The Faded Kingdom – Chapter 14

With renewed energy, the Human continued down the path. It sloped gently downward, and the darkened, blasted land began to lose even its burnt coloration, fading to an ashen gray. Ahead, a mild rise in the landscape blocked the view ahead. Cresting the hill, the Human stopped, stunned by what lay beyond the hill.

The land continued its slow descent from the base of the hill, an ashen plain marked only by the occasional burnt stump of a tree. These stumps stopped a few hundred paces from the base of the hill, however, replaced by smooth ash. The ashen plain eventually found an end at an immense, dark, still body of of water. The water spread far out into the distance, with a faint shore barely visible at the horizon. To either side the shore curved away, giving the impression that this body of water was somehow circular.

The Human sank to the ground. There was no sign of a way across the water. No trees were intact enough to construct a raft, no boat traffic could be seen, and the distant shore was much too far away to be reached by swimming. Then, the Human noticed something that marred the smooth line of the ashen shore. A blurred shape paced back and forth along the edge of the water, seemingly without aim or pattern. Rising, the Human moved closer.

Up close, the shape was shaped like a person, but was far more indistinct than any of the beings the Human had so far encountered. It was nearly transparent, visible more as a distortion in the air, than as an object.

“Hello?” inquired the Human. “Can you hear me?” The shape did not respond, but continued to restlessly flit back and forth along the shore. Then, a bit further along the shoreline, the Human spotted another such shape. And then another, and another. The shore was swarmed with indistinct shapes milling along the edge, as if they, like the Human, desired to cross the water.

The Human moved to the edge of the great sea, hoping that perhaps it was shallow, and thus could be crossed, at least partially, by wading. Ripples flowed outwards as the Human stepped into the water, marring the smooth surface. The ripples continued endlessly, without diminishing, unlike what the Human remembered from back in the Present. Then, all at once, the ripples froze in place, and a low rumbling could be felt through the shore. With a great shattering sound, the surface of the water began to move again, but this time with a great swell, as something immense began to rise from the deep.

It appeared to be one long, great creature that spread off beyond the horizon in each direction, following the curved shoreline. As it rose, waves of water were pushed towards the shore. The faint figures pulled back, retreating from the water. The Human stood fast, letting the waves flow past and then recede. The huge creature was not just rising to the surface, but it was moving towards the shore.

Slowly, the gargantuan bulk drew closer. It slowed as it came, and when it came close enough for details to be visible, the Human could see scales covering its skin. A bulge became visible in the line of its body, and the Human saw the head of the creature emerge from the water. Strangely, it held what appeared to be the tail of a similar creature in its mouth. It did not seem to have eyes or any other way of sensing the world, but the Human could feel the focus of its attention. As the head drew up on the beach, it never released the tail in its mouth. The tail trailed off into the water, becoming thicker as it went, until it became the right side of the creature’s body, leading off into the horizon. This beast was biting its own tail!

“How did you come here?” A great pressure filled the Human’s mind. It did not resolve into words, but the meaning was somehow clear. The Human hurriedly bowed.

“I seek the spirits of my family who should have passed this way before me.” The Human was suddenly struck by the thought that perhaps the faded shapes along the shore were spirits. Were the Human’s family among them? How could the Human recognize them? They did not seem to interact with the world other than to avoid the water.

“I am not concerned with the travels of shades,” rumbled the great beast. “My concern is how one of your kind came to this place. You do not belong here, and you must leave. These waters are not to be disturbed by the living. Although, you are not entirely living, are you?” The Human again felt the force of the beast’s attention. Eyeless, it seemed to peer directly into the Human’s mind and soul, and it did not seem be be impressed by what if found.

“I do not know how I came to be here, Great One,” answered the Human. “My grief pulled me to this place, and all those I have encountered told me I must follow this path to find my family. I did not mean to disturb you or this place. Please, did my family come this way, and, if so, is there a way to follow them?” There was a rumbling pressure that felt like low laughter.

“Great One. Could it be that you do not know me? I am the beginning and the end. All is one in me. I shall rise at the end of time, and yet time, and I, have no end. I am the border between chaos and order, between Past, Present, and Future. I am the World Serpent, the Ouroboros. I hold back the waters that would flood the land, and the land that would cover the waters. If you came down the path behind you, you may have seen an echo of Myself in Jormungandr, yes? Still battling the Storm God, I imagine.”

“Yes,” replied the Human. “Along with the rest of the Dragon’s heads. The Storm God said they would fight until the end of time.”

“And yet,” rumbled the World Serpent, “I have no end. I suppose what they say is still true, in a way. Were one or both of them to die, it would mean that chaos and order were no longer in balance, and all would end. You seek the spirits of your family. You have come a long way to find them. Assuming they were not among those lost souls along the shore, here, then they would have made their way across to the Isle.”

“Is there a way to tell if the are still here?” asked the Human. “These spirits do not seem to know I am here.”

“These are the Lost. They had so much fear in their souls that they refused to make the last leg of their journey. They feared Oblivion so strongly that they have condemned themselves to an even worse fate. They have only to take a step, and they would be saved, but their fear keeps them from even so small an effort. They refuse to continue the cycle, and are thus Lost. Were those you seek full of dread, fearing all things?”

“No,” answered the Human, relieved. “They were full of love and life and joy. Even when they sickened, they did not fear what came next.”

“Good. Then they would have made it to the Isle.”

“But how? I see no boats. Should I swim?”

“Only if you wish to lose all that you are!” laughed the great serpent. “The waters of Lethe will erase what holds your Self together. They embody chaos and are poison to the Selves of mortals. You must wait for the boatman. He will carry you across safely, but you must pay your way.”

“I have no coin,” said the Human. “What payment does the boatman seek?”

“That is up to him,” answered the serpent. “He should arrive shortly, drawn by the call of your soul. Take care when you board his boat, however. You must not make more ripples, and were you to fall into the water violently, far more than your memories would be lost. If the chaos of the waters gained access to a living soul, the balance would fail, and the Waters would cover the Earth once more.”

“Thank you for your warning,” said the Human, stepping carefully back from the edge of the water. “I shall take care.”

“See that you do.” The World Serpent began to slide back into the water, eventually disappearing from sight. The water became mirror-smooth once again. The Human sat down to wait, hoping for patience.

It was not long before a small dot appeared on the horizon, directly out from where the path entered the water. It drew closer, and the Human saw it was a boat with a figure at the prow, using a long oar to push the boat smoothly across the water. With a soft crunch, it pushed up onto the ashen beach, just next to the path.

The boatman, tall and angular under the shifting folds of an ethereal black robe, reached out a hand towards the Human. The hand at first appeared to be skeletal, but it was, in fact covered in a sort of flesh. It was insubstantial, like the Human’s cabin, translucent and wavered like fog.

“I need to cross,” said the Human. “What is the fare?” There was a long pause before the boatman spoke with a long-disused voice.

“Gold,” rasped the boatman. The Human despaired. There had been no coin in all of this strange world. The Human opened the turtle shell container, hoping to find something of worth, and saw the gold framed mirror from the Water Mother. The Human was loathe to part with such a gift, but it was the only gold available. The Human held the mirror out to the boatman.

The boatman reached to take the mirror, but froze as soon as he made contact with the frame. It was a long moment before he shuddered and pulled his hand back.

“This came from the Mother,” he whispered. “With her blessing, you have been given passage on all of her waters, even here.” The boatman gestured for the Human to board.

Carefully, mindful of the World Serpent’s warning, the Human clambered into the boat, and carefully put the mirror back into the container.

“Thank you. I need to go where the spirits of the dead go. Is that the Isle?”

The boatman nodded silently and pushed the boat away from the beach. With a deft motion of the oar, the boat turned and headed for the far shore.


The Faded Kingdom – Chapter 13

As the Human walked, the air grew warm and dry. More than once, the Human had to stop and cough as the air filled with with a fine ash. The ground was studded with burnt stumps of trees, and the blackened bones of small animals who had not escaped the blaze. The ground took on a glassy look, as if from a fantastic heat. Strangely, as the devastation grew worse, signs of life could be found. A blade of grass pushed through a crack in the baked ground, while a tiny leaf was just budding from the side of a blackened stump. The air was a mix of ash, heat, and the occasional whisper of spring. The sky was nearly pitch black above, with just a sliver of Sunset  to be seen ahead. Turning, the Human noted a slight glow that resembled the light just before dawn. It was so faint as to seem illusory. The Human turned back towards the Sunset and trudged down the path.
The air became uncomfortably warm. The earth itself radiated heat, and, in the deeper cracks, embers flickered. A hot breeze fanned the embers to life as it brushed past, but there was no fuel left to feed the embers into flames. The path began to slope downward sharply, and the Human could see that the path descended into a large bowl-shaped depression. It appeared to be headed to the heart of the devastation, a large mound of burnt wood, still lit with fitful coals.
As the Human drew close, the mound of wood resolved into what seemed to be a huge nest, carefully woven from wood the size of the Human’s wrist. The nest sat just to one side of the path, at least 10 paces across, with the lip rising chest-high to the Human. The heat emanating from it was nearly unbearable. Hot gusts pushed out, forcing the Human to lean forward to make progress, one arm raised to both light the way and provide protection from the ash. As the Human drew even with the nest, it shuddered, and the air suddenly cleared as a new, even hotter wind blew away the ash. The coals in the nest flared nearly back to life, and the Human staggered back. The crystal was no longer needed to see the path, as the glow from the nest was nearly as bright as a torch. The Human drew closer to the nest, peering over the edge to see the source of the heat. Inside, sat an egg, as wide as the Human was tall. The shell was a glowing pearl white, with streamers of red, orange, and yellow light flowing over its surface. Blue and green sparks played around it, as it began to rock slowly back and forth. Fascinated, the Human stood and stared, too enraptured by the beauty to be afraid.
The sparks flew more densely as the egg shivered and with a sound like nearby thunder, a crack appeared across the center of the shell. Beams of brilliant crimson, gold, and white flew from the crack, forcing the Human to raise a hand protectively. The air vibrated, not with a true sound, but with a palpable joy. The crack in the egg grew wider and a metallic red beak forced its way out into the air. A head feathered in gold and orange followed. The eyes, both a crackling electric blue, locked onto the Human. The beak opened and the Firebird sang a note like the dawn after an eternal night. The Human felt tears of rapture begin to flow. For the first time since coming to this dim place, the Human knew joy.
The Firebird shouldered its way out of the shell, which turned to find white ash as it fell away from its former occupant. Shaking the ash from its feathers, the Firebird cocked its head to one side and took a cautious step towards the Human.
The Firebird sang notes of light and warmth which formed radiant thoughts in the Human’s mind. “Blessed are you who first grace my sight, O child of the Present. My rebirths come once in a thousand years, and rarely have a witness, much less one who comprehends what is unfolding. Pray, tell me what brings you here to my presence. To be born is often a lonely thing, and I thank you for sharing it with me,” it sang.
The Human drew a breath of clean, warm air and spoke, bowing as far as the edge of the nest would allow.
“Truly I am blessed to have witnessed such a miracle. I only happened to be here through an unfortunate chance. Your rebirth has been the one true moment of grace in this land and for some time before I arrived here. I seek my family, who passed into death without me. My grief brought me to the Past, and I am seeking to restore my family to me.”
“It is good that you seek restoration, rather than Oblivion. That cursed place offers not the cleansing power of destruction, only dissolution. I can see the grief at the heart of you, and would offer a way to remove it.”
“Is it in your power to restore my family to me?”, asked the Human, hopefully.
The Firebird stepped forward, perching on the lip of the nest. Its legs were covered in golden scales, and its talons shone like red gold. It shook out its tail, and spread it out into a broad fan. The pattern was similar to that of a peacock, but in ruby, topaz, and amber rather than sapphire and emerald. The warm light that shone from its feathers illuminated the blasted land around the nest. As the light drove away shadow, life began to spring forth in earnest. Blades of grass pushed through the layer of ash, and tree roots broke through the patches of fused glass. Saplings struggled out from the burnt stumps, shattering the charcoal shapes as they grew. Flowers sprouted from the cracks in the ground, which had become filled with rich soil.
“I offer rebirth, not restoration,” the Firebird sang, with an edge of sadness. “True rebirth comes through cleansing destruction. It is a joyous process, but much would be lost. You would be reborn in the Present, free of sorrow and loss. You could start anew, and find a happier path.”
“But I would not have my family with me,” said the Human.
“If you can bring them to me, I can offer them the same, but they would be washed as clean as you. You would all return to life, but at its beginning. Perhaps you would find one another again, but not as you once were.”
The Human was silent for a long moment, as life flowed through the crater, new buds blooming, leaves turning towards the Firebird for light and life. There was so much beauty in rebirth. Since the Witch had not given any way to find the Future, perhaps this was a better way. Even if the Humans family was not together, surely it was better than Oblivion?
The Human spoke slowly. “I thank you for your offer, brilliant one. It is a far kinder one than I could have hoped for. If I am unable to find a way to restore my family, then rebirth will be the path I choose. Thank you again.” The Human bowed once more, and, raising the crystal, started to move off down the path.
“Wait!,” cried the Firebird. “Bring that stone to me. Let me see it more closely.” The Human turned and lifted the crystal, the glow of which was barely visible in the radiance of the Firebird. The great talons of one foot took it gently and raised it to a sparking blue eye. The Firebird trilled quietly as it turned the stone about.
“This come from the Rock King, does it not?” asked the Firebird. The Human nodded. “You have used its light to face the Dark, as well.” The Human nodded again, but the Firebird did not appear to notice. “I believe I have another way to help you,” it sang. Returning the crystal to the Human, the Firebird reached back with its beak and pulled loose a feather from its splendid tail.
“Take this. Use it along with the other gifts you have gathered. It may be enough.”
“Enough for what?” asked the Human.
“Enough for you to face what you must,” replied the Firebird. “I cannot foresee what shape it may take, but your most difficult task is still before you. It will be dark and difficult, but I see you have the strength to face it.”
The Firebird bowed low before the Human, who returned the gesture.
“May the blessings of light and life guide you,” sang the great bird, “and may you find the love you seek.” Straightening, it spread its wings, which were feathered in the same fiery tones as its tail. It leapt into the air and soared in a spiral over the crater. Its song rang out, tones of rapture, hope, and joy. It circled higher and higher, until it appeared to become a distant yellow star.


The Human looked at the feather, which gave off a brilliant light far brighter than that of the crystal. It was too bright to look at for long, so the Human placed it into the turtle-shell container. It was now apparent that the shell was translucent, and the container shown a warm yellow, with streaks of brown. Again raising the crystal to light the path ahead, the Human began to climb out of the crater.

The Faded Kingdom – Chapter 12

The Human held up the crystal once more and trudged back down the path to the clearing of the great tree. The tree was now quiet and did not attempt to speak to the Human. Nor did the Human wish to talk to the tree. It now seemed that only determination would serve to find the Human’s family. Despite the promises of the Tinker and the great tree, the Witch had granted nothing but wasted time and frustration.

The Human found the original path again and set off, hoping that this side trip had not cost too much time. There was no real way to tell time here, and the Witch’s house had been so strange that the Human could not trust the memory of time passing, either. The path wound through the forest, switching directions frequently, and the Human became more and more frustrated with the slow linear progress.
After a time, the silence was broken by a deep rumbling sound, more felt through the ground than heard. It was answered by another, sharper noise. Both came from up ahead, and the Human picked up speed to see what was causing the sounds. More sounds came, growing louder as the Human approached. The leaves on the trees visibly shook, now, as insubstantial as they were, and the Human could feel the ground trembling.
Finally, rounding a last curve in the path, the forest gave way to a broad plain. The plain was strewn with broken and burnt trees, water-filled divots, churned earth, and parched patches of dried mud. The cause of this desolation was clear. In the center towered a giant of a man. His head was wreathed by the crackling glow of lightning, and he wore shimmering armor of a style the Human had never before seen. He stood so tall his face was lost to distance; only visible as a paler area wreathed by silver-streaked hair, above a great beard, and below the flickering lightning crown. He was locked in combat with a beast that the Human had only ever heard of as fiction. A many-headed dragon faced the giant. It had more heads than the Human could count, each one different from the others. It had as many tails lashing behind it. As the two fought, their footsteps caused the booming sounds the Human had been hearing. Their attacks blasted the land, and the dragons steps, especially, altered the ground as it paced.
The Human could just make out the path winding across the plain, appearing to head straight across. The giant and the dragon, however, fought astride it. The path was so damaged by the battle, the Human worried that skirting around the two would mean risking losing the path altogether. Somehow, the Human had to find a way past the two combatants.
As the Human watched the battle, hoping that the fight would move away from the path, something about this contest seemed familiar. The giant fought with a huge mace, trying to crush the dragon’s heads as they darted in to snap at him. The dragon had taken some wounds, and where they bled, the ichor smoked and burnt the ground. Other wounds leaked vermin and snakes, insects, and scorpions fell from the dragon’s flanks. The giant managed a strong blow on one head, a sinuous one with drooping mustaches, and it fell limp. As the giant turned to attack another, this one a scaly monstrosity resembling a huge black snake, the first head healed before the Human’s eyes and reared up to rejoin the battle.
The giant was not unscathed, either. As the battle raged, he turned more towards the Human, and it was apparent that he was blind in one eye, and his armor had several great rents in it. His left arm hung limp, as if the sinews had been cut. One of the dragon’s heads, this one metallic green with a horned nose, darted in towards that weakened side. The giant started back, and tripped over a fallen tree. When he hit the ground, the force was great enough to trigger a massive earthquake. The Human fell, clutching the ground, glad to be out from under the trees at this moment. Before the dragon could press the attack, however, the giant made a wild swing with his mace, clearing enough space to stand.
One of the dragon’s rearmost heads had a nearly human look. It had jet black eyes and hair and seemed reluctant to join in with its brethren. As it looked about its gaze fell on the Human standing where the path entered the plain. It stared, surprised. This, in turn, caught the attention of a fish-like head nearby, who turned to see what had caught the first head’s attention. A third and then a fourth head did the same, until all of the heads not actively fighting were staring at the tiny anomaly. At this point the giant noticed something was unusual in his opponent’s behavior, and took a step back, circling to his right to get a view at whatever was so fascinating to the dragon. This, then, caused the dragon’s other heads to look. Soon, the three of them the giant, the dragon, and the Human stood staring at one another in silence.
“Excuse me, great ones,” said the Human, bowing low. “Would it be possible for me to get past you on the path? I have far to go and not much time.”
“And where are you going?” asked the dragon head that looked nearly human.
“I am seeking the spirits of my family. They would have come this way, moving towards Oblivion. I am trying to catch up with them before they are lost to me forever.” The human dragon head nodded sympathetically.
“I understand the draw of family. I miss my wives. Back in the Present, we were so happy. Here, however, I am tied to these other aspects of myself, and unable to be with my loves.”
“Is that why you do not join the fight?” asked the Human, curiosity overcoming caution.
The black snake head whipped around to face the human head.
“You are not fighting? No wonder we have been unable to make progress.”
“I am not the only one! Leviathan was not fighting, either!” retorted the human head.
“Do not drag me into this, Kaliva! I have my own reasons for not engaging in violence with our honored opponent,” said the fish head.
“Both of you! All of you there in the back! You leave the fighting to Yamata, Jormungandr, Illuyanka, Typhon, Xianliu, Yam, Apep, myself, and a few others. Why do you not join us! We could win if we were united!” cried the black snake head.
“Zahhak, you know why I do not fight,” answered Leviathan. “I am fated to die at the end of time. As you are, Jormungandr,” Leviathan nodded at a snake-like head near the front. “Are you so eager to bring about the end of days?”
“Bah! Superstition! We are the Dragon! We cannot be slain!” answered Yamata, the head with great mustaches.
“You can, as you well know!” cried Kaliva. “Or do you forget that time you got so drunk you fell asleep and all but one of your heads was slain so fully only one of you now remains!”
“That wasn’t just me! Illuyanka drank too!,” roared Yamata.
The argument was cut short by the bellowing laughter from the giant. He was bent nearly in two, his good hand on his great thigh, shaking with mirth. His laughter was like thunder, and small bolts of lightning were shaken loose from around his head, falling to strike nearby.
“What is so funny, son of Odin?” asked Jormungandr. A green and gold snake-like head near the front sighed loudly.
“How many times do I have to tell you? That is not Thor, it is Zeus, my mortal and eternal enemy!”
“No!” interrupted a head that was hooded like a cobra. “That is Ra!”
“No! That is Yu the Great!” cried a head that resembled Yamata, but larger and with different coloring.
Soon all the heads near the front were snapping at one another, shouting the name of which enemy they thought they fought. Many the Human had heard of, but many others were novel. The heads near the back looked at one another helplessly. They seemed resigned to the squabbling, but not surprised. The giant was now seated on a nearby pile of fallen trees, drinking from a wineskin. He turned towards the Human, grinning.
“I would not try to cross when my foe is like this, little one,” came the great booming voice. “They may fight for days, and the stomping of feet and lashing of tails will be quite hazardous for such as you.”
“They seem to be arguing over who you are,” answered the Human. “How can they fight with such ferocity if they do not know you?”
“Ah, but they do. Each one sees a different aspect of me, the one it fought it life and legend. I am the Storm God, the embodiment of order and light. I have as many names as my friend here,” he gestured towards the Dragon, “has heads. He is the embodiment of chaos, in opposition to me. Although I have been known to wreak my share of destruction over the ages. We shall fight until the end of time, and then I shall finally defeat him.”
“You must have been fighting for a very long time,” said the Human, eying the destruction that stretched around the two. “Do you never tire?”
“There have been respites. As Kaliva mentioned, I have had victories, although they did not last. And I have had my setbacks as well. The sinews from my arm and my eye have been lost, and my wounds run deep. I always regain what I have lost, however. Sometimes I manage to lock my foe away under the earth for a time. Then I can find time to rest. I suspect the Dragon uses that time to recover strength as well. We always fight the more fiercely when he escapes.”
“What about those heads that do not fight?” asked the Human, walking over to sit near the Storm God.
“Ah, those. Our relationship in life and legend is not always adversarial. Kaliva reformed when defeated by Krishna, and Leviathan is not aggressive by nature. Even Zahhak has times when he becomes more like a man and steps back from the fight. He is always swayed to return to the fray, however. Jormungandr fights knowing it will be slain, but it knows it shall slay me in turn, and its hatred is so strong it is willing to pay the price to see that result.”
“You shall both die?” the Human was surprised to hear the giant speak of death so carelessly.
“In a way. When the end of time comes, both order and chaos will pass away, to be reborn in the world to come. We will end as we are and become something new. It is not so terrible a fate.”
“I beg your pardon for changing the subject, but I need to pass through here if I am to catch up to my family. I fear that if I go around, I will never find the right path in all this destruction, but the path forward travels very near the feet of the Dragon. Is there another way?”
“Perhaps. Kaliva seemed moved by your plight, as it is quite near to his own. Let me see if he is willing to help.” The Storm God cupped his hands to his mouth and blew a gust of wind towards the Dragon. When it reached its destination, the squabbling heads took no notice, but Kaliva, Leviathan, and the other peaceful heads looked up, curious. The Storm God gestured from the Human to the path, raising a great eyebrow questioningly. Kaliva nodded, and bent to confer with the rest of the rearmost heads.
After a brief conversation, the rearmost heads rose up as one, and turned towards their tails, pulling the body backwards. They were not used to exerting their will over the body they shared with their combative brethren, but with the aggressive heads distracted, they were able to get the legs to step backwards bit by bit. At the giant’s urging, the Human hurried back to the path and started along it at a fast walk, not wanting to be caught in the Dragon’s path, but not wanting to draw attention, either.
As the Human drew even with the Dragon, on of the fighting heads, a dull metal-scaled beast, caught sight of the Human passing and looked down to see that its body was moving away from its most hated foe.
“Beware my brothers!” it cried. “We are betrayed!” The other heads whipped around in response.
“Smeu! You are right!” answered Typhon. “A trick! We should have known!”
“Get it!” Called Yamata. “I hunger, and have not tasted flesh in so long!”
The forward heads surged towards the Human, and the Dragon’s feet churned as opposing instructions reached them. The ground alternately flooded and dried to desert, and poisonous ichor sprayed as wounds were stressed by the pulling. Eventually, however, the aggressive nature of the Dragon of Chaos won out and the body sped towards the Human, who was now running as fast as possible.
Fire belched from the mouth of Smeu, and other heads snapped forward, each bite coming closer to the Human with each stride. Just as the Human was covered by the Dragon’s shadow, and felt sure the end was near, the Dragon pulled short, Yamata’s teeth snapping shut a mere handsbreadth from the Human. The Dragon’s body lurched and fell heavily, as a great bellow came from behind it.
“Oho!” cried the Storm God, stepping on several of the Dragon’s tails. “You will not escape me so easily! Turn and fight! Or do you so fear me you prefer tiny prey to a true foe?”
The front heads rose as one and roared defiance. The Dragon rose to its feet and whirled around, yanking its tails from under the foot of the giant, who hopped back to avoid falling. The Human resumed running, ducking as the tails spun past just overhead, as the Dragon turned and charged its ancient foe. The Human risked a look back, and saw Kaliva looking back in return. He nodded gravely at the Human and then turned back to watch the battle. The Human, now safe from immediate devouring or trampling, still hurried across the plain, carefully staying on the path. As the distance from the battle increased, the path became clearer and wider, eventually resuming the straight and even appearance it had earlier.
As the Human walked, the sound of the struggle behind grew fainter, until all was again silent. The land grew more and more lifeless, however, and the ground took on a blackened, cracked look, like a great fire had raged here. Wary for the case of this devastation, the Human continued on.