On Warm Sands

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
A wanderer encounters an old entity during his journey through the shifting sands.

Submitted: July 18, 2017

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Submitted: July 18, 2017

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On Warm Sands

With two tired steps he had reached the edge of the cliff, the soles of his feet worn, burnt by sun-touched earth. His heavy breathing, the only sound keeping him company mere moments ago, now gave way to distant rumblings - heralds of a distant storm. Without warning the wind awoke, scattering warm-colored sand all around him. It bellowed, and with increasing ferocity began to replace the air in his chest; the gold and ruby specs latched onto his lungs. He coughed, but the wind did not hear it. It began to gather and swirl, surmounting his vision, until only a single column of wind and air stood - towering over the tallest of cliffs. Weakly he brought his hands in front of himself, just in time to buffer his face from the elemental explosion. Scattered sand now began to fall, like scorched snowflakes, each one singeing his body - burning through flesh and cloth alike.

Then he saw it: giant, brass wings, unfurling towards the sky, each one covered with rows of polished, brass scales - as if created by a master smith. A long, serpentine neck uncoiled itself, revealing a jagged head - almost armored - and allowed its massive eyes to settle on the man before them.

His parched and cracked lips did not move, but fell silent and as still as his limbs. In the midst of this chaos a slow, gravelly voice arose, penetrating his mind.

“Hhmh-hhmh-hhmh,” it chuckled, its maw motionless. “So stands before me, a man without equals; a paragon of his kind.” Each word was a spear, sinking deeper and deeper into the man’s chest.

“Broken, brittle, and ash-worn. His once chiseled features now sunken into the recesses of his face - a spirit once haughty now locked away inside the deepest and darkest corners of his mind. Once mighty, he is now old, his body sore from his throne. A lord of men, come hunting he who is king amongst kings.” The creature edged closer, now encompassing him.

The sun had begun to set, but the creature’s aura radiated such intense heat that cold could not slink and wallow even within the confines of shadows. It moved its snake-like head within inches of the man, examining him, and exhaled a breath tinged with ash and sulfur. The man heard the slow crackling of skin, inhaled the smell of burning hair, and remained unmoved. It arched its head, keeping one eye on him while the other scoured the heavens.

“The stars are beautiful,” the voice returned. “We would sit underneath them - my old friend and I, years ago, when it was my wisdom he sought.” The dragon raised its head up towards the sky, its eyes tracing the wild colors that streaked across it. “I had shared with him my vision, but what he painted with his hands… That painting, was entirely his own,” it said, with a hint of sadness in its ethereal voice.

The man swallowed harshly, the pain visible on his face - even underneath the dirt and dust. His lips trembled for a moment before he regained his composure.

“I wonder,” it said absentmindedly, “if he had always turned a deaf ear towards me. Did my words ring hollow, were my messages too cryptic - my words untrue? Had he made up his mind from the first moment, and simply indulged my ramblings?”

By this time the sun had slipped away fully, allowing the stars to take up its mantle. The dragon’s scales had lost their luster in the darkness, but their warmth remained the same. It sat itself next to the man, eyes gazing ever skyward. The man too sat, though not by choice; his legs had used up the last of their strength, and he no longer felt them ache. The general numbness of his body had set in, leaving only his eyes not devoid of movement.

Several moments of silence went by before the dragon’s voice once again broke through. “Do you remember what it was like,” its eyes glanced at the man beside it, “searching for knowledge?” It let out a humph, as the corner of its mouth pulled back into what appeared to be a slight grin. “Getting a small glimpse of it - a slight taste… But always on its heels, never at its side - never in front. And the happiness that came with it?” It arched its head towards the man.

“Yes,” the man said, in a voice younger than his appearance.

“But man is rarely satisfied with the hunt alone; to him, knowledge unapplied is preferable to knowledge unknown. And so he wades through old tomes, in poorly lit rooms, consuming the words of dead men. And so the eye, in seeking truth, robs itself of sight. So too does man rob himself of youth, in hopes that his name lives on.”

After that the dragon fell silent for a long while, and the wind began to fill in the space of silence. The man’s mind began to drift halfway between the waking world and sleep, but he forced his eyes open with the little unspent energy he had left. When even that began to fail, the dragon’s voice roused him.

“After you had slain my kin I secluded myself out of confusion. Had I done something vile against you, I wondered; crossed some bounds we had set up - ones that my mind let slip? But I quickly realized that that bile, that corruption that had eaten away at your mind, it was always there, at the root of your heart. If only I had torn it out then,” it said, almost spitting the words out.

“When you had bloodied your steel, and I came to you, do you remember what I had said to you?”

The man held the words at the edge of his lips but had neither strength nor conviction to speak them out loud. So he swallowed them, and like daggers they tore at his throat, but he retained his silence.

The dragon took no notice and pressed on. “I told you that, broken-winged, dull-clawed, and toothless - I would outlive you. And be it sword, pestilence, or old age that took you, I would be there to witness it; to see my misplaced trust put to rest.”

“You won't kill me,” the man said, his voice now but a whisper against the wind.

The dragon hesitated. “No, old friend, I won’t kill you.”

The dragon and the man sat there, blanketed by wind. When the sun had extended its reach to all parts of the visible sky the dragon stirred, brushing off the sand that had accumulated on its body overnight. It unfurled its wings and gazed at the mountains at the edge of the rolling sands. To its right, the body of the man sat slumped over, his eyes shut and his mouth in the form of a smile. As the dragon flew off, the man fell backwards, closed eyes staring towards the light blue ceiling of the world. His body, though warm moments ago, now began to take up the natural cold, his hands clutching a dagger.



© Copyright 2017 Opheleus. All rights reserved.

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