Flights of Fancy: Dragon Warrior

You know, it’s funny. I’ve done a lot of gaming-themed writing for this website over the last year and change, but it’s all been articles. It never occurred to me to write creatively until Drea posted her short story about the inspiration for The Cartographers Guild name.

I used to do a lot of creative writing as a kid. I distinctly remember typing away at the family computer in Dad’s office, my sister hovering outside the french doors, trying futilely to get a glimpse of my mood– and story completion– through the artfully painted glass. She knew that to disturb me or read over my shoulder was a big no-no. Then again, she was desperate to read whatever I was writing.

Eventually, she got wise enough to resort to bribes. To borrow a phrase from Louisa May Alcott, when I write, I enter one of Jo’s “vortexes:” all perception of time and my surroundings just fades away. Before I know it, hours and hours have gone by. Exploiting this, my sister started making food for me, knowing I’d be ravenous when I snapped out of it. Lured by sustenance, I’d finally desert my post and it would be safe for her to leap into the computer chair and start devouring my story.

She’s my greatest cheerleader, even still. Thank you, sister.

One of the first stories I wrote that I remember relatively well was . . . well, it was kind of vain, to be honest. My sister found this fanfic of Dragon Warrior– also known as the first Dragon Quest game in Japan– and had me read it. I scoffed, believing I could do better. She encouraged me to try.

Well, I don’t know if I did better. I hardly remember the original story, and both my reimagining and the original have been lost to time. But I thought, in this new series on the blog, I’d take a crack at some fictional writing for some of the video games that have best caught my imagination, and a story inspired by this memory seemed the best place to start.

BabyGMR and my Turtle are in bed, so I don’t have to worry about neglecting anyone. Boy, I hope I have the sense to go to bed before dawn.

*******

He longed for rain, the man trudging through the sticky, clinging filth of the swamp. He felt it seeping in over the tops of his boots, trickling through his hose and into every chink in his armor. His crimson cloak was sodden with it; it felt like a pair of heavy hands on his shoulders, trying to drag him down. The fetid water and the mud beneath sucked at the soles of his boots, making horrible squelching noises and costing him extra strength at every draining step.

He could feel it harming him. It wasn’t just unpleasant. It was poison, literal poison. He found an eroded, pock-marked boulder and gratefully clambered onto it, trying to get a better view of his surroundings.

The sight put an almost tangible weight on his heart. This land has been beautiful once. The people of Kol, the village to the north, had told him all about it as he passed through. Lush forests, rolling hills, verdant plains, and majestic mountains as far as the eye could see.

But as he traveled through it, he could see the corruption growing, like a flame spreading from the corner of a piece of parchment, consuming its pristine surface in a tide of blackened paper, leaving only ash in its wake. There were wilting trees in the forests that shed showers of fragile yellow leaves out of season, fewer animals on the plains, and barren patches beginning on the mountains, leaving gashes of rocky wounds.

This was the worst he’d seen yet. This swamp had not been here a few short years before, and the taint of evil magic not only made it foul to look upon, but downright dangerous. Not only did the increasing hordes of monsters not mind it at all, but the very swamp inflicted itself upon you. It burned, left the skin red and blistered. To remain in it too long without healing magics would inevitably mean death.

The sun was setting, painting a blaze of fire across the sky that reminded him of his searing skin. In another time and place, it would be beautiful, the sort of sight that filled you with awe and made you want to share it, reaching for a hand to hold and eyes to gaze into that were alight with wonder and joy. Eyes that you knew were the mirror of your own, in that moment, sparking smiles that shared and nourished each other’s souls. The world should be a wondrous place, a place of love and life realized.

The thought made his heart ache. He’d traveled so far, been alone so long, suffered so much. It was so hot. Mosquitoes descended with the sinking sun, a veritable plague, adding insult to injury. The twilight was alive with them, muting the sky’s glory and seething with pestilence. They swarmed upon him as he stood mutely, one more trial to endure with the heat and the weariness and the pain.

His eyes alighted on the mouth of the cave, black and gaping, like the jaws of a terror that wanted to swallow him whole. He knew this cave, had traveled through it to get to Rimuldar. The keys he needed were there, and he paid dearly for them, every piece of gold worth spending. They were magic keys, keys that would open any door.

He’d spent months preparing, defeating monsters, saving every gold piece for better armor, a deadlier sword, and those keys. The full plate mail he wore was splashed with grime, but it held fast against the poison of the swamp and the talons of the beasts. His broad sword felt heavy in his hand, after this arduous journey, but well he knew it was strong and sharp, and he would summon the strength to wield it swift and true. The kingdom of Alefgard was depending on him.

Gwaelin was depending on him.

Many horrors had the mysterious Dragonlord inflicted on the kingdom of Alefgard. He had stolen the precious Ball of Light bequeathed to them by the ancient hero Erdrick, a wondrous relic that kept the kingdom’s winters short and her fields fertile. It seemed the heart of Alefgard’s peace and prosperity was not enough for the villain, because half a year hence he returned and stole her hope, the princess Gwaelin.

He had never met Gwaelin, this young hero wading through the swamp, and yet he felt he knew her. How could he not, having traveled the kingdom of Alefgard from border to border and back again by now? Her people spoke of her from Kol to Garinham, and he imagined, when he made his way to Cantlin far in the south, their grief would be just as heavy.

For Alefgard clearly loved its princess. “Where, oh where can I find Princess Gwaelyn?” her people lamented. He had heard the phrase or something like it so many times, from the most heavily armed and armored city guard to the most humbly-dressed peasant woman. It felt like half the kingdom was willing to take up the quest to find her, despite the knowledge that she was guarded by a fearsome green dragon, a minion of the Dragonlord. But so few returned– and those that did were mortally wounded, living only long enough to spread the tale of the monster keeping the princess out of their reach–that King Lorik XVI at last forbade anyone but those he had specifically decreed were worthy to seek his stolen daughter and defeat the Dragonlord.

The young man squared his shoulders at the thought. He was a descendant of the great hero Erdrick. Soon he would be strong enough to adventure to find the token that would prove it, but well he knew it himself, and King Lorik had believed him. For the tablet written by Erdrick himself, that lay in the sacred cave northwest of Tantegel Castle, had been clear to him.

Many had ventured into the cave for Erdrick’s wisdom, but a powerful spell prevented any but those of his own bloodline to understand the writing upon the tablet. To get to the island where Charlock Castle stood, lair of the fearsome Dragonlord, Erdrick wrote that three magic items were needed to reach the Isle of Dragons.

His quest had taken him far and wide, and he had found some of what he needed to do so, but the people of Alefgard were suffering. With the kidnapping of their beloved princess, renowned for her kindness and intelligence, her beauty and grace, her charity and virtue, the morale of Alefgard was broken, and it was killing her people just as thoroughly as the lengthening winters and the souring fields. They had lost the will to endure. Only Gwaelyn could rally them now.

The young hero took a deep breath. Alefgard needed Gwaelyn. If he saved her now and the worst happened to him later, even if he was not successful in his quest to retrieve the Ball of Light, Alefgard would have its princess back. Her father would be revitalized by her return, doubtless, and together they could keep their people’s hope alive at the very least.

And, as he was forced to admit to himself, he found that he longed to meet her. She sounded like an exceptional woman. The thought of her suffering alone in an airless, dark cell made his soul blaze with the injustice of it. He knew what it was like to be alone, and he knew what it was like, at times, to feel helpless, but at least he could fight back. Based on everything he had heard of her, it must be just as difficult for her to be sitting idle in a prison when her people needed her as it was for her people to be without her.

He could wait no longer. He felt his face heat in a way that had nothing to do with the cursed, oppressively hot swamp. Alefgard could wait no longer. It was time to try and rescue Princess Gwaelyn.

Night was falling, draining what little vibrancy this wretched swamp had. A palette of jagged blacks and eerie grays descended and spread like a murder of crows. Making sure his sword was clear in the scabbard and he had access to a torch, the young descendant of Erdrick steeled himself and plunged back into the swamp toward the maw of the cave. Tonight that vile green beast of a dragon was going to meet whatever foul gods governed it.

 

Picture credit: https://cdn.conceptartempire.com/images/07/1108/07

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