Tadhg and the Seven Dragons: Story Three

In Novel Excerpts / Novella by Michael Radcliffe

Tadhg and the Seven Dragons

Ignis Draconis

Series Introduction: Tadhg and the Seven Dragons is a series of short stories built around an eleven-year-old boy named Tadhg (pronounced ‘Taig’), who was given the gift of a magical amulet one Halloween night. Little did he know the amulet housed the ancient spirit of a dragon named Greatwing. Tadhg must help Greatwing find the six other amulets and free the dragons within before the demonic ‘Others’ force open the portal between the worlds and destroy them all.

Falling. Blackness. Fear.
“AHH!” Tadhg screamed as he sat bolt upright, clawing at the ground as he shook his head and tried to banish the feeling of freefall. Beads of sweat were running down his face, and his heart was racing so fast it felt like it was going to explode right out of his chest.
“Calm yourself, Master Tadhg,” rumbled Greatwing in his mind.
His breath coming in ragged gasps, Tadhg looked around. He was sitting in a field, surrounded by tall grass and wildflowers, a warm breeze rippling across the meadow. Birds were singing in the distance, and butterflies were fluttering from flower to flower. A steep cliff of dark black rock rose skyward not far from him, the upper peaks shrouded in gray mist. This was definitely not the Scottish Highlands.
“Where am I?” he asked between gasps, his heart racing.
It is an island in the Pacific; I believe you humans call it Hawaii,” replied the dragon.
“H-Hawaii??” he stammered, nearly choking on the word. “How did I get to Hawaii? Mum is going to kill me!”
“If we do not find my brethren and stop your young friend, your mum will be the least of your problems!”
“She’s not my friend!” snapped Tadhg. “She tried to kill me, remember?”
“Do not be too hasty to judge, young master,” admonished Greatwing. “She is a host, and cannot control what she does. As the Other that she is carrying slowly drains her life force, she will eventually perish – it is not a fate I would wish upon my vilest enemy.”
Tadhg was sobered by the thought of Duana being slowly devoured by the Other attached to her spirit.
“Can we save her?”
There was a long silence before the dragon’s deep voice echoed through Tadhg’s thoughts.
“It is possible, yes, but it is dangerous. I shall not speak of it for now, but when the time comes, if it is possible, I will tell you what must be done. If the opportunity presents itself, you must be ready to strike it down without hesitation.”
A distant rumbling sound interrupted Tadhg’s thoughts, and he looked around wildly as the ground beneath his feet began to shake.
“W-w-what… is… happening?!”
“Someone has triggered the ancient wards guarding my cousin’s lair beneath the volcano! We must hurry – run towards the base of the mountain – there you will find the entrance to the catacombs.”
Without thinking, Tadhg threw himself forward, running as fast as he could towards the base of the mountain, plowing a path through the tall grass. As he got closer he could see a rift in the mountainside, a dark scar lost in the blackness of the volcanic rock. He came to a stop just as the rumbling beneath his feet subsided, and he looked at the dark opening in front of him. The darkness seemed almost alive, beckoning him to enter and be swallowed up by the mountain.
“You should not fear, youngling,” said Greatwing. “The ancient spells were meant to cause anxiety, to keep intruders at bay. Conjure a wisp of light to banish the darkness; we do not have the luxury of time.”
Tadhg muttered “Solas” under his breath and conjured a wisp that floated obediently in the mouth of the cave, pulsing slightly as it waited for him to follow. As soon as the wisp’s pale light washed over him, his fear vanished, melting away like snow in the bright noonday sun. Without waiting for Greatwing to prod him forward, he plunged ahead, into the dimly lit tunnel.

***

Tadhg walked for what seemed like hours, following the twisting and turning tunnel deep into the bowels of the mountain. He could feel the sweat soaking through his shirt and running down his forehead, as the tunnel become warmer the deeper he went.
“How much farther?” he asked aloud, his voice echoing in the tunnel.
“Not far now, just a bit farther.”
Wiping his brow, Tadhg trudged onward into the depths of the mountain, until he finally came to a stone archway illuminated by a deep red flame flickering from the stones on either side of the doorway.
“Once you step across the threshold my young friend, I will be unable to help you,” Greatwing growled, sounding annoyed. “That meddling Merlin was very thorough in protecting our prisons. You will not be able to speak to me until you either free my kin or leave the cavern.”
Tadhg swallowed hard as he tried to peer into the darkness beyond the doorway. He would be okay without Greatwing’s help; after all, he had solved the puzzle in the cavern of the stone dragon, hadn’t he? The wisp above his head flickered brightly as it became impatient – after all, wisps were made for wandering and would always become restless if left in the same spot for too long.
“Alright, I’m coming,” he said to the wisp, as he brushed the hair out of his eyes and stepped through the doorway. A slight chill rippled through his body as the magic of the cavern permeated his being, isolating him from his dragon-friend. The room was even hotter than the tunnel had been, and soon Tadhg could see why. The room had been chiseled out of the bowels of the volcano; roughly round in shape, the walls curved off to either side, a pathway of dark volcanic rock ten feet wide running around the sides. Beyond the pathway however, was a lake of molten rock that glowed a dull orange-red, the scent of sulfur filling his nostrils. As water seeped from the surrounding rocks into the lake, it caused the lava to hiss angrily like a snake as the steam escaped skyward. Squinting against the heat and glow from the lava, Tadhg could see a black stone pedestal in the middle of the lake.
How am I supposed to get there?
The icy fingers of doubt spreading inside, he looked around desperately hoping for an idea of how to cross the lake. He was almost ready to give up, when he noticed a small stone cup sitting at the edge of the pathway that appeared to be glowing blue on the inside. Picking up the small black vessel, he peered inside and saw what looked like icy blue marbles. The twelve little orbs had an almost frosty appearance, and were cool to the touch. Acting on a hunch, he picked up one of the marbles and tossed it into the pool of lava in front of him. There was a blinding flash, and the lava hissed and bubbled angrily as a large circle of hard rock a little over a foot across crackled into existence where the marble had exploded. Trying to ignore the searing heat, Tadhg carefully reached out with his foot and pushed on the soot covered rock. It was solid and did not budge, and Tadhg knew what he had to do. Trying hard to ignore the fear churning in the pit of his stomach, he hopped onto the tiny island of rock. It cracked noisily, but was solid beneath his feet. Tadhg grinned and tossed another marble into the lava a few feet ahead. Stepping onto the next stone, he repeated the process and gradually crossed the expanse to the dark black pedestal in the center of the lake, using his last blue marble just as he reached the shore.
As Tadhg walked towards the black pedestal on the center of the small island, he heard a sharp cracking sound behind him. Turning, he watched in horror as his newly created steppingstones crumbled and sank into the churning red lava, dissolving back into the hot molten rock that surrounded the island. Not knowing what else to do, he turned back to the pedestal. Chiseled out of solid black volcanic rock, there were a series of steps leading up to a square central column that stood almost as tall as his father. He approached the base of the podium and slowly climbed the steps. Gazing upward at the smooth stone, he could see dark red glyphs embedded in the rock glowing dimly, like fiery eyes peering out at him. As he looked up he could see a small depression in the stone, about the size and shape of his hand. Without thinking, he reached upward and placed his palm in the depression, and was immediately held fast. His heart pounded as he tried to pull himself free, but he was trapped, his skin stuck to the rock. His palm grew hotter from the stone, until a searing heat began traveling down his arm. Before he could cry out however, a yellow orange flame billowed forth from the stone a few inches from his face. As he watched, it swirled and coalesced into the face of a dragon!
“Are you worthy?” it asked.
Tadhg stared at the fiery dragon face floating just inches from his nose, not certain what to say.
Are you worthy??” the dragon asked a second time, sounding annoyed as its deep voice echoed across the chamber. The heat traveling down his arm increased, and Tadhg bit his tongue to keep from crying out.
“Y-y-yes!” he managed to shout. There was a flash of light and he was flung backwards from the pedestal, landing roughly on his back, the sound of thunder rumbling through the cave. The thunder was still echoing back and forth through the cave as Tadhg sat up, rubbing his arm that had been stuck to the stone. A tingling sensation ran from his fingers down to his elbow, and as he looked at his hand, he was shocked to see an image had been seared into his palm! He looked closely and saw the face of a fierce dragon, eyes glowing a fierce red, etched into his palm. Tracing the image with his finger, he noticed it was warm to the touch but did not hurt. The tingling sensation was almost gone now, but as he turned his arm over he realized the image continued across the back of his hand and down his arm to his elbow! The scales of the red dragon twisted around his arm like a serpent, terminating at the image of a spiked tail near his elbow.
“You are indeed worthy, my young friend,” came a new voice in his mind, similar to Greatwing’s but slightly different.
“Who… who are you?”
“Ha ha ha!” the voiced laughed. “Why, I am Brimstone! The mightiest fire dragon that ever roamed the Earth!”
“Mightiest? Seriously? You certainly have grown full of yourself over the past thousand years,” came the voice of Greatwing. “My cousin is, or was, a fire dragon – also known as Ignis Draconis. And it would seem he has taken a liking to you.”
“Bah!” snorted Brimstone. “Show me a finer specimen, cousin.”
“Stop it!” shouted Tadhg in desperation as he clapped his hands against his temples. “Stop arguing in my head!”
“The boy is right, cousin,” replied Brimstone. “We should not bicker. He is indeed worthy, for he is pure of spirit, and the first human I have trusted in a millennia.”
Before Greatwing could answer, however, the ground began to shake violently beneath Tadhg’s feet, almost knocking him to the ground.
“What is happening?!” he shouted as he struggled to stay upright.
“Someone has set off one of Merlin’s traps!” rumbled Brimstone.
No sooner had the dragon spoken than Tadhg heard a scream on the other side of the small island. Stumbling slightly as the ground continued to shake, he ran behind the giant pedestal and saw Duana, partially buried in rubble that had fallen from the ceiling of the cave.
“Duana!”
Tadhg knelt down and saw she was still breathing, but unconscious. A flash of white against the darkness caught his eye, and he realized she must have dropped the amulets for Terra Draconis and Frigis Draconis when she was trapped by the avalanche. He quickly snatched them up, putting the chains around his neck and tucking the amulets underneath his shirt. She stirred slightly, and as he watched he saw the air around her shimmer, and a long black form became visible lying across the rocks that covered her body.
“The Other!” hissed Greatwing in anger. “You must kill it now, while it is vulnerable!”
Without thinking, Tadhg reached down and grabbed a long shard of shattered obsidian that had fallen from the ceiling. Raising it above his head with both hands, he brought it down as hard as he could, stabbing the writhing black shape in the middle. An eerie, otherworldly scream rebounded across the cavern and a chill swept over Tadhg, as the Other attached to Duana expired, its pain rippling through the collective consciousness of the hive as it faded into nothingness.
“We must flee now, boy,” growled Brimstone. “The cavern will collapse in on itself and fill with lava.”
“But I can’t leave her here!”
“Grab her hand,” shouted Brimstone in his mind. “No matter what happens, do not let go!”
Tadhg grabbed Duana’s hand firmly with both of his hands, not certain of what would happen. Moments later, there was a whooshing sound and a wave of heat washed across his back. Looking over his shoulder, he saw a giant pair of fiery dragon wings arching upward over his back. As he watched, the wings stretched wide and beat downward, sending a blast of hot air over Tadhg and Duana. He felt a sudden strain and he realized he was being carried skyward. He struggled to hold onto Duana’s hand as the wings beat harder, finally pulling her free of the rubble. As the pair soared upward towards an opening in the cavern ceiling, Tadhg saw the island break into pieces and sink into the molten lava.
“I can’t hold on much longer!” he yelled as his arms started to tremble.
The fiery wings beat faster, and suddenly they flew through an opening near the top of the volcano. The wings spread wide and they angled towards a nearby field, landing in the tall grass just as Tadhg’s grip on Duana loosened. No sooner had they landed than the wings vanished as quickly as they had appeared, leaving nothing but wisps of smoke curling upward from Tadhg’s shirt.
“B-b-but how? Where did the fire-wings come from?”
“Each of my cousins has their own particular talent,” chuckled Greatwing. “Brimstone accepted you as his guardian and has bonded to you. You see, his spirit was imprisoned in the stone podium rather than an amulet like mine. Where I travel by wind, he – and therefore you – travel by fire.”
A soft groan interrupted them, and Tadhg knelt down next to Duana. Her eyes opened and she blinked several times and tried to sit up.
“You should rest,” said Tadhg. “You’re safe now.”
“I… You should not have saved me, Tadhg,” she said softly. “I took the amulet from you; I cast a hex that could have killed you!”
“That wasn’t you,” he said grimly. “It was the Other attached to you. You were forced to do whatever it wanted.”
At the mention of the Other she gasped and sat bolt upright, her hand moving up and down her side where the creature had been attached.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “It’s gone. I killed it back in the cavern.”
“But… but how do you know it’s gone?”
“Because,” Tadhg said with a grin. “Your eyes are crystal blue, and we can see your shadow now,” he said as he pointed to the ground next to her.
Tears started streaming down her cheeks and before he could stop her, Duana wrapped her arms around him, hugging him tightly.
“Thank you, oh thank you!” she cried. “How can I ever repay you?”
“As repayment of your debt,” rumbled a deep voice from somewhere around them, “you shall assist the young master in finding my cousin, Oceanus Draconis. The water dragon.”
“Brimstone?”
“Aye, young one,” said the dragon. “As our numbers grow, so does our strength. Our spirits are stronger now, and we can make our voices heard.”
“What do you say?” said Tadhg with a smile as he held out his hand to Duana. “Want to help me find a dragon?”

About the Author

Michael Radcliffe

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An avid reader of science fiction and fantasy novels all his life, Michael Radcliffe published his first novel, The Guardian’s Apprentice in 2010. He has written four novels and seventeen short stories, most of which feature characters and creatures from the world created in his first book. During the day, Michael is the Chief Risk Officer for a regional community bank. Michael lives in rural Kentucky with his wife and their seven cats, and enjoys spinning stories out of the wisps of magic around him.