Screams pierced through the dark night, the smell of burning flesh assaulting the air. Flames that were eternally inextinguishable made the shadows dance, almost as if laughing at their suffering.
Ira jump over the small fires that had long since reduced entire buildings to ash. He ducked into the church, one of the last remaining buildings made out of stone that hadn't been demolished by the beast.
“I couldn't find him,” Ira choked out, dropping to his knees as his shoulders shook. He felt arms wrap around him and he leaned into the touch, “We can't keep living like this, Ma. There'll be nothing left of us soon,” He said, clinging onto his mother. “What are we supposed to do if he’s dead? This town is nothing without Pa…” Ira’s breath shook with uncertainty.
“We'll make it, sweetheart. I know we will,” His mother said, holding him gently.
Ira took deep breaths, gently pulling away from the embrace and wiping the moisture out of his eyes, “Did… did Father Kaleb find anything in his books?” He asked hopefully, glancing up at the priest who was enveloped in his books.
“He hasn't moved since you left,” His mother said solemnly, “Perhaps it's time to move on from this place.”
“No!” Ira said abruptly, a fierce look in his eyes being smothered by the vulnerability that his below, “This is our home, my home, your home, Pa’s home. I will not leave until that monster is dead!”
“Ira!” His mother said in shock, “You know better than to pass judgment on God's creations.” She scolded, appalled that her son would say such a thing.
Ira lowered his head in shame, “I'm sorry, Ma. I spoke without thinking,” He said, staying silent for a moment before standing up. He walked over to the priest, looking over his shoulder, “Is there anything I can do, Father? Anything at all?” He asked desperately, he would do anything to save his people.
“There is… something…” The man said, finally looking up from his books with weary eyes, “There is only one way to fight a dragon.”
At the time, Ira had been sure that getting out of the town was the hardest part of his mission. After all, he’d had to jump through fires, limit his inhalation of smoke, he even saw the dragon on his way out of the small town.
But after climbing this impossibly steep mountain for what seemed like a solid hour, his muscles were positively burning with exertion. Sweat poured down the side of his head and trickled down his back. If he didn’t know any better he might think his body was trying to make a river of sweat to quench his unbearable thirst. His chest was heaving in the efforts to get enough oxygen into his lungs to suffice for the prolonged physical strain on his body, almost making him lose his grip a couple times.
When he finally spotted a small platform on the side of the mountain, he made a mad beeline for it. He all but collapsed onto the solid ground, unable to move a single one of his sore muscles. He let out a mirthless laugh as he stared at the blue sky, there was still a long way to go until he reached the top. In any other situation he would have laid there for the rest of the day, for the whole night and possibly even the entire following day, but at the moment, he didn’t have the luxury of time.
Ira took a deep labored breath and picked himself back up. He glanced wearily at the top of the mountain, reciting Father Kaleb’s words in his mind as he restarted his tract upwards.
“Now this will not be an easy journey, Ira. You must be entirely sure that you are prepared to go,” Between their current state of destruction and the first sighting of the dragon, Father Kaleb looked like he had doubled in age. His hair had begun to grey and his face wrinkled like a prune. His smiles were more and more scarce, as were everyone else’s.
“I am sure, Father, I will do anything to bring an end to this destruction,” Ira said with unwavering confidence.
Father Kaleb nodded his said, taking in a deep breath before pointing at one of his books, “There is a mountain. It is ten leagues from directly south from our town. According to my books, there, the sun shines the brightest in the land and warms everything in the area. At the top of the mountain there is a cave that tunnels straight down and at the bottom lives a very old creature of magic that can fight this dragon.”
“I fear whatever creature is so powerful,” Ira said with a shudder, “What do I do if it will not help, if it will not budge from its home?” He asked, looking up at Father Kaleb with a touch of fear swirling in his eyes. He would never admit it out loud, but he was terrified. They were being killed left and right and this was their last chance and what if he messed it up? What if he condemned them all to a slow painful death?
“Then you will come home, you will hug your mother, and we will tell stories about old times over a hot meal,” Father Kaleb said, his steady gaze calming Ira’s anxiety.
“Okay,” Ira said softly, “Thank you, Father,”
“No, Ira. We should all be thanking you,”
Ira felt like he had reached heaven when he was finally able to swing his leg over to cliff at the top of the mountain. He swallowed big gulps of air and allowed himself to fall into a heap of exhaustion. If the next part of this mission didn’t kill him then he was sure the trip back home would, there was no way he was going to be able to get down that cliff side without hurting himself. He hadn’t even known it was possible for a mountain to jut out of the ground like that, as if purposely taunting anyone who dared climb it with it’s impossibly steep sides.
He let his eyes flutter closed as he laid there, thinking about his family and his home and how beautiful it had been before the dragon came. A small sigh left his lips as he felt his breath finally calming. Weariness and fatigue creeped into his muscles and suddenly the cold, hard ground felt like the most comfortable bed he had ever laid on. It would feel so good to just curl up and fall asleep…
An abrupt shock travelled through Ira’s body and he shot up with wide eyes. He couldn’t go to sleep, not yet. Lives were at stake and even if he failed in his mission this may be the last few days he will be able to spend with his family, with his friends.
Every muscle in his body protested as he slowly got up, beginning to walk to the center of the mountain. He didn’t have to look hard to find what he was looking for.
There was a gaping hole in the ground, big enough that the entire church could be picked up and dropped inside. He couldn’t see the bottom of the pit, for all he knew, there wasn’t one. The walls of the cavern were littered with patches of fire, as if to discourage the climb down.
Though, Ira was sure that even if he would be able to maneuver around the fires during his climb, he just didn’t have the energy. But what else could he do? He couldn’t just turn around and go home after making it so far, he would never be able to look his mother in the eyes again. He had to go forward but how? How...?
Ira set his gaze on the hole, tightening his hands into fists and taking a deep breath. There was only one way.
He did it before he could overthink it and before he knew it, he was falling.
“Will my son return?” Ira's mother asked Father Kaleb, tears welling up in the corners of her eyes.
Father Kaleb sighed, wrapping a comforting arm around her, “I don't know, Ethyl, he doesn't know what he's going to face in that cave,” He said, shaking his head slightly.
“Do you?” The woman asked quietly, looking up at him.
“Unfortunately, I do,”
Ira's heart raced in his chest as the wind whipped around him. The hot air singed his skin whenever he got too close to one of the fires and it seemed like the further down he fell, the hotter it got.
At some point he started screaming, unable to help his own terror. A part of him wanted to grab onto the side of the cave to stop himself from falling but he was sure that the shock of the stop would break his arms. So he kept falling.
He had no idea what he would find at the bottom of the pit. For all he knew it was a solid ground that would kill him before he knew what hit him. Regret began to bubble in his gut until he wished that he had never come here, that he had stayed with his mother and his village, or what was left with it anyway.
His scream was abruptly cut off and he almost choked in the shock of being suddenly submerged in water. He took a while to gain his bearings before swimming upwards. He broke the surface of the water and gasped desperately for air. He took deep breaths and had to calm himself down before he could look around and spot the edge of the water. He swam for the rocks, relieved when he finally had some solid ground under his feet again.
He took deep breaths, pausing for a moment calm himself down before observing his surroundings. He couldn’t see any fire yet somehow the cave was lit with a dim auburn glow. He frowned slightly and walked deeper into the cave. The longer he walked, the brighter the auburn light became. There were a countless number of twists and turns until he felt like he may never find an end but finally, the labyrinth opened up into a vast cavern.
Awe sparkled in his eyes at the brightly lit room that had to be miles underground. Then just as quickly as the awe arrived it was replaced by horror.
“No… No, no, no, no, no, I’m not getting help from a dragon!” Ira yelled in frustration.
The creature was huge, much bigger than the one at his home. Its head must have been at least the size of two horses and it had a long scaly neck with spines running down it's back to the tip of its thick tail. It's leathery wings were folded up against it's deep, velvet purple back which rose and fell steadily as the beast breathed.
He was met with large, opalescent eyes that simmered like the deepest part of a blue fire. He froze up as he stared the beast in the eye. He was going to die here wasn't he?
“I, um… do you speak?” Ira asked, feeling stupid for talking to an animal.
The dragon stared at him for a long moment before closing its eyes, a puff of smoke blowing out of its nostrils as it sighed.
“Don't huff at me!” Ira said, stomping his foot on the ground. “You can clearly understand me, whether or not you can speak, so you're coming with me back to my village,” He declared.
The dragon opened one eye before flicking its tail dismissively and closing it again.
Ira's hands balled into fists at his sides, his head pointed down in frustration, “I need your help,” He said begrudgingly, “My village needs your help.” He looked up to see the beast didn't so much as budge. “We're being attacked by a… by another dragon.” He said, getting desperate when the dragon still didn't move, “Please…”
The dragon groaned, standing up and stretching out its wings. It look many times larger now that it had gotten up and Ira couldn't help but flinch back a little bit. Surely this was the part where he was killed for being a pest.
He jolted when a deep voice rumbled through the cave, “Fine.”
Ira held onto the spine in front of him for dear life. He had stopped screaming a while ago, only because it started to take a toll on his breathing. A growl rumbling in the dragon’s throat below him made him open his eyes. It was the other dragon, taking pleasure in buring what was left of the wooden houses. Ira saw people run from the houses towards the stone church. He swore the dragon cackled as it chased after them.
The abrupt dive caught him off guard and all he could do was cling onto the white spine as they dropped down to the other dragon. The two dragons slammed into each other, Ira getting thrown off the dragon’s back during the collision. He groaned as he sat up, his voice stolen from him as his gaze landed on the violet and red contrasting sharply whilst a powerful roar followed the smaller of the two getting pinned down by the wings.
“Ardyss!” The red dragon yelped, fright swirling in it’s amber eyes.
“You should have known better than to come here,” Fury bled from Ardyss, the way he stomped down on the scarlet wings making the smaller dragon struggle in pain.
“I didn’t know this was your land, I swear!” Ira couldn’t tear his eyes away from the exchange, never had he seen man or beast display such raw power over another.
“Too late,” A sickening crack made Ira flinch, forcing him to look away. Silence filled the atmosphere, broken only by the occasional crackle of a fire or flutter or a breeze.
People began poking their heads out of the church, out from behind the half burnt buildings, where ever it was they were hiding. Whispers seemed to float in the air as eyes bored into the limp dragon who had tormented them so, and the dragon who took it’s life.
The violet head turned to face Ira, glimmering eyes staring him down. He couldn’t help but flinch back. If the beast had it in him to kill the dragon, what would it do to all of them?
“You humans seem to think you own this land so let me clear a few things up for you,” He said, knocking down a charred building with a powerful flap of his wings, “This is my land. I’ve been generous in allowing you to make a home in my territory. I have no obligation to protect you and if you begin to annoy me, I will end you as quickly as I ended him,”
All eyes landed on the scarlet dragon who’s neck twisted in an unnatural fashion. By the time Ira looked back, the violet beast had already taken off. He was frozen, still sitting in the scorched dirt. He kept staring at the spot where the violet beast had stood, even as he felt his mother’s arms wrap tightly around him.