*Chapters are long, ranging over 4k words.*
The wind blew through the leaves that clung to the branches for dear life, whistling over the school grounds. People clutched their belongings to their chests, heads tucked down against the harsh wind. A woman sits in a classroom staring out the window, cheek resting in her palm. Her elbows hurt from the pressure, yet she ignored it, listening to the teacher drone on about why it was important to do something with something. It didn’t matter to her what that woman was saying, she didn’t want to be in this classroom to begin with. She hated it here and made sure others knew that as well.
Hide for they search.
The woman was startled from her thoughts, hazel eyes darting around the classroom to find the owner of that voice. No one else seemed bothered or even heard anything. Some looked over at her with confusion as their eyes met so she shook her head, discarding whatever just happened as some weird figment of her imagination. Letting out a long sigh, the woman looked at the blackboard that held weird white symbols stark against the wall.
Hunt for they fear.
Those words stared her straight in the face, blatantly screaming at her to listen. Listen to what, she wasn’t sure, but a feeling of being watched came over her like a wave crashing against the shoreline. Scratching the side of her head, she pushed aside a loose brown curl that fell into her face. This was bugging her out of her mind, these voices only she could hear. She couldn’t pinpoint the location of where the voice was coming from, but she prayed it would stop. It needed to stop before she did something crazy. Did something she would regret later on.
Kill for they hope.
The pencil that was twirling between her fingers snapped, making heads turn in her direction and the teacher pause mid-sentence. The eyes of each student unnerved the woman, yet she just looked down, the pencil being unceremoniously shoved into her bag. She ducked her head out of embarrassment but wasn’t sure how to get out of this situation without making herself out to be more of a fool. She let her hair become a shield, anything to hide her face, just to make them turn away from her... Ignore her like they always did when she first walked into this place all those months ago. It was torture for her to be in this classroom, on these schoolgrounds. She didn’t belong here, never wanted to be here in the first place yet this mark on her arm apparently claimed she should. Cutting off the skin never worked to remove the black ink, it always came back as the wound healed.
The door bursting open, slamming against the wall broke her out of her reverie, as all eyes snapped to the men in black suits carrying large swords that swept the class. Their eyes pierced each of them, freezing everyone either in place or clinging to the person beside them. The woman stared wide-eyed as they surrounded the room but something inside made her move. Her movement wasn’t slow in any sense of the word, yet no one noticed when she ducked under the desks. Who were they searching for exactly? Why was the urge to stay hidden, out of sight of those men felt so strongly washing over her? These questions flooded her mind, a headache slowly forming just behind her eyes. She had to blink rapidly to see clearly where she was going. Somehow her thoughts had dragged her under a daze that almost made her face-plant into a desk leg.
Run for they are here.
The voices speaking were so melodic it made her want to pass out listening to them but there wasn’t time. More questions arose as she reached the wall, spines of books staring back at her as she followed its path. She could only compare the sweet sound as if the air was speaking to her, like the wind whispering sweet nothings. Her knees felt sore, her hands aching from scraping against the pebbles that lay scattered on the floor. This whole scenario did not make any sense to the woman, but instincts were taking over her rationale and movements. She felt like she was simply a passenger inside her own body. As she glances from her spot on the floor, the image of the guards standing in front of each classroom filters through her mind. She could see them perfectly in their neat grey uniforms, swords tied to their waists with their trusted companions beside them. The woman could only imagine what they look like now, bodies littering the once white floor with their companions scattered around. Nothing could pass their attention, not even a small fly. Trying to calm her racing heart, the woman looked for any openings against this wall. Loud voices were booming into the quiet classroom above, but she paid them no attention.
They are here!
The sound of heavy footfalls paralyzed her in place, breath catching in her throat as if something thick were blocking her airway entirely. Looking through the cracks of the desk the woman saw who came into the room. No, not who, but what. These creatures were pulled straight from people’s nightmares, the very worst ones as if from hell itself. Their skin was deathly pale, gaunt like they had never eaten a day in their lives. Black beady eyes scoured the classroom, hungry for whatever they were searching for. Their long fingers twitch with anticipation as the woman tore her gaze away from the disgusting creatures. Now wasn’t the time for these questions to pour into her mind like a running faucet. The feelings of her classmates flooded into her body, shaking her to her core at how frightened they were in this moment. It seemed to want to suffocate anyone in the vicinity, thick like sludge to crawl through.
You must flee, my child.
There was no exit to flee out of other than the door those ugly creatures stood by, watching anyone who dared to move. Where could she go anyway? The people that others called her parents disowned her last year, leaving her to fend for herself on the streets. This one place that she thought was safe, a sanctuary of sorts to her, was now a danger zone. Unsafe to even hide in now since the intruders were most likely in the hallways, tearing up the surroundings to find whoever they were searching for.
“Where is number 5989? Give her up to us before anyone gets hurt.” Those words seemed to be yelled right into her ear, blasting through a speaker on full volume yet they only spoke normally meters away. Ice filled her insides at the realization that these creatures were after her. The thought of handing herself in flickered through her mind but it vanished just as quickly when something took over her body once again. Her hands trembled as she reached up slowly, fingertips gliding over spines until gripping one. ’Ancient Times of Dragons’ read the bold letters, but she paid them no heed, instead pulling it forward until a soft click sounded and a small door opened.
Wind rustled through the crack, the woman cringing and scanning back in hopes no one noticed or heard the noise that the door made when it opened. No one was paying her any attention, focused on the men who were stalking down the aisles like a predator wading through the tall grass. Their beady black eyes devoured the surroundings, small daggers piercing each one of her classmates. They all either whimpered, cowered away or both, and she couldn’t blame them. If she was up there in her spot, watching these creatures prowl around her classroom like bloodhounds tracking their next kill, she would be scared out of her mind too.
Follow the path.
The voice whispering in her ear startled her out of the thoughts of ’what if’ scenarios and brought her back to the hidden passage. It was calling her name softly, the pull inside her chest tugging softly at her, begging her to follow, and she caved. There was no denying that this whole thing was making her curious, and so the woman crawled into the small chamber. The slightly coarse feel of dirt under her arms and knees made her curious but there was no time to dawdle when she could almost feel their hot breath down her neck.
No one there, there is no one behind you, the woman kept chanting as she wiggled down the dark, damp pathway. A small yelp involuntarily left her lips with a start. The door had closed behind her with a soft click, locking her in darkness. In the silence that was hugging her body tight, almost constricting her in a way, yet she pushed on, not stopping to even think once. This tunnel had to lead somewhere, away from that classroom that held beings hunting for her. If she had stayed any longer, they would have found her, she was easy to spot in a crowd. Her stunning hazel eyes gave her away instantly as an outsider to those who stood by her. Halting her movements, the woman craned her hearing to listen to the room behind her, but it was useless. Only the muffled sounds of voices and faint weeping could be heard being made back there. It almost made her scoff to hear them crying when they boast about being Dragon Riders, but as soon as real danger comes into the room, they cower like children. Shaking her head slightly, her brown curls fell in front of her line of sight for the umpteenth time. She shoved them aside, continuing her crawling. No point in overthinking something that cannot be undone.
The tunnel branched off at times, making the woman hesitate on which path to choose, but never for too long. Something inside was leading her, pointing her the right way until she felt the cool breeze from outside. Almost there! The tingling feeling of being free ran through her, melting the ice that had formed from fear of being captured. If she could get out of here then she could get help from the higher ups, save those in the classroom and be away from those creepy men. It gave her a healthy mix of adrenaline and motivation to move faster, ignoring the stings of rocks cutting through her clothes and digging into her skin. Nothing else mattered, only getting away from them. A noise outside halted her from her rapid crawling, eyes widening with fright as low voices and shuffling feet could be heard in front of her.
No, it couldn’t be, the woman thought to herself as panic set in, heart pounding hard against her chest. It was the foolish thinking of a petty, small-minded person to think that they were only inside the school and not prowling outside. Mentally cursing herself, the woman looked around to see if there was any other way out, away from whoever was standing outside the opening. Maybe she could crawl backwards, back to one of the forked passageways. But what if she got lost? How would she get out of the labyrinth of tunnels that were scattered throughout the school grounds?
“Did you hear that?” The voice was gruff, and deep, and it grated against her ear drums, her ears cringing just listening to it. She could see the feet moving in front of the entrance, the light from the sun flickering each time as her hopes died... There was no way to save herself now, they had her trapped in these tunnels and she couldn’t go back or forward. “Get over here lads! We’ve found her...”
The second voice paralyzed her yet entranced her as if it were a snake lying in waiting for the kill... “Come on out, little piggy. We won’t hurt you; we just want to have a little talk.”
The woman’s breathing was ragged, fast paced as her heart tried to escape its boney cage. The realization that this was the only option available to her sunk to the pit of her stomach as if it were a boulder sinking to the bottom of the ocean. What they wanted from her was beyond her understanding yet the feeling of defeat even before she could fight washed over her as she pushed herself to go forward. This was better than staying in the tunnels to slowly starve to death. Maybe they would leave her classmates alone if she handed herself over.
The feet that were blocking the entrance shuffled back so she could squeeze out and a cold, firm hand gripped the back of her neck, hoisting her up to her feet. The stench of Death clung to his clothing, his breath smelling of rotten flesh. He was grinning widely with his unnervingly pointy teeth like a mad man. His black eyes sparkled giddily at having their prize. In the blur of her terror, she only then remembered them as they dragged her behind them, chains tight against her wrists and neck, biting into her flesh as she tried resisting them. She was living in one big nightmare and she couldn’t wake up from it no matter how hard she tried.
It is too late, I’m sorry.
Goodbye, dear one.
Fare thee well, child of night.
The scent of Death hung heavily in the air, suffocating those around the area. Yet, a man walks through the fresh war zone as if he weren’t actively stepping over his decomposing comrades. Boots crunched over bones, snapping under his weight as he scanned the area with a smile dancing across his mouth. This was a glorious day for him, a victory to celebrate for his Clan, for none other dares stand up against their foes. A cold, empty laugh leaves his lips before continuing on his invisible path towards the heart of the battlefield. There was a singular survivor there, leaning against a rock, blood running down his sharp face. The man had to admit this enemy soldier was resilient, certainly tougher than the others that lay motionless at their feet.
“Well, well,” said the man, halting at the others feet. Looking down at the dying man, a slight recognition pierced his mind, eyes widening a fraction. With the bodies surrounding him, the standing man had to give the other credit when it was due. His men lay in pieces, hollow blank stares looking at something that had left long ago. Upon closer inspection the man wasn’t leaning against a rock but his dying Dragon, its chest rising ever so slightly. “I have to admit, you are a tough opponent, Kesa Drakonas. I must express my gratitude to you for giving me and my men a challenge.”
Kesa wanted to smack the man’s smirk off that smug face of his, but it took every ounce of his fading energy to even breathe. The stinging in his arm was unbearable, the markings slowly fading to white. Cold shivers ran down his spine. He couldn’t even think of the dying beast behind him, his dying friend. It hurt too much. His breathing was ragged at best, yet he found the strength to tilt his head up, staring right in the eyes of his past comrade.
“What happened to you, old friend? Did you lose your way?” Kesa struggled with each word, blood leaking out of the corner of his mouth. Was this how he ended? Dying a slow, painful death in war without getting to see his family one last time? A sad smile appeared on Kesa’s mouth that the other wanted to cut off right then. He had nothing to smile about.
“Did her death hit you that hard?”
“Enough!” The man’s voice exploded over the silence that had hung like a bloody rag over the field, scaring even the scavengers off of the corpses. Their black wings circled above the two men still alive, beady black eyes watching every movement. “I do not need to be lectured by a dying man.”
Kesa only nodded slightly, hissing out a breath as pain shot through his arm signalling what he had dreaded the most. His Dragon had died before he could. His last wish had been denied. I’m coming, my dear friend, he thought silently, leaning his head back against the side of his trusted companion one last time. This life he lived was a good one, there was nothing he would change if he could go back. But no, that was a lie. There was one thing he would do again. He wished he could have told his love how much she meant to him before he had set off with his men. Kesa regrets now is that he would never see his child or even children if the nurse was telling the truth. Would never see their smiling faces, hear their laughter ringing throughout his family home. Never witness their first of firsts. Resting his eyes one last time with the saddest of smiles and prayers on his lips, Kesa passed on to the Other Realm.
The man still stood at his old friend’s feet, watching the life leave his body as a slight pang of sadness pierced his heart. He quickly brushed it aside and ignored it. He was the enemy after all, there was no reason to feel bad for them…. yet, the memories they made would rise every time he said those words. Tightening his fists at his side, the man spun away, not wanting to continue gazing at that smug, smiling face of Kesa Drakonas.
Death had come.
The wind howled through the empty halls, sweeping dust into the air like billowing clouds. The man stood at the edge of his bed, tears running down his face, their salty taste chapping his lips. The memories were washing over him like waves crashing against a rocky shore. It was a wonder how he was still standing at all. He could still see his dearest friend waving at him from afar, a big grin lighting up that handsome face, his name being yelled joyously. The image of them training together, back to back in the enemy camps. It was all so overwhelmingly fresh in his mind like it all happened just yesterday.
Why did he have to be here? That is the question that stuck like a parasite in his mind. There was no going back to that time, they both made their choices long ago. He had known that one day they were going to cross paths once again, but maybe they could’ve been lucky and never saw each other again. That was wishful thinking Fate loves a good plot twist.
“Sire, they have arrived,” the servant stood on the threshold of his bedroom. Hands tucked behind her back, her eyes averting his disheartened form. Her retreating steps clicking on the floor reiterated everything he already knew. The people are waiting for him to congratulate them on their victory against the Riders. Was it a victory? He shouldn’t feel so torn, so defeated right after the battle that was setting the wheels of war in motion as he stalled.
“Damn it!” The glass near him exploded into tiny shards, liquid splashed against the walls. Sinking into the lush white carpet, it’s bright red gave the carpet a new pattern to wear. The colour stood out jarringly from its surroundings, but the man simply watched it slowly spread. The anger in his body seared hot, red spots dancing in his vision while he pinched the bridge of his nose. There was no point in getting angry at them when they were innocent. Those around him had no idea what they were helping with. These servants and the men could never know what the, “Great Cause,” truly was. His emotions, however much he hated admitting it, were the problem. He felt...remorse, for his old friend’s untimely death on that battlefield. Why, he may never know. Spinning on his heel, he marched out the door, down the long hallway. Listening to the thump thump thump of his footfalls, he could distract himself for a short period of time.
The throne room was bare, plain in comparison to other castles. Yet the man couldn’t help but smile at the simplicity of the place. The skulls of huge beasts lined the walls above, their ferocious shapes sent fear in those who came in unwanted. They were trophies, marks of true victory the Lords of this Clan brought home from rough battles. His men were in the agonizing process of lifting another skull up onto that obnoxiously tall wall. The sight that greeted him knocked the wind out of him for a moment, eyes wide with shock. Kesa’s Dragon stared blankly at him, rising back high into the sky once more, blank sockets seemed to stare out over the vastness of the hall. The sight of his head up on those bleak, black walls every day is something that the man wasn’t prepared to deal with yet, but if he told anyone to take the skull back down, they would certainly start asking questions.
“There he is, the man of the hour!” A woman yelled, her hands thrusting toward him out of the corner of his eye as he groaned internally. Running a rough hand over his face, whiskers tickling his palm, the man turned reluctantly towards the approaching woman. The black silken dress fit her form like a glove, yet it screamed attention. Fighting the urge to sneer in disgust at her, he instead fixed his shirt, adorning a bright, fake smile to latch onto for the coming ordeal. “Do you like the new addition? I got the soldiers to haul it here from the battlefield!’
“Now that I think about it, wasn’t that Rider yo-”
She never got to finish that sentence, the sound of a backhand finding its mark rang in the air loud and clear. Eyes shot their way, but the man didn’t even notice, his rage exploding from the very core of his being. How dare she gloat about Kesa dying like it was just another death. But it wasn’t truly their fault, they all see the Riders as the enemy they need to eradicate. But this was a low blow, even for them. The woman sputtered out uselessly, eyes wide as she stared at their leader in shock. All she saw was a man glaring bullets at her, not even trying to restrain the evident hatred on his face. Clamping her jaw shut, she bowed low, exaggerating the move before spinning stiffly on her heel to robotically walk off. He couldn’t care less, he was in no mood to deal with people who thought Death was their one, true God.
“Call a meeting in the morning, I have lost my appetite,” the man barked before exiting the room, black cape billowing out behind. The urge to smash something was overwhelming, yet he refrained from the action. He could not lose his composure over something so petty as a stupid enemy Dragon’s head being mounted on the trophy wall. But then why did he act out like a child throwing a tantrum? The events just rolled together and before he could stop himself, he had lashed out on someone. Yes, that woman was indeed a huge pest, but never once deserved such a slap in the face.
At the very beginning of this damned war the man thought he was doing what was right for his people. If that were to be true, why did he feel like this? It made no sense to him, but he could not dwell on the matter. There are more important things to dwell on than the skull that would haunt his waking and sleeping moments. A constant reminder of his betrayal to his dearest friend. His best friend.
The hallways were far too empty for his liking, but he had to push on, had to be outside. For such pompously high ceilings, this place was miraculously claustrophobic. Everything started pressing in on him and he picked up the pace. Slamming open the doors to the balcony that overlooked the vast valley of this lonely mountain he called home; he gripped the railing tight. Ignoring the stinging that was turning his knuckles white, the man looked up at the sliver of moon in the sky, a tear slowly rolling down his cheek. This was never meant to happen, not to Kesa, not to the man with a pure heart. Everything that man did was right. Kesa was so sure of himself and that he was choosing the right decision that he rose fast in the ranks. Until now. Now that didn’t matter. Now Kesa Drakonas was dead along with his beloved Dragon. The Drakonas family line was now broken, gone from the soil where the man walked.
Jurio Klaines finally felt like the traitor he was.