The capital was a sprawling metropolis of rising spires that pierced the sky, and ornate domes carved in the depictions of a thriving nation. The city was not only a cultural epicentre, but a bastion of power, with nearly as many watchtowers, garrisons, and barracks spread over its rises as the halls, the temples and the dwellings of its many citizens. They had said it was impenetrable; history had proven it could be laid under siege. Rival kingdoms had come and broken their armies against its walls. Others had managed to penetrate its outer defences, only to find a storm of steel ready to cut them down on the inside. And beyond its sizable militia, an arcane presence meaningfully bolstered its defences.
Unlike many such cities, where a strong faith militant presence normally dominated the call of warfare, the Crown had affiliated itself more strongly with the mage guild based within its walls. Though the machinations of magic-wielders were near constantly brought under scrutiny, the cadre of imperial mages who operated within those walls had little interest in the political agendas of its council and its king – at least with regards to the expanse of the kingdom’s power. Neither would they dare to contest it. The king himself was a reputable sorcerer, or so it was claimed. Few had seen him engage in the complexities of formidable spell work, but his martial tactics sparked many suspicions. Proving himself a warrior king, the ruler of the capital city was often at the frontline of battle, leaving the seat of the throne cold due to his militant command.
He was more at ease as a knight than a ruler. However, it did not make him shirk his duties of governance. But it was his feats on the battlefield that were near legendary, as he charged his enemies with a zealous fervour that drove his own soldiers with greater devotion. But his acts while in the fray of such fights had proven unfathomable at times, especailly when the odds was stacked against his forces. He would be found, cutting down his foes in ruthless succession, whilst the bulk of his vanguard had already fallen. It was therefore believed that he used his powers to gain the upperhand.
Blackblade was not unfamiliar with the tactic. Magic in melee offered an effective edge while clashing steel with the enemy. It could easily turn the tide of a fight. But the enchantment was only as effective as the warrior. A slash could come down harder, a thrust could be more powerful… but skill still needed to direct the blade. And the king was a daunting opponent even without the aid of magic. Perhaps that was what made him so fearfully respected. Perhaps, that is why the former mercenary had come to this place… Blackblade believed that in the frontline of battle, one saw the world differently… more honestly. Perhaps the warrior made monarch would understand…
But Blackblade wondered how the news of new enemies on the horizon would test the mettle of the veteran king, for the discovery had even given him pause. For as ancient as he himself was, he had not been prepared to face the foe he did in the the gully town. The dark energies that had laid its traps in that place had nearly cost him his own life as he had tried to save the perverted sellsword that was inevitably lured to his doom.
The scream still echoed in his mind, as did the develish presence that had shown itself before attempting to devour him as well. If he was bound by the mere mortal confines of magic use, then perhaps he would have perished. But he had drawn on more ancient magicks to drive the terror away… for the moment. Yet, in so doing, he had exposed himself. What he truly was…
Exhausted, Blackblade had crawled back on the cobblestones to the inn where he had found a bed. His magical essence spent, and not fully recovered from the inebriation of the night’s revelry, he had fallen on the bed to descend into oblibvion. An early hour had seen him awake before the sun had risen to break through the blanket of mist that covered the town. He had not been fully recuperated, but he felt his strength restored enough to make the journey he intended. Besides, there was no more time to waste. He had sheathed his longsword, a blade kissed by midnight – the trusty weapon that had given him his name – and with no other possession to his person, he had left the dusky town while still under the cover of darkness.
On the outskirts, the uttering of an old spell had crossed his lips. A spell that he had not used of nearly a century. He had felt the rush of ancient power then; flooding him, changing him. As the spell rippled across his body, his powerful muscles tightened, and expanded. He could feel the girth of his body grow, and his form lengthening. Titanic energies surged through powerful limbs which made the forest floor tremble as they landed. Huge claws had dug into the ground, and steadied him as large leathery wings spanned from his back to ecplise the first light of dawn that had broken through the trees. A large reptillian tale coiled and pounded on the earth, and sent dry forest leaves in a gale-like frenzy through the clearing. Still shrouded by the now-receding night, scales of obsidian black made him near indistinct from the shadows, until luminous eyes pierced the dark from within a gigantic horned head. The great dragon eased himself within his natural form; a form that now felt so unfamilar to him since his years of hiding.
Rising his crowned head, Blackblade unfurled his wings and with one powerful beat and a thrust from his hind legs, the great beast had entered into the air. In the rolling cloudbanks that shrouded the sky, he had concealed the ascent of his mighty draconian form while his wings rode the natural air currents to procure a soundless flight. In that great expanse of open sky, he felt the old joys of this soaring freedom returning. His unfettered flight had carried him for leagues with a monumental velocity, his black body slicing through the air like it was made of so much silk.
The flight had taken him but a few hours, bringing him to the precipice of a cliff that faced the flank of the large city. As he had approached, seeing the rising buildings in the distance, he had circled about to find a route of flight that would evade the eyes of the city guard. The sun had risen then, making his dark scales glisten with a brilliant lustre. A great black leviathan would have not gone unnoticed by early risers who had lived within the farmsteads he had passed, but he hoped that for the most part their word would be taken as the accounts of madmen.
And now, he stood there in his mortal form, stripped of his mercenary attire. His tall, broad frame was donned by nothing but simple garments and a grey cloak, which concealed the longsword he had strapped to his back. The dragon warrior wondered what his journey into the mysterious underbelly of the city would yield, as he set off to find aid to stand against the burgeoning shadow.
The time of hiding was long past. Disguises could no longer keep him hidden from the looming darkness that seemed to have awoken in the world. The power he had felt in the gully town was not some unlucky encounter, but a herald to the horrors that was upon them. If old magic had stirred to infringe upon the tenuous peace that had settled over this land in the past 100 years, then more ancient magicks still were about to rise in opposition.
And if history attested to anything, it was that the dawning of a dragon never lagged to meet the rise of powers that the younger races could only begin to understand…