The Dawn Warrior
“You shall be forgotten!” The Dark Sorcerer’s voice amplified by magic and physical tricks echoed around the large chamber.
Chanting, Roxana cast her spell. Bright white light flared as cleansing magic chased away all the darkness and shadows from the room for a brief moment.
The stone chamber was decorated to intimidate and impress with statues of fiendish gargoyles and suits of rusty armor, the bodies of the knights who had come to slay the Sorcerer still inside of them. Mold grew along the stone of the walls and spider webs clung to corners. As if the decay of the Sorcerers soul reflected in his surroundings. The bright red of the warrioress’ hair from under her helmet was the only true color to the room.
She dug the tip of her sword into the floor and leaned against it for balance. She felt the magic of the death curse pass over and her stick like cobwebs to her aura adding another layer to the curses already there. She huffed out a breath. Her special tribladed dagger still dripped dark red with the Sorcerer’s blood dropped from her hand to her thigh.
The sorcerer aged before her eyes, going from a man in the peak of his youth to someone near the end of his life. Roxana’s knowledge of magic was rudimentary at best. Her teachers were those she met on the road that were willing to impart a few tidbits of craft, theory and lore. There were good spells that helped keep people young. They worked by repairing the genetics of the caster. And then there were the spells that this Sorcerer had obviously used, the spells that stole years from others’ lives.
Roxana panted and eyed him. He wasn’t going anywhere. In a few moments, he’d be too infirm to even walk and his magic was spent. He was exhausted as she. Most of his magic had gone to fending her off with offensive spells, the rest broken up by her cleansing spell. The last he’d used was to cast his preemptive death curse.
Fool. She hadn’t been trying to kill him. He’d drawn more of her blood than she’d drawn of his. Though none of her wounds were serious. The only mark upon him a small cut to his arm in order for her to set the cleansing spell upon him.
She shut her eyes and worked to gather some of the dissipating magic in the room. The air was thick with it, but unless she gathered it to replenish her own stores. It would fade away returning to wherever magic went.
The gathering of magic had been one of the few things her initial teachers had taught her, along with the casting of the cleansing spell. She needed to replenish her own magic as she’d spent a great deal, though not most, of it fending off his attacks with what few simple spells she knew. They were small spells and didn’t take a lot of magic, but he had been a greater sorcerer. It had taken a great deal of them to fend him off and get close enough to physically harm him.
“Age spells, nasty things.” A deep voice said behind her.
Roxana turned her head. The tip of a orange and red dragon’s nose jutted over her shoulder to look at the Sorcerer. “Gorlouis,” She said. “What did I tell you?”
Gorlouis snorted, sparks erupted from his nostrils. “There was magic in the walls. This place will come tumbling down soon.” He looked at the Sorcerer. “A fitting tomb for one such as this.” He said. He could feel the magic unraveling as the Sorcerer aged and his magic weakened. Gorlouis was sensitive to such magic in stone and precious metals.
“You’re my only friend,” Roxana snapped at him. She’d told him to wait outside. She didn’t want him to get hurt or killed. “And I’ve told you over and over and over, wait outside.”
Gorlouis took a step back and then sat on his haunches. “I can’t collect the money they owe us.” He reminded her. The villagers thought nothing of him except that he was a horse. They didn’t know he was a dragon.
He was, Roxana had been told, everything that a person thought of when they said dragon. Roughly the size of a large horse, his head equine in shape with a longer jaw. When he opened his mouth he had the sharp tearing teeth of a carnivore. Around his nostrils were protective scales that stood away from his snout and underneath a scaly beard. Between his dog like ears and starting at the crown of his head were a row of hardened short growths under the skin that looked for all the world like a Mohawk. His scales were red and orange and gilded around the edges in actual gold.
He wore a leather harness with a large pouch at his breastbone. He rummaged through this pouch with his one of his front claws that was articulated enough like a human hand that he could hold things and do the same things that most humans could do with it.
He wore a lot of jewelry. Most dragons did, but his jewelry was not as ornamented as others she’d seen, but Gorlouis was young. He hadn’t passed his first five hundred years yet. All of his jewelry was in gold. He had gold caps with rounded ends over his Mohawk spines and gold plated steel sheathes over his talons for their protection. There was more jewelry along the edges of his wings, on the hollow spikes at where the wing bent and over his spearhead shaped tail. He had cuffs on each leg like bracelets and multiple earrings in his ears. It was the extent of his wealth outside of the jewels in his pouch and each piece of jewelry was impregnated with spells.
He pulled out a blue topaz out of his pouch. “Ah, air spells,” He muttered. He put it in the palm of his ‘hand’ and narrowed his golden eyes at it. His eyes were the color of medium colored honey mead and as he worked magic the edges of his iris and pupil glowed bright orange like flames. The topaz began to float above his, light cold blue light radiating from the depths of it.
Roxana finished gathering as much magic as she could. It didn’t make her any less tired, in fact it made her more so. It took as much energy to gather magic as it did to expend it in formed spells. She eyed the topaz. “I could ride you.” She said.
“The saddle is at the campsite.” Gorlouis said in a cheerful tone. “Plus, can you get up?”
She leaned her weight on the sword and tried to get to her feet. She glowered at him. “No.”
Gorlouis gave her a look down his nose. This was why he hadn’t listened to her and come in to help her. He turned back to forming his spell concentrating on the stone.
The sorcerer gasped. They looked at him. He was now an arthritic old man. His black hair now solid white and fell out from his head. His once warm olive skin now dulled and gray looking. His body stilled. His eyes turned cloudy and then the body began to rapidly decompose turning into dirt and dust.
Gorlouis flicked his tail. It might have been more merciful to slit the sorcerer’s throat. That was his opinion at least. He’d voiced it several times during the beginning of their journey. Roxana refused in case there was some chance that they could survive and reform their ways. She let the lack of their dark magic kill them. Invariably they died, he supposed.
Deep within the castle, the stone groaned.
He wrapped the air spell around her and Roxana floated a few feet off the ground. She convulsively grabbed her dagger and held onto it tightly. Gorlouis turned and ran out of the castle at a sprint, ‘dragging’ her behind him with the spell. The topaz floated in front of his chest. Roxana stretched out flat.
Gorlouis ran out of the mountain keep and across the bridge connecting it to the next peak. The bridge crumbled ahead of him, dropping stones the size of houses into the ravine. Gorlouis snapped his wings open and jumped, pumping his wings and gaining height until he found an updraft to glide along. He looked behind him. The castle crumbled, collapsing in on itself and becoming a tumble of rocks along the face of the mountain.
He flew them both to their campsite and landed. He gently floated her down to her bedroll. A quick snort at the fire had it back in flames in an instant. He added a few pieces of wood to it. He held his hand under the topaz and it stopped radiating light and dropped into his palm. Gorlouis put the topaz back into the pouch and settled down across the fire from Roxana.
He could see that she was about to fall asleep still in her armor. There was nothing he could do about it. He might have a form of hands, but he didn’t have the dexterity to remove the chain mail sandwiched in leather and studded with silver. He shrugged. The cleansing ritual always drained his friend. The group of cleansing witches she’d grown up with were always paired with a warrior mage to help care for them. And when she’d left, she’d refused to take one with her. She hadn’t wanted them risking their lives for her and getting caught up in her curse.
“What was the curse?” He asked. Evil Sorcerers in their experience always used death curses.
“To be forgotten,” Roxana murmured.
“Not much of a curse,” Gorlouis said and stretched his head out.
“That’s what I thought.” Roxana said, groaned and set the sword off to the side of her. She put the curse out of her mind.
The blade of her sword was clean, though it vibrated with magic that had been absorbed into it. She sighed and held the tribladed dagger up. Cunningly fit together through magic, it had three blades. When it was stabbed into a body it formed a shape of a y. However, it was a blade meant for swiping not for stabbing. There was an edge of silver, an edge of gold and an edge of crystal, no matter what type of evil magic user she fought, there was always an edge that could draw their blood. The gold edge was covered in blood and it had dripped onto the other two edges.
She shut her eyes. She knew she should clean it. If she let it sit until she was rested, then the blood would be caked on the blade and take three times as long to clean. And if she cleaned it now while it was still wet, it wouldn’t be nearly as much work. She groaned, rolled onto her side and reached for her pack and the cloths she kept in the front pouch.
She winced as the helmet dug into her ear. She worked an elbow underneath her and took it off. Underneath it, her red hair had been bound up into a plaited crown around her head. Her red hair was the first thing most people remembered about her. It was almost the same color of Gorlouis’ scales. It was a bright orange red that wasn’t found in nature except maybe in bird feathers. Humans did not sport bright red hair the color of a fine paint pigment. It marked her as something different, someone cursed.
The rest of her, in her opinion, wasn’t that remarkable. Her eyes were a simple brown. Her pale skin was slightly tanned from their journeys and there were red brown freckles scattered across the tops of her cheeks and over her nose. The only jewelry she wore was a pair of rose gold studs in her ears that she’d had since she was a baby and around her neck was a rose gold chain with a pearl ring flattened into a pendant, a gift from her betrothed. With the helmet gone, Roxana returned to her mission of finding a cloth to clean the dagger.
Gorlouis wrapped his tail around his feet and cocked his head. The castle and bridge still rumbled in the distance as they collapsed. Crows cawed their delight. He could feel the malevolent magic that had taken root in the very soil of the surrounding land, twisting it into something dark and scary, unraveling. In a few years time, the land would return to normal. The shuddering of the mountain should hopefully tell the villagers that they had been successful. He hoped they actually paid. He didn’t like it when they refused to pay. He closed his eyes.
Roxana finished wiping down the blades and she sheathed the dagger checking to make sure that each edge of the blade was in its special slot in order to keep them clean and protected. She glanced over at Gorlouis. The dragon appeared to be sleeping.
She loosed her sword belt and wrapped herself in her blankets. Not even bothering to take the time or energy it would take to get out of her armor, mostly because she couldn’t. Lethargy turned her limbs into lead weights. She shut her eyes and fell asleep to the crackling of the fire and the bellows of Gorlouis’ breathing.
The next morning, Roxana awoke and sat up. She rubbed her eyes and checked for Gorlouis. He was gone, but the fire was blazing hot and a pot of water bubbled on it. He couldn’t have been gone long. She stretched, stood up and leaned over to touch her toes. Hair fell over her shoulder and hit the ground. She groaned as her muscles stretched and pulled and then stood up.
She picked up her sword and unpinned the braid around her head, holding it up. Despite being pinned to her head and the ends tucked away, her hair had grown another six inches during the night. With a roll of her eyes and a mutter about curses, Roxana unbound the ends, hacked it off with the edge of her sword and threw the excess hair into the fire as she did every morning. She unbraided her hair and then plaited it close to the nape of her neck again, knowing it was useless to try and keep it tight as it’d be loose again by sundown.
She picked the pot off the fire and made herself a cup of peppermint tea and used the rest to make a small batch of porridge. Only enough for her, Gorlouis didn’t eat porridge.
She started to eat directly out of the pot.
Gorlouis landed with a thump, the back draft of his wings kicking up every stray piece of dust and grass and tossing it about. The skin over his round belly was tight. He’d hunted well. He flapped his wings a few times and sat. “You should tell the villagers that there is good hunting here about. The deer have almost overrun the place. If they don’t get the population down there will be problems with bears next winter, if they don’t have problems already.”
“That sounds usual,” Roxana said, her voice dry. When evil magicians took over lands with forests attached, the villagers started refusing to hunt the lands. At least, Gorlouis never went without a good meal at the end of their jobs. “I’ll mention it to the headman.”
“I hate to see children starving.” Gorlouis said and then reached into his pouch. He pulled out a tiger-eye gem this time and cocked his head. The tiger-eye looked like it came alive from the inside out. It did not glow but it became more than what it was, not needing light to reflect off the bands of gold and brown.
One moment there was a red dragon sitting across the fire from where Roxana scraped the porridge out of her pot, the next moment there was a large brown horse of no particular breeding or lineage, but with fine enough looking lines that he looked moderately expensive. He wasn’t a cavalry horse but he wasn’t a knight’s destrier either. He still wore a harness around the front of his chest and earrings in his ears.
There was only Gorlouis was able to do to disguise what he truly was. Glamour was not his strongest magic and he couldn’t change his appearance into anything that was larger or smaller than he was. He turned his head to check the glamour and make sure that he was adequately disguised and his real tail wasn’t coming out of the rump of the horse or something. He shook his body and tried to settle the itch in his skin. It would go away as soon as he stopped actively thinking about the spell. The tiger-eye was returned to his harness pouch by magic.
Roxana finished her meal, went over to a nearby stream to rinse out the pot. She brought water over and dashed it on the fire, extinguishing it. She packed the very few things they’d taken out of their packs up, rolled up her bedding and picked up the saddle. She saddled him and Gorlouis gave her advice on the fit and feel of it as he always did.
The saddle really was nothing more than a small riding pad that would fit in front of his wings. His wings were set far enough back that she could ride in front of them and allow him free movement, but far enough forward that the muscles used to drive them still attached to his breastbone.
She glanced around the campfire, nodded as it looked like they had everything. She mounted Gorlouis and he turned down the mountain towards the village.
The village looked large but the population was small. There were entire buildings missing thatched roofs and even the ones that were occupied had holes in their roofs and boarded up windows. Roxana rode through the outskirts of the town until she reached the middle.
A child saw her and dashed away towards the largest and best repaired building. Voices rose and fell from inside it. There was a lull and more voices rose. Roxana shifted her weight in Gorlouis’ saddle and waited. A few minutes later, instead of making her come into them, as she suspected, the headmen and the villagers poured out of the building and came to her.
Gorlouis stood still.
The headman approached cautiously. “Warrioress.” He said. “We expected that you were perished.” He said cautiously. “There was a great fell light on the mountain and the ground shook.”
“The only one who perished was the Dark Sorcerer you sent me to deal with, Headman,” Roxana said and kept her voice pleasant. “His evil magic was stripped from him and the weight of the stolen years returned to him in full. He turned to dust and his stronghold crumbled. This land is now safe for you and your children. There is good hunting in the woods that he tainted.”
“And his evil creatures?” One of the woman asked. “What of them?”
“You only promised me payment to deal with the Sorcerer.” Roxana said. “His creatures may die without his magical support or they may not, but it is no concern of mine. Your Lord should be able to deal with them now that the Sorcerer is gone.”
The villagers talked among themselves. They shouted at her and accused her of either lying or leaving them without protection from the monsters. Women grabbed their children close and held them.
Roxana waited without changing her expression. They were afraid. She didn’t blame them. They had been afraid for a very long time.
“You can’t leave the job half done!”
“What of our children!”
“You can’t leave us unprotected!”
Roxana raised her voice. “My job was to destroy the Sorcerer, which I have done!” She looked the Headman in the eyes. “For which, you promised me payment.”
He nodded. “We did.”
She raised an eyebrow at him. The fee that she had requested was not exorbitant. Given what she had done, it was far less than what she could have asked. She presumed that there was gold in the ruins of the Sorcerer’s castle. Not that she would touch it. Gold held magic better than stone and wood. It was probably cursed. It would take another magician to take the curses off again and she was no curse breaker. It would be far more likely that the curses would transfer to her.
She didn’t need more curses to add to the collection she already had. If the people here knew there was gold in the castle and were willing to excavate for it, they would probably come out far ahead of what she was asking of them.
The headman turned and went back into the community building. The crowd murmured, restless and they stole long glances at her. Roxana ignored them. The headman returned with a leather pouch. He passed it up to her. She hefted the weight of it and opened it, spilling the coins into her hand.
Gorlouis turned his head and nudged her knee. He could tell through the special affinity that dragons had with treasure that the amount was correct.
She nodded at the headman. “My thanks.” She said. She glanced over the crowd. The mood of it didn’t feel safe enough to her to supply here. She nodded at the headman and nudged Gorlouis with her heel. He turned and trotted out of the opposite side of town.
He waited until they were under the trees again. “That went well.”
“There weren’t any torches or pitchforks.” Roxana said. “But if they’d had them to hand they might have thought about it.” She tucked the pouch under her armor. “I was thinking.”
“That phrase always worries me.” Gorlouis muttered.
“We could swing by the local Lord’s manor and tell him that the Sorcerer has been taken care of,” She said.
Gorlouis interrupted. “Without telling him that we did it and thus denying ourselves an opportunity to make more money.”
“Who is we, dragon?” Roxana kicked his side.
Gorlouis yelped. “Ow!”
Roxana ignored it. She knew he was too tough to hurt. “And that the woods need clearing.”
“And then we will be monster hunting all winter,” The dragon disguised as a horse turned his head to look at her. “And depriving the villagers of a necessary source of food. It is not our problem, let the Headman take care of any messages.”
Roxana decided to tease him. “We could use a place to hole up.”
“It is your twenty-first birthday soon,” Gorlouis snapped. “Or have you forgotten that this is the last year that the curse laid upon you at your birth has to take effect and it will take effect unless we find the witch that laid it and get her to remove it.”
Her temper flared. “I haven’t forgotten, a pox upon you, Gorlouis, I was jesting.”
“We might have found this dread Sorceress whom we don’t even know the name of sooner if you didn’t keep accepting jobs to take out males.”
“We need to eat.” Roxana argued as if they hadn’t argued this one hundred times before.
“Bah, bring logic into it.” He whisked the horsetail. “Where to next?”
“The next village and food.” Roxana told him. “Perhaps, they will have news that isn’t over a year old.”
Gorlouis snorted again. “A high hope.” He muttered. “I swear we’ve cleansed every evil witch and sorcerer for five hundred miles.”
“I doubt that,” Roxana’s tone was dry. “If we had, we would have found her already. She can’t be more than a few weeks from the palace. Not even magic can reduce travel times that much and if she’d flown there on a turned beast, someone would have said.” She clenched her hands on the reins that Gorlouis allowed her, though they were not attached to any sort of halter or bridle, but to his harness. Anger stiffened her spine and her resolve. She would not be subjected to this curse. She would find the witch and have it removed.