by Landon Knepp
– twitter –
One man has vowed to destroy every last dragon, while the other is sworn to protect them at any cost.
“Vaccaro Dragonsbane! Come and face me!” Nossad’s deep, thundering voice echoed through the sun-scorched wasteland, bouncing between the towering monoliths.
His voice had the intensity of a blazing furnace. He stood unmoving, indomitable. He held out his cheret, the double-bladed polearm that had cut down so many enemies over the years. The sight of him would have sent most men fleeing. He was a mountain of a man. Like a golem of chiseled ebony.
But Vaccaro did not flee. He casually looked up from his butchery. Blood like a dark green tar was splattered all over his armor from the corpse of the massive dragon. “The hell’re you blabbering about?” he called back.
“You have slain your last Guardian! We end this now!”
“We both know you can’t stop me. Run on back to your mountain.” Vaccaro gave a dismissive flick of his fingers. “Tell your little friends you couldn’t find me. They’ll still think you’re a big, brave, warrior boy, and we’ll all go on with our lives.”
Nossad knew his enemy was likely correct. He probably would be killed. But he had to try. Even without his armor, Vaccaro was a formidable opponent. With it, he had an aura of invincibility. The plates were a dark charcoal dragon scale. Impenetrable by any human weapon, but as light and flexible as cotton. The viser of his helm was made of serrated foreteeth, jutting outward. Like the deformed snarl of a misshapen dragon.
When he first began slaying the Guardians, at least it could be said that he let no part go to waste. But after he had everything he wanted, he didn’t stop. Now the valley was littered with their rotting remains. Nossad would have liked to chalk Vaccaro’s prowess up to nothing but his armor and weapons…but then, how did he get his first kill?
“If putting an end to you costs my life, so be it,” Nossad called back. “There is no greater honor for an Ov-la-kon than to give his life in service to the Guardians.”
Vaccaro broke into a derisive laughter. “No greater honor than to give your life!” he mocked. “Ha! What a stupid little shit you are.”
Then, abruptly changing the subject, in a very conversational tone, he added, “You ever eat dragon heart? It’ll make you feel ready to take on the world. Gotta be careful though,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s also a runaway afrodesiac. More’an a couple bites and you’ll be knocking on your codpiece for hours.”
Nossad did not dignify the provocations with a response. Instead, he shouted, “Leave now and never return. That is the only way you keep your life.”
Vaccaro went back to nonchalantly harvesting his most recent kill. The dragon’s mouth was propped open by a large rod and Vaccaro was digging into the gums, trying to remove the fangs. “You call these bastards ‘Guardians’. But they’re only guardians to you mountain folk,” he said as he went about his business. “You know what one of these things can do to a village? What they did to my village? My family? There’s only a few dragons left, and I’m gonna kill them all. You’d understand if you’d seen the things I seen.”
Every muscle in Nossad’s body pulsated with a righteous fury. The determination was etched into his face like stone. He took a step forward and twirled his cheret into battle-ready position. “You threaten the Guardians, you answer to the Ov-la-kah! Come greet the darkness!”
A heavy, drawn-out sigh escaped Vaccaro as he finally lifted his head up from his butchery. “You’re really gonna make me kill you, huh?” When Nossad did not reply, he added, “Welp, let’s get it over with.”
He wiped as much of the green blood off the plates of his arm as he could, then drew twin blades from the scabbards at his hips. They were like no swords Nossad had ever seen. Only two feet long, black, and barbed. The fangs of a dragon, he realized. They both hung at Vaccaro’s sides at the end of limp arms, waiting for the Ov-la-kon to make the first move. His posture revealed only boredom.
Nossad charged forward and swung the blade of his cheret at the dragonslayer’s neck, but the blow was easily checked, and Vaccaro spun to the side. The dragon fang came flying at Nossad in a counter-strike, but he blocked the plated arm at the elbow and drove a boot into his opponent’s chest, sending him stumbling back. Vaccaro swung again. Nossad parried, then, in a single motion, spun and rammed his blade into the dragonslayer’s back. The steel bounced off the scaled plate like he was trying to cleave stone with a feather.
As they continued to battle, Nossad landed several more blows, none having the faintest effect. He could feel himself beginning to tire. He could hear heavy breaths echoing from Vaccaro’s helm. The longer the fight went, the more dangerous it became. The Ov-la-kon knew it would take only one slip. One lucky strike could end him.
He swung again at Vaccaro’s neck and missed. With his strength slipping, he took too long to regain his balance, and the fang blade bit into his right shoulder. He dove and rolled to avoid the second blade, then sprang back to his feet. The dragonslayer seemed to be only gaining energy as he charged with a frenzy of attacks. Nossad blocked strike after strike, but was forced down to his knees. Vaccaro reared back and swung down with all his strength. Nossad lifted his cheret horizontally with both hands to check the blow, but the serrated fang ripped straight through the steel haft and was buried into the right side of his chest.
He slumped down as his eyes widened and quivered with shock and pain. His chest was a fountain of red. Vaccaro retrieved his blade and turned his back to return to his butchery.
“Did I not tell you?” he said, shaking his head with annoyance. “You damn, stupid idiot.”
The world around Nossad began to blur. He could feel the life fleeing. His breaths became labored. He prepared to let himself fall to the scorched earth to die. No! he thought. Get up!
He commanded his body as he would have commanded one of his Ov-la-kah. He ordered it to obey. He planted one foot on the ground, used his right hand to steady himself, then planted the other foot. His legs wobbled wildly, but he took a step. He moved like a newborn giraffe, but he stayed upright. Vaccaro turned and saw him.
“Oh, what the living hell!” he shouted with utter exasperation.
He took his blood-soaked fang and drove it into Nossad’s gut. The Ov-la-kon did not even attempt to avoid it. He let it sink into his flesh. But then he grabbed the wrist of Vaccaro’s sword hand with both of his and refused to let him pull it back. Through the dragon-tooth viser, Nossad saw true puzzlement in his opponent’s eyes as he tried to yank his arm free. Nossad reached out and grabbed hold of the viser. The jagged edges of the teeth tore into his hand, but he was past feeling the pain. He pulled the dragon scale helm from Vaccaro’s head and threw it aside.
The face that now stared back looked to still be covered in scales. Over half the flesh was scarred with a deep burn. Scraggly hairs grew out of the few bits of healthy flesh left on his scalp like scattered stonecrops sneaking through the fissures of a crag. There was nothing left of his left ear but the hole.
As he stared at Nossad, his true face exposed for the first time, a hint of fear could be seen working its way in with his arrogant indifference. He continued trying to free his arm from Nossad’s grasp, but the Ov-la-kon held to it with everything he had. Nossad then pulled and lurched forward, driving his forehead straight into what was left of the dragonslayer’s charred nose. Blood exploded out like a crimson firework.
While Vaccaro was off balance, Nossad charged forward, pushing his opponent back, back toward the still-pried-open maw of the slain Guardian. Nossad drove him down onto the exposed fangs. The armor had been pierced, Vaccaro impaled.
“You little shit!” Vaccaro wailed, blood spraying out with every syllable. “You stupid, little bitch!” He squirmed, trying desperately to free himself from the skewer. He roared with frustration. “Bastard! Asshole!” he sobbed.
Nossad rolled off and onto his back, looking up. The sun looked half a mirage as it danced from the visibly radiating heat in the air. Vaccaro gargled and died first. As the last gasp of life was leaving Nossad, he saw the silhouetted wings of a Guardian stretching out like sails, gliding beneath the sun. And in the distance, he heard screaming.