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Codar and the curse of the dragon's egg

Part One

 

It was quite the scandal to be born without magic. Codar’s family hid his condition for as long as possible. They insisted he feigned illness before all significant events to excuse his non-attendance. Where attendance was mandatory despite any ailment, his father conjured an electrical storm so great even the most powerful witches and wizards found their glamours on the fritz. One year, a servant was whipped continuously for three days after the Queen’s frown lines materialised halfway through the king’s 50th birthday celebrations. He wasn't to blame. He wasn’t even magical, just a Prolet that happened to be filling the Queen's glass when her face cracked. 

 

It took ten years for the King to recognise that this inclement weather always seemed to fall on his birthday and that this could not be a coincidence. On the day Cody turned 11, his Father was sentenced to death for treason, and he was finally outed as a Prolet. 

 

Codar and his mother were cast out of the Kingdom on the day of Lord Mayhew’s execution. They were lucky, the King proclaimed, that they were not punished for treason too. Of course, Codar knew better than to believe this was mercy for mercy’s sake. He might have been young, but he wasn’t stupid. His mother had made sure they would live. The King ensured his part of the bargain would be so that death would have been a less cruel fate.

 

He thought back to those early years in exile. They were helpful reminders of why he was doing the unthinkable now. With every step he took through the relentless blizzard, he thought of his mother’s tears that flowed freely at night when she thought he slept. The nights huddled on the forest floor with nothing but a blanket of leaves between them and the biting cold. He thought of the sound of the howling wolves and the grunt of a nearby bear and was still thankful that these creatures never stumbled upon them. Then, of the dilapidated cottage that his mother worked so hard to make a home. And, occasionally, through all these memories, his mother’s face would float before him. She wore the same look as when he showed her what he could do. After everything, that look and the final words that she spoke to him haunted him the most. 

 

His journey ended at the mouth of an enormous cave; the thing living inside would be almost as tall and wide as the opening itself.  The soft, rhythmic rumbling inside let him know that the dragon was home and asleep. The question now was whether to wait for it to leave on a hunt or hope that his feet were soft enough to sneak in and out undetected…

Should Codar:

Wait until the dragon leaves?  - 67% (winning option)

Sneak in while the dragon sleeps? - 33%

Part Two

Codar’s quest for vengeance was years in the making - what was a few more hours? He crouched behind a large boulder to the right of the cave, carefully positioning himself to ensure he was not visible. Dragons were known for their keen eyesight - any hint of an intruder and he would be toast. Time passed, measured only by the burning sensation in Codar’s calves. The long wait allowed the reek of his hard-worn travelling gear to nestle in his nostrils, and he was grateful that a sense of smell was something dragons were thought to lack.  

 

Finally, he heard the dragon stir - a series of low grumbles followed by a flash of flame - the tips of which sparked out of the mouth of the cave. Codar shuddered. He’d been thinking of giving up his vigil just moments before. As the dragon emerged, he folded further into himself, cursing his unnatural height. He’d expected the beast to be huge, but not so enormous that it struggled to exit the cave, causing a small avalanche. It took Codar all his willpower not to bolt as large, deadly rocks showered around him, one missing his head by inches. 

 

The dragon let out a final thunderous roar before taking flight, leaving its nest unguarded. A dragon didn’t take long to find food; Codar needed to move fast. He lept over the boulder and ran straight into the cave. With no light to guide his way, Codar’s speed diminished as he descended deeper into the dark. He began to shuffle along the wall, treading carefully to avoid wayward rocks and sneaky wormholes. He almost lost his footing at the mouth of one hole - causing the rubble under his feet to slip into the void. He never heard them find the ground below.

 

As he travelled on, a glimmer of light appeared ahead. With each step, it grew brighter, the grimness of the cave becoming more visible, as did the ground in front of him. He moved away from the wall of the cavern and towards the centre. As he clambered up a mound of rubble towards the heart of the nest, he tried not to think of the shapes that moulded to the soft, thin leather soles of his boots. Smooth, oddly shaped things that could not only be stone. It was when he lost his footing and scrambled forward for balance that he faced the truth. His feet crushed bone. Human and animal alike. His hand caught his balance upon a small, smooth skull. The victim would have been barely a toddler. Holding back the bile rising in his throat, Codar moved on until the light was so bright that looking directly at it would have seared his sight. 

 

In the nest lay a single egg. It was larger than Codar anticipated but would squeeze into his backpack if he abandoned his other supplies.  He removed his jacket and threw it over the egg, dampening but not fully diminishing the light. As he lifted the egg, careful not to touch the thing with his bare hands, he felt a rush of triumph. Few had tried to steal a dragon's egg before. None had survived. With the egg safely nestled in his bag, he began the slow scramble down and back to the cavern's edge - using the wall once more as a guide. Halfway back, the steady beat of wings began to echo through the cave. Codar stilled. He guessed that he had about 100 more steps to go. At his current pace, a face-to-face with the fearsome beast was inevitable. He needed to run. Or hide.

Should Codar...

Run? (67%)

Hide? (33%)

 

Part Three

How long would it be before the dragon left again if he hid? What if the thing found him. It wouldn’t hesitate. It’s young are fireproof; he is not. No - he had to run. Run and hope that his feet would find the way.

 

Codar broke into a sprint, his feet barely touching the ground as he raced through the cave as if the lightest tread would avoid a drop into the abyss below.  He reached the entrance as the dragon swooped down, preparing to land. Codar looked around frantically. There must be somewhere to hide in here. To burst out of the cave now would be certain death. To the left of the entrance was a wormhole. Cody bolted for it and eased himself down, praying that the protruding rocks he held onto would hold his weight. 

 

The dragon landed on the ledge just outside the cave. Codar was surprised at how graceful it was; he had expected more of a collision. Nevertheless, the sheer size of the thing caused the mountain to shudder. He could hear the snow and rocks above shift at the disturbance. His left foothold trembled, knocking Codar off balance. His grip tightened, the sharp stones tearing into his skin. 

 

The beast began its awkward shuffle back into the cave, grunting at the effort. Codar wondered why it didn’t relocate to a larger cave. There weren’t that many dragons left; it probably had a lot of empty caverns to choose from. But the magical folk knew where those were, which is why they were empty in the first place. It might be cramped and uncomfortable, but it was safe. It was home. Codar could understand that. The vibrations caused little movement in the wormhole and Codar held fast to the side until the dragon passed. Carefully, he reached up and grabbed for the nearest rock hold. His hand, slick with blood, slipped as he tried to grab on and down he fell. 

 

Codar flailed as he descended, his hands grabbing at whatever they could to stop his fall. With each attempt, his grip slid over the protruding rocks as if he were nothing more than water. It was the backpack that saved him, the loop at the top snagging on a thin jut of stone. It held long enough for Codar to hug the wall and hold on. He looked up. He could still see the light from the entrance above him and guessed at a 100-foot drop. He couldn’t see what was below him. By the time he climbed back up, the dragon would know of his thievery. It could be waiting for him. It was too dangerous. But climbing down into the abyss was perhaps just as deadly. He hesitated, stuck between a rock and a hard place, unable to decide what to do next.

Which way?

Up or… (0%)

Down? (100%)

Part Four

He couldn’t chance a confrontation with the dragon; he knew that. No one without magic had faced a dragon and survived. No one with magic had faced a dragon and survived alone. At least he had some chance of survival by climbing down into whatever chamber existed below. It couldn’t be bottomless, he figured. And with that reasoning, he began his slow, shaky descent into the unknown.

The climb was agonisingly slow, his hands screaming in pain with every scrape against the sharp stones. He lost his grip more than once, bracing for deadly impact as he slipped, but always managed to find a hold somewhere. The channel narrowed as he descended further into the darkness - by the time he reached the end, he was more concerned with getting stuck than falling. The tunnel opened out into a cavern. In the dark, Codar couldn’t tell how big it was or how far the fall would be to the ground. But there were no other choices left as his feet dangled in the stale, black air. With a deep breath and eyes squeezed shut, his hands released from the mouth of the tunnel. The fall was painful - the ground rough and hard - but it wasn’t long. With a quick, blind assessment of his body, Codar ascertained that nothing was broken. He carefully removed the bag from his back, the small room illuminating as he lifted out the dragon’s egg. He moved it around the room, looking for an escape. There were two tunnels in the room. One appeared to descend further down into the Earth, the other back up. Codar could not determine which was more likely to lead to an exit. The path down could well lead to the bottom of the mountain. The path up could lead back to the cave, and the dragon. He shuddered at the thought of facing that furious beast. But how far into the Earth did the other path lead? Could the path down ultimately lead to his grave - lost forever under the mountain?

 

One thing was clear: he couldn’t sit here forever deciding on a path. His supplies sat in the egg’s nest - he wouldn’t last long without food and water. As he approached the path down, the entire chamber rumbled. Codar hunched over the egg as the ceiling began to rain rubble. Dust swept up off the floor, depositing into Codar’s lungs until he couldn’t breathe. He didn’t even notice the cracks appearing in the floor until it was too late. As a mighty roar split through the earth above, the ground below split too - dropping Codar and the egg out of the chamber. 

 

*Hours later*

 

The smell of damp earth stuck in Codar’s nostrils. He blinked his eyes open, surprised that he could. Surprised that he was still alive. He pushed himself up, the mud from the riverbank sticking to his face, urging him to stay put. He was tempted to give in, to lie back down and let the wilderness take him. The journey so far had been so long, so tiring. He just wanted to rest. But he knew he couldn’t. Not until he defeated the King. As his senses returned, he realised he could not see the dragon’s egg. He held it as if it were his child during the fall, gripped so tight that it almost seared through his skin. How could he have lost it? And how was he going to find it now?

Should he search…

Down the river?

Around the riverbank? (100%)

Part Five

Codar looked down the length of the river. He trained his ear to listen further along, to allow the noises of the forest around him to gently drop away from him. Ahead - perhaps a mile or so, was a waterfall. A large, fast-running fall. If the egg had travelled downriver, it was lost. Codar willed that the egg was close by; perhaps he had held tight to it until he came ashore on the bank, and it was simply buried in the mud nearby. He began aimlessly digging in the mud, desperate to find his lost treasure. The search became more frantic with every second. Every moment it was lost allowed for more certainty that it would not be found; Codar was sure of this. 

 

Finally, his weary arms gave up, and he slumped headfirst back into the mud. He had failed at many things - how could one not fail when more magic-less in a magical world? But there was a reason for everything, and he reasoned that his rare gift - an abomination his mother had called it - had manifested for one purpose. Without the egg, there was no way to fulfil this purpose. 

 

So absorbed in his wallowing, Codar failed to hear the tinkling laughter at first. It was only when others joined in the chorus of mirth that he realised he was not alone. Peeling himself some more from the sludge by the river, he looked up into the canopy to find the leaves aglow. Fairies. Beautiful, spiteful, trickster fairies.

 

Codar stumbled to his feet, crossed his arms and, with a voice that he hoped sounded authoritative, demanded they return his belongings.

 

The laughter grew. The largest of the fairies flew towards him. “He demands the return of the thing that he stole. How entitled. How arrogant. You do not deserve the gifts that dragon king provide.”

 

He stood firm. “I do not seek power for myself but for the King.”

 

The laughter stopped. “Then you shall never win it back. There is no bigger monster than that man and his wretched queen. To give him more power would be to end all that aren’t like him.”

 

Now Codar laughed. “You misunderstand. The egg is for the king, but not for its gift.”

 

The fairy hovered near his face. “How can such a thing not be a gift?” 

 

“Give me your hand, and I shall show you.”

 

She hesitated. She could feel no power emanating from him, but that did not mean a mere mortal man could not be dangerous. Her sisters behind her whispered. They were intrigued. She reached her hand forward as he did his. She shuddered at his touch, her light dimming at the contact. He released her before her light went out completely, and she flew back to the safety of her sisters.

 

“You are an impossible creature.”

 

“And I will do impossible things if you give me back the egg.”

 

The fairies huddled together, conversing in a language he did not understand. Finally, they retreated, returning quickly with his prize.

“You may have this back on one condition. You must never return to this place. You do not belong here.”
 

Codar smiled. “I couldn’t agree more.”

*

The road to the castle was an easy one once the fairies had given the dragon’s egg back. No person, beast, or wizard crossed his path for the remainder of his journey. It was so pleasant he considered spending the rest of his life simply wandering the forest alone. Codar and the egg, wild and free. But he knew this could not be. The King needed to be destroyed. And the egg would hatch eventually and a baby dragon would be a less desirable companion. 

 

As he approached the castle, memories of his time with its wall flooded back. The luxury that came with being part of the King’s court, marred by the frustration of hiding away from others because of what he was. All for the snobbery instilled by the head of the Kingdom. Once the head was removed, the old ways would rot away, making room for a new order. 

 

Unsurprisingly, guards were posted at every entrance to the castle grounds. But, as a friendless child that had to hide from the masses, Codar spent many years exploring the castle. He knew every secret passageway inside the castle - including those that led to the outside.

Should Codar...

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