Chapter 1: New Spark
The clashing of swords and the cries of a battle called out, echoing through the trees. Sunlight refracting off the bloodied blades and beaten shields made the scene glow in an angelic way. The smell of blood was carried on a passing breeze that danced between the flailing swords and battering armor. A horrendous shriek chilled the air as the last troll collapsed to the soaked ground, lifeless as the stones beneath him.
One man stands alone among the corpses that littered the valley floor. Still on the edge he stood panting as he stood ready for another display of his skill, but all were slain and now lay about his feet. Letting out an exhausted sigh he lowered his gore-covered companions and stumbled to a nearby stream. Kneeling at the water's edge he dipped his swords into the hurried stream washing away all the memories of his bloodied past. Drying them off in his cloak then he sheathed them across his back.
Standing to his feet he swayed slightly from the lack of strength, then dropped to his knees. Dropping his hardened hands into the coolness of the water, he drank soundly. Splashing the water in his face and over his head, he washed away the filth. He tilted back his head allowing the water to drip off his face and hair to land on his shoulders as he looked to the heavens remembering all that he so longed to forget. He dowsed himself a few more times before settling at the base of a looming oak.
He propped up one arm on his raised knee and leaned his head against the tree's sturdy trunk taking in all of the forest in one relaxing breath. Wanting to fade away from this world he slipped into a deep sleep. The sounds of the wind playing amongst the trees was his lullaby. The memories that haunted his dreams hung over him as a dark cloudy feeling. His eyes darting, he could hear those screams of women and children, and he could feel the heat of the great fire upon his face.
He suddenly was jerked from his nightmare and he drew out a sword defensively. Eyes still closed, he held that position. Slowly opening his eyes to look over his blade he could see a tall figure draped in a dark cloak, hood pulled down low over his face. He stepped in closer toward him and stopped when he drew out his second sword.
In a booming voice he spoke kindly. "Are you the one they call Cole?"
Smiling down on the weary rogue, his grin filled with tiny white teeth. "Oh brave swords man, have you no home to call your own?"
Sparking painful memories, he lashed out at the stranger, "And who are you to speak to me with such a smug grin as the one you bare?"
Now glaring at him from under troubled brows, he flashed the light off the blades' edges as to intimidate the tall man. Taking a step back, he apologized. "Please forgive my rudeness."
He humbly bowed at the waist then raised his eyes. "I am Athros. I am but a messenger to Lord Dantè." Raising a hand he spoke, "There is no need to feel so threatened by one such as myself. I bare a message for you."
Cole lowered his sword and nodded for him to proceed. Smiling, Athros lowered his hood with long slender fingers. His skin was so soft and pale that I looked like he had been dead for days. His head was covered in little two-inch spikes that rolled down the sides and lengthened in the back to a short braid that stopped between his shoulder blades. His features were that of a gawky woman with those bright red eyes shining through white lashes. No wonder he kept his hood down, he thought to himself. He's an albino, and the sun is awfully bright this day. He sheathed one sword followed by the other.
"My message comes from Lord Dantè, who controls the lands beyond the horizon of the west." Cole nodded in acknowledgment.
"He sends words of urgency and requests an audience with you. He asked me to give you a gift if you would just speak with him." Looking down at the rested man before him, searching for an answer in his big brown eyes.
Cole just sat dwelling on what to do. He was on no real path nor was trying to accomplish anything at the time. So he stood slowly. Aching still he howled in silence and scrunched his face at the pain. Straightening up he offered his hand in acceptance.
"When shall we be off?" Cole asked in curiosity.
"In a moments time. I must still bestow a gift upon you from Lord Dantè."
Athros smiled as he fumbled around in a tiny pocket in his hip. It was just big enough for him to slide his hand in and nothing more. But to Cole's amazement Athros pulled out a large leather bound book with iron bindings that looked to be very heavy. Athros flipped open the cover after unlocking it. Thumbing through the pages of the great book, he paused on one page then looked down on Cole.
"Raise your sword of flame, raise it to the skies."
Cole obeyed and unsheathed Torch and held him over his head, smiling in knowing what is to come. He started chanting. He began to wave his left hand about in the air drawing invisible symbols and seals. With a loud slam of the book closing he shouted the final word and thrust his fist into the air. The clouds above them thickened blocking out the sun for a few moments while a bolt, not of lightning but of flame struck Torch.
Then Cole threw the tip at the ground from the sheer force of the blow, and from the tip a bright ball of flame grew before him. As it grew he could make out a faint shape moving around inside of it. When it was eye level to the 5'7" swordsman it stopped growing.
Cole Reached out with curious fingers to feel the heat of the flame-covered creature, but to his surprise it was cool to the touch. He embraced it in one arm as he leered inside of it. It pulsed rapidly beneath his grasp then began to expand and contract like it was breathing. Without warning Cole was thrown back a few steps as was Athros when the fire egg exploded.
When the dust settled and all was calm and clear again they could see the inhabitant of the strange egg. It was a young fiery dragon. Red of scales, and golden eyes, wings of leather with fiery tips, a tail long and whip like trailed behind the sleek and slender frame of the reptile. Cole was thrilled and called out its new name.
"Ardeo is his name," Cole stated proudly.
Athros rolled his eyes and smirked at him in amusement. "Cole, I hope you know that your Ardeo is indeed a female." He chuckled in his throat.
Cole shrugged at that, "Ardeo still suits you. The fact that you are a girl doesn't bother me."
He patted her serpent like neck as she nuzzled up against his warm body. She opened her wings and swooped up Cole, leapt into the air, and took to flight all in one fluid motion. Athros on the ground, was now rolling in laughter at what a shock he must have had when Ardeo did that.
In the skies she climbed and dove, barrel rolled, and flipped around treetops, with Cole still a little shaken up started to enjoy the ride. He soon hung on with his legs and threw his hands in the air as they tumbled below the clouds and dodged trees. He then realized that they had better start their journey to the land beyond the horizon of the west.
Bending down to Ardeo's head he called out. "Ardeo, we should return. We can play later."
She nodded widely and turned very sharply suddenly, almost dumping Cole. She landed ever so lightly on her feet and folded her elegant wings at her sides. Cole jumped down to Athros.
"Do you have a mount? We should be going before we lose the light," Cole said raising his hand to his lips.
Athros started to answer, "Well I... "
He winced at the sharp whistle that rang out from Cole's lips and shot him an irritated glance. Cole just smiled at him raising his hand past the albino. "I would like you to meet Ebony," he said as Athros turned on his heels, but only to come face to face with an intimidating black griffin that towered all of them.
"He'll take us to your Lord Dantè's."
Athros stumbled back. He rested a hand on Cole's shoulder and asked with an astonished expression. "No one has ever tamed a griffin. Especially not the Grand Griffins that live in the mountains." He breathed deeply. "How did you do it, Cole? Legend says it's impossible to control such a noble creature."
His face still shocked. Cole laughed and bluntly told him, "Well to tell you the truth... Ebony here tamed me!"
Athros gawked at him with a dazed expression. He thought that he had better sum up how they became friends. "I don't control him. We are friends, and when I need him, he helps all to his ability, as I for him."
Ardeo laid beside the men and closed her eyes, as did Ebony. "I was traveling through the high mountain pass when the cold started to slowly kill me. I was nearly gone when Ebony showed up and saved me. We've been friends ever since."
Athros eased up and relaxed a bit more after hearing that. Cole walked past him to pat Ebony on the head and then gave him a piece of jerky he pulled from his belt. Ebony ate it graciously from his hand and grunted in thanks.
Athros stepped up to Cole. "I need to tell you something about that dragon of yours."
Cole looked up to him and asked with his eyes. "When she falls asleep, gets injured, or you ask her to leave you alone for a while she will merge with you and shows as a tattooed dragon that wraps around your upper body."
"Well that's the covenant," Cole spoke as he looked down at Ardeo who just watched a mouse play over her paws. She looked up at him and stood shaking off the leaves that had settled on her back.
Athros motioned to her to approach. She did and waited to see what he wanted. He placed a hand on her neck and turned to face Cole. "You just plainly ask her to join with you, then she should just walk right into your flesh and become the tattoo. Now you try."
Cole stepped up to Ardeo's side and leaned in close to see himself in her golden eyes. She seemed to be smiling in her own way. "You need to rest now Ardeo. Become one with me and we will begin our journey."
She nodded and turned into him. His eyes grew at the strange sensation of her wrapping around his upper body. She was so light and she seemed to have shrunk when she became ink. Cole peeled back his shirt to see Ardeo's golden eye widely gazing out from his chest as the rest of her coiled over his shoulder and under the opposite arm. He smiled at the gift from the king. Now all he had to do was earn it.
He called to Ebony who was fully rested like himself to prepare him self for the flight. Athros leapt up behind Cole on Ebony's back and held tightly as he took one great leap into the afternoon breeze. Climbing effortlessly to the clouds. They glided over the low valleys of the trolls and gnomes, the mines of the dwarves and the cave trolls, then the hills of the satires, centaurs, and the hobbits. The sun began to sink into the sky and Cole thought that it would be a good idea to land and camp for the night.