The Dawn of Darkness

Lavender stared in horror at the monstrous creature, his blood frozen with his fear. He watched as the creature reared on its hind legs and released a roar that turned his stomach and nearly caused him to faint. His mind reeled with the terror as the creature lifted from the small rise, and he cowered in the saddle as it flew overhead. His mount collapsed to the ground at the dragon's passing, fear overriding all the training it had ever had. With a yelp, Lavender fell to the ground with the horse, and he quickly untangled himself from his stirrups and the saddle to prevent the creature from rolling over on him. The horse shrugged off the loosened gear and sped off into the night, leaving Lavender to recover completely alone from the horror he had seen.

The dragon was gone now, or at least too far away for Lavender to see in the darkness of the night, and soon his fear passed as well. It was quickly replaced by another emotion, though‑urgency. The dragon was headed for the city! He had to get there first somehow; he had to warn them. He looked around franticly and called for his mount, but to no avail. He was stranded more than three miles from the city with no way back but to walk. And so it was; Lavender set off on foot to reach the city, knowing he would never make it in time but determined to try.

Meanwhile back at Azeron, the king was becoming very nervous over his missing knights, especially Lavender. It should not have taken them nearly this long to quell a gnoll threat and return. Laura sat patiently on her throne staring into a mirror at the vision of beauty there. She was like a great feline, always grooming herself and seeming absolutely uncaring for anything but her beauty. The gown she wore now‑if it could be called that‑was comprised of only one piece of silken fabric and left little to the imagination. It was high-cut near the legs‑revealing her seductive thighs‑and low-cut at the breast. Laura was truly a magnificent beauty to behold and many in the kingdom envied Arturus for his wife.

Laura sat patiently purring over herself while her husband paced the throne room nervously. Many moments passed, the only sound filling the room the clacking of Arturus' royal boots upon the marble floor. Finally, Laura grew tired of it and gently hopped from her throne, placing the mirror in the seat. She stalked over to Arturus while he had his back turned and leaped upon his shoulders, embracing him in a loose hug. Laura was a few inches shorter than her lanky husband, and clinging to him this way her feet dangled a small distance above the floor.

"Dearest husband," she purred into his ear. "What has gotten you so troubled?" But before the king could answer her question Laura began to kiss him on the back of his neck; and then the side, near his ear…around to his cheek…his lips…

But Arturus turned, then, and gently grasped his wife by the shoulders. With a light sigh he lifted her and set her back to the ground in front of him. "Dearest," he said calmly.

"Yes, my love?" Laura answered hopefully, her lust clearly showing as she leaned heavily on Arturus' chest. She gazed up into his eyes, giving a slight nod towards the bedroom with a mischievous smile.

Arturus stared back into her eyes and answered her silent question. "Dearest, would you please go see if Lavender and his men have returned yet?" Laura's hopes deflated in a second. Her eyes pleaded for a moment, but Arturus had already turned away and gone back to pacing. She bowed cordially and turned to leave with a disappointed "Yes, sire."

When Arturus heard the double doors close, signaling that his wife had left, he ceased his pacing and went to the throne. He stared at it intently and then walked around to the back of the massive seat. He passed his hands over the golden plating with the silver lines of dwarven runes. His face twisted in concentration as he followed one vein of silver to the next and the next after that, and the next afterwards. For a few more moments his aged fingers followed the ravines of silver until at last his hand passed over a discrepancy. He smiled and gently applied pressure to the button. With a quiet click it gave way, and the entire throne shifted, sliding backwards to reveal a secret stairway.

Arturus descended the spiraling stairwell in total darkness, knowing the path too well to need light. When he came to the bottom he was in a long corridor dimly lit by torches placed in brackets along the walls at precisely-measured intervals. He walked down the humid corridor without the regal grace that usually accompanied his steps, but rather like a child heading to a secret room filled with hidden treasures. It had been many years since he had come here, and when he came to the end of the corridor and the seemingly barren wall he smiled.

Fumbling in his royal tunic, Arturus soon found the pendant given him by the mage, Ebnes. The two had been the closest of friends long ago, back when Arturus had been but a young adventurer searching for treasures and excitement. He pulled the pendant free of the tunic and held it up to the light of a torch, staring at it in wonder and smiling at the memories it brought to his mind. The medallion was a pentagram enshrouding and imprisoning a rearing unicorn. It was created through the magic of Ebnes, a mage among mages, out of a substance that only the wizard himself knew. Arturus hadn't seen Ebnes in a long time, and he honestly didn't know if his childhood friend was even still alive, but something about the medallion led him to believe so.

"Well, if it doesn't work maybe I'll at least have an answer," Arturus whispered into the darkness as he turned back to the bare stone of the wall at the end of the corridor. Holding up the pendant he lowered his head and spoke. "The adventures of a child led me to be king, but it is the adventures of a king that make me wish to be a child…"

With his words, the pendant flared to life, the ebony mineral glowing with a white light. Before his very eyes, the king watched as the unicorn reared and released a loud whinny. The pentagram disintegrated and the unicorn was all that remained. As the pendant's light died down a rumbling came from the other side of the apparent dead end. The wall itself began to slide with a grinding sound, to reveal a well-lit chamber that brought tears to Arturus eyes as he gazed upon the wonders within.

Swords, axes, bows, suits of armor! Tapestries taken from great monasteries, relics of the gods, a dragon's fang! It was all here, all still right here, beautiful and unchanged. Arturus stepped into the chamber as if stepping into a dream. All around him along the walls and tables were the treasures of his youth, the reminders of his ventures with his friends. He went to the battered suit of silver plated armor that bore the crest of his family, with the sword and sheathe belted casually about the waist. With shaking hands, he took it in, running his fingers along the dented but beautifully crafted frame.

All in this room of wonder glowed with a golden light from the magic enchantment Ebnes had placed here. Walking around in this dream world, the king went from one relic to another until at last coming to the broken dragon's fang. He lifted it from its golden holder and held it before his eyes, a wide smile creeping across his face. This was the fang of the last dragon ever seen, possibly the last of all the dragons. The tooth brought back the memories of the last adventure Arturus and his childhood friends had gone on. The adventure that claimed the lives of two of them and changed the destiny of the remaining two.

But the enchantment of this room was too great for Arturus' mind to linger on such dark thoughts for long. The times he and his friends had shared were wonderful, much better than this boring role he now played. A tear quietly made its way down Arturus cheek as he gently polished his old armor with his palm. Smiling sadly he said quietly, "Oh, what I would give to return to those times…No more putting on airs, no dressing myself to the fancy of others, no more double-edged words. What I would give for just one last grand adventure…"

Arturus continued to drown in his nostalgic whirlpool until a loud sound as of thunder shook the hall. The noise and resulting shudder snapped him back to reality. "What the devil?!" he exclaimed as yet another shockwave shook the hall, knocking things from their shelves and dropping dust from the ceiling. Arturus stared around in confusion for a moment, but then another shockwave knocked him from his feet. He struggled to regain his balance, and then he heard the guard whistles sounding from above him. Terror filling his heart, Arturus rushed out of the secret treasure room and dashed down the hallway back to the stairs. The wall reverted to normal shortly after he passed, and the pendant he wore changed back to normal as well.

Seemingly appearing out of nowhere in the throne room, Arturus was shocked to see his knights and servants scrambling, panicked looks on their faces. A high-pitched and melodic voice caught his ear and turned him to face a side hallway where knights were veritably dragging the queen away. "Arturus! Arturus, my love!" she cried longingly as they carried her off. Arturus waved to his love, but did not go to her or command the knights to halt. It took no genius to determine that the castle was being assaulted, but with the panic that abounded‑especially that of his knights‑Arturus couldn't dream of what terrible army had beset his domain.

That is, he couldn't imagine what foe had come against his walls until he looked to the starlit sky through what was once a beautiful rose window above the doors of the main hall. The window, when whole, had held the magnificent form of an infuriated red dragon, but now the beast held within that frame seemed to have shattered his prison. Arturus fell to his knees as the great wyrm folded his wings and fell from upon the city…