She had seen things that no other human should have to see, and had only survived by hiding like an ostrich in the dirt. Her face was smeared with dirt, and it actually hurt to cry.
“Ma’am, can you explain what happened?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“Please, we can’t explore the matter any further if we don’t know what happened.”
“Our village didn’t just disappear,” the middle aged woman explained. “It was destroyed.” Her dark brown eyes looked black in the pale, moody white of the day and the clouds could be witnessed in them. “I only survived because I played dead,” she sighed. “Our village was eaten by a dragon. He was huge and furious and black as a night without moon or sun or star. Some he allowed the mercy of being swallowed whole, others he ripped to pieces. It was terrible. I remember his voice cold, dark, and merciless. He insisted that he would spare no woman, child, or man. That we were all to pay for our sins against the dragons, but he wouldn’t say what they were.”
The guards looked toward one another, frowning.
She brushed brown hair back from her face. “What’s the matter, don’t believe me?” she asked. “See for yourself.”
The two guards looked at the ruins of what had been a village. There were already many of the king’s guards observing the entirety of the place.
“Don’t tell him what she said, let’s see what the Seer has seen.”
A sunny day, children’s laughter permeating the air. Children ran around and played while the older ones went to school or helped their parents with work.
Adults began their daily rituals of working, eating, and doing more work so that they could retire that evening with their loved ones with the pride and satisfaction of knowing they had done a hard day’s work. At least, most of them. Some of them didn’t have families and some were lazy, but for the most part the village was filled with a community of hard working men and women.
Old women and old men sold their wares of jewelry, glass, wood working, or shoes if they were able to still be under employ; whilst others, being taken care of by family or friends with no desire or little strength left to work got to watch after the younger children or simply oversee the village and all that was happening.
It was an average day, and an unseasonably warm spring day that felt more like summer.
Maggie could feel the sun upon her face, and smiled up to the heavens in gratitude. It was another beautiful day. Her sons were both at school and her husband was at work, and so she began looking through her wares to contribute to her employers stockpile.
However, she twisted when she saw something dark and large blotting out the sun.
Then the dragon struck.
He flew past her bellowing this proclamation: “The age of humans is over! Far too long, humans have killed dragons. This is your punishment for what you’ve done to our kind! I will spare no woman, no child, and no man in this village. You all shall pay for what you’ve done to my ancestors.”
True to his word, the large black dragon flew around devouring all. He destroyed the people’s hope for the future by first attacking the school and devouring all the teachers and students both. Then he came for the old, the sick, and the middle age and any children too young to go to school.
Some he swallowed whole, others he ripped to pieces taking delight in the horror etched upon the citizens faces as he ripped people slowly limb by limb or ate them in halves as if they were food.
Blood dripped from his maw and his hunger never seemed to stop. He devoured the entire village in less than an hour.
He didn’t stop until every last one was dead or so he thought.
Maggie laid headfirst in the dirt until the dragon flew away, presumably to attack another village or perhaps he was done stuffing his massive belly. That she did not know.
“I’m a coward, I’m a coward, I’m a coward,” she sobbed into the ground as two guards came to investigate the rising, billowing clouds of smoke in the rural countryside.
The Seer grimaced at everything he had seen. Rockshaw turned to the two guards in control of this investigation: Ageion and Lark. “Her words are true,” he said without even looking at them. His cold ice blue eyes with every thorn of wintry blast behind them, gazed into the distance where a building was burning. “He took particular delight in ripping this community apart. It’s built on the bones of dead dragons,” he sighed. “But first someone must save the child in that burning child. Aside from Maggie, she’s the only survivor.”
“There’s a child that was spared?” Lark asked, stupidly.
“Is that not what I just said? Go find her.”
Ageion and Lark ran quickly to where the Seer was looking. “He seemed nastier than usual,” Ageion observed.
“He probably saw how vicious and the severity of the dragon’s viciousness,” Lark frowned. “I can’t blame him for being upset. Who wants to see that horror in their head? It must be a burden to have the gift of the sight, sometimes.”
“That’s a good point,” Ageion nodded. “Would’ve been nice had he told us where this girl was, wouldn’t it have been?”
A tiny blonde haired girl with pale skin and eyes the color of peridots shivered as the crumbling church fell all around her. Would she survive the horror that was bestowed upon her village? Was the dragon going to come back for her? Did anyone else survive? These were things that crossed her mind. Despite the heat of the fires around her, she felt nothing but the cold emptiness of being alone.
She screamed as they found her, and she let out a breath of relief as she saw that they were two of the king’s guard. “I’m sorry, I thought…I thought maybe the dragon was coming back,” she admitted, feeling foolish.
“What’s your name, sweetheart?”
“My name is Astoria.”
“How old are you?”
“Nine. My father believed in God, but he said he had a fight with Him. He told me that I was to stay home from school today because he had a bad feeling about what was going to happen. When the dragon attacked, this was the first place he found for me to hide. I barely hid beneath a pew before the dragon saw him and threw him in his open mouth and…and…” She couldn’t finish her story, overcome with tears as she was.
“Come on, Astoria, we’ll take you to Maggie.”
“Maggie Lavas? She was daddy’s friend. She survived?”
“Aye, she’s the only one to survive other than you. You both were very brave,” Lark smiled kindly, his brown eyes warm with compassion.
Aegion tried not to roll his eyes. He could see that Lark had a weakness for all children, not simply his own. Yet he could see why Lark would want to help this little girl. She had already witnessed so much evil.
“Come now, Astoria,” he insisted, taking his helmet off to reveal hair so brown that it was nearly black. His eyes were black as coal.
“You have strange eyes, king’s guard.”
“His name is Aegion, and what is so strange about his eyes?”
“I’ve only met one person with black eyes and his hair was black,” she said. “His hair is dark brown. But his eyes are cold. Did you lose someone, too, Aegion?”
“I lost my wife a long time ago, Astoria, but it’s not really something I like to talk about,” he muttered, putting his helmet back on. He thought that Lark could handle the girl from his point out, and so he stormed out of the church.
“Don’t feel bad,” Lark smiled. “Aegion has always been very moody. He has a good heart, but he has a hard time connecting with anyone else. His wife’s death took a toll on him.”
“Did he have any kids?” she asked.
“Aye, but she was never born. His wife was pregnant when she was murdered.”
“The baby died, too?”
“She was too little to survive without her mother.”
“Poor Aegion. All he needs is some love. That will certainly melt his cold heart and make it warm again.”
“I don’t know,” Lark frowned.
“It’s true. Mama always said that love is the only thing that can save us.”
Lark patted the girl on the head. “Maybe you’re right,” he smiled. He took Astoria out to where Maggie stood.
“Maggie!” Astoria cried.
“Your face is all dirty, Maggie.”
“I was pretending to be dead so the dragon wouldn’t find me.”
“That was smart. But you should get a bath.”
Rockshaw couldn’t help but laugh at this. “Children are so honest. It’s a pity that some don’t carry that integrity into adulthood.”
Aegion glared at the Seer at these words. He couldn’t tell them that his wife was really killed at the hand of a black dragon. He clenched his fists. He had vowed that he would kill that dragon himself.
The Seer’s eyes met his. “It’s the same dragon,” he insisted.
“The same dragon as what?” Lark blinked.
“My wife didn’t really die at the hands of a murderer, Lark. She was killed by a black dragon.”
“What is this dragon’s name?” Lark demanded.
“He is called Leviticus.”
“Why would you lie about that, Aegion?”
“I didn’t want to terrify everyone and I thought I could handle it myself,” Aegion frowned.
“We see how well that worked out,” Maggie snapped, glaring darkly at Aegion. She held Astoria close.
“I’m sorry, don’t we all make mistakes?”
“INCOMING!” roared several of the guards.
The black dragon had returned.
“There are survivors?” Leviticus asked with a twisted smile. “Not for long.”
Aegion narrowed his eyes. This dragon seemed to have a penchant for attacking the weak and helpless. His wife had been one of those whom he killed. The dragon rider of the king’s court did something very reckless and foolish, he jumped at the dragon; with the runes of his hand open which meant he would be claiming the dragon as his own. If the only way to kill this dragon was to die then so be it.
“I will never heed you,” the dragon roared, trying to knock Aegion off his back.
The Seer smiled darkly. “He’s sacrificing himself. How noble.”
“Wait, what?” Lark asked.
The Seer only smiled darkly at him, revealing no response. “Well,” he prompted after several long minutes. “The dragon’s underbelly is exposed. Kill it.”
The guards ran forward and thrust their swords into every part of the dragon’s underbelly.
Leviticus roared at his defeat, falling over unmistakably dead.
Aegion fell off the dragon, unmistakably dying. Every wound inflicted upon the dragon’s flesh was upon him and his armor.
“AEGION!” Astoria yelled, managing to escape Maggie’s arms. “AEGION!” she insisted. “Can’t you help him?” she asked the guards. “He’s dying!” Tears fell from her eyes.
Lark watched at Rockshaw caught the girl, whispering something into her ear, and she started to cry harder; though, she no longer yelled. He glared at the Seer. He had known this would happen, he was certain of it.
“Aegion, you idiot. That was brave, but foolish. Why would you do something so stupid?” Lark demanded, kneeling beside his best friend.
“Because I got our kingdom into this mess, I wanted to get them out of it,” he smiled darkly. “And all I could think of was you and your family, Astoria’s tears, Maggie’s anger, and how Rockshaw resented the fact I lied. I wanted to do right by all of you,” Aegion said. “My family has long known the gift of dragon riding. I knew, that perhaps the only way to kill a beast like Leviticus was to trick him, and it seems that I was right.” He coughed up some blood, and spat it bitterly at the ground. “I am sorry to leave you, friend, but I am glad that no one else has to die. I have finally avenged my beloved. My heart now knows peace and not anger. It feels beautiful, honestly, but I hear my wife and daughter calling to me. I have to leave you now, goodbye!” Aegion’s black eyes stared forever upward into the heavens.
“AEGION!” Lark exclaimed, throwing his head back, keening. His helmet fell off and his long brown hair tumbled towards the earth.
Astoria broke free of Rockshaw’s grasp. She ran towards Lark and hugged him from behind. “It’s okay, Lark. You’ll see Aegion again one day just like I’ll see mama, daddy, and my brothers.”
Lark smiled. Despite her own pain, she had come to comfort him. “You’re a sweet girl, Astoria. But it hurts.”
“It will always hurt, but it will be okay. Because he gets to live on forever in your heart and your memories.”
“Such wisdom from such a small girl,” Lark laughed. “But you are right. Thank you.”
Rockshaw and Maggie appeared at Astoria’s side.
“I didn’t know he was going to do that. But after he did it, I knew the only way his soul would be assuaged were if we were to kill the dragon. Otherwise his sacrifice would have been meaningless, and he would have fallen prey to Leviticus. I did what I had to, to help this country even if you don’t agree with my methods…you have to admit this is better than him dying in a dragon’s angry maw. For while he had the gift of the rider, Leviticus and he would have never bonded because they had very different wills.”
Lark nodded. “I understand. Come, we all must go back to the castle of Verses and tell the king what happened.”
“What about us?” Maggie asked.
“You’re coming, too, of course. Astoria you can ride with me, Maggie you go with Rockshaw. Everyone else to your own horses.”
Maggie glanced at the landscape and how quickly the flames disappeared into trees, flowers, and sunlight. It was funny how nature seemed to have to remind her over and over again that life was a balancing act of holding on and letting go. She had a hard time letting go.
Judging by the tears in Lark’s eyes as he rode with Astoria before him, he was the same way.
Rockshaw’s face was impassive, and she didn’t know how the other guards felt for they were too far away from them to see how this all had impacted them.
Maggie thought, though, that the world was a brighter place now with the death of that wicked dragon.