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The Dragon and the Hero

A small herd of space browsers was heading for a distant yellow sun, to suck energy from its light and cosmic dust from its Oort Cloud. Their vast teardrop-shaped bodies were covered in thick grey hide to protect them from the hard vacuum, and their great wings seized the fabric of space itself and propelled them onward at two or three times the speed of light. All of a sudden one of them became alerted to a danger coming up from behind, and panic spread to the whole herd. They all speeded up and the group began to string out, as the faster beasts left the weaker ones behind.

The black dragon on their tail also speeded up, and his great wings powered him forward so swiftly that the last browser was soon almost in his grasp. Terrified, the beast took its last desperate option and flung itself out of three-dimensional space into the place beyond the universe, like a fish that leaps from the water into the air to escape its pursuer. But the dragon followed, and the huge predator fixed on his prey in the void of un-space. From sockets on his head a bolt of flaming plasma sprang out and speared his victim mortally. It fell back into space, and its killer followed.

The yellow sun was much closer now, blazing brightly, and even nearer was a small planet, blue, green and white in the sunlight. The stricken beast plunged downwards and fell through the atmosphere, glowing like a huge meteorite until it fell to earth in a region of vast forests. It sprawled dead on the ground surrounded by blackened trees in a smoking pit. Down came the dragon, an ominous black shape blotting out the sun. It ripped open the beast’s hide and began to feed.

Gorged, the great beast laid its head on the ground and closed its eyes. In its dreamless sleep it was suddenly aware of a slight pricking sensation on its long snout. One huge red eye opened, and showed a small figure, brandishing some kind of pointed weapon, standing there. It recoiled as the eye opened and peered unblinking into his very soul. For a long minute the space monster regarded the being who had ventured to accost it. It stood on two legs and had two arms, and was covered in a garment made of metal rings joined together. On its head was a covering also of metal, and in one hand was the weapon which had dared to jab the awesome beast.

The dragon spoke with its mind, projecting its thoughts into the brain of the warrior who confronted him. Who are you? What do you want with me?

The man who confronted it was compelled to answer in his own mind. I am Sigurd, king of the Volsungs. I have come to kill you.

The dragon was both amused and baffled. Why do you want to kill me? And how do you propose to do such a thing?

My people were terrified when you fell from the sky like a black demon following the ball of fire. I promised to come and slay you with my sword Notung, forged by dwarves in their dark halls. The man stepped forward aggressively, a brave (or foolhardy) light in his eye.

The dragon projected amusement into his mind, and turning its head fired a bolt of searing plasma which annihilated an avenue of trees deep into the forest. I’m afraid your sword cannot harm me. My hide protects me from the deep cold of space and the impact of meteors, and your sword will not pierce it, however many dwarves forged it. Go back to your people and forget you ever saw me.

I cannot do that. I swore to kill you and must return with a sign that I have done so, or be outcast from my people forever.

Very well. I will make you a deal. The dragon stretched out a claw and flicked over a small piece of the hide from its prey, which it had ripped off as it fed. Here. Take this back to your people and tell them it is the skin of the dragon which you have slain. I will wait till dark before returning to the sky, so they will not see me ascend.

Thank you. I wonder why you did not just kill me?

I do not kill, except for food or in dire need. You would not make much of meal, and you are no threat to me. Go now, and perhaps in years to come your people and I will meet again.

Sigurd saluted the dragon, sheathed his sword, grasped the piece of star-beast hide, as big as a large rug, and carried it off into the forest. The dragon settled down to wait for nightfall, and when it was fully dark it spread its great black wings and seized the fabric of space with them. In no time it was out of the planet’s atmosphere and back in space, accelerating swiftly away from the star, which sank to a dot of light behind it.

As the great beast flew it considered the encounter with the warrior king and pondered the strange psychology of that race of puny beings. Then, from across the galaxy it received a summons from its master, and passing out of normal space sped swiftly to answer it.

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