Chapter One

Author's Notes: Okay- first, I tell you, I do not usually do this 'authors notes' thing on my originals. However, I have a few things to say, so listen well.

The first is that this story introduces some of my own ideas and works. This boasts trust for you, the reader. I trust you not to use these ideas or plots for yourself, and to think of your own, more orginal stuff. I trust you not to take the alicorns, or the new traits I gave to the elves, the dragons or the gryphons. If you respect that, I can continue to put the rest of the story up here.

The second is that the Fantasy portion of Fictionpress is BIG. Most likely, I won't get many readers, and it's important to know what you think. So please, PLEASE comment! Please?

The third is a breif description of the world of Tarrarus. It's a big place, basically Earth before technology wiped out all sentients except for humans. To the North and West of Selenia, the country in this little smigen of a story, is the river Styx, which goes to Hell. Along the Styx are the Yeth Hounds, lost shades and a few other beasties. To the South in Selenia are the Black Mountains, where the gryphons are. To the Southwest are the White Mountains and Gray Mountains. Goblins live in the Gray Mountains, while, hidden in the White are the alicorns. Dragons dot along in the mountains, and humans cultivate their little towns, living among the elves, who come in from the forests. The elves and humans coexist in these cities, when the forest-dwellers decide to leave their beloved trees for a few moments. The rest will unfold on it's own, and I hope you enjoy.


I closed my eyes, leaning back for a moment and relishing the feel of the comfortable chair behind me. When I opened them, unfortunately, I was brought back to the real world, where an impatient human was hovering over me, again.

"Well?" he barked. I shook my head.

"Everyone here knows the fire-dragon," I growled, surprised, myself, at the fact that I could force my tenor voice that low, until it sounded like a dragon's growl in it's own right. "Everyone here tells me tales, and in the damned thing is a quarter of the size they tell it to be, four hundred gold isn't going to cut it."

The human, a bulky, black-haired male, growled deep in his throat. It had taken a good two months to get used to being in a human city again- the differences were many and deep. For one thing, the humans rarely let 'their' ladies out of their bowers, and it had annoyed me at first that the only people in public were male. How did they court?

"Four-fifty," snarled the human at last, shaking his head as if he had just promised to snatch his King's crown off the damned idiot's head to pay for the job at hand. "And... twenty silver."
I almost choked. "Four hundred and fifty gold to slay a dragon that's at least four times the size of a horse, that can belch the fucking fires of Hell at you? Eight-hundred, or nothing, my lad." The human, bigger and heftier than I was, looking annoyed at being called 'lad,' but being that he was about thirty and I was three hundred and twelve didn't boast of his manlihood.

"Seven hundred and sixty, and eighteen silvers," he snarled reluctantly, looking at my stone-hard face. It didn't matter to ME that the livestock were disappearing, and the farmer's children, and the war-chief here had lost a daughter to the beast. If they were concerned, they could pay right or do it themselves.

"Seventy silvers," I argued. This part was just for the hell of it- I had the amount I wanted and this could be fun. He argued fifty, I argued eighty. He said for sixty-five, and I at last, bored, agreed, sitting in the suddenly less-comfortable chair as the man stalked over to the King's treasury to leaf out the gold. He poured them into the leather pouch I had given him, aware, I had made sure, that I could read his thoughts and KNEW if he was trying to cheat me. At last he tossed me the pouch and I caught it, tying it to my belt.

Now came the not-fun part- getting ready to actually DO the fucking job, which was to go and hunt down the dragon. That, above everything else, was why I took the title 'Dragon Hunter,' after all. Aelkreil Dragon Hunter, my last name long abandoned when I- well, when I considered myself a mercenary instead of an elf. I won't get into that, you understand. Touchy subject.

I departed the human War-Chief, returning to the dusty streets, littered with whores, assassin and thugs, awaiting someone to hire them, awaiting their job. This was when I hated the elven mind-gifts- whores feeling hope and revulsion and seething awaited pleasure or pain, assassin with their minds working through their last job, angry nobles swathing through the 'trash' that he didn't consider even human in preparation for whatever business or lack thereof that awaited him. A boy dressed in very little with blisters coarsing up his incomplete body begged forgiveness of whatever god he worshiped for he deception of false wounds. Another, deprived of food that was given to the lying boy lay on the ground, twitching in pain and crying in hunger and cold.

I finally got out of the slums, shaking my head. Why would the King put his own men in a place like that? Then again- humans couldn't read thoughts. Either way, I was shaking all over and my stomach threatened to rebel in protest, so I scurried in to lose my thoughts and emotions in bottles of beer I didn't dare indulge in before getting paid. _______________________________________________________________________

Whitecrow nudged me, whiffing my hair with her great nose. This was a hell of a horse- the size of an elephant with beautiful brown eyes, her coat a dapple gray that looked like falling snow against clouds. She tossed her head, hitting the ground with her hoof again in silent protest of the saddle and bags on her back.

I shook my head, putting a hand on her muzzle. At last, she quieted, though she glared at me with surly eyes as she shook her cranium back and forth, agitated. The horse-traders had told me she was their best, their smartest, their strongest and fastest, and I shocked them, a bit, when I showed them the little engraving on gold that said I was here on the shoulders of the King, and that I got anything that was necessary for my 'quest' for free.

Now Whitecrow was saddled and burdened with everything from food to weapons, and three little clay jars that I filled myself and wouldn't let anyone else near. Two mules perked their ears forward as I walked towards them, tying them to Whitecrow's saddle. Bee and Dee were smarter and more steadfast than the proud horse, and were both laden with a bulky pack- my sleeping roll, their's and Crow's food, bottles of wine for myself and a sealed container of water for them, in case we could not find any in the wilderness. Bee had some first-aid things, and Dee, my bow and arrows- not for use against the dragon unless or until it took flight, when I could get a shot at it's wing-membranes, but for use against game or bandits. For the dragon, I had a few pikes, a lance, and my favorite weapon, a length of chain, perhaps thirty feet, dyed black as to not reflect the sun. Against game it was useless, and only partially useful against the heavily-scaled dragon, but against humans it was my best, and it would do for the monster.

With the grace of any mercenary, I slipped into the saddle, stroking the horse's neck. The mules complained softly as Crow marched forward, her head rocking back and forth in stride. The capital city vanished at good pace behind me, as I journeyed into the woods.

My plan was to follow the river; however, the maps I had sto- err, borrowed- stated that the river curved away from the Fire Dragon's Lair, then back toward it, only to shoot sharply north again. So instead I traveled North of Capital, urging Whitecrow to take me towards the biggest star, or left of where the sun set.

Back to the first day- I had decided to travel by night, so I got off Whitecrow once we had made some headway into the forest, and slid off her back, onto the damp but lush moss. Most of the wood was still damp from a recent thunderstorm, but I found a few sticks that had been sun-dried and would withstand the torment of fire-building, keeping the flame healthy. Satisfied, I threw it all into a cluttered pile and pulled from Bee's pack, which I only then thought to take off her back, a piece of black rock and a tiny axe-like blade. Putting those by my wood, I hauled Dee's pack off, then slid the saddle off Whitecrow, smiling as she shook her head, relieved at the freedom. The mules I knew would come if I called them, so I allowed them to wander, tying Crow the Bee's halter so she couldn't run off. Then I returned to my wood, gathering a bit of semi-dry grass in the process, which I lay across the smallest of the twigs I had gathered. Then I took the black rock, held it over the pile of rubbish, and hit it with the axe, until sparks came flying out of the flint's cracked shell with every strike. The grass at long last caught, and I dropped flint and axe to pull my complete attention to the little glow, blowing softly, pulling back as it devoured more, and blowing. At last it created a tiny flame, devouring the grass and cracking the sticks. It faded when the grass ran out, until I gave it more and it flared up, suddenly, devouring the twigs in seconds. That was okay- I gave it a bigger bit of wood, smiling as it disappeared in the flame. Then bigger and bigger bits, until I let it chew on a big half- log, pulling out a salted bird from Crow's pack. I put the horse-feed to the side- the mules and horse would forage tonight, then get a measure of grain in the morning, to get them through the night.

The bird roasted merrily, though cooking over an open fire was tricky, and it was a good thing I had experience with these things. Only when grease slowly escaped the salt's trap and trickled into the fire's mouth did I pull the half-burned stick with the well-cooked meat on it out, dragging the stick across a clay plate, pulling the bird off without touching the hot carcass. The creature's identity was uncertain- it was either a tiny chicken or swollen quail, but it didn't matter. Either way, it wasn't a whole lot to go on, but it WAS good, despite all the salt, and with a bit of not-stale-yet trail bread, which was coarse and near- tasteless, but a taste I had, out of necessity, acquired, it was enough to fill me up. It didn't hurt that elves didn't need too much to fill them- that, of course, half-way explained their ethereal features. I was thin even for an elf, though nearly disturbingly muscled- while flitting around their trees and flowers, few elves ever actually DID anything.

Elves are tied to trees. That accounted for our abnormal age, eternal memory and fanatical devotion to our forests. My birthing-ceremony was the exact same as the others'; we were taken as infants by the priest, the second our crying was stilled and blood washed off, our mothers, weak and pale, walking after. We were turned on our stomachs, and our back, between the shoulder blades, was slit. The blood was gathered and drizzled on the roots of a sapling, absorbed into the tree. After that, tree and elf were one- if the tree died, the elf would die. If the elf died, so would the tree.

My tree was the only on in the forest still standing, tall and proud. But I'm not getting into that- too painful, I trust you understand.

Elves look quite a bit alike, when you compare them to humans. Silver and gold hair, more gold for males and silver for females, worn long on both. Long and pointed ears, green, slit-pupiled eyes like a cat's, pale skin, thin and graceful. Myself- my hair was sheared close, falling down to grace the very base of my ears but no further. My ears had none of the piercings that the other elves adorned with childlike pleasure, and my eyes were tinted with slight bronze around the edges. My ethereal, wraith-like form was well-muscled from years of chain-flinging, and scarred many times besides the long on down my back, which grew with me as I grew old.

That night I wolfed down the bird, throwing the bones as far away as I could so no predators would come wandering here and decide Crow, Bee, Dee or I looked tasty. Then I put the flint and axe away, banked the fire slightly but kept it burning, pulled out my sleeping-roll and piled the packs, one on top of the other.

Content, I slept. _______________________________________________________________________

The terrain extended, rocky and mountainous. Luckily, Bee and Dee were surefooted beasts, and I had left Whitecrow behind at the last town, promising to pick her up in time. If I lived. I had made no pretenses, making it clear that there was a definite chance of me not emerging the Fire Dragon's Lair, and no one disputed this attitude, most probably agreeing with me.

Game had been abundant, which was good as I had inhaled the food I had gotten at the little town Whitecrow was left in. It took a lot of energy to climb hills and mountains, especially if you have to walk. Bee and Dee had been finding a good amount of forage, far more than a horse would have been able to in their position, so the grain I had brought was rationed very well between the mules.

The dragon's Lair would be in the biggest mountain, which the legend said was because every dragon had vanity for the gold they sealed in the caves, but I knew better, ad so did everyone with logic. Dragons were huge- and they had those huge wings that had to be spread on occasion to keep from cramping while they lay in their caves. They got their energy from their food and the sun, most preferring not to dabble in magical energies because they dulled their scales. The Fire Dragon was one of the few that openly practiced fire magic, and most adeptly fit into the legends because he alone of all the dragons could breathe fire. For him, the magic didn't DULL the shine on his coat, but, coarsing through his veins, brought it to full hue.

I had, if you haven't noticed, done my research.

Many had attempted to copy him, but they found that, the more they practiced the magic, the more the natural effects took their toll on them. The legends were right about dragons being vain, but that wasn't why they needed the luster to their scales. Their energy source was the sun, but the shine kept the harmful effects of six or seven hours of basking from their skin while they soaked in the energy. Without that, the basking would burn and tear at the dragon's skin, and the flaked and scarred tissue would break and snap when it shifted in the monster's flight.

To kill a dragon, you needed two things- courage, and a nagged impulse to kill yourself. I, of course, had both, and was ideally suited to dragon hunting. You also had to have the tough exoskeleton needed to slay something intelligent simply because it had thoughts that directly harmed you, patience to wait for the beast to leave the comforts of it's Lair, and a hell of a huge pot of boiled dragonsbane- which I, personally, carried, now that Crow was left behind. This, alone, was what would keep me from being a human-shaped pile of ashes.

When a dragon first woke up, it's eyesight was only just adjusting, especially if it had come from the dark of the mountain. It would attack anything moving if provoked- you would have to distract it and quickly get a poisoned pike-tip slid underneath and between two scales, getting the poison into the dragon's blood. That would slow it down, and it wouldn't be able to physically catch you, and all I would have to worry about would be keeping the Fire Dragon from burning me, scorching the mules or melting the gold I had taken the damned thing on for.
Then, when it finally collapsed from the poison, would come the part even I considered distasteful- making sure a fellow sentient never got up again.

The mules weren't following me anymore- and one whiff of the air around us told me why. Brimstone and dragon-musk filled the air, making it putrid to human or elven scents and causing panic in the creatures dragons considered prey. I took the packs off the mules, piling them near a tree, then tied the beasts to a tree. "Whatever happens to me'll happen to you, then," I told them, and watched them glare at me as if they had understood. I made she they had long enough leads to forage, promised I come back to feed them if I could, and walked towards the Fire Dragon's Lair.