So I started writing this and realized halfway through that I am not a fan of First Person narrative storytelling. But since the prompt was first-person, I stuck with it. I may redo this in a slightly different style after the contest is over. But keeping it first person felt more true to the spirit of the contest 🙂
I've rambled long enough... here's the thing:
The sky was bleeding moonlight when I saw the shadows of Lightning Dragons on the horizon. There were dozens of them. I shut my family safely inside the hut, extinguished every lantern and I was off.
The Sack of Lyveria
I thought I could hear the beating of their wings over Federoch’s steady gallop (the old boy was riding harder tonight than he had in years). Turns out it was just the crazed pounding of my heart.
The Dragons were heading straight toward Lyveria as the majestic city slept. The walls would prove futile to these invaders, who would take no prisoners and leave nothing unburned.
As I crested the final hill that overlooked the city, the Lightning Dragons soared over my head. They were causing far less noise than the typical wild ruckus for which Lightning Dragons are known, which brought me to a chilling realization...
The great peace is broken. I was not able to warn the guard in time, and now the Lightning Dragons were careening silently into the walled Kingdom. I loosed a single flaming arrow toward the wall outpost nearest to me, hoping it would rouse the attention of the night watch. By a stroke of luck, the passing of my arrow illuminated one of the Dragons, and the siren began to sound.
One by one, lights appeared throughout Lyveria as I watched from the hillside, but not before I heard the screams. It was too late.
The Littlest Thing
But I had to try. I had to do something.
“As fast as you can friend,” patting Federoch’s neck calmed me as I took a deep breath, “we have to try.” The horse turned his head and looked askance at me then, a remarkably human look as if to ask what exactly we were going to do.
“I don’t know! Don’t give me that look, you know we can’t sit here and do nothing.” Apparently satisfied, Federoch stomped his hoof and started shifting side to side, ready to break into a run. Taking another steadying breath, I lowered my head and kicked my heels.
With a burst of speed, we careened down the hill along the path. The darkness worried me, even a small rock or loose dirt could send Federoch, and consequently me, tumbling down the hill. The only thing worse than doing nothing and watching Lyveria burn would be watching it from the bottom of the hill, with a broken arm or leg.
The land flattened out as the acrid, ozone smell of lightning in the air first struck me. That sharp almost painful scent of something foreign, something abnormal and dangerous. Bolts of brilliant blue and white streaked across the darkened sky ending in pillars of flame. Even as I lowered my head to push Federoch harder still, I saw afterimages of the crackling energy. No matter how I tried to blink them away, the floating lines were burned into my vision.
Then came the screams again, ever louder as I rode to the walls. Federoch pushed himself faster, lather rising on his haunches as we flew down the road toward the city’s closed gates. Taking the reins in my left hand, I steered the horse off the road to run along the wall, there had to be another way in.
Ahead, I could see one of the city’s water towers collapsing outwards over the wall. A massive wash of water poured out and down the small hill away from the road. The cracked beams of the tower hung over the crenellations. That was my chance.
“Steady Federoch!” The horse straightened out as I pulled myself up on my feet and prepared to grab one of the low-hanging beams. Timing would be crucial here. It was excruciating waiting for the right time, but I braced myself and sprang off the saddle.
Grabbing the beam in both hands was difficult. Pulling myself upwards as hard as I could was worse. The roar of a dragon above me was all the warning I had before my vision was awash with colourful afterimages that blotted out everything. Federoch whinnied loudly, clearly voicing displeasure at the choices I made.
“I’m fine! Get out of here!” I yelled as I climbed hand over hand, momentarily blind and surrounded by the crackling flames of countless fires. Federoch was still whinnying away down on the ground but he would get the point eventually. I concentrated on one hand over the other and trying to blink until my vision cleared.
Hurrying as best I could, I swung a leg up and over the wall just as the tower collapsed the rest of the way over the stones and crashed to the ground below. Peering over the edge as I drew my bow, I could see the damn horse milling about beneath me.
“Go to the gate you idiot!” I whistled and pointed at the gate. Federoch looked at me for a moment before going. “Yeah, yeah. I’ll be fine. Just go you burdensome beast.” Notching an arrow, I faced inward to fully take stock of the damage.
Houses and shops were fully engulfed in flames, smoke was billowing up and out from countless fires covering the streets in thick smoke. The distant sounds of dragon’s breath and the smashing of wooden buildings came from every direction.
Vaulting down, I crouched behind a hay-wagon watching as one of the dragon’s landed in the courtyard inside the gate. It reared back its head as it drew a deep breath and readied itself to breath along one of the roadways.
The bow was in my hand before I realized what I was doing, the arrow in flight before I had taken proper aim and I was diving to my left as fast as I could when the dragon’s head whipped around and blasted the hay-wagon. I kept my eyes shut during my dive to safety, the last thing I needed was to be blinded now.
I hit the ground shoulder first and rolled as best I could, hearing claws scraping at the cobblestones, rapidly closing the distance between us. Glancing behind me, I caught a glimpse of the swinging claws moments before I felt the impact that threw me across the street and crashing through a wooden wall. I landed in a heap of broken wood and ashes, pain erupting all along my body. I could hear the dragon following and raised my bow to notch an arrow before I realized the bow string had broken.
A claw punched its way through the wooden wall and tore downwards the way someone would open a letter. This was the end, and I knew it, but it would not be pain-free for the dragon either. I rushed to the hearth, drew my sword, and grabbed the fireplace scoop.
The wall was ripped open then, the dragon’s head peeking inside, one eye blinded by my arrow. With every bit of strength I could muster, I hurled a scoop full of hot coals at the dragon’s one good eye and yelled my mightiest battle cry and charged, steel blade leading the way.
I felt the blade bite into dragonflesh for a moment before the sound of the dragon’s roar muted everything else. The wall began to collapse as the beast pulled back and away from me, a moment for me to regroup and steady myself. I could feel warmth on my arms and legs where the splinters of wood were digging into me. No time for that right now though.
Running outside away from the collapsing wall and the now blinded dragon, the street was in ruins. Everywhere was fire and debris; smoke and ruin. Smoldering patches in doorways spoke of the last moments of many a Lyverian citizen.
A small cry pulled my attention along the road. I heard the dragon smashing about randomly behind me, I was in danger, but it was the tiny cry for help that started me running. The small sound was coming from a tiny hillkat, scratching at a pile of debris. My eyes immediately fell on the small feet sticking out from pile; wriggling and struggling. Dropping my sword, I began pulling chunks of wood and broken bricks from the pile, eventually revealing a small and very terrified young girl. She shied away from me until I held out my hand.
“Come on, we need to get you out of here.” The girl was remarkably unharmed and after some quick coaxing, took hold of my hand. She spoke and her small voice nearly broke my heart.
“Don’t forget my kitty.” She pointed at the hillkat looking up at us. “He’s very important.” I could have argued, but my heart was still beating so how could I really?
“Of course,” I tried to calm my voice as much as possible, “come on you, we have to go.” I scooped the creature in one hand and handed him to the girl. “You take care of this one and I will take care of everything else.” I picked up my sword. “Understand?” The girl nodded but looked afraid of the blade I held.
“Don’t worry about that right now, I only use it to do good okay? We need to play a game, its called let’s find your par-,“ I paused as I saw the two sets of feet sticking out from a larger pile of burning debris. Steadying myself I continued. “Path. Let’s find your path. I’m the guide and you have to do exactly as I say, got it?” The girl, a testament to the adaptability of children, nodded seriously and took my free hand with hers.
If I could do nothing else this day, I would get this child out of danger. The city was fully aflame now, the night beaten back by the flickering waves of red and orange. Every shadow danced with each crackle of fire; the smoke getting thicker by the moment. The girl coughed.
“Hey, what’s your name?” I stepped to the side and cut a piece of curtain, quickly soaking it in a rainwater barrel nearby.
“Rayna. Rayna Eridorien.” I wrung the piece of cloth and began wrapping it around Rayna’s nose and mouth.
“Well, Rayna Eridorien, this will help keep you from breathing too much smoke.” I finished and tied the cloth off. “Keep that on alright?” She nodded. “You ready? Our first path is to get to the gates and out to my horse.” She nodded again, very seriously. We had wasted enough time, time to move.
I started moving back towards the gates the way I had come. No sooner had we taken a step, the dragon I had blinded thrashed around into view, smashing against the buildings at the end of the street and directly between us and the main gate. Rayna screamed.
The dragon immediately turned toward the sound and sucked in its massive breath. I grabbed Rayna and spun us both into a small alcove and squeezed as small as we could. The air crackled with electricity. Hair standing on end, my back becoming uncomfortably warm, I held Rayna as tightly as I could as she whimpered.
The first heavy crunch as the beast began walking towards us snapped me out of my terror. Reaching up I pushed open the window above our heads.
“Okay,” I whispered, “I’m going to boost you up. Once inside, stay away from the fire and I’ll be right behind you. And you need to be completely quiet. Got it?” She nodded and let herself be lifted onto the windowsill. “And you keep that kitty safe okay?”
“His name is Rinkee, and he says he likes you.” She smiled and slipped inside the house. The crunching sounds were getting louder now. I snuck a peek out from the alcove we had hidden in and saw the beast was almost at us. My mind began racing, there was no way I could get up through that window quietly enough to not give the game away. And my sword was useless against something that large unless it was a stupid and desperate action, like a last chance at life.
Reaching down I grabbed a stone and threw it at the house across the street. The dragon immediately lunged at the noise. I began inching quickly towards the house’s front door and was horrified to see the beast’s massive scaly tail heading directly towards me. I reached up and grabbed the wrought iron framework above the door and pulled my legs up as far as they would go, watching the tail pass beneath me. Once passed, I dropped down and scurried inside where Rayna was waiting.
Grabbing the tiny hand, I mimed staying low and moving quietly through the house to the back door. The front wall of the house suddenly caved in as the beast was moving blindly in the street. Rayna’s head pulled back as she was about to scream. I quickly put my hand over her mouth and mimed at her frantically to stay quiet. She squeaked a tiny squeak which thankfully was drowned out by the rapidly collapsing house as they passed out into the backyard.
“Okay, we have to move faster now, and I need my hands, you stay right close to me okay? And keep Rinkee as safe as possible.” The hillkat sneezed a tiny sneeze then and Rayna wiped his nose with her sleeve. The girl nodded.
Sword out but still crouching, I moved us through the backyard to a hole in the fence. Peering around the broken fence slats showed another empty back yard. Motioning for Rayna to move ahead, I scanned around us. While we crossed the yard, another black shape passed overhead belching a line of lightning along the row of houses, pulling a line of fire from the rooftops. Rayna waited by the next fence.
Stepping up on a stone, I looked over the fence and saw the road where I first began fighting the blind dragon. Just over the fence and across the main square to the gates, if luck was with us, Federoch would be milling about outside, waiting for him.
“I’m going to boost you two over the fence, and I’ll be right behind you.” Rayna nodded and let me boost her up and over. Scrambling, I pulled myself over as well. The sounds of the city burning and of roaring dragons was all I could hear. Taking her tiny hand in mine I ran as quickly as her little legs would allow towards the gate. Even the cobblestones here were churned up and knocked everywhere, scorched stones tossed about and making the run difficult.
Once against the massive gates, I looked around. There must be a mechanism somewhere near here to open the gates. I turned to Rayna.
“Have you ever seen anyone open these gates?” Rayna did not answer with words, instead pointing up the stairs to the top of the wall beside the gate. I could see the handle of the winch that would open the door in the firelight. Looking back at the girl, I smiled.
“I’ve got this, you stay here. I’ll be right back.” She looked terrified. I took a steadying breath. “Breathe like me.” I repeated the breath and watched her follow my lead. “Every time you feel that feeling, take a breath like that and then slow down and think. There is always an answer. Always.” I pointed up at the lever.
“All I have to do is run up and pull that, then we get on my horse and we ride as fast as we can until its safe. Plan?” Rayna nodded enthusiastically and took another breath, her mouth moving through the words he had just spoken. I didn’t have enough time to calm her completely, I had to move.
Up the stairs two at a time, I moved as fast as I could, grabbing a hold of the lever and pushing down as hard as I could. Inside the wall I could hear mechanisms ratcheting away as the great gates began slowly moving outward. A loud snort and whinny from outside assured me Federoch was still around. Turning to Rayna, I motioned with my arms wide that it was all done.
I took one step towards her and my breath was slammed out of me as a massive shape slammed into me. I caught one glimpse of Rayna staring, open mouthed as my entire field of vision lurched to my right and up. Gasping for air, I felt the clawed hand holding me around the waist and tried to draw my sword, but my arms were pinned. I started struggling, but it was like being in a vice grip. I heard a faint scream from somewhere as I tried to escape.
A sudden and brilliant light shot forth from below, striking the dragon square in the chest, silencing its triumphant roar suddenly and causing the upward motion to stop and the clawed hand to release. That’s when I fell, a sudden arresting of motion that slammed me into a nearby roof. I felt my arm shatter in a blinding flash of pain. It hurt so badly I didn’t even notice hitting the ground.
As my vision swam back into focus, I looked up and saw Rayna crumpled against the now opened gate. Everything snapped into place and I pushed myself up with my good arm and sprinted as fast as I could.
“No, no, no, no,” my breath caught in my throat as I saw Rayna’s limp form, Rinkee pawing at her face. The girl’s fingers were singed and smoking slightly but my brain registered none of that. I put my hand in front of her mouth and felt her soft breath. I finally took a breath and scooped her in my good arm, staying knelt long enough for Rinkee to jump and scramble up onto my shoulder.
One step outside the gate and I heard hooves coming quickly. Sighing with relief I balanced Rayna at the front of the saddle and put Rinkee gently in one of the saddle bags. My vision swam and I turned and let loose the dinner I had eaten earlier in the day. That meant a concussion, I needed to get home as fast as possible. Bracing myself for the pain, I pulled myself up with a muted scream.
“Home, double time.” My vision swam briefly a second time, but I snapped back into focus through sheer force of will. “Ya!” Federoch bolted as fast as he could away from the burning city. The familiar feeling of the horse’s muscles beneath him lent a calm familiar feeling amongst the blinding pain and muted panic that was the entirety of his mind right now.
The heavy thunk of ballistae began to sound from the fortress beyond the city. Screeches of dragons in pain joined the constant crackle of burning timbers and collapsing stone. As we rode, quickly but silently in the darkness, I watched shadow after shadow flying overhead in the direction Italic had originally come from.
If they were retreating that way, then ground forces were coming no doubt. From the way I had come. Where my home and family are.
“Ok horse, no complaining, its going to be a long night.” I could feel Federoch tense beneath me, waiting for the command. I reached past the tiny form cradled in the crook of my shattered arm to pat the horse’s powerful neck. All I could do now was hold on and trust Federoch knew the way, it would not be long before I passed out from the pain. Hopefully somewhere near enough to safety.
“You know the way. Home.”