The black dragon flew high overhead in lazy circles, its huge and powerful wings propelling it easily through the air. Below, it seemed as though all of Kaynos was spread out for the great dragon to see. Shallendara’s evil glowed like vast columns of a deep black light against the usual darkness of night where her armies and her allies were gathering. The dragon felt a shudder ripple through its massive, heavily muscled body. The war had begun.
The dragon sighed deeply as he looked down at The Kingdoms. Soon he would take his rightful place among those below who would fight against Shallendara’s madness and evil ambitions. The mind that had created the dragon was dying, losing the constant battle of resisting against Shallendara and her Oz'ke'lati. The dragon, King Erich’s creation, had performed the tasks required of it; it had sought out and delivered the necessary messages but there would be no more messages now.
Strangely the dragon had not realized until this moment and this message, that it was no more real than a puff of concealing smoke, just a product of the king’s imagination. Until this dream it had certainly felt real. Now, however, it knew better. The dying king had protected the dragon’s true identity by creating the dragon avatar and in doing so King Erich had delivered his messages. This would be the last, the king’s final message delivered. Erich could no longer keep up the ruse; the dragon had been told who he was and he knew the role he must now play.
Wulfstan’s eyes opened slowly as the dream faded. His dream had been similar in so many ways to those experienced by Slade and Ursula, at least as far as he understood from their descriptions of their own dreams to him, if only in the presence of the black dragon. Yet his dream had also been unique. He had spoken directly with High King Erich, almost as though they stood face to face. King Erich had told him that he, Wulfstan, was the Great Dragon, Aldrik’s lost son and heir. The dying High King had explained that he had used the dragon avatar both to protect Wulfstan’s true identity from Shallendara and as a means to deliver the necessary messages to his children.
Now that Erich was dying, as much from the fever as the effort of fighting off Shallendara’s evil magic, he was unable to keep up the subterfuge any longer. So he had told Wulfstan the truth, showing the soldier to himself in the dream as the image of the great black dragon. As he lay there on the sand, staring up at Kemet's vast star filled sky, he knew, just as the others had known, that his dream, his message, was a genuine message from the King.
He wondered why King Erich had not revealed the truth to him earlier. Why had the dying king waited until he and his companions, including Slade, had been scattered across The Kingdoms? If Slade had known the truth earlier he would not have gone to the Freeholds, where he faced untold dangers seeking the Great Dragon, who had been at his side all along. It made no sense, except for the fact that the High King was dying and unable to continue to hide the truth any longer.
The very thought made Wulfstan feel slightly sick; he loved his king and liege lord like a father. He still had not been able to forgive himself for allowing the High King to be captured in the first place; it was unlikely he ever would. His only hope for any kind of redemption had been the dreams. The dreams that indicated High King Erich was still alive somewhere, that there was still a chance of rescue. If Erich died now, as seemed likely, then Wulfstan’s true identity would hardly matter, in fact it would probably be worse. He would then be responsible for the death not only of his King and liege lord but the uncle who had loved and cared for him and protected him all his life.
The soldier gave up on the idea of getting any more sleep. Moving quietly he slipped on his boots and left their campsite. As he had expected he found Zexsan and his enormous dog on guard duty just outside the perimeter of their campsite. While Ming slept soundly there were questions Wulfstan wanted to ask of the great warrior.