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Dragon Rider is a oneshot by. It tells the story of a young man named Leizu, and his battle to save his village from destruction.
Leizu pulled himself over the edge of the cliff face and rolled onto his back. His arms trembled from the effort of the climb, his fingers bled from several cuts due to the razor sharp rocks. Sweat rolled down his forehead and into his eyes, the salty liquid causing him to blink. His breath came from his mouth in even yet heavy heaves. The mist that escaped his lips was the same light gray as the overcast sky above, and the cold air that he sucked in both rejuvenated and stung his lungs.
In the distance a thunderous roar echoed over the mountains, and Leizu smiled to himself. He was close to his target now. This mountain had the best caves for roosting, the best cliffs for looking out for prey, an ample water supply, and above all else: the heat of a dormant volcano. The beast had to be here. If not, his entire mission would be for nothing, and his village would be in danger.
Standing and ignoring the ache in his lower back, Leizu readjusted the jian sword that rested securely between his shoulder blades. His few minutes of rest had been worth any discomfort laying on the weapon had caused him. Kneeling, he began to tighten the straps on his knee high boots. If he lost them while climbing, his feet would be exposed to the rocks, and his mobility would be limited when he would need it the most.
A deep thump reached his ears, like a distant short clap of thunder. But it wasn't thunder. The noise was getting closer, and happening far too often. Leizu braced himself against the stone cliff face as the wind suddenly picked up in speed and ferociousness. His short black hair whipped about on the breeze, but the hunter ignored this as his target flew into view.
Soaring by his cliff, easily within the throwing distance of a stone, was the serpentine frame of a massive black dragon. Its long whiskers were pulled back by the wind, the white horns on top of its head glistened, and its massive leathery wings pumped up and down at the pace of heartbeat. The beast curled once, twisting its form through the air before it shot into a cave opening about a hundred feet above Leizu's head.
Letting out a breath he didn't realize he was holding, the hunter produced a water skin and drank deeply in an effort to calm his frayed nerves. The encounter with the dragon was effecting him more than he would have liked to admit. Everyone knew that dragons were the original firebending masters. You had to be able to hold your own and be lucky to escape an encounter with a dragon alive. But black dragons were at the top of the list. They were huge, intelligent, healed quickly, and could breathe a fire as hot as the sun. And right now, Leizu was about to face one with just his sword, fists, and wits.
In reality, he was hoping that he could negotiate with the beast. That was part of the reason he was up here now, to try and get the beast to leave. This dragon had been making off with the livestock of a few farmers near his village. With that, it was only a matter of time until a fool loosed an arrow at the dragon, and then the retaliations wouldn't stop until the dragon was dead or the village was in flames.
In theory, Leizu's plan wasn't as outlandish as it sounded. Humans had long known that dragons were intelligent. If they could teach humans to firebend, then maybe humans could work with them for a better future. Of course for his plan to work he had to get close enough to talk, and if he was that close, then the beast could incinerate him faster then dry grass caught fire.
The odds were also not in his favor. Relations between humans and dragons had deteriorated several decades ago. Hunting of the beasts had driven the already reclusive creatures deep into the mountains, and any humans that had been unlucky enough to be stumbled upon had been killed without mercy. If he could negotiate with this dragon, then maybe he could help repair the relationship between the two species.
Returning the water skin to his belt, Leizu stood and prepared himself for the last part of the climb. He rapped bandages around his fingers, and formed his hands into fists once that was done. One hundred feet was a cakewalk compared to the thousand feet climb he had just finished. This time though, he didn't know what would be waiting for him at the top.
Taking a few quick breathes, Leizu jumped toward the nearest handhold he could see and resumed the rest of his climb. Hand, foot, hand, foot. For the next ten minutes his world comprised of nothing more than focusing on these movements in order to reach the top. His bandaged fingers burned in pain from the effort, and sweat poured down his face, but still he pressed on.
Finally, the hunter pulled himself over the last ledge and stood at the ready. Before him sat a black, gaping opening of a cave in a solid cliff face. Around him, gray clouds blotted out the landscape, making it seem as if the peak was only an island adrift in nothingness.
Wiping the last of the sweat from his forehead, Leizu reached down and pulled a horn from his left hip. The horn was curved like lips in a smile and was a highly polished white. Raising the horn to his mouth, the hunter said a silent prayer and then blew with all his might. Its pitch rose over the soft breeze, echoing off of the distant peaks like a ghostly wail.
Before the echo had faded, a deep throated, hissing growl emitted from the entrance of the cave. Then from the deepest point in the darkness, a pair of floating golden amber orbs appeared. Wait, not orbs. Eyes! A pair of large, golden, wild eyes were starring straight at him. The shadows seemed to creep froward from the black maw of the cave as the legs and feet of the dragon stretched out and gripped the edges of the entrance.
Steam and smoke poured out of the darkness as the great horned head of the beast slid into view. Its whiskers flicked in the air as it regarded the hunter with a hiss like snarl.
"I don't know if you can understand me, but if you can I need you to listen to me," Leizu said as he lowered the horn, his heart rate increasing. The dragon didn't answer as it began to snake its way around him like a python encircling its prey. He remained still and at attention, watching the beast out of the corner of his eye as its head snaked back into view.
"You've been taking too much of the village's livestock. If you do not stop now the farmers and the villagers are going to start shooting arrows and try to take you down. Even a blind man can see that if they fail, you'll retaliate and torch the village. It will be a vicious cycle of revenge until either you're dead or the whole village has been turned to ash," he continued, staring the dragon in the eyes. The beast snaked its head close and pressed one of its whiskers to the middle of his forehead.
"Then what do you suggest, human? Winter's cold grip is upon the land, and all of the prey has in these mountains has been picked clean by your kind." Leizu blinked in surprise at the voice. The dragon was female. He had assumed that she was male based upon her size, but now he realized he was mistaken.
"I didn't know that all of the game had been taken. The village has an ample storage for the winter, enough meat to last until next summer. I can bring you some meat to satisfy your hunger, enough to last until the spring when the cat deer return." The dragon cocked her head as she regarded the hunter.
"I am surprised that a human is worried enough about a dragon that it's willing to drag several pounds of meat up a mountain each day. Very well, human, I will agree your terms, on one condition." "Condition?"
"Yes. In the days of old when your kind came to mine in order to learn the true meaning of controlling fire, the master would test his would be apprentice's abilities to see if they were worthy. I can feel the power of fire within you human. If you subdue me, I will bow to you as the master and never again trouble your village. But if I subdue you, you shall be turned into ash by my fire, and your climb will have been in vain. Now, prepare."
With that, the dragon removed her whisker from his forehead and proceeded too uncoil from around him. She rose up and roared at the sky while Leizu glanced from one side to the other, assessing the area. On his right, there was a bend in the cliff face, a spot where the mountain had stopped and made a sudden turn. That was the only cover on this entire peak, and it was several feet away.
The dragon finished her roar and unleashed a torrent of white fire at him. Leizu dove to the side and took off at a sprint, drawing his sword in the process. The dragon snarled and breathed fire after him. He spewed out a curse and slid around the corner, narrowly avoiding the firestorm that rolled after him.
"I didn't actually agree to the terms!" he shouted back around the corner. The dragon merely roared in response. Stone glowed not far from his right boot, having been melted by the sheer heat of the dragon's fire. But that wasn't all that had been turned molten by the heat. The once shining steel blade clutched within his right hand drooped and glowed orange.
Leizu had not wanted this fight, but he should have predicted it. The legends and stories of dragons had long told of their love of duels against their human students. It only made since that he would have to win a duel with this one in order to get what he wanted. Taking a deep breath in through his noise, the hunter readied himself for the fight of his life.
Twisting on his foot, Leizu spun around the corner and swung his sword, slinging molten metal through the air. The liquid collided with the dragon's chest and face causing her to rear up and scream in pain. He dropped his sword and covered his ears to protect them from the noise. The dragon's eyes met his, the wildness now replaced with anger.
Throwing up his hands, the firebender barely had enough time to protect himself from the torrent of fire that descended upon him. The flames swirled around his body, but did not touch it. His clothes steamed as sweat turned to steam from the intense heat, and his skin turned red and began to blister.
Finally, Leizu's vision cleared as the wall of white flame died. He wasted no time, shooting fire ball after fire ball toward the dragon in rapid secession. This drove the dragon back, putting her on the defense. Now the dragon began too plan. It was obvious that the hunter could fend off her frontal attack with his bending. Perhaps it was time to change things up a bit.
Like a strike from a scorpion, the dragon's tail shot out over her hand and slammed his body into the stone wall to his right. Leizu fell to the ground, gasped like a fish out of water and his eyes bugged out of his head. The strike from the tail had been totally unprepared for, and unless he could get air back into his lungs he was a sitting duck.
He finally felt cool air rush back in with every gasp. This small victory was short lived as he heard the dragon draw in a deep breath. Leizu's arms were suddenly like springs, forcing his body away from the cliff face, just in time to avoid a wall of fire. The very air boiled from the heat of the white flames. The hunter wasted no time in jumping to his feet, swinging his fists and sending bolts of fire toward the dragon. Several of them missed their mark, striking the cliff above the massive black beast. But the end result was what he desired. Rocks knocked loose by the force of the fire blasts rained down on the dragon's back, forcing her to spread her wings and dive from the cliff.
Maybe it was the adrenaline pumping through his veins, or maybe it was sheer short sightedness that spurred his next action. The hunter kicked his sword, now little more than a jagged dagger, into his open hand and jumped after the dragon. It was only by luck that he managed to avoid impaling himself on the spine of pearl white spikes that ran down her back. He drove the snapped blade into the dragon's back and used it as a means of hanging on.
A screech of pain filled the air, just before the dragon began to preform a series of barrel rolls. Leizu's skin, which had been pink from burns, was now freezing cold from the icy winds. His fingers turned pale white, both from the grip on the hilt and the possibility of frostbite. The rush of the wind threatened to snatch his breath away again, and now he began to fear that the rapid transition from boiling hot to freezing cold would cause him to blackout.
"Give it up! I have you now, it's over!" he shouted over the wind. The dragon merely responded by slamming her back into the cliff side, pinning Leizu between her and the rock wall. He could feel the rocks tear into his back, allowing blood to flow free. He yelled out in pain, but refused to let go or give up. Finally, the dragon slammed down on a narrow plateau, throwing him from her back in the process. The firebender rolled across the stone surface, tried to stand, but a blinding pain shot up his leg and he stumbled. His knee was bent at an awkward angle, probably from being thrown off of the dragon's back. Leizu looked up at the dragon, expecting death. With his leg broken, there was no way he could maneuver and fight, much less walk. One last breath of fire, and the duel would be over. Much to his surprise though, the dragon lowered her head in a bow, signifying defeat. Forcing himself to sit up, the firebender looked on in awe and disbelief.
"I...I don't understand," he said. The dragon lowered her head and pressed her whisker to his forehead. "You fight with much fire in your heart. I bow to you as the rightful winner of this duel."
"I didn't win, I'm down and at your mercy," he replied in confusion.
"I can see even now, if this fight continues, you will face my firestorm with everything you've got. Most men would have given in, or turned and run. But then again, you are not like most men." Leizu could now see that she was moving at a much slower pace, like an old man with extreme back pain. There were scrapes and burn marks all over her body, and blood flowed free in some areas. Between his bending, his sword, and the falling rocks, he had wounded the beast.
"You hope to restore the relationship between Humans and Dragons, I can sense it in your words and actions. I, too, hope that harmony will be restored, so that my kind will no longer be hunted. Perhaps I can help you in this quest."
"I'm just one man who came up here on what everyone called a suicide mission. If I go back down there preaching about peace they'll think I've gone mad."
"But you will be a man who has bested a dragon. That will give you enough credit for them to listen. It would seem that we have been not properly introduced, and if we are to work together, that must change. I am Suiren, Last Mother of the Black Dragons. Who are you?" Leizu stood to the best of his ability and found it rather difficult. But he wasn't about to insult Suiren by not standing when he introduced himself. "My name is Leizu. I don't have a proper title, for I am just an ordinary man."
"You are no longer an ordinary man, for few men have accomplished what you have today. In the days of old, the Humans that had mastered a Dragon were given an honorary title by both their brothers and the Dragons. You are the first to accomplish this feat in several generations, it is only fitting that you inherit this title as well. Hail to you, Leizu, Firebending Master and Dragon Rider."
At that, Suiren threw back her head and unleashed and earth shattering roar. Fire belched from her lips, parting the gray clouds above for the briefest moment. Leizu couldn't believe it. He had saved his village from the wrath of a dragon, and now, with Suiren at his side, he had a chance to repair the damage that had been done.
Leizu and Suiren are both important figures in Chinese Mythology, being the discoverers of silk and fire respectfully.
In the original myths, Leizu was a woman and Suiren was a man.
For the collective works of the author, go here.