PROLOGUE: THE MASTER AND HIS DOG
The dragon flew just above the clouds, his golden eyes fixed on a dark
mass in the far distance where the Southern Mountains rose to meet the
heavens. It was a beautiful day. Bright white clouds dotted a brilliant
blue sky, making a fantastical landscape in the air around him.
Volthraxus took no notice. He was preoccupied, driven to distraction by
the thought of her.
Today would be the day that he would brave the fairy’s curse and win
his Magdela, or at least that was what he had been telling himself. He
certainly thought he could win her. Hoped he would win her. But he knew
that if he was being totally honest with himself, he would have to admit
that he had his doubts. Would he be strong enough to break the curse? If
he did, would she be angry with him for waiting so long to come free
He had been trying to figure how long she’d been gone but couldn’t
quite work it out. It didn’t seem like it had been that long but
he’d had an ongoing dispute with that troublesome Sir George, then all
those times he had been forced to chase off those hideous dwarves (or
were they dwarfs?) and their invisible pet halfling, who kept trying to
steal his treasure, and then to top it off that idiot Jason came along
looking for golden fleas, or something like that, and put him to sleep
for several years.
“Excuses, excuses.”He sighed and shook his massive head. He did not
think Magdela would be particularly sympathetic.
Putting aside whether he could convince her not to be angry with him,
the bigger question was whether she would be interested in him. She had,
after all, come to these strange southern lands at least in part because
she had wanted to build a legend of her own. And look what Magdela had
become: the dragon of legend, the Great Wyrm of the South. Would she
even remember who he was?
And if she does, will she think I’m worthy of her?
After all, who was he? There were the titles, “the Killing Wind,”
“the Gray Terror,” “the Dragon of the North,” but he had never
been certain he warranted any of them—well, except perhaps the one
about being from the north, that seemed undeniable. Also, he thought
“Swine Savager” a rather appropriate moniker, but for some reason it
had never caught on.
In the end, his list of “terrors” wasn’t that impressive. It had
never really been his thing, the burning and the pillaging and the
eating, at least of people—stringy creatures, and in his opinion not
worth the trouble. Actually, most of the acts of carnage that been
attributed to him were rather more in the nature of collateral damage.
If he was being completely honest, he would have to admit that the name
“Killing Wind” had been given to him for an unintended and
ill-timed, but particularly lethal, belch.
Was it his fault if humans, and their villages, were altogether too
fragile? You came swooping down to capture a horse or a cow or a nice,
juicy pig—mostly the pigs—which the humans kept so thoughtfully and
conveniently in easy-to-access pens, and the next thing you know the
whole place is in flames, and there are people running about screaming
and shooting things at you.
Beastly creatures, humans, and so unreasonable.
He made a point of avoiding them as much as possible, but he really did
have a weak spot for their pigs, which meant he avoided them less than
was generally good for his, or more typically, their health.
All this thinking of swine was making him rather peckish. He raised a
claw to wipe a long drip of flaming drool from his mouth.
Yes, he needed to focus, focus on what he was going to do when he got to
Magdela and what he was going to say to her when he saw her. He pondered
the point a moment, put on his best smile—revealing as many of his
shining, serrated teeth as possible—and said to the passing clouds,
“Hail, Magdela! I, Volthraxus the Terrible, the Great Dragon of the
North, the Killing Wind, the Gray Terror, have come to free you from the
Did that sound lame? It sounded lame. He let out a shuddering sigh of
noxious steam. What was the point of being the size of a mountaintop, or
having talons that could crush boulders into sand, or scorching flames
that could set whole forests ablaze, or a roar that sounded like
thunder, if when he finally saw her, he froze?
Pathetic, he scolded himself. I am the Dragon of the North and she is
the Great Wyrm of the South, and we were meant to be together.
The mountains, dark and purple, had been growing in his vision for some
time. Now the billowing clouds that were gathered on their heights
parted, and he could see Magdela’s tower, dark and gray, like a
giant’s dagger plunged into the earth. His doubts, renewed in
strength, assailed him again.
What if I do freeze? What if there’s something in my teeth? Should I
have brought her a snack? What if my scales aren’t shiny enough? What
if my scales are too shiny? What if I cannot overcome the fairy’s
He was slightly embarrassed that the last thought had also been his last
concern and not his first, but the Dracomancer he had interrogated
before leaving had assured him that all he needed to do was melt this
silly little golden key or lock or something.
Strictly speaking, it wasn’t right before you left, Volthraxus
reminded himself. It has been some time since you learned how to break
When had he spoken to that funny little man? It couldn’t have been
more than a couple of years since he’d caught the fellow lurking
around his lair. Certainly less than ten?
“Time!”Volthraxus grunted. Such a tricky concept, and so human.
Anyway, the point was that whenever it was that they’d spoken, this
Dracomancer had been quite confident, in a kind of smug, obnoxious way
actually, that while fairy gold might be immune to conventional fire,
the infernal fires of a magnificent and ancient dragon like Volthraxus
would melt it in an instant. He had to admit that, despite being
obnoxious, the enchanter had also been quite skilled at flattery. Of
course, he had been warned that the enchantment Magdela was under might
compel her to attack him, but he was secretly quite thrilled at the
thought of rolling about with her claw to claw, tooth to tooth …
He opened his eyes from this marvelous daydream and realized he was
about to crash into the tower. He pulled up with a great buffeting of
wings, and only by an enormous effort did he manage not to smash into
the wall and plummet into the thick rosebushes below. Instead, he landed
with a resounding thud face-first on her balcony.
Did she see that? He rolled onto his feet, trying to act as though
landing on his nose had been the plan from the beginning.
He paused, eyes darting here and there, and took a deep breath of
relief. There was no movement from within.
Perhaps she is asleep?
The thought of waking her and breaking the spell filled him with a
sudden thrill. He gathered himself and ran his forked tongue over his
teeth to remove any debris and across his eyebrow scales to smooth them
This was it.
All he had to do was to enter her chamber. Suavely. Say his piece.
Eloquently. Grab the key from around her neck in his talon. Forcefully.
Then melt it into a pool of liquid gold. Flamingly. He made sure to take
a moment to visualize each action, each pose, each word. And then he
caught movement within the room, and he froze.
A wolf stepped into the main chamber from some hidden alcove. It was a
dark, mangy cur, scrawny, with long, bristly black hair, and the moment
it saw him, it also froze. It was clear that this was not what either
had been expecting. Volthraxus ran through all the scenarios he had
considered in his head. Not a one involved a wolf.
Maybe it is a pet?
“Where is your mistress, dog?” boomed Volthraxus. The wolf, hair on
end and tail between legs, flattened himself on the ground and its teeth
began chattering. Volthraxus stepped forward into the room and in an
instant took in the dusty rugs and hangings that lined the floor and
It was clear that Magdela had not been here for some time.
“Answer me!” he roared again. “Where is she?”
For a moment, he thought the wolf might not have the power of speech.
All the wolves in the forests of the north did, but he had never been
this far south. If it couldn’t talk, there was not much point in
keeping the beast alive. He tried to decide what to do. He should
probably kill it. He couldn’t imagine Magdela would keep such a
useless creature as a pet, and if the beast hadn’t been invited, it
was rather cheek of the thing to be roaming about her tower.
Besides, she never struck me as a dog lover. Come to think of it, I
can’t remember her having a particular fondness for any creature
except perhaps based on taste and crunchiness.
On the other hand, he had spent a good deal of time over the past week
hunting down flocks of sheep so he could use their wool to buff up his
scales and wasn’t anxious to get wolf blood on him.
This is a complication.
A whine drew him back to the moment, and he frowned in annoyance. He
extended a talon and put its sharp edge against the top of the wolf’s
“Either you won’t tell me where she is, which would really make me
quite angry, or you can’t tell me where she is, which is just
aggravating. Either way, I think I’m going to kill you and use your
carcass to fertilize her roses. At least then you would be serving some
Perhaps realizing speech was the only way he wouldn’t end up as plant
food, the wolf opened his mouth and started talking as though his life
depended on it, which in this case it quite literally did. “I’ll
tell you anything you want, O Terrible and Magnificent One! I just
don’t know who we’re talking about. If you mean the Princess, she
was gone when I got here—swear to the Moon. And, had I known you were
still alive, I promise you, O Wicked and Frightful One, I wouldn’t
have been within a hundred leagues of here. I never meant to invade your
tower. Really, I’m not like that, I—”
“Wait.” Volthraxus applied a little pressure on the wolf’s head,
which had the admirable effect of silencing the thing in an instant.
“Did you say, ‘my tower’? Do you think I am the Great Wyrm of the
“Mmmph,” the wolf replied.
“You should enunciate better, I really can’t understand a word
Volthraxus looked down and saw that he had buried the creature’s
muzzle into one of the rugs. He raised his talon a fraction. “Sorry
about that. What were you trying to say?”
“Uh … uh …” The wolf panted. “Yes.”
“Yes, what? What were we talking about?”
“I was saying that you are obviously the Great Wyrm of the South, Your
Incredibly Talony One, no one could compare.”
Volthraxus let out a puff of steamy annoyance, snatched the wolf up in
his claw, and lifted it so they were snout to snout. “Are you blind? I
am obviously a male dragon. Look at these horns. Look at the mottling on
my scales. I am a very male dragon.”
“Got it,” said the wolf in a wheeze, as Volthraxus squeezed him.
“My apologies. No offense, O Very Male One.”
“Stop that, it’s embarrassing for both of us. Now, tell me what you
are doing here, and be truthful, or I’ll roast and eat you out of
“Actually,” said the wolf, “I was hoping there might be an extra
sleeping princess lying about, or at least a few leftover bones. I
haven’t eaten in days.”
“I really couldn’t care less about all that, you insipid little
beast,” said Volthraxus, and he shook the wolf about for added
emphasis. “Tell me this instant: Where is Magdela?”
The wolf blinked in vacant confusion. Volthraxus rolled his eyes. “The
other dragon. The Great Wyrm of the South.”
“Oh … you don’t know.”
“I don’t know what?”
The wolf started to say something, then stopped and tilted his head,
considering. “How are you with the whole good news, bad news thing? I
mean, are you a kill-the-messenger kind of guy?”
Volthraxus narrowed his eyes at the wolf’s questions and at the sudden
creeping sensation that something had gone horribly wrong with his plan.
“I will tell you who I am, cur. In my country, they call me the
Killing Wind, and if you do not tell me where Magdela is, the dragon the
people of this land named the Great Wyrm of the South, I will
demonstrate—viscerally—why I earned that title. Do you understand
The wolf, eyes wide as saucers, nodded silently. Swallowing hard and
wetting his muzzle with his tongue, he said, “I hate to be the one to
tell you this, O’ Killing Wind, but she’s … she’s dead.”
Volthraxus dropped the wolf, barely noticing the high-pitched yelp the
beast made as he fell headfirst onto the hard stone floor of the tower.
Dead? Magdela is dead? I came too late.
He had failed. A wave of sorrow and loss rolled through his body, and he
suddenly felt the weight of the centuries on his bones. He was old and
cold and tired.
He noticed a large worn patch in the rugs covering the floor. He moved
across the room and curled himself into the space, his tail sweeping the
wolf into the wall behind him with a dull thud. This must have been
where she slept. Is this also where she died?
He had to know. He had to know how she had passed, what terrible
calamity had taken her from him. Dragons don’t just die.
The wolf would know. He swept his eyes across the room and spotted the
creature trying to skulk his way down a dark stairway at the very back
of the chamber. He flicked out just the tip of his tail and, using it
like a massive spear, pinned the wolf against the wall.
“How did she die, wolf?”
The wolf tried to wriggle away from the sharp end of the tail, but it
followed him like a dancing snake ready to strike. The wolf whimpered
and panted in fear. “It was a dragonslayer, or at least that’s the
story that went through the kingdom. She was hunting in the Southern
Valley, near a town called Prosper, and a dragonslayer found her and
“A dragonslayer?” Volthraxus’s voice cracked across the room like
a whip. “Only one? That isn’t possible. She has been known to lay
waste to small armies without so much as breaking a claw or scratching a
scale. I once personally saw her allow six armored knights to surround
her, so she could gut them all without having to stir from her bed. Who
is this mythical dragonslayer?”
“Well, it’s William Pickett, now King William. He was crowned in
recognition of his slaying of the dragon—I mean, your Magdela.”
“He was, was he? Made king by the blood of my beloved.”
A terrible fire ignited in his breast, something more intense than any
flame he had ever breathed. Vengeance. The thought echoed in his head.
Never before had he wanted to kill more than he did at that moment.
Excerpted from "The Pitchfork of Destiny" by Jack Heckel. Copyright © 2016 by Jack Heckel. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.