A small village is terrorized by a mysterious dragon that only attacks at night.
|Originally written for Ladyoz 's contest "Invalid Item" This is a work in progress, so please forgive the fact that it has no definitive ending at this point in time. Feel free to read and rate. Thanks!
Come, ye fellow traveler, and sit a spell with me. Warm yourself by the fire as I tell to you a tale. It is a tale of adventure, hidden treasures, and deceit. Our tale is about a dragon and a moonlit discovery that ignited a young boy's destiny. This story does not begin Once Upon a Time. No, our story begins in a time not so very long ago, in a land that no longer exists. Our story begins in a village. Not a big one, mind you, but a small, seemingly insignificant one. A village that, unbeknownst to the gentle people living there, hid a source of great power. This power was so desired, those who wanted it went to special lengths to get rid of those in their way...
In that small, remote village, a boy was awoken by screams of fear and disbelief piercing the stillness of a cold, autumn night. Rubbing his eyes of the sleep that glued them shut, he ran to get his father. He could not find his parents or his two older brothers. They all had run outside to investigate the trouble.
It was only until the boy pulled open the front door of their cottage could he hear the reason why the villagers yelled so hysterically. Still in his night clothes, Alex stood on his front stoop with a drooping, disbelieving jaw. The entire field fifty yards from his house was completely engulfed in fire.
Suddenly, his mother, still in her nightgown, ran passed with a bucket of water in her arms. "What's happened, Mother?" he called out to her. He thought she hadn't heard him, since she continued onward to dump water on the fire alongside everyone else. The people scurried like mice to keep the fire from spreading. After his mother handed off her bucket to someone else, she ran up to him.
"Oh, Alex. A dragon has attacked the fields!" Despite the cold, night air, sweat beaded on her forehead from close proximity to the heat of the fire.
"A dragon?" He couldn't believe what he was hearing. Alex, who was barely twelve, didn’t believe dragons were so heartless. Reading was his favorite past time. He loved to read stories of fearless knights in shining armor, but couldn't understand why they would slay such noble creatures. What would a dragon want with a silly princess anyway? To Alex, girls weren't so great. As a boy who spent a lot of time day dreaming, he couldn't imagine why a dragon would have nothing better to do than fry a few fields.
"Yes, Dear," his mother said, worriedly glancing back to her older boys who were beating rogue bits of fire with burlap. "George has lost his wheat field; it's been completely trampled. I saw the beast retreat. Its black hide shined in the moonlight. It was beautiful, but terrifying. Of course, I couldn't get a good look at it, since I had to help douse the fire."
"Why didn't you get me up? I could've helped." Being the youngest, Alex tried harder to help around the house, but no one ever seemed to want his assistance. Surely, on a night such as this, he could have been a great help.
"Oh, that's all right, sweetheart. You're too young. Go back to bed. I'll tell you what: since we'll need to take care of the damage in the morning, you can help around the house with the cooking and cleaning." Without waiting to hear his protests, she jogged back to the dwindling fire. Since there was no wind to carry the flames away, the people had an easier time of surrounding them.
Alex groaned as he retreated to his bed with dragging feet. Cooking and cleaning? Those were girl's chores. He wanted to help his father make horseshoes like his brothers did. Tired of the yells he could still hear, Alex curled his pillow around his head and buried himself in his covers until he fell asleep.
After the first fires died down the next morning, Alex's parents left him alone to clean the house while they went to a village meeting to discuss what had happened. While he dried the dishes, he watched the group outside the kitchen window. Since the weather was uncommonly hot, they rested under a group of trees nearby. So he could hear, Alex pushed the window open and squinted his eyes shut to focus on his hearing. They argued about what to do about the creature and perhaps figure out why the creature tormented them so.
"Where'd it come from? What does it want?" one woman asked, clutching to her husband.
The villagers murmured and shook their heads. They lived simple lives. They knew of no points of interest that would attract a dragon.
A tall man stood up, scratching his blonde beard. His field had been the most recent loss. "We don't have any princesses or gold mines around here. Have any of you gone traveling and disturbed any dragons?"
Of the dozen or so people who had traveled in the last year, none had ever seen a dragon. To almost all of the villagers, dragons were only myth. Such great animals supposedly only attacked castles and brave knights, not insignificant farmers. What would anyone, creature or not, gain from burning a few fields?
The villagers continued to argue throughout the day. Many claimed to know exactly what their mysterious creature looked like, despite the fact that no one had actually gotten a good look at it. The only thing they all agreed on was that they found themselves awakened at night by a high-pitched screeching sound. When they leaped from their beds to investigate, they found their fields aflame. The people lost half of the season’s crops to relentless fires. Even livestock came up missing.
A few brave citizens sat on their front porches the next night, hoping to get a better glimpse of the wicked creature. If they could only witness the beast before the onslaught came, they could possibly frighten the thing away. However, even the most diligent fell asleep at his post and was violently awoken by the roaring and cackling sounds of fire.
"Our corn stalks didn’t hinder the dragon’s smooth stride in the least. I've never seen anything so large. I caught a glimpse of it last night. The creature's long neck stood stiff as it spouted smoke and fire out its elongated head, " Alex's father said mournfully as he laid his head in his hands one morning after he spent the night waiting for the dragon. "Eric said he was going to follow the creature, to confront it. No one has seen him since."
After his father's friend, others followed in his footsteps to slay the dragon, never to be heard from again.
After several weeks of steady taunts from the creature, the villagers began to consider abandoning their small settlement. Alex disagreed with the village elders. Despite his family’s meager living, Alex was a proud boy who did not want to see his people abandon their precious homes. He was the youngest of three sons, which only added to his insignificance. Because of those things, he had to work harder to be noticed. He was determined to break the mold of the youngest son misfortune. He often dreamed of better things for himself and extraordinary adventure. The boy knew the people might not listen to him because of his age, but he had to try.
Alex suggested to the elders that someone should investigate the dragon the next time it showed up. He wanted to see what it really was and if they could kill it. However, after the disappearances of several villagers, the people were frightened of the creature. Besides, the dragon was unpredictable; showing up at all hours. Sometimes it appeared just after sunset, and then there were times it waited until well after midnight. Even so, it always seemed to vanish without a trace before daybreak.
Alex’s father refused to let him confront the creature when the boy asked if he could do it himself. Despite the promise he made to his father, the young lad snuck out of his small bed during the night. Alex decided to only investigate and observe. That way, his father couldn’t say he disobeyed orders. However, as a small boy, he didn't exactly have the strength or the equipment to take on a fully grown dragon. On a cool autumn night, in spite his fears, Alex tip-toed through the damp grass of his yard and headed towards a grove of trees on the other side of their blackened, and now worthless, field.
A full moon shone brightly as Alex ran across the pasture. His messy, golden blonde hair shimmered in the silver light. The cold air bit at his bare arms, but he quickly shrugged off the chill as he encountered a burning smell. In the center of the grove of trees was a clearing. As he maneuvered his way around the trees, he grew frightened. What was burning now? Much to Alex's surprise, a great beast stood in the center of the long stretch of plush grass. At first glance, he stifled a shriek and nearly turned on his heels to run back home and burrow under his bed. Alex took a deep breath to calm himself; the beast had made no move to attack him. It just stood there.
He waited for the beast to make its move. The longer it remained still, the more calm Alex grew. The dragon was asleep. Slowly, but surely, Alex gathered his courage, grew bolder, and walked onto the grass of the clearing.
The beast's massive height made Alex's jaw drop. Only when he tilted his head back, could he make out the silhouette of the creature's head against the moon. The dragon remained stationary and alone, so he tip-toed towards it. Smoke billowed from the beast’s snout. When the boy touched the great, round belly of the dragon, it felt cold to the touch; more like metal than flesh. Metal sheets painted black were the hide that large rivets held together. He looked to the ground; it did not have legs, but many sets of wide wheels. If someone hadn’t lubricated the wheels and axles properly, they could make the screeching sound the villagers heard. A large hinge connected the dragon’s neck to the body, as if one could bring it down to the ground for repairs.
Alex scratched his head in confusion and rushed to the back of the machine and found a door where the tail should have been. An immense feeling of curiosity drowned out the common sense that told him he should be afraid. The door squeaked open to a cramped room lit only by a lantern and a coal fire in the front. A metal bench stood on Alex’s right side, while a trough of coals sat at his left. Was this the creature that tormented his people? Was the dragon that burned their fields, ate their livestock, and caused the disappearance of his friends a machine? Someone had to create the fires built in the belly of the monster, in which Alex now found himself.
The boy’s curiosity quickly shifted to fear as he began to wonder where the monster’s operator was. With an incredibly advanced machine as the dragon was, no one would leave it alone for long. What was a twelve-year-old boy to do? Alex quickly turned back to the blazing fire; flames that size would take a long time to rebuild if he could somehow squelch it. Alex grabbed the shovel stuck in the coal trough and tried smacking the fire with it. He shoved the blade into the red-hot coals, attempting to move them around, but the fire was too strong. Alex jumped out of the machine with shovel in hand and began to dig up the ground at his feet. Once he hit top soil, the boy took a shovel full and threw it into the fire; it hissed and crackled.
The boy paid no attention to the burning in his arms and legs as he repeatedly went back to his hole in the ground and dumped heavy piles of dirt onto the fire in the belly of the dragon. When Alex was sure he snuffed the fire out, he jumped out of the machine and ran back home as fast as he could. When the dragon builder came back, he wanted to be sure that he had reinforcements waiting.