Read The Dragon Wicked Online

Authors: B. V. Larson

Tags: #Fantasy

The Dragon Wicked

Books by B. V. Larson

HYBOREAN DRAGONS SERIES

To Dream with the Dragons

The Dragon-Child

Of Shadows and Dragons

The Swords of Corium

The Sorcerer’s Bane

The Dragon Wicked

HAVEN SERIES

Amber Magic

Sky Magic

Shadow Magic

Dragon Magic

Blood Magic

OTHER BOOKS

Swarm

Extinction

Mech

Mech 2

Shifting

Velocity

Visit BVLarson.com for more information.

The Dragon Wicked

(Hyborean Dragons #6)

by

B. V. Larson

Copyright © 2011 by the author.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without permission in writing from the author.

From the Chronicles of the Black Sun:

Seeking to rekindle the Sun over his lands, the newly-crowned King of Hyborea dared to dream with the Dragons. Therian found an interested—if not sympathetic—ally in Anduin the Black. He beseeched her for aid. The Dragon in turn charged King Therian with tasks to become her champion upon the Earth:

“And then you must retrieve my children, as we agreed,” she said. She looked down upon King Therian’s companion, the barbarian rogue known as Gruum. “Also, young King, you must retrieve that which this jackal has stolen from you.”

-1-

With Vosh’s power broken and his separated parts no longer existent upon this world, Hyborea knew a few months of relative peace. The people were saddened by their losses and the destruction of fully a third of Corium, but they had fresh hope. The summer months, fleeting though they were, proved fruitful. The southern kingdoms fell to bickering amongst themselves, forgetting about their dreams of reviving the Solerov Empire. Vosh’s spell over their minds faded, and soon they gave up their hates and lusts for Corium and instead began to trade with her. Fresh fruit, sweet wines and a hundred other luxuries were brought to the docks and traded for bright silver from Hyborea’s infamously deep mines.

Hale and full of food again, if not good cheer, the people set to work rebuilding. By midsummer, winter loomed close in their minds, and they knew their city had to be prepared for another long hibernation. They rebuilt the burnt sections of the palace. They replaced the great gates with fresh timbers from the mountains. Longest and most difficult of all, they patched the gaping hole in the central square that let sunlight down into the Necropolis. It would not do to allow the light to burn their ancestors, who now slumbered peacefully again.

Overriding the quiet urgings of Gruum, the King did not disband either of the two temples of Corium. Therian considered instituting sweeping changes in the nation’s religious Orders, but his councilors begged him not to, pointing out that the people had suffered so greatly already. As most of them had perished anyway, he did not punish the Black Order for having lost control of the Bane—nor did he persecute the Red Order for having plotted with Vosh to stop those of the Black from building it. He did admonish both Orders to bury their centuries-old rivalry and return to the tradition of respectful tolerance…a tradition that had recently been abandoned by all sides.

The King
did
act in the matter of the walking dead, however. He ordered that each fresh body that was laid down be permanently disabled, so that if it should awaken some day in the distant future, it would not be able to cause great harm. It was decreed that every corpse must have a spike of silver shot home at the base of the skull. The spike, driven completely through the back of the head to a point just between the eyes would, by alchemical principle, prevent the dead from rising. The injury would be almost unnoticeable to the grieving relatives, and it would not cause the body to decay. But they could no longer be used to walk like puppets for future necromancers.

Some doubters, Gruum among them, pointed out that while such precautions were well and good, an enterprising enemy need only remove the spikes. His unwelcome mutterings were not heeded, and the problem was publicly declared solved, to choruses of wild cheering from the surviving citizenry.

The day after Therian changed the laws of the land, Gruum and Therian stood in the atrium overlooking the freshly rebuilt town square. The citizens of Corium labored below and the Sun shined with relative warmth overhead.

“Gruum,” the King called. He stepped away from the window.

Frowning, Gruum came close. “Yes, milord?”

“I take it you still do not approve of my decrees.”

“It’s not my place, sire, but—”

“Exactly,” Therian interrupted. “It is not your place.”

Gruum bowed his head, leaving his chin to rest upon his chest. He did this to look contrite and also to hide his grimace.

Therian stepped back to the window where he could watch the people mill upon the square. “They look happy out there. Too bad it will be such a short-lived time of cheer.”

“What is amiss?” Gruum asked.

“Winter will soon return.”

“But it is midsummer, milord.”

“According to our auguries, this warmth will soon pass, and it will not return.”

“Never?”

“Never. The ice will form a skirt around the isle of Hyborea as usual, but this year it shall deepen, and never shall it thaw.”

Gruum came to stand beside the King. He did not want passersby to overhear this talk. “Could the auguries be wrong, sire?” he asked in a whisper.

Therian gave him a scathing glance. “The priestesses are rarely wrong when they use human entrails. The last of the Kem pirates we captured gave their lives to confirm the prophecy. Winter will be early and harsh—and for Hyborea, it shall be everlasting.”

“But we have done so much,” Gruum said, aghast. “How can we have worked so hard and failed so badly?”

Therian turned to him in surprise. “I did not say we had failed. We have not yet tried to rekindle the Sun. All our efforts thus far have been a quest for power.”

“What shall be our next move?”

Therian went back to watching the people in the square. Gruum looked out with him. It was cool today, but not cold. No one wore furs. Here and there, exposed skin could be seen. Such frivolities were soon to be forgotten. The thought made Gruum shudder.

“I’m considering a journey,” Therian said.

Gruum nodded, seeing the wisdom in the King’s plan immediately. If the Kingdom were to be encrusted in ice that would never thaw, the time to get out was now, before they were trapped in a frozen tomb.

“Shall I order a ship prepared, milord?” Gruum asked quietly.

“A ship? Certainly not. We’ll be traveling on foot this time.”

Gruum stared. Where could they possibly go?

-2-

Their destination was not to Gruum’s liking. He could tell things were to go badly before the journey even began. The equipment they piled was the first ominous sign. Rope, lanterns, dried foodstuffs that could last for weeks. Gruum’s pack was stuffed with oddments meant for climbing stone. Spikes, tapping hammers and carefully forged pulleys filled a sack.

“Where exactly are we headed, sire?” Gruum asked for the fourth time in as many days.

“To the mountains,” Therian said, giving him the same answer he did every time the question was posed.

“But
where
in the mountains?” demanded Gruum in exasperation. He had not previously dared such a specific query, but his concerns had grown as the day of departure drew nearer.

Therian raised his eyebrows and turned him a scowl.

“I’m sorry, milord,” Gruum said.

Therian went back to working upon the clasp of his cloak. He switched it for another one, this time bejeweled with six fire opals. “If you must know, I’m not entirely sure where the entrance is. But I know it is in the mountains and legend places it in the vicinity of the crypt where my royal family was laid to rest. I have my suspicions as to the details.”

Gruum blinked, taking in this information.
The entrance?
The entrance to what? He knew he had already pushed too far, however, and he bit back the question. The King was not accustomed to having his choices examined by his retainers.

They set off on the following morning. It was a fine day, but there was a chill bite in the air. As they left the city gates on horseback, fine flakes of snow dusted their cloaks. Gruum turned his face up and felt the tiny sting of each flake as it touched his cheek. Could the auguries be right? Summer was not yet done, but already it snowed…the crops would die before they could be harvested. Gruum did not like to think of the starvation that faced the people in the coming months.

They left the town without an entourage of guards. Gruum wagered the sorcerer did not feel the need for them. No one they met on the road dared to speak to them. Instead, commoners slammed doors and vanished around corners as soon as they saw their dour, long-faced King approaching. Gruum could not blame them.

When they reached the foot of the great stair that wound up the mountain face to the Tombs of Kings, they dismounted. The horses could go no further. Gruum looked up, and saw frost on the stairs in patches. It would be icy and treacherous. He shouldered his pack without complaint, however, and followed his lord up the path of cut stones.

As they passed the three hundredth stair, Therian paused and cursed.

“What is it, milord?”

“The servants did a poor job of cleaning this path,” the King said. He picked up an oddment from the stair in front of him and held it aloft for Gruum’s inspection.

Gruum frowned at the lump of gray matter. “Is that a rotten potato, sire?”

Therian twisted his lips in disgust. “It is a fleshy morsel from one of my relations, man. Have you no eyes?”

Gruum apologized, but Therian ignored him. The King tucked the bit of cold flesh into his belt. Gruum hoped he planned to return the remains to a grave above.

“This is just the sort of thing that will get us into trouble up there,” the King commented.

Gruum swallowed, but did not ask the King to explain.

When they reached the end of the stair, they stepped out upon a terrace of land with cliffs all around. The spot was known as the Roof of the World, and Gruum knew that for centuries past, the Hyboreans had come here to bury their most revered dead.

The stone cairns of fifty Kings and eight Great Kings lay scattered upon a broad plateau that cut into the side of the Dragon’s Breath peaks. The Great Kings were reckoned as those few who had ruled for more than a century. King Euvoran, Therian’s father, had been laid to rest as the eighth Great King, the highest honor possible. All of the tombs, large or small, looked like unnaturally rounded hills carpeted in lichen and bits of frost. Many of them showed signs of disruption. Wounds had been opened up in their sides, but the bodies had been stuffed back inside and the stones replaced. The dead here had walked, as they had all over Corium in answer to Vosh’s great call a month ago.

Huffing from the long march up the stair, Gruum let his pack sag down and sat upon it. Therian look at him wonderingly, but did not demand that he get up again. Gruum was grateful for the rest. He knew his master rarely felt fatigue, but Gruum had never supped upon a soul and so became tired like a normal man.

“This is the place they will lay me to rest one day, if I succeed,” Therian said, eyeing the cairns of the Great Kings. “A strange right to struggle toward. The privilege to be buried under a specific slab of rock.”

“It is an honor, sire,” Gruum said. “I’ve never expected more than a gutter or a briny cove full of crabs to be my final resting place.”

Therian snorted and smiled with half his mouth. “Well said, man! You bring me good cheer.”

Gruum smiled weakly in return, uncertain as to how he felt about his master’s cheer. Therian busied himself locating a likely spot to inter the scrap of flesh he had brought up from the long stair. “Never will they rest properly,” he complained. “Not with their parts scattered. I should have overseen every step of their return.”

After a brief respite, Gruum got his wind back and shouldered his pack again. He followed his lord to a mound apart from all the other cairns. This one stood undisturbed. They could tell just by looking at the growth of lichen over it and the lack of earth spilled, the dead had never crawled forth from this tomb.

“Have a care,” Therian said, putting up a hand to slow Gruum’s approach.

Gruum halted on the instant. “What is it, milord?” he asked in a hushed tone.

“The dead did not exit this one. I find that suspicious.”

Gruum licked his lips. He found it hard to fathom a place where the
quiet
dead were the dangerous ones. But he knew little of the subject.

Experimentally, Therian rolled away a head-sized stone from the top of the cairn. It was not one of the larger eight mounds of the Great Kings, but rather one of the fifty smaller tombs. Rocks and debris clattered and rolled to a stop. Therian pushed away a second stone, then a third.

“Look here,” the King said, motioning Gruum forward. “What do you make of this?”

Gruum leaned close, his breathing fast and shallow. “Looks like a ring of—green metal?”

“Copper, I believe. It has reacted to the environment, changing its color.”

They both pushed away more stones. Soon, a square metal door was revealed. The door was two feet across and attached to the corroded copper ring. A locking mechanism was located below. It consisted of a simple bolt shot home at one corner of the door. Therian’s gloved hand went to the bolt.

“Ah,” Gruum said loudly, lifting both of his hands in a cautionary gesture. “Perhaps we should not open that, milord. It appears this tomb remained sealed, whilst the others—”

Therian gave him a look of disgust and slammed the bolt open. Gruum took a step back, blinking in alarm. Nothing happened, however. The door did not spring open and disgorge a wild pack of dead royals as Gruum had feared.

“This tomb is different among all the others. My father once told me of it. This one is called the Traitor’s Tomb. Egred the Bastard was buried here eleven centuries ago.”

“And what was his special crime?”

“We do not speak of that,” Therian said stiffly.

“Not even a thousand years after the fact?”

“Well, I will say he was not entitled to his throne, and ruled poorly.”

Gruum nodded. He returned his attention to the copper door and the corroded ring, which had not moved nor made an unnatural sound. “Are you going to open it?”

“That would be grossly rude. Even one of your standing should know that you can’t simply throw open a man’s home without an invitation.”

Gruum’s eyes slid from Therian, to the copper door, and back again. His mouth opened slightly and hung there. His eyebrows arched high in bewilderment.

“An invitation?” Gruum asked.

“Yes.”

“But the traitor is
dead
, sire…isn’t he?”

“Of course.”

Gruum looked back at the copper door. “If there is a relative of yours in there, and he can operate his corpse, isn’t he dangerous?”

“Not necessarily,” Therian said. “You see, I rather expect Egred to be one of what we call the
clever
dead. A creature rather like Vosh—or your old friend Karn.”

Gruum nodded, stared for another few moments, and then finally shrugged as nothing happened. “Should we knock, then?”

Therian inclined his head, giving his permission.

Gruum reached out his hand slowly, and gave the copper door three raps. The reports echoed, as if there were a hollow interior behind it.

Still, nothing untoward occurred. An eagle wheeled by overhead and screamed at them. A mist blew up over the edge of the cliff overlooking Corium. The city was momentarily obscured.

“Now, milord?” asked Gruum, reaching for the copper ring. He felt certain they were wasting their time.

“If you must.”

Gruum pulled on the ring. It did not budge. He pulled harder, but all it did was creak a bit. “It appears to be stuck.”

“Perhaps,” Therian said.

Gruum climbed up on the mound and put both hands onto the ring. He used his knees, and strained mightily. There was a screeching of ancient metal as the hinges moved for the first time in a millennium. The door seemed fantastically heavy. Shaking with effort, Gruum twisted his neck to look into the crack he had forced open.

What he saw startled him. He let the door slam back down and sprang away from the cairn to tumble upon the stones and lichen. He scrambled to his feet.

“Milord,” he panted, eyes wide. “There is something inside. A ghostly hand, milord! I saw it holding to the ring on the opposite side!”

Therian nodded unconcernedly. He stepped up to the cairn and tapped on it lightly. “Egred, sire of my grandsires. Speak to me.”

“You are not of my descendant,” croaked a voice. The words were muffled and scratchy, as if they came from a throat that had spent many long nights screaming.

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