07 Jul 2006
|Graden watched in horror as the dragon ripped the man apart. He felt himself drenched in a cold sweat as he watched the gruesome scene, unable to do anything. His heart nearly stopped and he quickly ducked behind a bush as the dragon discarded the manís remains with a roar and leapt into the air. His entire body shook and he remembered the occurrences of just over ten years agoÖ
It had been a normal day in the village, everyone going about their business: the farmers selling their produce at the local market, wood workers selling their skills, and the occasional traveler wandering through on their way to one of the larger cities of Shakar. He had just finished buying the lumber from one of the local woodsmen and was taking it back to his fatherís shop. As he unloaded the lumber to be made into furniture, it happened: a roar echoed over the small village and all eyes turned in fear toward the treetops. His father turned to him quickly with a stern expression on his face and ordered "Go, get your mother and get as far away as you can!" He had barely finished his sentence when the village behind the shop erupted in flames and the dragon swooped into view above them, wheeling to attack again. Graden simply stared in disbelief, but was interrupted as his father shoved him in the direction of their house and shouted "Go! Hurry!" Somehow through the churning of his fear-addled mind he managed to get his legs moving.
Some of the villagers had pulled out bows to try and fight. Graden thought it was suicide: it was like throwing sticks at a fortress. Another roar split the air accompanied by a scream of pain and he couldnít help but look up. The dragonís attention had been drawn by the new resistance to its attack and had dived, catching one of the men in its claws. While Graden watched, the man writhed in agony for a moment, his blood dripping to the ground, and then stopped. The dragon hurled him to the ground and dove again, blowing fiery death on the villagers below and lighting another stretch of buildings ablaze. The smoky air, filled with screams of pain and fear, stung his already seared lungs as he pumped his legs as fast as he could across the small village, hoping against hope that he would make it in time.
When he arrived, his house was still burning; the acrid smell of smoke and burnt pine was thick in the air. There were nearly a dozen charred corpses in the street and surrounding areaóall of them were burned beyond recognition. The sight made him want to vomit. He pushed down the urge and ran past the scene of carnage to the ruins of his house: luckily the fire had died down enough that he was able to stand the heat.
Smoldering beams, flames still clinging to some of them, crumbled and fell around him sending up showers of sparks; he couldnít find his mother anywhere in the burning wreckage. After a thorough search of their small yard and the nearby burned houses, he found her. He only recognized her by some of the tattered dress that still clung to her body. The house he found her in was mostly ash, only a few stumps of the main support beams remained, poking up out of the blackened ground. She had probably been trying to help the neighbors get out when the dragon attacked that part of the village, hitting the house directly.
Shock and despair welled up inside him and he collapsed to his knees beside her charred and blackened body, tears streaming down his face, wishing it to be a bad dream. He reached out to touch her, his hands shaking, but stopped himself, not willing to make it reality by the contact.
"Get up!" he yelled between sobs, "Please get up!"
But she didnít move. He cried out in pain and anguish and the tears gushed from his eyes as the terrible reality of it sunk in. The sun climbed into the sky as he knelt by her corpse, waiting and trying to convince himself that it wasnít really her, that she would come and find him soon.
The dragon had finished its attack at some point and left, apparently satisfied. The screams of pain and terror had stopped, and the only thing that could be heard aside from his own sniffles was the popping and crackling of the dying flames.
He didnít know how much time he sat there, tears streaming down his face. He kept looking around waiting for his father to come and get him, tell him that he and his mother were safe and had been hiding in the forest. Eventually he realized that his father was not coming. The sky was beginning to darken, the sun sinking behind the mountains to the west, as he slowly got up and began wandering through the streets in a grief-filled haze.
The dirt-paved streets were blackened, the brown of the beaten soil charred and mixed with soot and ash. There was little of the town which was left standing; only some of the larger beams, blackened and broken, reached up forlornly to the orange evening sky. He looked for his father for a long time, but couldnít recognize him among the burnt corpses which littered the village.
The memory faded and Graden came back to himself as the dragonís roars faded into the distance along with the horseís pain-filled cries of terror. He shuddered, the memory still fresh on his mind.
"I still canít do anything about it, even with my training," he muttered angrily.