O Fates declare
I, Krarg the conqueror, will spare
Mortals in return for an immortal sold
A bride dressed in liquid gold
Krarg’s eyelids flutter as a song echoes throughout his kingdom of obsidian and lava. The bard’s tale summons within the ancient dragon memories of his past mayhem on the Mortal Plane: cooked warriors scattered between shredded catapults and ballistae; impregnable castles razed, their surrounding villages burned, and livestock consumed; famine, disease, and the wails of refugees; an elven maiden sacrificed to appease.
O war horn blow true
Summon my bride through you
An elven princess with eyes burning cold
Bright sapphires among liquid gold
An eerie melody, played on a flute, rises. Resisting the soporific music, Krarg opens his eyes to see a pinprick of light—a tear in reality, appear nearby. Like a dilating pupil, the glowing rupture expands. Magic? Teleportation magic? The dragon stares into the swelling luminescence briefly, before resting his head back down. As the disembodied voice returns with lyrics that subdue all sense of danger, he becomes lost in the haze rising from a nearby lava lake.
A mannish form I will take
And across ritual stone bride break
Together, dragon-elf child we will mould
A boy born of liquid gold
Fates must then deliver
To my prince wisdom and vigour
Yes, bring treasure greater than liquid gold
For I am Krarg, and my will be bold
The point of light explodes. Immediately, a gruff voice orders, “Right yo lot, get on tha buffoon’s flank. Ellis, keep playing. Shiva, use yoer bloody magic this time, ya silly moo.”
Blinded by the teleportation spell’s light, Krarg lifts his horned head and blasts the ground before him with his vermilion breath. The music stops, the enchanting song ends, and screams rise.
“Tha buffoon’s cooked me bloody bard,” the gruff-voiced leader shouts. “By the stone, Shiva, do something else ya’ll be feeling me boot up ya arse.”
In response to the leader’s threat, a powerful voice rises and echoes throughout the ruby gloom of the dragon’s valley. “Ahmed lech od, datheb sahib thro, charthan lana …”
Sniffing the air, Krarg catches the invigorating scent of charred flesh, and something else with it—dwarf? Vision clearing, the dragon sees a barrel-chested dwarf standing between an elf bearing a crystal bow, and a witch with silver hair and amethyst eyes. As the elven archer aims, the witch continues to chant, “Ahmed lech od, datheb sahib thro, charthan lana …”
Krarg senses three others, who charge along his left flank. After deftly snatching one, a half-ogre wielding a war hammer, he brings the trifling mass before the dwarf, and squeezes.
“Ahmed lech od, datheb sahib thro, charthan lana!” The witch thrusts aloft her arms. Eldritch light pours from her amethyst eyes and strikes the dragon’s chest. Like autumn leaves, red scales fall, and float to the obsidian floor.
“Now, Hawk, ya bow!” the dwarf orders. “Freeze tha buffoon’s heart.”
Arrows of ice, shot from the elf’s crystal bow, sail towards the flesh beneath Krarg’s splintered chest. The dragon rears to protect himself, then glowers as he draws back his leathery wings and summons a gale with a single flap. Warrior, witch and archer, thrown off their feet, skid across the obsidian floor towards the lake of fire.
Enraged by the heroes’ near-lethal attack, Krarg again turns his attention to the man and woman running along his flank. They too wield weapons forged by gods: the woman, a lighting-tipped spear; the man, two radiant falchions.
Krarg sweeps his barbed tail towards them, and sends the man sailing. The athletic woman, using her Thunder Spear, avoids the tail sweep by pole-vaulting atop the dragon’s back.
Krarg arcs his serpentine neck and spews fire against the acrobat now running along his spine. But again, the woman pole-vaults, then somersaults above the inferno. With a ring of frosted ice glistening on her finger, and her spear’s tip thrust downwards, she descends into the dragon’s breath. The spear, arcing lightning, pierces scale and flesh, and shatters bone.
Krarg tosses back his head, and like an erupting volcano, spits fire. The acrobat, thrown off the dragon’s back, lands nimbly. Dancing her spear around her in a display of dexterity and dominance, she turns and aims at Krarg’s unarmoured chest….
The tsunami of information hits. Every mind connected to the psi‑q‑net drowns in qubits. The news draws me from Krarg’s battle in Planar Quest, the game I play when depressed. As media echoes from around the world funnel into my mind—fear, I hear:
“… I repeat, there has been an explosion on Mars. Mission Control has been destroyed, and the thousands of pioneers in stasis aboard New Hope, now only seventeen light years from Dragonland, are feared lost….”
“… stock markets around the world are in turmoil. The shares of EnviroSol, New Hope’s principal investor, are in free fall. EnviroSol’s CEO, Ramsey McDonald, is about to issue a …”
“… help humanity colonise new worlds, and learn to live more harmoniously with their natural environments. With the New Hope Experiment over, how will the citizens of Earth react? Will countries again come together to build another starship? Or does this mean the end of …”
“… and despite Mission Control’s isolation from the psi‑q‑net, foul play is suspected. Bookmakers have listed the ecoterrorist organisation, Preachers of Gaia, as the odds-on favourite cause of the atrocity….”
Lies, lies, lies. Preachers of Gaia not to blame. Do these media clowns think this some game? Casting a bloody rag from my hand into the fire barrel around which I stand, I hiss, “Chaos, you’re to blame!”
The bloodied rag burns black as more news pours into my tri-weave brain, woven insane.