A Disaster of Dragons (working title) is a long fiction I’ve (weirdly) been trying to write for the last 6 years. It’s a mess of loose ideas I’ve not edited in any real way, filtered over years and years of trying to write a longer work, and to be honest, it’s not really written for anyone other than me (for the moment). I’ll be releasing it more or less weekly (depending on chapter length) and we’ll see if I can ever end up finishing it.
Synopsis: A Disaster of Dragons is about Yun, an adventurer who, only a short few years ago, went on a journey to defeat the Demon Lord and succeeded. In the aftermath of the battle, she was thought to have killed the Hero Nari Han and fled to protect herself, being branded as a criminal and hunted down by the Adventurer’s Guild. Though it’s been six years since the journey ended, Yun still wants to know the truth of what happened that day, and so, she reaches out to a former member of her party in hopes it might lead her there.
Formatting this is going to be something of a nightmare I don’t want to tangle with today, so I’ll link pages with the individual chapters below and also paste the entire up to date thing on this page in case you want to read the whole thing.
“…Do you know what they call a grouping of dragons?”
The remnants of a half-forgotten conversation floated around in time with the clicking of metal tracks underneath, bumping a gentle rhythm into the quiet whistling of wind. Yun blinked, her eyelids dragging heavily along the burning friction of early waking. She couldn’t remember what it was that had her dreaming so soundly, but she wanted desperately to return to it. She closed her eyes again only to find the cloying heat of summer sticking to her skin.
Giving up, she climbed down from the bed and sat by the window, letting the wind cool her face. Her hair, cut haphazardly below her ears, was clearly reflected in the window, and she noticed how much she’d have rather it have been left an inch or two longer and not hastily dyed black. Not like she had much of a choice in that regard. Outside, she could make out the lights of New Moon Port in the distance, breathing like fireflies against the darkness. A lantern rocked in time with the movements of the train, hanging off the end of a worn wooden staff. Yun snapped, a dim light flickered inside the lantern then spilled out, casting the cabin in shades of shifting orange.
She pulled the journal out of her bag, flipping through its tattered pages once more. Though not more than a couple years since she last wrote in it, she couldn’t escape the feeling that its contents were written by someone else. Its entries were sparse enough as is, spaced strangely and consisting mostly of resupply lists or notes about restaurants, but even now she felt there was something missing here and there, in the edges of her perception. Still, it was the only record that remained of her journey, so she couldn’t help but fret over its pages.
More vexed than when she awoke, Yun sighed, shutting the book and replacing it in her bag. With a snap, the lantern went out once more, inviting faraway lights to reappear in her vision. Though there were certainly better places to get a view, the darkness of the water surrounding the tracks provided a stunning mirror of the spilling purples and pinks of the Star Sea above. For a moment, the rapid movement of the train over the reflected stars evoked the feeling of riding further and further into the infinite depths of the galaxy.
Yun arrived two hours before sunrise, in the transient hour before the promise of dawn brings coffee stands and fishermen hustling past each other in the lamplit streets; the lanterns holding as steady as the nighttime sun. She came upon the last noodle shop hanging up its equipment and couldn’t help but stare longingly at the empty stockpots being thrown into the sink. Even if she hadn’t arrived just as it was closing, the dwindling pouch of coins in her pocket might not have stretched over dinner and an inn stay anyhow.
There was certainly an urgency to her travels, one that would have been much easier to address had her coin purse not sprung a leak that left her trailing gold for hours. At the point she noticed, it was much too late to salvage any of the fallen gold and she decided to cut her losses then and there. It wasn’t ideal to have to pick up jobs between stops in order to continue on, but it reminded her fondly of the day to day living of adventuring. She sighed, setting to find an inn for the night, walking along the cascading streets, taking note of the streetlamps reflected in the inky-black water below.
The smell of breakfast, or more precisely lunch, was enticing and Yun found herself unable to resist getting up only a couple hours after going to sleep. She draped herself in her traveling robes and walked down the solid wooden stairs, the warmth of the dining hall seeping into her bones. A melody of scents hung in the air accompanied by the sizzling of frying eggs. Charcoal grilled fish, the heavy aroma of garlic and onions being sauteed, and, most importantly, the smell of fresh bread being broken.
She sat down, ordered, then closed her eyes to listen to the ambient sound of people going about their day. She could make out conversations about work, home, romance, and more. Little snippets, enough to pique one’s interest. Then she began to see the threads open up before her closed eyes. Golden ropes woven across the room, some taut and some loose. Some intertwined and knotted, and others just beginning to fray.
The man sitting two tables over was having family troubles due to the uncharacteristically poor weather ruining his crop yield. His thread was taut and shining, though, and Yun guessed he would encounter some good fortune soon enough.
The woman sitting in the corner sounded like she was bragging about her inheritance, but her thread, while thick, was wound with the kind of tension that could snap at any moment.
The sound of a plate being set down cleared the visions away, causing Yun to open her eyes, a sparking golden tinge in them fading quickly to a dark brown.
“Oh. Thank you.” Yun bowed her head slightly.
“No problem, dearie. You enjoy now,” the server grinned.
She tucked into her food, taking care to rip open the bread. The aroma that burst out was of warm nights spent gently milling grain. If not for the abundance of people around, she might have wanted to just press her face directly into the bread and go to sleep. Instead, she dipped the bread into her soup and began to eat, letting the rich, fatty broth ease her thoughts away for just a moment. It had a deep, savory flavor that coated her tongue, permeating the soft, airy bread with resounding satisfaction.
She picked at the charcoal grilled fish next, letting the beautifully charred, crispy skin melt in her mouth, followed by beautifully juicy, tender flesh. It was hot enough that she had to intersperse each bite with a moment or two of intaking sharp breaths. Chasing it all down with a cup of bright coffee was exactly the kind of thing she woke up in the morning for.
After successfully wolfing down her breakfast, Yun gathered her belongings and checked out, leisurely strolling the streets. There was some time until she needed to be anywhere so she decided to look around. New Moon Port was the kind of place she liked: lively, full of diverse sights and sounds, and, most importantly, home to many, many different kinds of food. Though it was much larger than the coastal town she came from, it instilled in her the kind of nostalgic attachment that attracted her to all trading cities.
Of course, there were just as many things to find off-putting about such large places. Like the people on the street corners evangelizing about how such and some will cause the destruction of all civilization. It was always a little different everywhere she went. Yun listened for a second or two, but couldn’t really make heads or tails of it. She sighed, and walked to her destination.
Tucked between two larger shops was a small building constructed primarily of wood. Despite there being plenty of business in the surrounding area, the shop staring Yun down had no indication it was even open. Were it not for the smoke coming out of the chimney, it was possible to think no one was inside at all. It was that sort of place, after all. She slid the door open and was greeted by a wave of heat and incense that mingled oddly with the warming summer air. The inside was dimly lit and the sunlight refused to penetrate into the back of the shop, giving the impression of walking into a dark cave.
Sitting near the back of the room, near a fire pit dug into the ground, was a slender woman wrapped in an excessive amount of layers. Sheer white hair cascading down the entirety of her back and highlighting the sickly pale tone of her skin. A deep, dark blue cloth draped over her left eye matched the tone of her jacket, embroidered in subtle constellations of golden thread. She looked up, holding a long metal pipe with perfect precision, a steady tendril of smoke curling and undulating out of it like a living creature. When Yun got closer she could smell tobacco mingling with the incense.
Yun looked at, tried not to look at, Tsukimi’s thread. It was well-braided, shining ominously red, and coiled all around her body, tightly. It pressed against her clothes to accentuate her curves. It always felt invasive, but it was even harder to not see it considering the power that ran through those threads. Tsukimi was courteous enough not to mention the rapidly increasing blood flow rushing to her cheeks.
“Ruinbringer.” A low, deliberate voice cut through the air, caressing Yun’s ears. Her eye twitched as a reflex.
“Tsukimi.” Yun responded, staring at the composed smile that never quite reached her eye.
“You wish to know the whereabouts of the man formerly known as the Demon Lord, yes?” Her speech was always meticulously paced and listening to it had an effect unsettlingly not unlike claustrophobia. It paced around her, closing surely but ever so slowly.
Yun didn’t really know how to respond, wondering how, exactly, she projected that air of clairvoyance.
“For what other reason would the Ruinbringer send a letter to one of her former companions after so long? Certainly not to make small talk, I would imagine.”
“Perhaps not with you.”
“Certainly not with the others.”
Of all her former companions, Tsukimi was the only one who seemed to find her company even tolerable, owing likely to her own status as an outsider, even though she was well considered one of the heroes. A mechant wasn’t exactly the easiest role to fit into an expedition party; it was seemingly a miracle she made it out alive at all.
“I have prepared what you have asked for. As promised I will ask no questions. However, I will simply ponder out loud that perhaps your situation is a little desperate.” Tsukimi said, taking out a small, lacquered box.
“You could say that.” Yun said, tucking it into her bag.
”You are searching for answers.”
“How did you-?”
“You did not slay Nari Han.”
“You would believe the words of an outlaw?”
“I believe in my own judgement.”
“Nonetheless. You seek the Valley of Khine, to the northeast. I take it you know the way.”
“Surely. You will be needing companions, yes?”
Yun shook her head, Tsukimi twitched her eyebrows ever so slightly.
“Done with companions?”
“You and I both know-“
“That would be a shame. I have a knight looking to head to Khine as well. I imagine a good child like her could use the experience of a seasoned adventurer to get there safely.”
She sat still as death, slowly breathing in the last wisp of smoke from her pipe. She exhaled.
“Consider it a job, then. Since you cannot take them from the Guild.”
Yun stared, trying to read anything that belied her motivations. Even with her strained relationship with the other heroes, Tsukimi was the greatest mystery of the bunch. Utterly unreadable, nary an explanation, she couldn’t even be sure about what her gift was. She sighed.
“Fine. It won’t be cheap, though.”
“I will send only the finest.”
“Tomorrow morning. Earliest train out of here.” She felt her spine tingle in anticipation of a proper drink.
As she walked back to her inn, the closing of the daytime was signalled by the lighting of lanterns. Their flames kept the streets lit against the darkness, long throughout the night, and contributed to the epithet “The City of Starlight.” Strings of lanterns were dangled high above each street in dense lattices, suggesting the faraway lights lost when in the city’s midst.
It was at moments like this when Yun felt the most taken with the movement of people. The sounds of people heading home mingling with the smell of meat grilled over charcoal nourished her in a way she always cherished. Even ostracized as she was, the passing connection she felt to all those around her, as the gentle threads of fate brushed against her skin, reminded her always of why she went on the journey.
Yun stood on the endless plane. The sky was a piercing, painful blue that stretched her heart further than she could bear. Below her was the mirror-still water on which she stood. The smell of spent rain clouds hung in the air like static, more divine than earthly. She walked.
She walked for a long time before she found the first gate. It was tall and ancient, long since disrepaired, the vague impressions of color fading into a blanket of moss. For a moment, she could see a figure on the other side, though perhaps it was just her reflection. She stepped through the gate and fell into the abyss.
Straight through the surface and into the crushing depths. Her breath steadily ran hotter and hotter as she sank.
She couldn’t see, but knew a hand was being held out to her. She reached for it, stretching her arm until it felt like her joint would pop out and her muscles fray. She felt the soft brush of fingertips against hers.
Yun awoke, face-down in her pillow, and sat up to breathe the clear morning air.
Even before the sun had risen, the humidity of the air carried a pleasant and nostalgic warmth. Yun stood at the counter of a coffee stand, bags huddled in a pile below. In front of her was a small ceramic cup filled with coffee that she held precariously by its one-finger handle, taking small, careful sips until it cooled enough to drink properly.
She could hear the approaching of someone clad in armor behind her and turned to see a simple metal breastplate, worn and scratched but clearly taken care of. The woman wearing it was fairly tall, not older than her early twenties, only a couple years younger than herself, and her hair cut a neat, angled line halfway down her neck, the back retreating up, sharp enough to make Yun reconsider her own shoddy cut. Her skin was fair, but the color of her hair was even fairer, wavering between a sheer, snowy white and a hazy sky blue. There was something to her more than her straightforward appearance betrayed, but Yun couldn’t quite place it.
“My name is Adelaide. You’re the witch recommended by Miss Tsukimi, yes?” She stuck an armored hand out, which Yun shook, finding her grip to be altogether too enthusiastic for how early it was in the morning.
“I’m Yun.” She looked at her thread, noting how it seemed well-coiled and sufficiently taught, wrapped around her waist like a belt, but oddly knotted and seemingly snaking far out of view. She couldn’t make heads or tails of what that meant. While it wasn’t unusual for her to be unable to see the entirety of a person’s thread, she couldn’t help but feel that many were disappearing out of sight a little sooner than anticipated. An ill-omen, certainly.
“I suppose we have the train ride ahead, but I’ve also brought this,” she pulled out a pleasantly rounded bottle holding an amber liquor. Yun’s eyes perked up immediately. “Miss Tsukimi asked me to give it to you.”
She took it, nodding contentedly.
The whistle-pop-lock of tracks signaled the arrival of the train, followed shortly by a gust of wind.
The train was, as always, a welcome enough sight. The weathered cabins were clean, but bore the marks of traveling families, carved insignias from bored children and sanded grooves where luggage was held. Yun remarked at how long it had been since she’d shared a cabin with anyone to which Adelaide simply extended her enthusiasm for the idea.
”Miss Tsukimi was a friend of my older sister.”
“I wasn’t aware she had friends.”
“Lots of people say that.” Adelaide smiled. “She doesn’t seem too personable at first glance, right?”
“Second, third, fourth either.”
Adelaide laughed, clearly and loudly.
“My sister isn’t much for mincing words either.”
“Perhaps that’s why.”
“And how long have you known Miss Tsukimi?”
“Longer than I’d have liked to.”
A silence hung in the air as the train began to move, taking the two over the water, now in the light of day. The salt-sea air of the clear blue skies carried an inexplicable melancholy, a heart-wrenching freedom both beautiful and suffocating.
Adelaide’s gift was easy to understand, a rallying cry that could inspire others to draw out hidden strength. The kind of skill that would make for an impressive expedition leader. She was personable, too, making no less than six separate attempts to get to know Yun. Even there she was gentle, careful not to use her curiosity to pry, but to let her speak on her own terms. Were she born a few years earlier, she could have easily made a name for herself.
“My gift is one of Sight. I can see the threads of fate.”
“It’s a lot like fortune telling, if I’m going to be honest.”
“Can you affect this fate, then?”
“Barely. I can move the strings, adjust the flows, even rebalance or restring.”
Adelaide looked confused.
“I can manipulate luck.”
“Oh! That sounds useful.”
“Maybe. If you believe in it, that is.”
“Do you not?”
“Some prefer to forge their own destinies.”
“Is that possible?”
“It’s more common than you’d think.” Yun paused. “And more reliable.”
This job was going to be dangerous, for very little benefit to Adelaide. Yun had to admit she felt bad about that. About lying to her. She was sure Tsukimi had properly warned her, but it was one thing to assume a journey was going to be dangerous and another entirely to be hunted down by the Heroes who slew the Demon Lord.
“So the job is just to clean up some skeletons that have taken over a graveyard?”
“Someone didn’t do their due diligence with the burial rites.”
“Say, Miss Yun, do you know where skeletons come from?”
Yun wanted so desperately to say ‘from inside a person’s body.’
“… An unrited corpse may be infused with stray necromantic energy and simply get up.”
“Is stray necromantic energy that common?”
“Less than it used to be.” Yun sighed, polishing the lantern on her staff. “Mostly stemming from one incident. A long time ago.”
Adelaide whistled a dropping note as she watched the skeletons wandering aimlessly around the graveyard. When undisturbed, they almost looked natural, like it was just right for a walking skeleton to be a feature of a graveyard.
“Isn’t this usually a job for beginner adventurers?”
“I can’t take on much harder than this, personally. Sorry if that’s disappointing.” She was half telling the truth. This was the kind of job to fall through the cracks, seeing as it wasn’t administered through the guild. Plus, not everybody liked seeing human remains being puppeteered by stray spirits. Zombies were worse, though; the smell stayed with you for days.
Yun pulled a dagger out of a belt attached to her hip and gave it a small flourish.
“I was under the impression you were a caster,” Adelaide looked confused.
“It’s complicated. Just follow my lead.”
Yun took a moment to breathe, closing her eyes and letting the weave of corrupted fate appear before her, frayed and tattered lines glowing with malice and sorrow, binding poor souls in an ensnaring web. The ends of the strings, predictably, pulled deep into the earth, likely from where they had risen.
Waiting, like a spider sensing the vibrations on the web, Yun pounced suddenly, stabbing her dagger straight through a passing skeleton’s spinal column, from where it suddenly collapsed into an unmoving pile. Some runes engraved into the blade emitted a soft and gentle light. Adelaide gave a small whistle of appreciation.
The cleaning proceeded like this, until only a handful of skeletons remained, idly standing around a large tomb, likely belonging to some noble family. Still, there was something that wasn’t quite right. The skeletons had been severed from fate, releasing them from their control, but the errant strings remained, tangling ominously like a nest of snakes. Adelaide shivered, as a chill ran down her spine.
“Good intuition.” Yun said, taking out her staff and setting it down. Despite having twists and curves, it stood perfectly balanced, without a moment of hesitation. She snapped and a fire sprang to life inside the lantern, a soft golden line drawing a perfect circle on the ground with the staff at its center.
“This is my effective area. Stay inside it when possible.” She continued.
“What is it?”
“I don’t know. Something that shouldn’t be here.”
The remaining skeletons snapped to attention, a new intent burning in their eyesockets. More skeletons began climbing out of the ground, far outnumbering the previously shambling mob.
Yun looked over Adelaide. Skeletons on their own posed little threat to someone wearing decent armor. None of them were armed, either, which meant she had the range advantage as well. However the greatest danger now was whatever was directing the skeletons.
“Lock down the movement of the skeletons you can see. Hopefully we can draw the controller out.” Adelaide nodded as Yun readied her dagger once more and the two sprang into action.
Even when the scattering blow of bones crashed against her, Adelaide found that they hit glancingly, leaving her with minimal harm. Even if skeletons were considered creatures for newer adventurers to deal with, a swarm this big would be enough to overwhelm even a well-experienced party.
Nevertheless, the scene played out far more like a dance than a battle, with Yun ensuring they were never separated by more than two body lengths. If a skeleton came between them, it was quickly dispatched. Despite not having fought together before, Adelaide caught on quickly and Yun had enough experience to adjust her own movements accordingly. Even sword swings felt like they were connecting properly.
“I thought you said you weren’t good in a fight?”
“I’d be dead if you weren’t pulling your weight.”
While she did feel some truth in that statement, Adelaide found herself wondering once more what exactly the nature of her traveling companion’s history was.
Yun felt the pull of exhaustion weighing down on her. While she never had nearly the stamina of her companions, it had also been a couple years since she was at the height of her ability. Taking odd jobs here and there doesn’t exactly compare to the rigor of the Final Journey.
Luckily, the end was in sight. The corrupted strings began to move as something unearthed itself from the dirt. Her heart dropped upon seeing it.
“What is that?” Adelaide asked.
“Just my luck.”
The creature pulled itself out of the dirt, appearing as a bouquet of skulls supported by a twisted amalgamation of miscellaneous skeletal remains. The hollow laughter echoed out, backed by the chattering of teeth hitting teeth.
Adelaide immediately reinforced her stance, watching for any openings, but the creature simply turned and began to swing its many arms at Yun. While it was distracted, she attempted to strike a blow with her sword, shattering a segment of bone, only for some to fly off the ground to hastily replace them.
“What’s going on?!”
“It’s prioritizing threats.” Yun explained, putting all her focus in dodging the erratic movements of the creature. “It knows you can’t hurt it.”
“What do we do?”
“Catch.” The dagger flew through the air in a perfect arc, landing perfectly in Adelaide’s hand before she could even register it had been thrown.
“Miss Yun! That was extremely dangerous!”
“I had faith.” She said, right before being hit by a large swing that sent her flying.
Well shit, Yun thought, her vision reeling from the hit she just sustained. She could hear Adelaide shouting after her, clearly concerned. There were other things that were more important here, given that she had now painted a target on her companion’s back.
She went down the list, diagnosing her own status. Nothing broken, too seriously at any rate. Her mana had taken the brunt of the hit, she had always been good at this kind of magic, and only this kind. The creature was strong though. She hadn’t expected to use this much energy this quickly.
Yun sighed, closing her eyes to watch the strings. Adelaide was pressed, she was clearly outmatched. Still, she had taken minimal damage until now, allowing her to continue fighting at near full capacity. Good.
Adelaide raised the dagger forward, bolstering her own position and preparing for the next hit. The unmistakable rush of reserved energy flooded into her veins.
And into Yun’s as well. Perfect. With one motion, Yun tugged at Adelaide’s string, playing a soft melody audible only to her.
Something clicked and Adelaide rushed forward, ducking under the wide sweeps to press both blades deep into the spine of the skeletal abomination. A bright flash of light rang out, like the ringing in one’s ears after an explosion. A ghastly wail pierced their ears. And then it was all over. No more moving skeletons.
“Miss Yun, we did it!”
“Ugh.” Yun was bleeding from her mouth and her nose. Which led to the unpleasant feeling of tasting, smelling, and swallowing blood at the same time. Like a two lane road of blood coming up and down. She hated nosebleeds.
“Are you okay?”
“Mostly. Just drained.”
“What was all that about?”
“Stray necromantic energy.”
“It’s a little more complicated, but that’s the short version. I think.” She shakily rose from the ground.
“And the long version?”
“We don’t have a lot of great ways of knowing.” Yun stepped over to the remains of the skeleton creature. “Unless.”
“What are you looking for?”
“You ask a lot of questions.”
“You don’t give a lot of great answers.”
“Hm. Fair- AHA!” Yun pulled out a perfectly smooth, purple orb. “I knew I could trust you.”
Adelaide just stared.
“If you’re lucky, a creature like this may drop some remnant of their power.” She paused. “I am not lucky.”
“Doesn’t work on me.”
Yun polished the orb and gave it a shake like one might jostle a children’s toy they were particularly upset with.
“HEY HEY HEY HEY HEY. STOP THAT.” A voice like a disturbed animal waking from hibernation rang out.
Adelaide’s eyes widened.
“Hello there. You have a name?”
“MAYBE. FOR ME. NOT FOR YOU.”
Yun looked unamused and started shaking again.
“OKAY OKAY. YOU’RE GONNA SEPARATE MY SOUL AT THIS RATE. SHEESH LADY.”
“YOU SPEAK TO SYKORA, KING OF THE UNDEAD, LOYAL GENERAL OF DEMON LORD CARR.” Laughter rang out across the now-quiet graveyard.
“Long time ago, huh.” Yun started counting backwards the number of years that must have passed.
“Wait, there were multiple Demon Kings?”
“It’s a title. Like any other, it’s passed down. The procession is what makes it unique-”
“TELL ME LITTLE GIRL. HOW LONG HAS IT BEEN SINCE THE TIME OF LORD CARR.” Sykora was clearly interested, hearing the distance and the years in Yun’s voice.
“I SEE. SO LONG IT HAS TAKEN TO REGAIN MY POWER. I AM TOO LATE FOR YOU MY LORD…”
“AND WHO IS THE CURRENT DEMON KING?”
“The throne stands empty. Demon Lord Gou was felled six years ago.”
“AND SO THE DEMONS SLEEP ONCE MORE.”
“The Rift is still open, though.”
The shock implied a jaw being dropped, though no such apparatus existed for the orb.
“We can speak more later, Sykora. For now I’d like to leave this graveyard.”