Men & Monsters

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A Fair Trade

Eira and Bernard watched on in horror as Giant set fire to a small village not far from the edge of the forest. Though they were high in the air, they could still hear their screams of panic as they tried to flee, their homes set aflame as horses and farm animals also tried to escape a fiery death. Eira had become overwhelmed by the dragon’s reptilian stench, and flying so high up at such an alarming speed had caused her to be sick more than once. Bernard found it strange that his stomach lacked the same queasiness, even if he was just as terrified as the Green Folk was.

The village was but a smoldering husk of what it once was, when the dragon finally decided to land. Tossing the two humans to the ground before standing before them, Giant seemed more than proud of himself. His wings surrounded them and his thumbs dug into the ground, as if he were keeping them to himself. Though night had arrived, the vast area of embers kept the sky a bright orange hue, almost as if it were still sunset. The dragon arched his neck back so his crocodilian snout could be fixed on the two.

“I figured I might allow our companions a chance to catch up to us. For now, it is just us my friends,” Giant’s voice now came with an even deeper, gravelly tone. No doubt this was thanks to his larger chest and penchant for belching fire. Eira and Bernard stood to face him, unsure of what he really wanted in terms of conversation. That was to say she wanted to speak at all, Eira thought, wiping her chin from a previous sickness. Even behind his wing shielding them from the flames, their intense heat burned against her skin, as her cloak had become almost unbearable.

“Why are you doing this, Giant? What will you accomplish?”

“Is this not what you want, Eira? Do you not want to save your people from those who wish to harm you? Do you not expect justice? What of the golden knight? Tanner, was it? Do you not want to see him meet his end by your hand?”

“Not like this.”

“Well they have your people now. Tied and chained and whisked off like mindless beasts. You can thank Rogue for supplying me with this ample information. I also have my promises to keep as well.”

“Your father?” Eira asked.

“Well not just to him anymore. Your friend of the water, Rosy, I believe she told me. She granted me this new form and new life in exchange for the Piermont demise. An act of revenge on the soldiers responsible for her being there. Poor thing. Oh, and before I forget, thank you Bernard for your sacrifice as well.”

“Sacrifice?” The knight asked.

“Why, yes. Your heart, your blood. Just as Miss Rosy said. You served to rejuvenate what I had lost. You have my utmost thanks, friend.”

“I...don’t understand. She healed him as well.” Eira pointed out. Giant smiled darkly in response to her words, when he nodded to the knight.

“Lift your visor Sir Bernard, see what your sacrifice has granted us.” Bernard looked to Eira for assurance, when she nodded. Turning back to Giant, he did as he was told, lifting the visor with a soft metallic ping.

“See? Nothing, you beast.” He looked from the dragon to the Green Folk, who stared back at him with wide eyes.

“Bernard…” She whispered.

“What, lass? What’s wrong? Is it my face?” Giant shook them with a booming laugh, and once he collected himself, he nodded to him.

“You could say that...” Eira approached Bernard with a certain apprehension, her hands clasping one another when she cleared her throat.

“Can you see me?”

“Why of course, I can. Now what’s going on?” In response to his words, Eira hesitantly brought a hand up, reaching toward Bernard’s helmet, only instead of touching his mustachioed face, or any flesh for that matter, her hand kept going until it touched the back of his helmet.

There was nothing there.

Eira snapped her hand back once Bernard slapped the visor shut and turned back to Giant angrily.

“What is this mischief beast?” Giant nodded once, understanding his confusion, when he leaned in closer.

“Your flesh and blood for me, and immortality for you. It’s a fair trade I dare say. It just might leave you a bit...hollow. Oh forgive me! Someone had to say it.” He began chuckling again at his poor joke. Dinosaurs began to appear from the darkness, the carnivores taking it upon themselves to feast on those unfortunate enough to not get away during Giant’s onslaught. Once they had their fill, they came to attention before their leader. All the while, Eira and Bernard stood in relative silence, unable to fully understand what was happening around them.

“Giant, we have organized back together. I would suggest a bit of rest, but what you command will be done.” Taurus said as he broke away from the rest of the pack, the taste of a well-done steak fresh in his mouth. The dragon brought his long neck up and around to face him, when he nodded. He looked back to Bernard.

“You have what I need to understand about this kingdom. Where are its defenses strongest?”

“The walls certainly,” The knight replied coldly.

“Bernard! Why would you tell him that?” Eira exclaimed as she turned to him.

“What do we care, lass? I’m just a suit of armor now. You at least will get your people back. The Piermonts, save for the dying king, are a corrupt people. It will only get worse here on out.” With his shoulders slumped, his tone was all but apathetic. Eira couldn’t believe what Bernard was saying, as she looked hopelessly at her old friend. He sat on the charred ground, and she saw all had been lost for him.

“Go on,” Giant purred.

“There will be archers on the walls. They’ll prove the most difficult. Take them out first, for the sake of your subordinates, then get them to drop the bridge. That will allow your men to pass.”

“Excellent. What else?”

“The city will be relatively easy to take after the initial wall is taken, but the castle will be the most difficult to go up against, as it also stands behind a more fortified wall. Their most powerful forces will draw back there for a last stand; attack there with everything you have. You’ll be just in time for James to wed his princess. It will be a grand ceremony.” Giant cocked his head back and laughed.

“Then there is no reason we can’t go and congratulate them. Taurus, organize the men to head off. I want to be there by sunrise. It isn’t much farther is it?”

“A few miles. Your men will undoubtedly reach it by morning. I imagine you could even arrive sooner.”

“Oh, such great news to be had. Go Taurus, select your lieutenants, I want this to be as swift as possible. Thank you, Sir Bernard, for your priceless knowledge.” The two humans could hear Giant’s men organize and begin to march east, just as Eira’s stomach dropped. “That said, I fear I no longer have use for you. You’re free to go. Eira, my friend, on the other hand, will ride with me to victory. To be the first to welcome her people to a new land!” The Green Folk screamed as Giant snatched her in his talons once more, taking to the dark night skies in a fit of newfound energy, leaving Bernard to himself. None of the dinosaurs moving out paid him any mind, as none of them were able to smell any flesh on the knight.

As he watched them all go, Bernard felt himself hopeless, and perhaps most painfully, alone. Alone in the smoldering embers of a village he once knew, people he once spoke to, a place where there was no longer a single living soul, himself included. He dropped to his knees and stared far off into the east, waiting for the sun to rise, and whatever was to come with it.

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