Gary the Great
Gary was seated at a rather large, circular table at Princess Saphira’s banquet when the commotion broke out. Screams of surprise echoed from the halls across from the ballroom chamber. Master Gregor, Gary’s teacher and mentor, rose from his seat and strode across the banquet hall in quick fashion. Gary had been seated next to him as his guest to this momentous event. Now the night had been disrupted. Master Gregor’s connections to Gary’s family, as well as his status among the nobles of Sunbriar, made these social gatherings far more accessible to Gary than they normally would be. Though he spent most of his time hiding in the shadow of his master, the belief that Gregor had in him helped Gary to face the trials and awkwardness of maneuvering through the social circles he was normally denied.
Gary looked up to find that his master had already arisen from his seat. The world seemed to slow down to a snail’s pace as he scanned the room for his master. Gregor was at the edge of the dance floor, looking back at his protégé. Gary rose to chase after his teacher as they cut across the dance floor. The Queen’s royal guard charged from the halls onto the balcony above.
A single commanding voice cut through the chorus of confusion coming from the guests. “Stop that Dragon!” The guard pointed across the way just as the sound of shattered glass echoed through the room.
Gary and Master Gregor turned just in time to see a large, purple-colored dragon, grappling a frightened Princess Saphira in his arms, fly through the fractured glass.
The princess cried out, “NO! Why!?”
Gary watched as the glass rained down on everyone. He could see people running, their mouths open in fear, but all he heard was the echo of the princess Saphira’s scream. Gary turned to his master. He watched as his master called to him as he stared in confusion. He shook his head to try and clear it as he focused on his master once more.
“Come along, Gary,” Master Gregor commanded as he weaved his way through the startled guests.
Gary followed intently behind his teacher as they worked their way towards the stairs and up onto the balcony overlooking the ballroom below. Guards were ushering guests out on one side as others were assessing the damages caused by the rampaging dragon. Its name was Nurf, Gary thought he heard one of the guards say.
The two made their way towards Queen Regina, who was surrounded by several of her royal guard. She was speaking to a ship captain as they approached. The captain was dressed in regal colors, his tricorn hat sitting handsomely upon his head.
“Your continued support is always most welcome, Captain Calavera,” said Queen Regina.
The Captain took his black felt tricorn hat off as he offered a bow to the queen before stalking off. Queen Regina turned towards Master Gregor and Gary. Gary shivered for a moment, feeling as if she scrutinized his every fiber of being. Master Gregor dropped into a deep bow of his own, bending straight-backed at the waist. Gary did his best to imitate his instructor’s actions. Though he had spent several years now studying in the College of Carthridge, there were many ways that he still emulated Master Gregor. His teacher was the only one Gary truly felt recognized his talent and potential for greatness.
“Forgive our intrusion fair Queen, but it seems obvious you have a bit of dragon trouble.”
Gary looked over the scene behind the queen’s guards. The dragon had flown through a hallway towards the nearest window to break free. Several injured could be seen being tended to in one of the side rooms leading into the hall. He figured that it was the most likely place for the abduction to have taken place as the princess made her way towards her waiting guests.
“Yes, indeed, it seems we do, my good lord Gregor. The Princess Saphira, as you witnessed, was abducted by the meddlesome dragon, Nurf. According to my advisors, this is not the first time he has been involved in nefarious acts,” the Queen said.
Gary could feel his heartbeat quicken and his displeasure rise. It seems this dragon, Nurf, was in the habit of committing atrocities. Master Gregor reached back to nudge Gary forward, pushing him from the shoulders towards the queen.
“Might I suggest sending forth the young mage Gary, known by some as Gary the Great? He can begin his hunt now to retrieve the princess. I have the utmost confidence in him.”
Shock filled him as Gary’s head dropped shyly, unsure of what to do or say. His heart beamed with pride that Master Gregor believed in him so, but he was young, untested. He knew in his heart he had skills that most his age didn’t have. He was still unsure if those abilities would be enough to complete the task at hand. His talents so far had not yet been enough to gain him the recognition of those whom he desired it the most from.
Queen Regina glared down at Gary. “What exactly is it that makes your Gary so great, Lord Gregor?”
Gregor turned towards Gary. “Aside from at his young age having molded the magic into not one, but two signature spells, he has what all great heroes need in order to fulfill their quests, your grace. He has heart. Certainly one as wise and learned as you can see that. He has no false sense of bravado.”
The Queen frowned for a moment as she contemplated. “Very well. My dear boy, please return my daughter to me unharmed young mage and you will be granted status within this court. You must hurry before that foul beast does something unforgivable. A warning though; fail me and even Master Gregor’s good standing will not be enough to save him from my disappointment.”
Gary’s heart sank as he swallowed hard, the implications of those words sinking in. One of the guards jammed a paper into Gary’s hands. A wanted poster for the dragon Nurf. Gary grasped the paper and thrust it into a pocket within his robes. Gary took a deep breath and gathered himself. He squared his shoulders and looked Queen Regina straight on.
“As you command, my Queen. I will save the princess.” Gregor bowed before turning hastily and guiding-pulling Gary along behind him.
Here was a chance to prove his worth and gain recognition from the Queen herself; recognition that would go a long way to helping him attain his dreams and goals. Gary also could understand the veiled threat left hanging in the air if he should fail. He was conflicted. His insecurities in his abilities were bad enough without this added pressure. It was hard being so young and so advanced in some areas. His innate ability only got him so far though. His youth was sometimes used against him, preventing him from learning what others of similar skill but with more age and experience would learn. He felt held back. It was as if no matter how hard he tried to push forward, he was always kept back from attaining his truest potential. Gary the great. That’s what they called him. The intonation of the calls and jeers like daggers in his heart. As much as he desired to be great, as great as he was, he knew they ridiculed him for it.
Master Gregor turned to Gary as they strode out of the castle proper. “There are only two things you need to concern yourself with now, Gary. First, you must find the Princess Saphira. Second, you must both travel back to the palace safely. There are only a few moments in a man’s life when he has an opportunity to stand up and prove himself worthy. This is one of yours. Remember, the person you must prove your worth to the most is yourself. Do that and you will be fine.”
Gary nodded in understanding as he listened to his master. “I understand, Master Gregor. There is more to this than just me coming back with the princess.”
Gregor raised his hand to stop Gary short. “You must take this opportunity to see your status raised and your potential recognized.”
Gary shook his head, “I have dreamed of an opportunity to prove myself for some time, master, but I must do this for more than just myself. The princess being kidnapped will hurt our kingdom. There is also the promise of the queen to make you pay for my failures.”
Gregor nodded in understanding. “If you focus on failing rather than the task at hand, then you will surely fail.” Gary’s body tensed in frustrated understanding before he sighed.
“Yes, I need to focus on the task at hand. Still, I cannot lose sight of what it is that I hold dear. Those are the things that will give me strength.”
Gregor smiled. “Very well then. Enchant your horse’s shoes that we may ride upon the winds. We have far to go, and we must do so as soon and as quickly as possible to give you time to gather what you may need for your quest.”
The next two days were a blur of ride and sleep, ride and sleep as he raced towards Carthridge. He knew that he could not hope to make it if he was ill prepared. He would have to eat some of his precious time researching. If there was one thing that he felt he was truly great at, it was research. He would need all the information he could gather to complete this quest.
Once in Carthridge, he spent hours pouring over texts on dragons, not wasting a moment. Of particular interest was the account on Lady Sarah of the Knights of New Alaris. Hers was the first account in some decades of anyone that had bested a dragon in combat. He knew this would be useful if he was to overcome Nurf and any other dragon that might get in his way. He took some of this time to study Lady Sarah’s history, found within the archives of the great library. There was more here than just her exploits as a knight. More than he thought even she knew was kept within the archives about her life. The librarians and scribes within the school of Carthridge were extremely thorough. He would have to come back to this when he could dedicate more of himself to this study, but he found her history rather intriguing. However, through it all he didn’t find anything that he felt made her an exception from the other knights allowing her to overcome this dragon. She was skilled in her own right with the blade and some healing. To him though, she was just that, another knight. She did not show the discipline it took to become a mage. Even untried as he might be at this early point in his life, here was his chance to rise up to the task at hand and save the princess from the dragon.
He grew excited. This was the tale of legends, of bedtime myths, of storybook adventures. This was the start of his narrative. A chance to mold his own fable and truly become Gary the great.
Nurf the Dragon
Nurf didn’t remember how he got caught up in all of this. There was an invitation of some sort but to what he couldn’t recall. His head hurt every time he tried to think about it. It hurt anytime he tried to think about anything most days. Not the it-hurts-I-can’t-do-anything hurt but the it-hurts-so-much-I-want-to-break-something hurt that only comes from frustration. It was all garbled in pieces. He knew he had to get back to the pretty girl. Nurf wished he could remember who the girl was right now, but all he could recall was that she was important to Jonathan.
She was waiting on him, but every time he turned around, there was some crazed bounty hunter chasing after him. Like the one chasing him now. A crazed old man, flinging spell after spell after him. The old man was relentless in his attack.
He would have to end this quickly.
Luckily, Nurf was a veteran of battle. At least he thought he was. He had claws and teeth and magic, so that must count for something. Nurf called for the magical energies that were natural to him and filled his claws with their power. This energy could imbue his talons with greater strength and resilience. Or when there was an enemy trying to hide, he could fling it at them and watch their shelter blasted to bits. Nurf let what energy was captured in his hands fly towards the boulder that his pursuer was hiding behind, just in time to watch him float out of the blast of his attack. Nurf’s opponent landed lightly on top of the boulder before it shattered.
When the dust settled, it left the wizard floating in the air. Nurf hesitated for a second too long.
As the wizard flung another spell at him, he called out, “Surrender, dragon! You need to give up the Princess, already.”
Darts of lime green energy cascaded over his scales, and Nurf turned to flee. He was tired of dealing with this upstart. He had things to do. He turned away and noticed the sun in the distance, lowering on the horizon. No wonder he was getting hungry.
Nurf paid no attention to the cries behind him as he took flight, heading further into Sunbriar and away from Infernia’s border. Now where exactly was he going? Nurf knew he had to head this way, farther away from the ocean, and meet someone, but he wasn’t sure why. Or was it towards the ocean? He growled in frustration. He hated getting turned around. Were there no signposts around here?
It had been a long few days with hardly any rest as he was constantly being dogged by one hunter after another. The man carrying a large axe and then there were those two women with bows. Nurf rubbed his right arm above the elbow. It still hurt from where the man with the large club had hit him below the shoulder. Or was that where he ran into the wall the other day? Maybe it was a tree he ran into. That had to be it.
He didn’t know why they were after him. Maybe they were after his companion, but he didn’t have a companion anymore. So why were they still chasing him? Maybe they were after him. For what? He was just out here, minding his own business before he was attacked by the other travelers. Like this long-bearded fellow behind him. Where had he even come from? Here he was minding his own business, flying along and now this guy pops up.
“I command you to stop, Nurf. Don’t make this harder than it has to be.”
And how did this guy even know his name? It’s not really like he ever got out much. This was starting to get bothersome. He needed to end this rather quickly so that he could get on with his day. There were things to do, people to see. Or had he done that already? Maybe he was on his way home. That seemed right; it was getting late after all. Wait, was someone behind him?
Nurf turned towards his pursuer and let his dragon’s flame rise up from within, spewing it forth at his assailant. He saw the ward rise from the hands of his pursuant. Whoever this silly wizard was with his pointy hat on, he was rather talented. Not just anyone could get a magical ward up as fast as dragons breathe. He would have to remember to ask the wizard his name before he finished roasting him. Still the power of his fiery breath was enough to keep the wizard distracted and off his trail for a while. Now, if he could just remember where he was headed. Maybe a bit more west, back towards the rocky border? No that couldn’t be right.
Nurf raced towards a canyon up ahead. Sure, this smelled familiar, he thought.
Maybe. Now was it left or right? Charging through the canyon, Nurf was certain this was the way to go. Well, almost certain. As certain as he could be anyway.
“Stop, Dragon! You are under arrest in the name of the Queen.”
Geeze, what now? Nurf spun around with a growl of annoyance. Who was after him this time? For the last several days, it seemed one hunter after another was dogging his heels. Now here was another one. This one, it seemed, was aggressive. Nurf raised his arms in defense, barely turning aside the electrical blade with his magic-filled claws as it swung down on him.
The fog of Nurf’s mind lifted in clarity at the female voice calling out behind him. “No Stop!”
He turned with purpose to wrap his arms protectively around the lady that had rushed up behind him. Pure magical energy coursed through the hunter that had ambushed him in the canyon. Nurf used his body to protect the Princess Saphira from the onslaught of the elemental spell that was being unleashed. Who was this guy anyway? He was either extremely talented or overly crazy to tap into so much magic at once. And why did Nurf feel like there were way too many wizards running around this part of the world?