimmering blue gaze of the
Sapphire dragon and felt the mindlock seep into his bones.
His mind slipped away...
Icy lake water caught him full in the face. The dragonâ€™s
struggles were drenching everything, Kiril included. He
jerked, reflexively turning his head and body away from the
icy spray, away from the dragonâ€™s gaze. He looked down at
himself. Drenched from head to foot, he had to decide on
his next move.
He fled behind the tree.
His next thought was to learn what exactly the dragon was
doing, but that was the surest way to lose control once
again. Instead, he closed his eyes and listened, sorting
out movement and proximity as best he could. The beast was
in the water, the wet slapping sound no doubt its wings
beating heavy and sodden against the lake. A seasoned
human controller would have sent his dragon rushing to the
shore, directing its muscle movements with clear deliberate
thought. But Dag Huet was too young to do this effectivelyâ€“
or perhaps even to see his wyrmâ€™s danger. And that gave
Kiril the time to act.
Pulling himself upright, he hefted his sword to use like an
ax. He cringed at the abuse of the weaponâ€“it was a family
heirloom, the only memento he had left. But dead men had
no use for fine swords, and so the exquisite blade became a
tool to hack down a tree.
Fortunately, the parts of the tree not broken by the dragon
had been softened by age and disease. Though thick and
ancient, the core was wormy and soft. If Kiril had not
spent a year logging, he never would have known where and
how to strike. But he had, and he did.
Even in his weakened condition, he finished the job in just
a few quick strokes. Then he dropped his sword into the
mud, thinking only that this plan had to work: He had to
topple the tree or he was a dead man.
He still did not look directly at the dragon hatchling, but
the flailing sounds had grown more distinct. Rather than
the frenzied splashes of before, now he heard more
purposeful movement. The beast had probably managed to
work its legs underneath him; it would be mere seconds
before the beast managed an ungainly leap into the air and
escape. It was now or never.
Kiril grunted as he pressed his weight into the ancient
wood. The rough bark bit into his flesh, scraping his
hands bloody, but he barely noticed except to note that his
grip became slick. He pushed and heaved, and yet all his
strength accomplished nothing. The tree would not budge.
Did he need to cut the trunk more? Had he misjudged?
Where was his mistake? Doubts assailed him as he scanned
the ancient tree. No, he had done everything correctly.
He was sure of it. This would work. It had to.
And his faith was rewarded. The tree began to fall.
But was it in time? Just as the wood gave way, Kiril heard
a sudden explosion of waterâ€“the hatchling thrusting upwards
from the lake. The sound was unmistakable, as was the
deluge of lake water that once again doused Kiril, chilling
him to the bone.
Then came a heavy thud, the crackle of snapping limbs
combined with a startled cry and the slap of displaced
water. He knew heâ€™d won when he heard the burble of sound
as the Sapphire continued to cry underwater. Turning his
head, Kiril finally risked viewing his handiwork.
Stretching across the water, half submerged, was the
ancient tree, branches broken, leaves falling to cover the
churning water. Somewhere beneath the quivering wood was
the dragon, kicking and flailing beneath the massive treeâ€™s
Another sound rent the air. Less than twenty paces away,
Dag Huet screamed in horror, clutching his head to block
out the dragonâ€™s terrified thoughts. Even the most
seasoned dragonborn could not control a wyrm in full
panic. Dag Huet didnâ€™t stand a chance.
In the lake, the dark water churned as the dragon heaved
and flailed to no avail. The tree was too heavy, the mud
too thick, and the water too much an encumbrance for the
beast to survive. Beside the lake, Dag Huet mimicked his
dragonâ€™s death throes, twisting and contorting, his human
mind totally overwhelmed.
Kiril turned away from the man, unwilling to look. His
eyes fell on his abused family sword. With sluggish
moments, he pulled at the hilt, dragging the weapon out of
the mud. The cuts in his back burned through his mind as
full sensation finally returned to his abused body. He
simply closed his eyes and breathed through the pain,
waiting until it faded to a dull scream. Fortunately, he
had the time. It would take long minutes for the Sapphire
to drown. Long minutes as the boy struggled to breathe for
his beast, his childish mind twisted, his youthful body
wracked with pain as the serpent died.
Stumbling forward, Kiril crossed the mud until he knelt
beside Dag Huet. Again, he noticed the clear blue eyes,
soft downy hair, and freckles that had no doubt delighted a
generation of girls. Kiril saw again how angelic the boy
truly was and felt like a hideous monstrosity beside him.
If he could, he would have spared the boy. He would have
separated Huetâ€™s mind from the dragonâ€™s, leaving the boy
scarred mentally and physically, his capabilities no more
than those of a toddler, but alive. But it was
impossible. The mind connection could only be severed
before the dragon hatched. Once the serpent crawled out of
its egg and into the boyâ€™s hands, Dag Huetâ€™s fate had been
sealed. This youth would die at the same instant as his
dragon. And the reverse.
In the lake, the dragonâ€™s movements were slowing, each
churning wave a little less high. Soon it would case
Kiril raised his sword, unable to stop himself from looking
into the boyâ€™s eyes one last time, and was shocked to see
lucidity within. Beside him, the lake stilled as the
dragon lost consciousness.
â€śWhy?â€ť the boy asked.
Kiril blinked. Huet knew why. Everyone knew why.
The youth continued, â€śDag Racho is evil. I could...â€ť He
dragged breath into his lungs. â€śI could have stopped him.â€ť
Kiril nodded, unable to deny the accusation. Dag Racho was
evil. But Kiril worked for him and had since he was a boy
â€śI would have made things different,â€ť the boy whispered.
Kiril closed his eyes, then plunged his sword down. He
knew without watching that he had accurately pierced the
boyâ€™s chest, deftly cleaving his heart in half. Then, eyes
still tightly closed, Kiril listened for the end. It came
as expected, the rattle surprisingly gentle. Dag Huet was
Suddenly overcome with weariness, Kiril dropped to his
knees, his hands sliding away from the pommel of his sword,
which was stuck firmly into the ground. His eyes opened to
scan the water, confirming that the only ripples came from
He looked back at the boy, feeling a physical pain as he
scanned the angelic face. It hurt to take in. It hurt to
see the water and the blood and the muddy ground. It hurt,
but he looked nonetheless. It hurt, too, to remember the
boyâ€™s words, but he did anyway.
Dag Racho is evil.
Yes, his mind answered. Dag Racho is evil. â€śBut so were
you,â€ť he whispered.
He pushed to his feet, more than weary, but still
determined to give the boy a decent burial. He couldnâ€™t
fault the child for hope, for the naive dream that the
Emperor could be defeated. Perhaps their ruler could be
killed, but not by committing the same sin that had created
the monster in the first place. Nothing good ever came
from joining oneâ€™s heart and mind to a demon.
â€śAll dragonborn are evil,â€ť he said aloud, repeating the
phrase over and over, just as he had at the age of nine
when first dragged to Dag Rachoâ€™s court to pay for his
uncleâ€™s crimes. Then he fell silent, even those words cut
off as he looked at the boy.
Pain welled up inside him again. How he despised himself
for this, for what he had done. But to not act would have
been far worse. So with a grunt of effort, he took the
boyâ€™s sword, stabbed it into the ground and began to use it
as a shovel.#
It was many hours before he finished. He worked
sluggishly, like a tired old man. He buried the boy. He
could do nothing about the dragon, but he made signs
warning passersby that the water had been fouled by
dragon. And then, after it was all over, he left. There
was still one last task for him to achieve.
One more. One more dragonborn to kill. One more child to
murder. One more naive hope to dash. And then it would
all be over.
If heâ€™d had the strength, he would have smiled. As it was,
he could only groan.