At the centre of every star is a dragon, and when they wake they will tear the universe apart…
Echoes | Helm
After billions of years of slumber, the dragons that slept within the molten core of every star began to wake, loosened from their sleep by forbidden dreams of freedom, yearning for the taste of vengeance.
As they heaved their vast eyelids the dragons flexed their pre-eternal muscles, battling the gravity that had bound them into the stars. They hauled savage jaws that shuddered with torpor, and raised their tongues to whisper along the horizon. As more dragons awoke, shaking the millennia from their limbs the whispers susurrated into a rumbling crescendo, then gathered into a roar that hurled across the universe. Throughout the sweeping regions of space suns began to die spectacularly, their silent final flames despatched into dark labyrinths, by the famished creatures of havoc.
If the dragons could see as we do, they would notice the tallest mountain that peered back at them from the centre of the Plain of Breath and Death. On top of the snow-covered peak, a small hut perched like the hawk that bore its master’s name. Below it on the Northern side was a cliff, facing into the seas of endless night, and on the Southern slopes a snaking path led down to distant villages long populated by creatures who roamed in cycles of thousands of years.
The Necromancer, hooded and cloaked in the cold, stoked the paltry fire at his grate and cast incantations into the smoke. Accompanying him on the meagre chairs was a young man of some thirty years. Together they peered into the fire and tracked the images of disappearing suns, far out to the edges of the cosmos.
“It is time Edric. We must do what we can, otherwise all is lost.”
“If you say so.” Edric shuddered, his stomach churning with fear.
The Necromancer placed a bony hand on the shoulder of the younger man. “You knew this day might come.” To himself he said, “Oh why did it have to be this one, this pale boy?”
“Doesn’t make it any easier.” Edric’s head lolled disconsolately and he scratched absently at the floor. He could not believe this mythic ending had come in his lifetime.
“Have I not prepared you?” The Necromancer looked at his companion through kindly eyes, then stood up, brushing flecks of soot from his arms.
“Of course, just as you’ve prepared so many of my predecessors.” Edric pushed himself from the rock, and together they stamped out the fire.
“Well, always best to be ready.”
“You’ve never told me what happened to them.” Edric nudged open the door of the hut.
“No need, they all died peacefully in their sleep.” The Necromancer sighed. “I hoped the same fate for you, of course.” He stopped himself, aware that Edric’s back had stiffened.
“Do you not think I’m ready?” The slight young man swiveled round, his eyes narrowed and wary.
“Oh no, I’m certain you’ll be fine. Nothing to worry about.” The Hooded one motioned Edric forward, pushed the door closed with his foot, and out they stepped to the edge of the cliff.
Before them lay the gorgeous twilight. Skies threaded with pinks and greys.
“See, the magnificence in our destruction.” The distant skies broke with flashes of light that burst brightly, each dying swiftly, to be replaced by another, and another.
“I didn’t imagine it would be so beautiful.”
“Well, once the universe stops growing outwards the pull from the source become more apparent. And these lights, for every one, the edge of the universe tears, weakening the dark matter, making it more vulnerable. In this weakness of universe, there is beauty too.”
“Well, it will reach us in a few days, then start speeding up until it floods back into its source. Then there will be no universe, just a pinprick, a very dense pinprick.”
“And then what?” The winds battered at them. They had reached the top of a series of stone steps that began just below the tip of the Northern face of the cliff.
“Well, it depends who you are inclined to follow: the scientists, the believers, or the atheists.” The Necromancer ambled behind Edric, as they wound their way down the long, tight spiral staircase that descended out and round through the rock.
“I suppose we must try to deal with it.” Edric murmured, his steps feeling nervous and unsteady.
“Indeed. We must.”
Over the next hour they fell to silence, sinking rapidly, as the darkening skies flashed more frantically, lights exploding and falling, accelerating like a fearful heartbeat.
“So, nearly there.” The Necromancer placed an encouraging hand onto Edric’s shoulder. They walked down and down the steep, winding stairs. The land below began to rush up to them.
“It’s years since I was here.” Edric allowed his fingers to trail across the rockface as he looked back up the long fall from the top.
“Aye, you were very small, almost a baby.”
They reached the base, but the stairs continued, so they followed the steps down further. Eventually, as the land above seemed to close across their heads, minerals embedded in the walls illuminating their passage, they came to a halt.
“Here.” The Necromancer moved ahead of Edric. “We must be careful.”
“The Tomb of the Emperor.” Edric read the inscription above the ancient door that loomed from the eerie, dusty air.
“Actually it says, ‘Dragon Emperor’.” he tapped on the door. “Solid but not impregnable, to us at least. Can you help me?”
“Of course.” Edric coughed, the dank air oozing into his lungs. Together they forced the Necromancer’s staff into the hole at the centre of the door, then shoved it forwards.
The door shifted.
“Place your right hand door, but help me pull with your left. The Necromancer watched slyly and pushed his fingers into the gap.
“Here, it’s coming.” Edric forced his fingers in too and they pulled the stone portal back enough for them to slide through.
“Ok.” Edric was anxious. The light from the opening a few feet above their heads leaked in, and fell across a simple stone plinth, on which rested an ornate helmet. Its wings shimmered in the faint glow, and seemed emboldened.
“You know what must be done.” The Necromancer rested on his staff and motioned Edric forward, sighing quietly to himself.
Eric took a cautious step. “The helm of the Dragon Emperor. Used only once, at the beginning of the universe to the restrain the dragons, to command them.”
‘Indeed, something like that. I remember it being a little more complicated.” The Necromancer stamped his foot slightly. “Please, your majesty, place the helmet of your ancestors on your head. The universe can wait no longer.”
Edric reached forward and lifted the helmet, its golden wings creating breathy sighs in the air.
As he placed it onto his head, he shrieked. The sounds of the land creaked into his head, like a chasm opening, and thousands of images rushed at him, of dragons and darkness, coruscating light: burning, destruction, chaos.
“I can see them, the stars; they’re dying.” His voice grew, “you have been patient indeed, Necromancer.” Edric’s voice filled the cavern, seemed to wrestle with its confines then burst open the tomb, blasting wide the land above. Tonnes of earth and rock shot into the air as Edric expanded, the helmet swinging like the head of a mad bull. Edric’s eyes were now wild, and blind, casting out. He roared. The mountain behind him shook, but still he grew and his voice split into a thousand winds. He reared above the mountain and strained forward raising his voice so high and so far that it could be heard across the universe.
“So, we join, again.” His gigantic hands pummelled the air as he leapt up and strode forward, his colossal feet striking at the landscape of Breath and Death.
And as he ran towards the horizon, his massive form expanding still, and the universe shook with his motion. As his rhythm increased, as every pounding step found the death beat of the stars, soon the motion of the dying suns, and the fervour of Dragon Emperor became one.
The Necromancer, crawled from the boulders of the wrecked tomb and covered his ears to the sound of the grim, determined laugh, the ancient battle cry of the Dragon Emperor that rang out facross the billions of years, back to the birth of the universe.
“Welcome back, Lord. I didn’t recognise you.” The Necromancer smiled as the vast figure of the Dragon Emperor vaulted from the Plains and launched his fury at the waking dragons.[end]
Text, image, audio © 2015 Jake Jackson, thesefantasticworlds.com. Thanks to Frances Bodiam, Elise Wells (for the end credits to podcast links for iTunes and Stitcher), Logic Pro, the Twisted Wave Recorder App, Apogee Condenser microphone, Rotring pens and inks, Daler Rowney acrylic ink, and Alfons Schmidt’s fantastic Notebook app.
More next week…
There are a few more stories in this series:
Here’s a related post, 5 Steps to the SF and Fantasy Podcasts
And a post on Myths and Legends.