Jordan: In Which I Go For A Midnight Run
Jogging through the woods in the middle of the night sounds like a pretty fun activity, right? Travelling along under cover of darkness, guided only by stars since there's no moon out, and the night breeze cooling your burning cheeks and chilling you to the bone. All is quiet, except for the sound of your ragged breathing, and the occasional 'shit' or 'damn' when you nearly run into a tree that hadn't been in front of you two seconds ago. Oh, and then there's the sound of hooves pounding on the ground and angry shouts from somewhere far behind you. It's faint, but you can imagine them getting closer and closer, which makes the noise of their pursuit seem louder than it really is. Even more exciting is knowing that the shouts are coming from the group of people that were sent out to kill you. And on top of that, you're pretty damn sure that you're completely lost. Sounds amazing, doesn't it?
If you can't detect the sarcasm in all of that, we're going to have a very hard time getting along with each other.
My name's Jordan. Just Jordan. I'm pretty sure I have a last name, but I can't remember it. I was kind of little when I got separated from my parents and brother, and I have much more pressing issues to deal with (such as hiding from guards and staying alive) than trying to remember a bloody surname. For example, one of those pressing issues would be running away from the airheads the king hired on as the city guards. Oh, excuse me, my personal escorts. These morons were assigned to keep me under lock and key while they took me to my place of death-Goldeneye Cave, home of the fierce golden dragon that our "mighty king" bargained with to spare the lives of his people. I call bullshit on the whole "sparing the lives of the people" thing, but I'm pretty sold on just how terrifying this dragon supposedly is.
Anyway, long story short, the king apparently made a deal that he would send all his wrongdoers (anyone who looked at the higher-ups the wrong way or spoke out against him) to the dragon's lair to serve as his meal. It's a whole lot more detailed than that, but since I'm currently focused on saving my ass instead of giving you a history of how this whole dragon thing started, I'm just going to leave it at that. I'd been riding on a horse led by a couple of the 'escorts', my hands manacled together, when I suddenly get the novel realization that I really don't wanna die at the hands (or is it claws?) of an overgrown lizard. So, I jumped off the horse and started running back down to where I thought the village would be.
Sounds like a pretty stupid idea, huh? You're absolutely right-it was completely stupid. It had been growing darker when we'd started our trek up the mountain to the cave, and by now it was completely pitch black without the lanterns they'd lit. I ran into a tree just minutes after my daring escape, which I was sure had opened a cut on my head because I could feel something dripping down the side of my face as I ran. By the time my eyes had adjusted somewhat to the darkness I'd gotten whipped by dozens of branches, tripped over roots and rocks, and startled what I think might have been an overgrown squirrel. I'm pretty sure that, at first, I had been going in the direction of where the village was, but I think I turned myself around and got myself completely lost. So, my current position could be described as "on the run, possibly injured, and definitely has no clue where the hell he is."
So much for a 'daring, noble escape.'
Now, I've realized a little too late that I've told you pretty much everything except for why the hell I was being carted up for an overgrown lizard to chew on for dinner. I've told you why people are taken to be eaten in the first place, but not why I specifically had the misfortune of being its next meal. Well, to put it simply, I pulled a knife on a drunk noble and made good on my threat to use it. Before you start panicking and calling me a murderer, let me tell you two things. The first one is that, unfortunately, the guy's alive. The second thing is that the reason I pulled a knife on him in the first place is because I caught him trying to have his way with a lady while she screamed for him to stop. When I told him to leave her alone he made it abundantly clear that he wasn't leaving until he got what he wanted, and no scrawny teenage boy was going to stop him. So, I followed through on my threat and knifed him just as two guards burst onto the scene.
They'd been summoned by the lady's screams, but when they saw me pull my knife out of the noble they thought it was the guy who had been doing the yelling. So they arrested me, took his completely untrue statement (any bets he said he'd been chatting politely with this lovely young lady when yours truly came out of nowhere and attacked him?), completely ignored the girl when she tried to protest that I was defending her, and had me condemned to death by dragon. Murdering a noble is pretty damn close to treason in our village, and attempted murder is just as bad. So as you can see, I was screwed. My only hope was to escape, which I did, and find my way back home to clear my name, which is highly unlikely at this point. I mean, I can't exactly find my way back at the moment, and the likelihood of anyone in our legal system believing my story is pretty slim. I'm really screwed now.
Anyway, back to my escape. After running blindly in one direction for some time, my lungs and legs decided that they'd had enough. I stumbled to a halt, tripped over another root, and fell flat on my face. Instead of pushing myself back onto my feet, I rolled over so I was lying on my back looking up at the stars. I allowed myself a few moments to catch my breath, trying not to gasp too noisily as I strained to hear if my pursuers were getting any closer. I could hear faint shouting in the distance, but it was came from so far away that I decided that I didn't have anything to worry about for the moment. After staring up at the stars for a good minute or so I decided I might as well get up and start looking for somewhere to sleep since I wasn't any closer to getting back home.
I got to my feet with a groan, cursing my aching leg muscles and sore feet. I was definitely going to regret this in the morning, but right now I really didn't give a damn. I had outrun a bunch of grown men on horseback, had succeeded in not becoming dragon food, and if that wasn't something to be proud of then I didn't know what was. I stumbled around in the dark, arms outstretched so I didn't bump into anything else. The dripping on the side of my face had stopped, but something that I guessed was a wound was throbbing unpleasantly on top of my head. I really don't care where I find a place to sleep, I thought to myself, just as long as it's out of sight, sheltered, and has a soft place for me to lay down.
My hands brushed rock and I jumped a foot in the air. I'd been expecting the rough bark of a tree, not the coolness of stone, so the surprise sensation had startled me. I had to take a minute to calm my frantically beating heart before slowly putting my hands out again to explore the surface of the rock. I walked alongside it for a ways before deciding that I had probably found the side of the mountain. I was way more lost than I thought, I thought in annoyance as I continued to run my hand over the rock wall. Suddenly the rock disappeared and I stumbled a little bit. The darkness suddenly went even darker, if possible, and I realized that I'd happened upon what I guessed was a small cave. I rejoiced over my good luck and felt my way inside. I didn't go too far, just in case it was deeper than I thought, but I stayed far enough from the entrance that you probably couldn't see me at first glance. I slid down to the ground with a groan, finally letting my exhaustion wash over me.
Wonder if the guards are still looking for me, I mused as I lay down on the cold, hard ground. Or maybe they decided there was no point and are telling the king right now that I was snatched up by the big scary dragon. I didn't have the energy to roll my eyes-I was too busy letting them slowly flutter closed. I'll find my way back down tomorrow, I decided just before I went to sleep. I'll find my way down and prove to them I'm innocent. Just gotta get some shuteye first...
"Please tell me you aren't going to sleep there. That can't be comfortable!"
My eyes flew open at the sound of the strange male voice and I rolled over onto my back, only to come face to face with the biggest, scariest, scaliest (I don't care that it's not a real word) creature I had seen in my entire life. Completely covered in golden scales that seemed to give off their own sort of glow, and with massive wings that it was in the process of folding back in against its sides, the dragon blinked owlishly at me, holding me in its golden-eyed gaze. My jaw worked frantically as I tried to form words, sentences, sounds, anything to describe the terror that had suddenly seized me. "I'm just saying," it-he-said casually, his voice echoing around us, "I think you'd be much more comfortable on a mattress than on the ground."
I couldn't help myself-I screamed.