Lorcan’s ears roared, mind reeling as he watched the wretched creature in the basin below. It couldn’t possibly be his father, it just couldn’t. His brother, Lucan, had said that their father drank himself to death. He had been dead for years, but here he was. Somehow, he’d become this…thing before them. It was insane, but true. But, how could this have happened? Was there some manner of powerful dark magic at hand? Was it the same thing that was happening to himself? Was…was he becoming like this creature? Was he becoming like his father?
Ul’vade stared at Lorcan as if he had gone mad (he himself hadn’t ruled out that possibility). He was so bewildered by Lorcan’s statement that he had lost all fear of the situation, and felt only confusion. “He’s…he’s your what?”
Lorcan stared back at him, desperate and panicking. “I’ve felt it ever since we came here. That smell of wine, that voice, those words, I remember them all.” His voice turned angry as he realized something. “Odin knew this. He knew this beast was my father all along, and he’s sent me here to kill him.”
Understanding grew in Ul’vade’s eyes, as he held up his hand to stop Lorcan. “Lorcan, we don’t even know for sure that this thing is who you say it is.” Lorcan glared at him, so he started again. “I mean…it’s possible it is. Odin probably sent you here to put your father’s soul to rest, gain honor and glory for the MacBroin house. Something like that.”
Lorcan sneered as he looked over the cliff at the dragon. “That man doesn’t deserve rest. Not in life, nor in death.”
Ul’vade was taken aback by the scorn in Lorcan’s voice. His mouth opened slightly, then he shook his head, clearing his thoughts. “Listen, even if we are to kill…er…your father, there’s nothing we can do tonight. Night is upon us, and even if you can see in the dark, we’re both exhausted. We should go back and try to sleep. We’ll figure something out in the morning.”
Lorcan hesitated a moment, glaring at the dragon in the distance. “Alright.”
The two carefully got up, avoiding the dragon’s line of sight, and walked back the way they came. Upon returning to the campsite, they found their packs right where they’d left them, and emptied their contents, pulling out food and sleeping mats. They gathered some wood that looked like some past travelers had gathered, and started a small fire. Ul’vade admitted that he had said fire was a bad idea but he justified a small flame by saying that the beast likely wouldn’t see it, and after what he had just witnessed, he could use a little warmth
After some minutes’ silence, Lorcan said, “You’re wondering why I hate my father so much, aren’t you?”
Ul’vade shrugged. “I did wonder, but I’m not one to pry. But I do need to know you can do this, and that your feelings over this won’t cause you to act rashly.”
Lorcan nodded. “I can do this.” He sat contemplating the fire for a moment, debating whether or not to speak. He figured that Ul’vade had a right to know. He’d been a steadfast friend, and it wouldn’t be fair to keep him ignorant. “My father was a selfish, gluttonous, cruel man. He owned my village’s iron mine, and he became wealthy for it. My people depended on it, as the soil was too poor to support crops. But, my father had control over all the profits from the mine, and he took almost everything for himself, leaving the villagers to starve. He raised my older brother Lucan to be just like him. And me…” Lorcan smiled sadly, “well, he hated me. I refused to follow in his footsteps. I was happy being ignorant to the suffering around me, and living in the mansion’s library. Eventually I understood what was going on, and I tried to help the villagers. So, my father sent me away to a monastery.” Lorcan stiffened slightly. He didn’t want to talk about the monastery. “I hated what my father did. To the villagers, and to me. And, I never him most of all for driving my mother away.” A tear slid down Lorcan’s face. “I never forgave him for that. Those words you heard the dragon shout? Those are the exact words he said to me the day we discovered she’d left. He didn’t comfort me, he didn’t try to be my father, he just blamed me, and told me I was all alone in the world.”
Ul’vade lowered his head. “That’s horrible. I’m sorry.”
Lorcan nodded gratefully. “It’s not your fault. It’s his. And tomorrow, he’s going to pay for it.”
Lorcan slept restfully that night. His shock had faded, now only cold purpose filled him. He would not become like his father. He couldn’t risk that his transformation would make him into that horrible beast. He had to do this. He had to get water from Mimir’s Well to Haute so he could reverse the change. And if he got revenge on his pathetic excuse for a father in the process, so be it.
They woke the next morning, and ate a small breakfast. Lorcan was silent, formulating a plan. Ul’vade watched him nervously, understandably anxious for what they were about to attempt. He didn’t like that hard look in Lorcan’s eyes. Vengeful and full of hate were not terms that he would have associated with his friend, but there he was, cold anger written in his features. After they had finished eating, they got up, buckled on their swords, and set off for the dragon’s enclosure. When they arrived, they scanned the area, looking for advantageous positions from which to attack. Ul’vade was the far better strategist of the two, but even he was having a hard time finding a good place. If they wanted to get a better look, they would have to lower themselves down into the basin, but they certainly didn’t want to risk the dragon sighting them prematurely. As Lorcan looked over the cliff however, he noticed a small alcove in the rocky wall, partially covered by some rotting ivy. An idea began forming in his mind. It was risky, but no riskier than facing the beast head on, he supposed. He turned to Ul’vade. “I have a plan. You may not like it, but it’s simple enough, and I think it could work.”
It took some goading, and a hefty bribe, but Ul’vade eventually agreed to Lorcan’s plan. Ten minutes later, Lorcan stood at the edge of the cliff, sword in hand, glaring at the cave on the other side of the basin. He lifted a cow’s horn, one of Ul’vade possessions that he had lent Lorcan, and blew forcefully into it. A long, low sound resonated within the bowl, that surely the beast had to have heard. Sure enough, loud footsteps immediately resounded from within the cave, and the dragon emerged, more terrible than ever. It was even more dreadful-looking during the day, as it’s sickly skin and horrible maw were accentuated from the daylight.
It spotted Lorcan standing at the edge of the cliff, and roared. It moved at a surprising speed, especially considering it’s size. It dragged itself toward the mountain wall, and stared at the figure high above it. Its eyes were angry and hungry, a long forked tongue protruding from its horrible fanged mouth, tasting the air.
“Hello father,” Lorcan called down. “It’s been some time.”
The dragon’s eyes widened for a moment in shock and recognition, then narrowed. “Lorcan,” he hissed. “You’ve come to your death, idiot boy.”
Lorcan shook his head. “No. I’ve come for yours.” He needed to anger the his father enough to make him attempt to climb the wall. And, he needed to keep the beast focused on him. He looked quickly at the alcove in the rock wall where Ul’vade stood hidden, doing everything he could to avoid making movement or sound. Lorcan couldn’t give any sign that he had anyone with him. It would be Ul’vade’s death, as well as his own. “I heard you died a pathetic death years ago. Clearly, you couldn’t even do that correctly. I’m here to finish the job. Though,” Lorcan smiled arrogantly, “you’ve hardly changed since I last saw you.”
The beast growled. “You miserable little-” A gurgling sound came from deep within the beast’s throat. Suddenly, it raised its head, opened it’s jaws wide, and sprayed a thick geyser of black, smoking liquid at Lorcan. Lorcan leapt back with a yelp as the spray reached over the cliff, covering the spot that he had just been standing in with a hissing, steaming substance smelling of rotting wine. The beast made wet hacking sounds below, coughing and spitting.
Lorcan muttered dazedly, “It vomits acid. Of course it does.” He stepped onto a dry spot near the cliff’s edge and called over, “I knew you were a terrible father, but I didn’t know you had terrible aim too! You can’t even hurt me as a dragon!”
The creature roared, spraying flecks of acid everywhere. “I was an excellent father until your mother ran off!” It’s eyes narrowed further in hate. “She left me for some miserable merchant that promised her adventure, and I was stuck with raising two ungrateful brats that didn’t appreciate what I did any more than she did!” Pain and anger were plain in the monster’s voice.
Fury and disbelief flooded through Lorcan. “How dare you speak of my mother like that! She loved us, and you drove her away!”
A horrible breaking sound, barely recognizable ass laughter, left the dragon’s mouth. “You? She never loved you. She never loved anyone. That’s why she left without you. You were just the sullen welp that stayed in the library!”
Lorcan wanted to scream in rage, to throw something, to hurt that miserable being below him, but he couldn’t. What his father said had hit home. Those things were exactly what he had feared all his life. And the beast that had once been his father knew it. It’s mouth contorted into a horrible grimacing smile. “That’s right,” it said, “you’ve known that all your life. The problem was never me. It was you.”
Fear and sadness overwhelmed Lorcan. It was his fault. It was all his fault. His mother, the monastery, this curse, the dragon, putting Ul’vade in danger, the deal with Haute, everything was because of him. His voice shaking, he called over, “Come and get me then.” The creature hissed in surprise, so he added, “I know you hate me. It’s all my fault, so make me pay for it! KILL ME THEN!!” Lorcan flung his arms out, inviting the beast to come forward.
The dragon licked its lips. “Gladly.” It dug its claws into the mountain wall and, somehow, began to climb. It ripped ivy and rock away as it ascended, eyes fixed on Lorcan. Lorcan stared back into its black eyes, waiting. The dragon scaled the cliff, its head and neck reaching above the cliff, staring hungrily down at Lorcan. As it opened its maw, Lorcan looked at his father and said, “Go back to Hell, monster.”
Suddenly, the beast recoiled, screeching in pain. It leg go of the cliff’s egg, and plummeted, shrieking, to the ground below, blood gushing from a wound in its soft chest. Ul’vade, hidden is the small alcove in the wall, had been in the perfect position to strike the fatal blow. As the dragon had climbed the wall, it had exposed its belly to the opening in the wall where an unseen threat had stood with sword drawn. Lorcan had only needed to coax their foe up the wall..
The dragon hit the ground, making a colossal BOOM, and sending up a blinding cloud of dust. Coughing, Lorcan hear Ul’vade cheering below, and shouting something he couldn’t quite make out. At this point, it could be a prayer, cursing, or gibberish, considering what had just happened. Lorcan climbed down the ivy, edging away from areas that were rotting, or had been splashed by poison, making his way to the ground where the dragon lay motionless. Ul’vade cautiously followed him, advancing toward the great wyrm. Lorcan walked alongside the body, examining the bleeding wound in the chest. As he stood there, awestruck, the dragon groaned, and turned its head toward Lorcan. Lorcan backed away quickly, tripping slightly, but the dragon made no move at him. It wasn’t hostile anymore, it was almost…pitiable. As Lorcan looked into the dragon’s eyes, they transformed slowly from black and gold, to blue. The exact color of his own eyes.
The dragon opened his mouth slightly, trying to form words. He spoke softly with an eerily normal human voice. “Lorcan,” he said softly. “Lorcan, I’m sorry.” He looked down at his wound, which had slowed bleeding. He was going to die, but slowly. He was going to suffer for a long time. He looked back up at Lorcan with pleading eyes. “Son…please.”
Lorcan felt his eyes burn, so he turned his gaze downward. He scolded himself, and his developing tears. He hated this man, so why was he mourning? Why did he feel like this? He told himself that this man deserved to suffer, that he needed to pay for what he’d done. But, he didn’t quite believe it, now that this was happening. He needed to do this. Slowly, he drew his sword. He approached the dying creature, touching its chest, right over the heart, and aimed his blade. He braced himself, then thrust the sword in with both hands, driving it in to the hilt.
The dragon’s body stiffened, then relaxed, letting out a groan of relief, rather than pain. The beast took one last look at Lorcan, then slowly closed his eyes, letting out one last breath. Within moments, the scales and skin began to turn gray and paper like. It dissolved, old and crumbling, like dust being blown away. Lorcan and Ul’vade stepped back, not quite sure what to do. After a minute or two of uneasy waiting, the entire body had disintegrated, leaving only bones, and a fleshy blob lying in the dirt, about the size of a large pumpkin.
Ul’vade’s expression of elation and awe (due to facing a dragon and still being alive) faded. “I feared this.”
Lorcan looked between Ul’vade and the ball of flesh. “What? What is that?”
Ul’vade sighed. “I had hoped that this wan’t a pure Norse dragon. With a beast such as this, the spirit lies in torment until the heart is destroyed. To do that, you need to either burn it, or (he shuddered), you need to eat it. Only then can the spirit be put to rest.”
Lorcan recoiled in horror as he stared at the heart. “That’s…that’s barbaric. I can’t eat my father’s heart.” He looked pleadingly at Ul’vade. “Can’t we just burn it instead?”
Ul’vade gritted his teeth before answering. “I want to say yes. Believe me, I do. Those who kill a dragon…change. There’s some manner of curse or enchantment that follow slayers of this kind of dragon. But eating the heart is, by legend, supposed to give you great power. I think when Odin said you wouldn’t find the well without doing this, I think he meant that you need this power.”
Lorcan closed his eyes. This quest was taking its toll. He looked up at Ul’vade. “I hate you and your knowledge of Norse legends. Let’s get this over with.”
It was with great reluctance that Lorcan picked up the slimy heart, speared it, and placed it over a fire. Ul’vade had a hard time containing his excitement that they’d slain a dragon and lived to tell the tale. But, out of respect for the dead, he kept mostly quiet. They sat some minutes, waiting for the heart to cook, but it never seemed to change or darken. No matter how much they stoked the fire, it remained raw looking. Ul’vade looked at Lorcan. “In the legend, the heart never cooked then either.” His face turned pitying. “I’m afraid you’ll have to eat it as is.”
Lorcan groaned. “Naturally,” he grumbled. He looked at Ul’vade. “Next time we go on an adventure, tell me up front what all the legends are concerning what we’re going to face before we get there. I don’t want to have to remove my liver to retrieve a magical sword or something.” He took a dagger from his belt, and sliced off a piece of the heart. He looked at it warily, braced himself, and threw the piece into his mouth. On the plus side, he didn’t have to worry about flavor or texture. But, this was because the second the heart touched his tongue, his entire mouth felt like it had been set on fire. It felt like he was eating an ember, and it took all his willpower to swallow it. It burned the whole way down, and it took several seconds for the pain to subside.
He gasped, throat parched and burning, and spat several times into the fire, trying to get the taste out of his mouth. Ul’vade winced sympathetically as Lorcan tried to get his breathing and heartbeat down. Lorcan looked up from the fire at Ul’vade, his eyes glistening from pain. “That…was…awful.”
Ul’vade shrugged, a sympathetic grimace on his face. “The price of power, I suppose? I mean, to get a drink from Mimir’s Well, Odin plucked out his own eye, and to discover rune magic, he hung himself from the branches of-” he stopped, as Lorcan was glaring at him. “Sorry. Bad time.”
“Are you telling me now that I actually do have to dismember myself to get water from the Well?” Lorcan’s voice was raspy and exasperated.
“Well, no, not necessarily,” said Ul’vade cautiously. “Odin could survive pulling out his eye because he’s a god. I’m sure Mimir would require a different price from a mortal.”
Lorcan didn’t feel a great deal of comfort. “Alright, so I ate a piece of the heart, now what?”
Ul’vade gestured toward the heart on the spit. “You drop the rest of that into the fire. Your father’s soul will be put to rest, and you will gain his power.”
Lorcan sighed. “All right then.” He picked up the spit on opposite ends, and stared at the heart a moment. “Here’s to you, father,” he said, then dropped the heart into the flames. It burned away almost instantly, crumbling to ashes within moments.
A strong wind suddenly grew, seemingly coming from every direction, and blowing in every direction at once. As it subsided, a new feeling grew in the air. The smell of decay faded, and everything felt…fresher. It felt as if the dreary, corrupted basin they sat in was breathing deeply for perhaps the first time in years. Lorcan himself felt…different. He didn’t know how to explain it, but a new feeling of strength began to flow through his blood, filling his body with a peculiar feeling he hadn’t felt since… No, it couldn’t have any ties to what had happened at the monastery. He had just been in shock then. He looked back up at Ul’vade, who was watching him carefully. “So, what do we do now?”
In response, a loud CAW came from above. A raven, just like the one that had preceded Odin’s arrival, fluttered down and landed neatly next to Ul’vade, who jumped slightly. It looked expectantly at Lorcan, and flapped its wings lightly. Lorcan stared back at it for a moment, then said, “I think the Allfather has sent us a guide.”