Eric barged through the door of the Grey Tower, interrupting the Council of War.
“Did we not forbid all disturbances?” Duke Galdras shouted.
“Deepest apologies,” the young scout replied. “Lord Valkor requested immediate audience upon his arrival.”
A hush fell over the nobles.
“The last of the Dragon Knights is finally here?” King Ardaric replied. “Show him in!”
Eric stepped aside, permitting the man behind him to enter the ornate chamber. Rather than adulation, he was greeted by a chorus of gasps. Valkor’s face and frame were thin. What little hair he had was wispy and gray. He grew an unkempt beard that was nearly white with age.
“I have come from the distant peaks in answer to your call,” he said.
Duke Galdras stepped between Valkor and the king.
“This is our long-awaited savior?” he asked. “A knight too old to lift a sword, who comes to us without even a dragon?”
Valkor chuckled with a raspy cough.
“Why, that’s just a myth,” he said. “We never rode dragons. Most people alive now have never seen us in battle. That misunderstanding has always bothered me.”
“Legends aside,” King Ardaric said. “I summoned you here to join our battle against the Orc horde menacing beyond these gates. But it seems your best days are quite obviously long past.”
“Even your breastplate is forged of brass, not steel,” Galdras added.
“Oh, this is nothing more than ceremonial armor,” Valkor replied.
Galdras reached down to Valkor’s side, drawing his sword and running it along his bare palm. It drew no blood.
“A butter knife has more bite,” he sneered.
“So the great warrior we have awaited for months comes to us offering no help at all,” the King said, turning his back in disgust.
“We’re doomed,” Galdras said.
“With all due respect, my lords,” Eric said. “This man is our guest, summoned here by us, at great risk to himself. We owe him at least some courtesy.”
“Do we, scout?” the King replied. “This city is surrounded by an inhuman enemy that will soon destroy us. Perhaps this old man was once a great warrior. If he cannot help us now, then he is a nothing more than a burden.”
“And we cannot afford any burdens,” Galdras echoed. “The survival of our realm is at stake. We must not waste whatever precious resources we have on outsiders.”
“What do you propose we do?” Eric asked.
There was a moment of silence.
“We have no choice,” King Ardaric finally said. “Expel him.”
Valkor appeared untroubled.
“I do not think you are aware of exactly what I am able to offer,” he said. “If you’d permit me to explain.”
“There’s no time,” King Ardaric said. “If you hurry back the way you came, you just might avoid the ogres. Though I warn you, they have a certain fondness for human flesh.”
A crash erupted. The floor shook. Everyone rushed to the windows.
“Trebuchet, a direct hit to the walls from the sound of it,” King Ardaric said. “To the defenses!”
The men gathered their arms and charged from the chamber. Eric lagged behind, taking Valkor by the arm. Though he seemed terribly frail, he looked out from the tower, down upon the battlefield. A horde of green-skinned Orc warriors swarmed the walls of the city from every direction.
“Take up whatever arms you can,” Eric said. “My elders may not value you, but I believe we can use any help.”
Valkor did not reach for a blade. Instead, he began to unbuckle his armor, setting it aside piece by piece. Eric looked on in disbelief as the old man undressed before him, removing every last stitch of clothing.
“Have you lost your mind?” he shouted.
Valkor knelt down, bowing his head. His withered, gray flesh began to ripple, as if more liquid than solid. The undulations magnified with every moment, until shapes pushed up from beneath, wings and claws and a tail reaching out from his swollen, expanding body. His skin flushed, turning dark crimson even as it grew scaly and reptilian.
A growl rumbled from his throat, along with wisps of black smoke and the stench of brimstone. When Valkor lifted his head he was human no longer.
“By the gods, you are a dragon,” Eric whispered.
He could almost see a smile appear on Valkor’s monstrous mouth, a moment before he took flight, leaping through the window and soaring over the fields of battle. Shrieking and roaring, Valkor strafed the throng of Orcs, belching torrents of red flame. His every breath reduced hundreds of the green-skinned attackers to cinders.
Valkor annihilated the entire horde in only a few short minutes. His work complete, the Dragon Knight turned back from the smoldering fields. His leathery wings brought him over the battlements as the city folk flocked to him, cheering their hero.
“It is young Eric you should thank,” he said. “I have now repaid the kindness he showed me, a kindness none of the rest of you could muster. I will do no more.”
“But that is enough,” King Ardaric replied. “Let us give you the proper welcome we so rudely denied you earlier.”
“I wouldn’t waste your time,” Valkor replied.
“What do you mean?” King Ardaric asked.
“From the sky I can see far and wide. This army was but a vanguard. The greater legions of darkness march behind.”
“Stay and we will gladly pay you whatever you wish to defend us further,” King Ardaric said.
“And deprive you of your precious resources?” he said. “I would never want to be such a burden.”
Ardaric and Galdras looked up with desperate eyes as Valkor rose higher into the sky, leaving them defenseless below.
“You have three days,” the Dragon Knight said, as he began to fly away. “If you hurry, you may leave this place alive. If not, I’m told that ogres quite like the taste of human flesh.”
Frank Cavallo’s first novel, The Lucifer Messiah, was published by Medallion Press. His short fiction has appeared in Ray Gun Revival, and his Warhammer short story “The Talon of Khorne” is currently on sale in the May 2012 issue of Hammer and Bolter from The Black Library.