Old English Creative

I don’t really have a title for this one. I wrote it in response to an English assignment, just a typical short story. I love dragons, but I can never really work them into what I tend to do, or at least not to a degree I like. This one turned out well though.

The clattering of hooves on stone echoed through the dank cavern. A horse threw its head back, whickering. The lone handler placed his hand on the horse’s nose, whispering softly. The horse settled and the group began to move again. There were ten animals strung together, two horses, five cows, and three fat pigs. The man led them all further into the empty cave. His breath rattled slightly in his chest, apprehension speeding his pulse.

A low rumbling started at the far end of the cave. One of the horses shrieked and reared. The other animals pulled away, stamping their feet and shaking their heads. The man pulled at the rope desperately, digging his feet into the rough stone. The rumbling grew deeper as two lights flashed in the gloom, pools of molten gold with twin black slits. Wind rushed over the handler’s head, and a second later stone shattered behind him. The rope fell slack in his hand. Slowly, reverently, he turned his head upwards. The golden eyes stared back, sheltered in a mass of green scale and horn. The beast’s clawed foot was only a few steps away from him, the claws nearly as long as he was. He felt a rush of hot air that smelt of blood and rot. The dragon watched him for what felt like hours, before raising its head and pulling away. The handler stood frozen for a few seconds. Then he ran.

The dragon stretched and yawned. She watched the lone man sprint blindly down the stone corridor with dull curiosity. Humans didn’t have much of a taste, she mused. Not compared to the tributes they offered. She stretched again, and rolled lazily on her side. As her eyes began to flutter closed, an airy voice snaked into her mind.

“Dragoness Artraka.” In a second, the dragon had stood and lashed out to her side. She pinned the intruder between the wall of the cavern and a clawed toe, and drew her head in close.

“Who dares?” She snarled in a voice like splintering rock. The creature caught in her claws didn’t flinch. It was tall and spindly, and looked as though its pale skin was drawn too tight over its bones. Five red eyes glowed on its misshapen head.

“I hope I do not offend, esteemed dragon.” It spoke lazily, lightly. The dragon opened her jaw wide, revealing an array of bloody, knife-like teeth. A light burned at the end of her throat, growing brighter and brighter with each second.

“Oh mighty dragon, I beg forgiveness. I am not here to harm you.” Despite the wheedling words, a wide grin was painted on the creature’s face, split with hundreds of needle teeth. “I only offer you information.” The dragon’s eyes narrowed, and she closed her jaw.

“Explain.”

“You are a mighty beast, enough to bring the mortal masters of this world to their knees…”

“Flattery will get you nowhere, imp.” Artraka crushed her claws closer together, chuckling at the sound of cracking bone. But the creature in her grip didn’t flinch, and seemed to smile wider.

“But you waste your potential. The humans here are your slaves.”

“They serve me or they will burn.”

“Yes. But what are they? Farmers and their screaming whelps, born into dirt and destined to die in dirt. What does that make their lord?” Artraka bellowed and hurled the spindly creature across the cave. As it landed, the dragon leapt over and slammed it into the rocky ground.

“I will scorch the flesh from your bones.” She snarled, smoke pouring from her jaw.

“Burn me if you will.” The demon craned its bony neck forward. “You will still be nothing but the master of a damp cave and terrified peasants. I can help you be more.” Artraka narrowed her eyes.

“I take silence for acceptance. The lord’s castle lies but a short flight away. Take it, burn his hold. Who would dare face you?”

“What kind of fool do you take me for? I am no match for an army.”

“You don’t have to be.” Artrakta picked up the demon and slammed it back into the earth.

“No more riddles.” The demon drew a long tongue along its teeth.

“The host moves for war. What lies in the castle is a light garrison. It would be trivial of you to storm it.” Artraka raised her paw and watched the thin creature scuttle away.

“I will see this castle for myself.” She growled. Before the demon could respond, she leapt off the stony ground, beat her wings twice, and sailed into the sky.

Artrakta scythed through the air at speed surprising for her bulk. The landscape below sped by in a blur, her shadow ran over farms, villages and empty pastures. Human shapes underneath her ran for cover at her approach. She turned nearly vertical, spinning around a tall, snowcapped mountain that marked the end of her territory. She straightened and turned her gaze to the stone castle on the horizon. She passed over winding roads, not noticing the figures that cowered at her passing shadow. As she approached, she willed her throat to burn. Smoke wisped through her clenched jaw, leaving a thin trail in the sky.  Her gaze was locked on the castle as she passed high above. A few small figures walked along the walls, like ants crawling around their hill. They slowed when Artrakta passed over. It was clear they were watching her.

She dropped her wings to her sides and plummeted. The humans on the wall scattered immediately. But Artrakta opened her jaw, and heat poured out like a torrent. It swallowed the wall, bathing the stone and anything that stood on it in flame. With a beat of her wings, Artraka curved upwards, passing up and over, leaving charred remnants behind. She pivoted in the air and dove again. She came close enough to see the terror on their faces, hear their screams, before letting loose and drowning them in roaring flame. As she rose again, a harsh thrumming rang through the air. Before she could turn back, a sharp spike smashed into her chest with a crunch. Artraka bellowed wordlessly, fire billowing from her mouth. A bolt of metal was buried deep in her sternum, a tightly linked chain leading back to the ballista that fired it. Her claws found the chain and snapped it, even as she scanned the wall to find the humans that had dared to wound her. She found it, and dropped back through the air.

Even as the ballista burned behind her, the terrible thrumming started again, and three more bolts found their mark along her back.She twisted in the air, scanning for where the bolts lay. Another one bit into her outstretched hand, pinning her fingers together. She shrieked and dove again, desperately, following the chains that held her. There were hundreds of humans on the wall now, firing arrows that stuck in her flesh like needles. She opened her jaw, willing the heat to come, but only a cloud of embers puffed out. Another two bolts caught her, one smashing through the membrane of her wing, ripping all the way through in a burst of blood and tendons. She realised the injury too late, when one of the wings refused to raise. Already she was spiraling down, screaming, to the courtyard and waiting blades.

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