Aphelion Issue 255, Volume 24
October 2020
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Den of the Drake

by William Joseph Roberts

Draven shouldered his way through the heavy dungeon door that all but disintegrated on impact. What remained of the door hung defiantly from rusted spikes of iron that were driven into the damp dungeon walls. The rotted, moss-covered leather hinges creaked as it swung to a stop.

“By the Gods, what is that stink?” Draven brushed rotted bits of wood from himself and looked about.

“If we find more than a rusted hunk of steel, we’ll be lucky,” Callum said. The young bard strode cautiously into the chamber, torch held high.

“It’s just as the rest of the keep. See there,” Draven said, pointing. Stepping closer, he kicked the chest plate of an armored corpse. “Recently deceased fools with nothing left of value to pick clean.”

“The old tinker at the tavern had mentioned a band of warriors seeking fame and riches.”

“Soldiers of fortune,” Draven growled, then spat.

“You say that as if we were better men.”

“Better or not, I am only angry that they arrived before us.”

“What is that?” Callum swung the torch about, moving deeper into the chamber. “There. Are those chests?”

“For the love of the Great Mother, they are.” Draven sighed. “Every last one of them shattered and missing their contents.” He kicked at a pile of debris.

“Maybe not all of them,” Callum said. Crouching, he reached for something beneath the remains of a heavy banded chest, then stood. He flipped an Angaran copper, catching it with ease, then rolled it across his knuckles. “It may not be riches, but we won’t leave empty-handed.” Callum smiled.

Draven laughed and shook his head. “That tiny morsel is worth little more than a smile and a nod in any tavern from here to the Grumaerian coasts.”

“Even so, the retelling of our heroic adventure against these poor dead souls should fetch us a few silver at the next inn.” Callum laughed then cleared his throat. “Behold, my lords and ladies…”

Draven froze at a sound from farther back into the dark. He motioned for Callum to hand him the torch, then pointed at the bard’s ears. His gaze shifted about, searching the dark as a predator stalking its prey. He stepped cautiously across the damp cobblestone floor. Heavy banners of deep blue hung from the high ceiling to the floor and were opened enough to reveal an obscured passage beyond. Glancing back toward Callum he nodded in the direction of the banners then moved ahead silently. The stink of the place that threatened to overwhelm him reminded him of a serpent’s nest when opened in winter. Cautious of the torches' flame, Draven extended the light ahead between the fabric banners, revealing a domed alcove. The center of the antechamber was dominated by a massive dark and unmoving mound. Iridescent reds and purples played across the object’s surface amid flickering shadows cast by the torches light. The muscular curves of a large beast seemed to appear from the dark surface as Draven stepped further into the guarded chamber, stopping short at the sight of three, partially gnawed and armored bodies and a sword tip protruding through the top of the beasts head.

“One can only hope that the poor bastards had escaped their bodies before the beast began its feast,” Draven said. His breath hung in his throat at the sound of movement upon stone. “Ready yourself and back out slowly,” he whispered over his shoulder.

No sooner had he drawn his axe from the holder at his back than the mound of black scaly flesh shifted as a smaller beast emerged. It sprang forth with the speed of a panther, leaping to cross the distance of the chamber without effort.

Draven dove, rolling to the right. He spun on his heels once he regained his footing and struck at the beast with a backswing of his blade.

The beast leapt back, clinging to the wall. Viscous mucus dripped from rows of needle-like teeth as it let out a growling hiss that reverberated throughout the chamber.

“Let’s me and you dance, beast,” Draven said with his own growl. He brandished the blade from side to side in a whirling twirl before he leapt and spun, bringing it round in a wide and deadly arc.

Leaping backward, the beast bounded to the floor then off the opposite wall before pouncing upon Draven from behind.

Draven collapsed from the weight of the thing. With all of his might he shifted beneath the creature; hooking it under one leg he forced it to roll. Sliding around on the smooth-scaled thing, he gripped it about the neck, and, digging his heels into its flanks, wrenched its head back with the entirety of his being.

The beast shook and roared through gasping breaths. Draven’s heart pounded in his ears as he strained, fearing his arms would pull free from their sockets.

“Hold it still!” Callum charged forward, sliding the edge of his blade across the beast’s exposed neck as he sprinted past.

It bucked and writhed to escape Draven’s death grip. Gurgled gasps escaped from the opening in the creature’s neck. It coughed and choked amid frothy black spurts of ichor from the gash as it fought to stay upright. Finally, its strength waned as it succumbed to its wounds and crossed the veil into eternal darkness.

Draven dropped the beast, letting it fall to its side. He flexed, then shook his arms to get the blood flow to resume.

“How much do you suppose a tale such as this will be worth at the next inn?”

Callum pondered. “At least a meal and a drink if we’re lucky,” he said.

“Good!” Draven laughed as he picked up his axe. “After a fight like that, I could use both. Let us leave this place and be on our way!”

2020 William Joseph Roberts

In a previous lifetime, William Joseph Roberts was an F-15 mechanic and Staff Sergeant in the United States Air Force. He has traveled the world and experienced many things in his few years. During this lifetime, he has been called a Jack of all trades, a Renaissance man, and an insane squirrel wrangler by his peers.

Since his enlistment ended, he has pursued careers as an industrial and architectural designer, design engineer, and now, eclectic writer of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and any other genre that the evil mind squirrels demand he write in.

William Joseph Roberts currently resides in the quaint southern town of Chickamauga, Georgia with his loving wife, three freaky-smart nerd children (The Bunnies), and a small pack of fur babies.

Find out more at www.williamjosephroberts.com

Find more by William Joseph Roberts in the Author Index.

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