Specimen 400012 by Bertie Atkin
The sign hung over the massive shop- Take one item for free- but choose well. A hooded figure entered the Cabinet of Curiosity as a withered old woman sat at the desk and watched as the figure flung open the doors and slipped inside. Pickled taxidermy animals floated grotesquely in green liquid and odd dragon-like fish squirmed in blobs of similar potions that hung suspended in the air. Artifacts and antiques, gems and gelatinous blobs, glowing purple scales and wizard’s hats- this place had it all. The woman hurried to help a group of suited men carry away a living dinosaur and the cloaked figure took his chance to grab a patch of blue-purple skin- like a snake’s. He grabbed another item, a vial of purple liquid, and smashed it. The dinosaur roared and sent one of the suited men flying into a dragon skeleton. The bones rolled around the shop and tripped the rest of the customers. Chaos ensued and the figure dissipated like gas.
Seconds later five armed men in jet black unmarked armour charged into the ruined building. The glowing purple barrels of the futuristic guns lit up the shop. It was mending itself- ropes and planks and bricks jumping into place. The woman who owned it was growling like a cornered wolf as she conducted the reconstruction like an orchestra of materials.
“I knew I should have set up in the Forgotten Woods,” she mumbled, “None of the elves I know would break my dear shop.”
The men came up to her.
“Do you know where the Hollow Scale is?” snarled the lead man.
“Not now, not now,” said the flustered woman, “My life’s work has just broken.”
“Oh, that wasn’t a request,” said one of the men, pressing his weapon to her short head, “It was an order.”
Hundreds of miles away, a beast made its home in the Dragonridge Mountains. It was totally alien to the land around it, used to the cold vacuum of space. It had a dragon-like head with glowing purple eyes and blue-purple skin. A long skeletal tail stretched out behind it and it had no bulk to its body except for its riblike chest and long backbone. Small diamond-shaped teeth jutted out from a spiky jaw and a purplish sheath of energy covered its eyes. It let out a roar that echoed around the mountains, scaring dragons into flight. The inside of its mouth glowed with purple energy and a beam of power shot across Ahoy.
A section of the Forgotten Woods was destroyed by the beam, trees sheared off and elves left homeless. Yore the giant watched as the purple beam crackled past his home in the Giant’s Hollow. The feline crew of the vessel the Scurvy Cat were speechless as an entire island in the Misty Isles was blown up by the beam, scaring the Kraken they were hunting into the depths. One scale, hidden in the Pit of Stjarnagard sent purple lightning up to join the beam. The hooded figure known as the Guardian let his hood slip back, revealing a skull-like face with rotting skin. He died hundreds of years ago and came back to life to defend Ahoy, yet hadn’t seen such power since when the Four Great Beasts of Snow, Sand, Sea and Fire assembled to siege Old Ahoy. He hadn’t seen such rage since the war between the dragons and lindworms. He hadn’t seen such evil since the Magicolithes from another dimension attempted to step into Ahoy. The Guardian nodded and came to a conclusion. This wasn’t from our world.
Arcial the dragon watched from his cave as the beam hit the Misty Isles. Whatever magic this was, it must be powerful enough to summon his old master and friend, the wizard Horatius, back to his ancestral land. In a chamber deep beneath the Eternal Industries power plant in the Giant’s Hollow, a similar, slightly smaller, version of the beast sensed its kin’s power. Summoning every drop of its own, the beast blasted through the earth toward its own kind. The Sandstorm Beast, an ancient monster made of swirling sand, peered at the beam and sensed the energy of another titanic beast. Surely not a rival? A whole squad of dragon-riding soldiers like the ones in the Cabinet of Curiosity flew toward the Dragonridge Mountains, following the beam. Could it be the thing they seek?
The beast used its mind to sense its surroundings for threats. It found five beings heading for it. One was one of the creatures that nest in the mountains, then several more ridden by those weak beings in the settlements below. One was its own kind, the other a threatening beast of sand. And finally, one was dead yet still moving, ancient, powerful. That one posed a threat. But the beast was confident. Its kind was once tamed by the Magicolithes in the dimension it naturally lived in due to their power. They even tried to siege this very realm. But the dead one that headed for it now closed the portal both times, killing or imprisoning the gullible humans that heard the Magicolithes in their dreams. It narrowed glowing eyes at the distant shape of the Guardian. The beast would deliver justice for its forefathers and their masters…
The Guardian rode a beast of sand, a Sandwraith, creatures created when the Guardian sliced off parts of the Sandstorm Beast’s body. Three other kinds of wraiths existed, each formed from one of the four great Beast’s wounds. They strive madly for the power of their Beast, yet make great steeds if you feed them Beast Ore, a kind of rare rock. They can also sense their Beast, and have been used by the Guardian to track them before. The Sandwraith was named Amanial, after a valiant elf warrior the Guardian once knew when he was alive. Amanial resembled a lizard made of swirling sand that crawled across the sky at lightning pace, hundreds of feet in the air. The Guardian clung to its back with his bow and quiver on his back, sword in its sheath and spear that was used to prod the Sandwraith in the right direction in his hand. His hood had been blown back by Amanial’s speed, leaving his skull of a face in full view. His sunken eyes burned with steely determination as he sighted a purple glow from the snow-capped mountains below. Then a purple beam of energy enveloped Amanial and the Guardian was flung off. Amanial shrieked, lizard legs of sand struggling and tail lashing as the beam fired again. He fell to the place where the Guardian had safely landed, a rocky outcrop with scarred rocks- a dragon nesting site- and parts of his body smashed when it hit the rock. The Guardian coolly observed his steed’s corpse, then his eyes widened. Amanial was no longer sand. He was glass.
Arcial noticed another purple glow below. What even made that? He thought. Was it a sorcerer, mage, or some other magic user? Or was it something else? His heart thumped as he recalled memories from long ago when old Rovi the dragon storyteller told all of the dragonets tales of beasts from other worlds and monsters with power unimaginable. Then more recent stories, the witch Arrabelle Summerset’s brother, Veinor Summerset, opening a portal to call forth a race of evil beings into Ahoy to ‘rebirth magic’. He had tried to use a previously unknown magic book to bring back magic users and rule over them with the powers given to him by the book. But an evil spirit from another dimension had possessed the book and using him as a vessel it tried to summon more of its kind to take over the world. Arabelle Summerset used a potion to free him and a mysterious hooded figure known as the Guardian had slain the spirit. Secretly, Arcial hoped that the Guardian was there to save everyone this time.
Commander Forthain Windrem surveyed his men from the back of Fluenthus, his combat dragon steed. Fluenthus had a large high-tech cannon clutched in his talons that had a glowing purple barrel and a purple visor on his head and sleek black armour plating, the same as all of the Eternal Industries combat dragons. Combat dragons are a secret breed, bred by Eternal Industries, an energy company that was run by William Thaw, a rich man with little to no morals. His employees liked to joke that he misplaced his moral compass, but kept silent as he walked past, as he was a very intimidating man, and even more so when accompanied by Theseus and Flathion, his dragon bodyguards. Combat dragons are jet black and fast, unlike the regular delivery dragons. As fighters, they are educated less and trained more, meaning they know little Humanspeak and next to nothing of Draketongue, their inherent language. Instead, the first three years of their lives are devoted to studying military code, tactics and battle, then the next five spent on fighting and weapons operation, then the final period is practice and unit bonding that lasts for two years. Add a few survival skills exercises in and as a result, you have a fully-fledged, ten-year-old combat dragon. At twenty the dragons enter the breeding program to get the best qualities in a combat dragon, and William Thaw certainly wouldn’t stoop to using genetic engineering to get his way. This unit had just graduated and was thirsty for blood, so when Forthain spotted the beast and gave the signal, they sped like howling bullets, purple beams blazing from their cannons and the guns of their riders, fire scorching the stone black, and an unearthly glow coming from an equally alien beast.
The Guardian’s head hung. Amanial was one of his only friends. He chuckled to himself internally. You know you’re depressed when your only friend is a giant flying sand lizard made from the wound of your enemy. He took no happiness from that little joke, even though it was the first one he had made in about a thousand years. But then a miracle happened. The glass carcass of Amanial shuddered, then pieced itself together. It began to move again, and it roared in triumph. It was now the shape of a dragon. Amanial stretched its wings to the sun and its whole translucent body shone. The Glass Beast had arisen. The Guardian’s mouth changed as he climbed onto his glass steed. For the first time in several millennia, he smiled. It looked more like a grimace, but still, it inspired him. I can still win this. He thought. Amanial’s intricately carved glass eyes bore into him and seemed to read the Guardian’s mind as he clambered on. We, he corrected, We are going to win this.
The Sandstorm Beast’s senses were in overdrive. It sensed a power signature in the direction of the Giant’s Hollow, then a slightly stronger one in the mountains below it. Now it sensed a third- one like its own, yet different. It also sensed a great power like the one that defeated it over and over again. Dead, yet so strong. It decided to follow the strange one, the familiar one. But it didn’t need to fly far. The Glass Beast flew around the mountain up ahead, the Guardian on its back. The battle between the Eternal Industries mercenaries was close. Eternal Industries got its power from the bones of an ancient beast that fell in a meteor but they cloned it because the bones had limited energy. The clone was unstable, so chasing after the living specimen that had been sighted in Ahoy for years was an easy decision to make. The Hollow Scale was an odd scale that let off a beam of lightning to the mysterious beast, and finding the beast would be easy if the shop that had it wasn’t destroyed suddenly and the scale taken.
It was lucky the beam of power that hit the Misty Isles helped them to track it down, but they couldn’t imagine its power. Luckily the weapons that use the bones’ energy still kept the battle equal. The beast was injured, yet most of the dragons forgot their strategy mid-fight in the action and were promptly blasted out of the sky. Fluenthus was the last dragon left standing, and Commander Forthain circled the beast astride him, yelling orders and blasting his weapon. Fluenthus’ own gun was lost in the battle and his visor was smashed and left vision better without it, so the dragon used his natural weaponry: claws, teeth and fire. But as a combat dragon, Fluentus was adept at using his wings and tail to do damage too. But unfortunately, practically nothing could stand against the beast, and Forthain was becoming more and more impatient. Why didn’t they say the thing was twenty metres tall when we first set out to find it? He thought angrily as two of his troops assaulted the monster with rapid gun blasts to no effect.
The beast started to make an echoing hiss and its mouth heated up with purple lightning. Forthain had been in many battles and was familiar with dragons stoking their internal fires before blasting flame, but this wasn’t dragonfire. The beast’s lightning blasted and Fluenthus howled and met it with a blast of flame. Purple lightning and orange dragonfire clashed violently, but the lightning blasted right back with a flaming tail. Fluenthus tried to dodge but his right wingtip was scorched beyond healing. The combat dragon shielded his master from the impact on the ground but nothing could save his wing. It was blackened and twisted, scorched and mangled. It looked as if a mad sculptor had tried to remake his wing then turned into a tiger halfway through and after mauling it, torched it with a flamethrower. The dragon would never fly again.
The first thing the Guardian heard was a violent wind. Then he saw rocks disintegrate into sand then fly to an unknown source. Then he felt a strong tugging from behind him as if something was trying to absorb him. He turned and saw something that would give many living people nightmares. A massive storm of sand, shapeshifting and hissing. Beneath the swirling sand red-brown scales could be glimpsed and yellow eyes glowed like lamplights. The Sandstorm Beast. Only the Guardian knew the Four Great Beast’s histories. They were dragons, trying to use dark magic to gain power over old Ahoy. They were corrupted by Elemental dark magic (which actually excludes air and earth in dark magic philosophy, replacing them with snow and sand) and their minds turned into those of insane monsters as their bodies became the Four Great Beasts; the Sandstorm Beast, Firestorm Beast, Snowstorm Beast and Seastorm Beast.
The Guardian defeated the beasts and locked them into four magic hourglasses. The hourglasses had lava, snow, sand and water in them, and they were impenetrable except for one thing- when the hourglasses ran out, the beast within escaped. If all the beasts were out at one time, they would cause the end of the world. They could be recaptured, however- that was the Guardian’s job.
So far the Sandstorm Beast was the only one out, but as the most powerful beast, it could still reshape the world, or at least bury it under twenty miles of sand. It also had power over time, as in Niima folklore sand contained all the secrets of time. Every night the Guardian wondered what the beast was doing. He imagined the Dragonridge Mountains disintegrating to join the swirling mass, the Great Desert turning into an army of Sandwraiths. And now the creature was bearing down on him. He signalled to Amanial and the Glass Beast shot molten glass at the Sandstorm Beast. It pinned it to a mountain where it screeched angrily and began to seep through the glass, but it was hardening in the icy climate. As the beast was stuck, the Guardian leapt off Amanial and sank his sword into the swirling mass of sand. The sand deflected, but he gestured to Amanial and the other beast shot boiling glass onto the Sandstorm Beast. Soon the sand melted away and a dragon appeared, and then, unable to live without the dark magic, it died.
As the Guardian flew off, triumphant, the sand billowed up again into the Sandstorm Beast’s shape. Unknown to the Guardian, the Sandstorm Beast could survive without its host. It was weak though, so the evil sand slunk away into the swirling snow.
Arcial flew into the raging snowstorm, diving after the purple glow. He gripped the bag that housed the three Kinesis texts- known to some as the Three Books of Magecraft. He had stolen the books to summon back Horatius of Desertia- the mage who once rode him and his greatest friend. He had thought the books would be able to summon him back- sadly his master had not responded to his homeland’s call. He kept thinking the worst had happened to Horatius, but he knew his valiant master wouldn’t let him down. This power- the power of the books, the power of the beam and its source- it would bring him home.
Forthain ducked behind Fluenthus and fired rapidly, keeping the beast from finishing the pitiful dragon off. He pulled out his radio and shouted into it, sending spit flying.
“Combat Unit 4Enthus wounded on Beta wing,” he roared, using Fluenthus’ official name.
4Enthus became Fluenthus after he became friendlier with his rider. The phrase ‘Beta wing’ refers to the fact that dragons have one dominant wing, like a human’s arms. The dominant is called Alpha and the other Beta.
“Specimen 400012 result of injury. Major security threat,” a reply crackled across the radio.
“Got it, Commander Forthain. I’ll list it as threat No2.” “Are you crazy?!” he roared back, firing off a few shots at the beast, or as it was known in Eternal Industries code, Specimen 400012.
“This thing is the most dangerous thing on the whole island!”
“Yes,” came the reply, “But there are two running wild and one of them’s ours.”
The clone shot like a bullet through the skies of Ahoy, heading for the other of its kind. When it ducked below the clouds, it saw through its glowing eyes a whirling snowstorm that enveloped the Dragonridge Mountains. These had only appeared after the Snowstorm Beast reshaped the area but became more common as dragons began to leave Ahoy and the mountains no longer glowed with their heat. For the beast, however, it was far from a common occurrence. It had been cloned in an Eternal Industries lab in the Great Desert, then shipped, sedated, to underneath the power plant where it soaked up the energy to grow. Biologists working at the plant to study it theorised that parents fed energy to their offspring, taking it in turns so as not to succumb to their weakness. This one was fed from a machine, like a baby suckling from its mother and as a result, it was somewhat weaker and smaller than its true relatives, and would definitely not measure up to the invincible beings that naturally hunt their species back in Midrealm- the void between dimensions where it naturally lived. The clone dived through the strange white mass and found that it hated the odd feeling it gave as snow piled onto its body. It unleashed a corona of pure energy that melted an orb of calm around its body, then blasted its way through the snow to the ragged tips of the mountains. It spotted the sunlight that glimmered through the swirling ice shine as it bounced off a translucent shape heading quickly for it. The clone roared and snow crumbled off the mountains’ caps and raced down the almost vertical slopes. The opposing beast stopped and fired off a beam of strange liquid. It turned jagged in the cold and kept coming.
The clone shot purple fire to melt the thing and it plummeted to the floor, leaving a trail of air where the snow had melted away. It was all sufficient in distracting the clone so the Glass Beast and rider could use a combination of scorching molten glass and the enchanted arrows to blast it into a mountain peak which melted into lava as it fired a bolt of purple lightning. The Guardian threw his spear and it was enveloped by the lightning and flew back at the clone. It dodged and the unfortunate mountain received a jagged scar down its side as the lightning blasted right into the tomb of an ancient dragon warrior, Drovi, and his daughter still lived, by the name of Rovi. Rovi was angry after his death so she performed a magical ritual that deterred all attempts to break into his tomb then sealed it in a mountain. The spear also followed the enchantment and it plunged into the clone’s heart after rebounding off the tomb. A magical shockwave also rolled off the tomb and, its energy sapped and its chest pierced, the clone plummeted into the layers of snow where it left a smoking hole. Triumphant after their second victory, Amanial and the Guardian flew on to the heart of the Dragonridge Mountains, the ruins of the Dragon Tree, where purple energy glowed and lightning crackled.
Arcial pulled out the Book of Elemental magic. At the start of the book, it contained only simple spells. What could he do if he used a powerful spell, one of the spells kept at the back of the book? Simple magic failed to summon back his master, so would more complex ones work? He flicked past mundane spells like ‘Freeze Moisture’ and ‘Lift Rocks’ until he came to a spell he thought would be the strongest in the book, the one nestled in the back of the book: Summon Dark Elements. Arcial felt a longing to try it out, a tugging at every fibre of his being, a voice whispering in his ears. I can help you. As Arcial uttered the magic words, sand began to seep out of the pages. It gathered into the dragon-like shape of the Sandstorm Beast. The whispering voice disappeared and the Sandstorm Beast enveloped Arcial. Everything Arcial knew was mixed with the knowledge of the beast. Arcial was flying with Horatius. The Sandstorm Beast was slinking through the forest, chasing a young elf. Arcial’s wings lifted the pair through the cloud level. The elf’s expression of pure terror, frozen in time. Horatius fired a magical beam at the massed troll army below and they scattered like ants below before the dragon and his rider. The Sandstorm Beast searched for another victim. Arcial held strong. The voice was back. You are the Sandstorm Beast, It hissed. No, thought Arcial. I am Arcial. I am Arcial. I am… THE SANDSTORM BEAST!
As the Guardian flew toward the beast’s lair, he thought how jerky and uncomfortable riding Amanial was. It wasn’t always that way. He had another steed, once. A dragon. What was his name… Akiam? Alierd?… Arcial? That was the one. Arcial. Of course, back then he wasn’t the Guardian. He was Horatius. Horatius of Desertia, rider of Arcial.
To be continued…