Injured

Tystnad knew only the nightmare, until his dream became a fading farrago of sky and fire, of crimson and blue – that made him open his eyes to the dark…

At least, until his eyes adjusted. And then his vision was filled with the blotted grey of a cave mouth, with its walls curving outward to a cliff ledge that stared over the grey expanse of an unfurling storm and jagged mountainpeaks. But nothing was as dark as the silhouette of the tall figure that stood at the opening, with piercing blue eyes that gleamed despite the fact that the light shone at his back, which left all the front of him obscured.

The mage rose with a start, reflexively calling on deep-rooted energies to raise his wards and ready himself for an attack. But no sooner had he lifted himself than a jolt of pain forced him back to the ground, groaning silently at the unseen harm to his body…

“Be at peace, sorceror. I mean you no harm…” The stranger’s voice was deep, and to Tystnad’s own annoyance, comforting. Soothing in its gruff exterior – and, he dared to even think, compelling. “I would remain still, if I were in your position– “

“I think that remaining still is one of the last things you would have done, had you worn my cloak…” Tysnad’s own voice was quiet, yet it came across with a harsh undertone that was laced with as much warning to the dark figure as it was with calm. Calm… How am I so calm? he thought with some rising suspicion.

Whether it was the mystical qualities of the warrior or his own eyes adjusting to the dark, Tystnad saw the stranger’s mouth curl up into a half-smile. And then that deep velvet voice, working its spell, “Perhaps you are right. However, you had best take my council on this, regardless. You have been through no small ordeal.”

The mage needed no reminding. His memory had flooded back as soon as he had awoken, synchronised in his adjustment to this new challenge within the cave mouth – batting words with a stranger whom he had no inkling how to place. They had overrun him… again. Only this time, he had been certain he had met his end. Until the ring of fire…

“… You mean until a dragon descended from the annals of history to carry me off to some secluded mountain hollow in the clouds?” He said it coyly, edging on taunting the figure with his words.

The stranger’s smile faded somberly. His eyes becoming more stern, but perhaps devoid of the anger that the mage had expected. Tysnad was surprised at his own vehemence, and how easily it slipped through the multiple layers of his reserved temperament. He was ruthless in his own defence, and great force was exacted by his hand when necessary. But no defence was needed here. He could feel no real threat emanating from the disguised ancient in front of him. But perhaps it was the immediacy of that calm that made him cautious. The way that his guard just dropped of it’s own accord while in the presence of the dragon. The large warrior spoke again then, “We may need to discuss the things you experienced out there, and the things you may have thought you have seen.”

“You wish me to deny that I saw a dragon for the first time in nigh a century? I doubt that persuasion falls under your diverse skillset. Including those fiends, your dragonfire burned away any doubts I may have had at what broke through the sky…”

The figure moved closer then, and steadily Tystnad could make out the features of his host and apparent rescuer. Tystnad’s magical perusal made him certain of the formidable arcane talents dormant, but the figure struck him more as a warrior than a mage. He was powerfully built, something that the loose fitting cloak, tunic and trousers could do little to hide. His hair was jet black, starkly accentuating his rugged features, and making those steely blue eyes even more intense as it regarded him. A shock of wild black hair covered his head, and reached down in a closely trimmed beard that covered near his entire jaw in a strong, definite and unbroken line. A militant sage… there was no better description he could conjure in his own mind. And despite his modest garments, his vigour in appearance was undeniable.

He knelt down, coming face-to-face with the wizard who could only barely manage to sit up as he met that look with his own eyes. He regarded Tystnad carefully, and the mage could not help but wonder how those eyes equally exuded as much youthful vitality as it did an ancient power. He spoke again then, after a long and tense moment of silence, “Not many who wield the arcane fire knows a dragon’s disguise, yet alone is alive to bear it’s testimony. Wizards, in my experience, tend to have a special knack for causing havoc with the secrets they are not prepared to keep.”

“Then how come dragons are so inept at concealing them?” Tystnad was less reactive, but his sarcasm was near instinctive and came of impulse. He was usually more reserved, waiting for a familiarity to settle in before relieving the guard in front if his mouth of its duty. But no such refinement seemed in place in the company of the dragon warrior.

“Not all dragons have the luxury of standing idle as mages meddle in forces they were not intended to combat alone.”

So this was the game we would play, Tystnad thought. “I had it handled…” Of all the lies he had told himself, the mage knew that this was perhaps the least convincing. He doubted he could win this one. Nearly as much as he doubted he could’ve won the lone stand against the evil the nearly killed him.

“You did. For a good spell of time. In fact, you lasted better than any mage would have perhaps lasted against that hellish host – which makes me certain you are not what you appear either, young wizard–“, the dragon paused, for a moment bitterly amused, “Young – and here I do not know how many years in truth tally behind the might you displayed out there today… and then saying you haven’t seen a dragon in near a century? All while you appear as if you have not even seen your third decade… No, I don’t think you are what you apear to be at all either.” Tystnad could not place the tone of the dragon, who then cocked his head and furrowed his dark brow to ask, “So, why don’t you help me comprehend it all?”

It was strange, how old injuries always panged with a greater intensity than any newer ones. But this pain was no physical malady. It was a scar of memory. One that Tystnad had not managed to work out himself. Yes, little wizard. You do not appear to be what you are either. So what are you then? The truth was, he did not know the answer. But he knew that once upon a time… he did.

The stony demeanor of the dragon seemed to crumble at seeing the reaction of the wizard. And in its place, a genuine concern, and a desire to help. Tystnad’s outward reaction must have been evident, in that moment of being lost in thought. The melancholy of his fractured past had broken his refinement more than once when he least expected. But this time, he was helpless in preventing someone from seeing it. His injury; his hurt. The dragon placed a hand on the mage’s shoulder then, in a reassuring gesture, and kept it there. The wizard could not immediately place how that made him feel, this sudden shift in the mood that pervaded the small void of the cavemouth. But for the first time, perhaps he did not resist the acknowledgment of his comfort at that moment. A gentler touch entered the voice of the dragon then, as those eyes – so very human; more human than dragon – stared deeply into his own.

“I know not of the sorrow that grips you, young mage. Nor do I know what truly drove you to brave the darkness out there on the battlefield. But I now believe the two are tied. For that reason, I will apologise for my brusque manner with you. It has been… some time, since I have reconciled my twin natures to function as a whole. I will not press you for answers, hoping that in time… you will share your story. For that, I realise must earn your trust. So let me start, by asking you to allow me to heal you… of the physical injury you bear, at the least…” It was unfathomable, how that hardened face could exude such a softness to it in an instant…

At a loss for immediate words, and with his mind reeling under the assault of a thousand conflicting emotions, Tystnad asked the first thing that came to his mind, “What is your name?”

His eyes warm, and with another smile playing at the corner of his mouth, the warrior answered. “For many years, as I have roamed among the people of this land, they have called me Blackblade.” He chuckled again, ever so slightly. “I thought it almost valiant once, but I am fairly sure that it was nothing more than a tavern jest surrounding my blade that long outlived it’s actual significance…”

The mage wondered if his next question would perhaps be too invasive. If he was truly not supposed to know of the dragon’s mortal guise, then surely his name would be even more forbidden. But for some reason, few inhibitions seemed to be working properly of late. There was just something too magnetic about the dragon’s presence… Tystnad did not know why his voice lowered to a whisper, when next he asked, “What is your true name?”

And so, a deeper emotion pervaded the air between the two men as their eyes were locked in an exhange that neither one could fully begin to understand…

For even as much as Blackblade had grown accustomed to secrecy, he too felt himself all the less reserved as he gave answer to the mysterious mage – with the eyes of melded storm and gold – “Once, long ago, I went by the name… Halvadere…”

Inktober #29

You may want to read the following interconnected story within the Inktober series:

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