The new residents of the ancient city of Mu, royal capital of the vast Atlantean Empire, were comfortable with the leather-winged dragons that regularly patrolled their community. The ten Dragon-Riders were looked up to by the children, who admired their green and gold uniforms, and more than one adult felt more passionately about their leader, the golden-haired Glynda, or the youngest rider, the handsome youth called Gavanon.
However, that level of security changed abruptly one morning when the heroic squadron deviated from their normal routine by swooping low over the busy central market place and igniting the many stands and booths with blasts of dragon fire. “Deedra’s Chain! They’ve gone wild!” gasped Glynda as she fought to turn her steed’s long reptilian head. The creature ignored her skillful touch as the beautiful woman struggled to stop the terrible attack.
Gavanon grunted as he pulled back on the reins with all of his might. The young man had a real rapport with his steed, but that connection was broken on this day as he fought to do more than keep his balance on its broad and scaly back.
Glynda shouted orders as she noticed that all of her fellow Dragon-Riders were suffering from the same problem. The dragons had rebelled, and nothing the humans could do could stop their violent attack on those below. “Seri! Gavanon! Demetrios! Jump off now! You are lower than the rest of us! Find Arion! His power alone may tame these beasts gone mad!”
As Glynda saw her followers safely leaped down to a roof below their dragons, she frowned as the tenth Dragon-Rider suddenly rose up before her, gazing at the scene with eyes of gleaming red. “Mmmistress Glynda, your days of dommminating us have ended!” he said in a strange, almost serpentine manner. “Now we shall show our true natures, and the age of hummmans shall cease to exist!”
She saw that the brown-haired and bearded man called Thiron wasn’t bothering to even touch the reins on his dragon as it obeyed his slightest movement. He had always been strange and never associated with the other Dragon-Riders during their time off. Now it appeared as if Thiron might not even be fully human.
Drawing out an ornate sword, Thiron raised it over his head. “By the power of the Dragonsword,” he shouted, “I will raze this city to ashes and then rebuild it as a shrine for the Shadow-Gods!”
Glynda gasped in surprise, knowing the Shadow-Gods to be a mysterious group of other-dimensional beings that had entered the world from some darker realm and now sought to conquer the entire world. Arion himself had explained that they had already driven the known seven gods and goddess into flight or had even killed them. Clearly, their attack on Atlantis had begun all too soon.
She gazed down at the streets below her as Thiron leveled the sword at her chest, and a burst of fire erupted directly in her path. Rolling off the back of the dragon, she plunged to the streets below. It was better to risk death by impact than to be burned alive.
But neither fate befell the golden rider, as a bright blue platform of magical energy suddenly appeared to stop her fall and lower her and the rest of the falling riders to safety. Glynda sighed with relief as the creator of the platform flew into sight. He was a young man in blue and red with long auburn hair and a determined manner. His regal nobility contained a tinge of arrogance, but he lived up to his own self-image by working wonders with apparent ease. He was the Empire’s high mage Arion, and he wasn’t willing to let his people fall to the infernal power of the Shadow-Gods.
“Do not worry, Glynda. I will calm those beasts or end their rampage!” Arion vowed, flying higher and drawing closer to the soaring dragons.
Glynda nodded and watched as Arion followed the ten dragons away from the heart of Mu. She wondered how even Arion could stop ten dragons and their dark overlord, but then again, she also wondered how anyone but Arion could achieve such a feat.
Wyynde of the Khe-Wannantu tribe would have had complete faith in Arion’s ability to handle the dragons, but then Wyynde was devoted to Arion and owed his very life to the mage’s power. Now, the tall and powerfully built Wyynde owed his recovery of both mental and physical health to another enigmatic being. She had appeared in his sick room and had healed him with a kiss. Her beauty was as evident as her amazing powers.
The woman had long blonde hair and wore a two-piece white outfit that left her back, stomach, and legs bare. She spoke with a majestic assurance that was equaled by the confidence with which she had magically spirited Wyynde away from Mu itself.
“Milady, I know nothing of you except that you restored me to myself, and for that I thank you sincerely,” he said. “Still, I must have answers to the questions that plague my now-restored mind. Who are you? Where have you taken us? Why did you heal me?”
Gazing up at the big man with eyes of clear blue, she smiled. “Wyynde, I will satisfy you, but in my own time,” she said. “For now, surely you trust me, do you not?”
Nodding slowly, he said, “I do. I know not what matter of being you are or what purpose you seek to achieve, but I do trust you!”
“Good,” she said. “That is how it should be, since we are going on a quest that will force us to act together in total unison and complete concord!”
“These mountains that surround us are unlike any I have known in my travels,” said Wyynde. “Can you tell me where we are?”
She nodded and said, “This mountain range is called the Dragon’s Teeth, and that name arose out of the simple truth that here be dragons!”
Gripping his broadsword, Wyynde said, “Dragons? You’ve brought me here to slay dragons?”
She raised one eyebrow in amusement and replied, “Nay! I’ve brought you to do something more difficult still. I’ve brought you to save the soul of a dragon!” Wyynde gazed down at her with stunned amazement, but nonetheless he followed where she led as they began to climb the steep cliffs around them.
Meanwhile, Arion’s pursuit of the dragons had taken him across the city and near the gates of Mu. There he noticed the creatures were preparing for some type of action. They did not leave the city limits, but flew higher and then turned to line up before him in a battle formation. The dragons used by the riders aren’t sophisticated creatures with cunning minds, he thought, yet clearly they’re being led by a human intellect. Thiron’s boast that he serves the Shadow-Gods told me all I needed to know to identify that evil mind. The witless dolt must be in thrall to my new enemies!
Casually shielding himself for a burst of dragon fire, he then confronted the mocking Thiron. “You would sell yourself to invaders from beyond mortal realms in exchange for their promises of personal power?” said Arion. “How base a motive for one entrusted to defend noble Atlantis!”
Thiron spun his ornate sword around and around in one hand, then brought it down until the blade was in front of his face. His eyes gleamed an inhuman red, and he spoke in the sibilant manner of a serpent. “You are naïve, mmmage! I commme from realmmms beyond this one. I have witnessed mmmuch that even you could never commmprehend. Then again, why should I try to justify mmmyself to you, when mmmy brethren will soon feast upon your charred and broken body?”
The bearer of the Dragonsword laughed as the dragons charged forward from every direction to kill the brave mage of Atlantis. But that laughter died in his throat when his army suddenly found itself alone. “Bah! He fled through some spell!” hissed Thiron. Turning around, he dismounted from his own dragon in order to search the terrain on foot. There were places a dragon could not go, and the winding streets and narrow alleyways made a search on foot more practical.
Thiron had barely entered the nearest alley when he was bodily tackled and hurled to the ground. Arion had attacked him physically, and the Dragon-Rider hadn’t expected such a means of combat from the celebrated mage. “A spell of concealment left your pets confused and made you all too vulnerable!” declared Arion as he fought with the bearded warrior.
The rogue Dragon-Rider’s own attack was fierce and overpowering. Arion had mastered many elements of physical combat, but he wasn’t in the same class as the sinister Thiron. “You are clever!” he said. “My pets can’t reach us here, but then you knew that all along, didn’t you? The Shadow-Gods were wrong to view you with such disdain!”
Arion ducked as a swinging arc of the ornate Dragonsword barely missed him. Raising one hand, he caused dazzling sparks to explode in the air before them. Thiron reeled backward as his eyes watered, and he fought to find his foe as the world grew ever dimmer around him. “You’ve lost your strange mmmanner of speaking,” said a taunting Arion. “Could it be your masters have yet to fully favor you with their tainted gifts?” Then he reached out to grab the hilt of the sword as Thiron staggered backward under his magical assault.
No sooner had Arion touched the Dragonsword than he screamed, as magical lightning ran along his arm. Releasing the sword, he rubbed at his arm and drew back. “Calculha!” he cried. “Your weapon is accursed! Curse me for a blind fool for not seeing that all along! That sword is more master than you are!”
Thiron snarled in a monstrous manner, then retrieved his fallen blade. “The Dragonsword gave me the power to control the other dragons,” he said. “I came to your world for that purpose. I came to usher in the age of the Shadow-Gods!” Screaming in anger, he ran directly at Arion, who darted aside, but he was too slow. The bigger warrior crashed into him, sweeping him backward out of the alley.
As soon as Arion came into view again, the dragons came closer, and he hurled himself away as claws descended to snatch and tear at his back. This Thiron is a man possessed, in the literal sense! he realized. I think his blade is alive in some manner! Still, it little matters unless I can subdue his army before they close in upon me!
Arion was used to having to think on his feet. What he lacked in physical agility, he more than made up in dexterity, and his hands wove an intricate pattern of magical glyphs and wards as his strong willpower enabled him to tap into the source of Thiron’s weird power.
The dragons turned and flew away from the scene of battle as Thiron scowled in concern, then shouted in an increasingly mad tone. “You’ve bewitched my brethren!” he said through clenched teeth. “You’ve done something to them! What have you done? Tell me, or I will kill you on the spot!”
Smiling confidently, Arion said, “I? I did nothing. ’Twas your voice, your mind that ordered them away!”
“You used your wizardry to mimic my mental orders!” said Thiron. “They thought it was me that gave them that command! Your mind is subtle. You would make a fine dragon!”
Arion laughed bitterly and said, “Aye? High praise from one who is apparently more dragon than man! That foul sword robbed you of your humanity, did it not?”
“Say rather that the Dragonsword freed me from the limitations of frail mankind!” replied Thiron, who suddenly convulsed as if in pain. Slowly, his body began to change shape, elongating somewhat, even as ridges began to form across his back and scalp. Scales of iridescent hues covered his skin, and he transformed from man to dragon.
Arion inhaled sharply. “Calculha! It is worse than I imagined! He is not just a pawn of the sword — he is bodily linked to that dire weapon!”
Thrion hissed and said, “Aye! The Dragonsword and I share a soul. We share all things. We defend one another, and together we serve the Shadow-Gods!”
Arion smiled grimly. “Then I will have no choice but to stop you, be you willing instrument of evil or mindless pawn!” Concentrating, he formed a sphere of magical energy around the dragon. He knew it would not hold him for long, but he never intended to contain Thiron for a long time; he merely entrapped him, then prepared to work a more complex enchantment.
The high mage sighed as he started to work on a spell that he knew would tax even his resources to their limit. Calculha give me strength! he thought. If I am ever to learn what became of the gods and goddesses of our world, then I must be rid of their usurpers. Thus I begin that quest, even as I speak!
Reaching out with his mind, he made contact with the dragon, but he reeled back in disgust as images from a lifetime of brutality and malice assailed his mind. Still, he made his link secure, and he watched the scenes taken directly from the mind of his inhuman enemy.
“Thiron was once a man,” he said. “He was a good warrior, and he was duped by higher beings who served the balance itself into destroying one of their enemies. That enemy was a slave to Chaos or Shadow. In ridding that world of the Shadow, Thiron became bonded to his magical blade in which a dragon’s soul lay coiled and ready to strike. He had been manipulated by those who sought good ends through devious tactics, and thus he rebelled against them and left his realm. (*) He sought only freedom, but with every moment in which he was away from their benign magic, he fell deeper under the siren song of the dragon in the sword. Finally, the Shadow-Gods gained a prize more precious to them than the world they had lost. They acquired Thiron himself as their champion and sought to use him to conquer other realms.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Dragonsword,” Warlord #51-54 (November, 1981-February, 1982).]
Arion shook his head. “That, in turn, led them here,” he continued. “I could end his life, but rather will I seek to free him from his curse. To do any less would brand me as no better than the dark forces he serves!” Allowing the magic to envelop him, he then stepped miraculously inside the world within the Dragonsword.