Back for another Tiny Tale I see. Well, I hope to never disappoint. Hope you’re in the mood for some dark and gritty fantasy! Enjoy!
The call went up moments before the ones who made it were burned to cinders. Green flames swirled around me as I clutched tight to my crossbow, my kettle helmet absorbing heat from the hellish blaze only to be instantly cooled by the pelting rain and hail. My teeth chattered not from the cold but pure fear, the sound of the crashing bone and heavy rain almost drowning out the roars of the Sergeant.
“Retreat! Back to the fortifications!” he bellowed.
The unit swarmed back to the stone fortress like ants scurrying from a flood. I dared to look up to see the shadow overhead had looped around. It was coming back for another assault.
“Sergeant!” I screamed. The beast was directly bearing down on us.
“Hell’s bells. It’s coming right for us! Scatter!”
The men of the unit did just that. The dragon breathed its infernal flame again, the blaze incinerating those too slow to move. I had only just managed to dive out of the way in time, crashing into the muddy plain before rolling over with my crossbow at the ready. The dragon had already soared by, denying my chance to shoot back. But it was not as if my attacks would be at all effective against this foe.
The dragon was unlike any I’d ever seen. As a guard of the Stonegate Fortress I had helped my fellows fight no less than three of the giant fire-breathers, but this one was nothing like any of the ones before. It was purely skeletal yet still moving and somehow flying. Where its heaving belly should have been a great orb of vivid green flame was burning, the same colour as the fireballs that served as the creature’s eyes. Normal dragons were an abomination of nature already, but this? There was something terrifying and wrong about a titanic skeleton such as that held aloft by its own foul will, breathing hellish flame into the sky and roasting men and women I had served with for months to nought but a black smear in the mud in an instant.
“Come on, get up! You’ll never get out of this if you wallow in the muck!” the Sergeant belted again, stirring me from my position as I took off running once more.
The dragon’s fire was still blazing, even with the rain. In fact it was causing the rain to turn to mist and fog, obscuring the battlefield and the dragon even more than the dark clouds. But the fortress of Stonegate loomed large in the mist and dark, standing defiantly above the craggy ground below and before the sheer cliff of the mountain. Its square towers and intimidating ramparts protecting the lands of the king and all his people for hundreds of years against the constant threats from the dragon lands. Along the ramparts giant ballistae stood at the ready, trying to draw a bead on the menacing shape when out of the mists their target sprung and smashed a ballistae with its mighty ivory claws. Men screamed as they fell against the smashed rock and were crushed under the wood and iron of the destroyed ballistae.
The other ballistae crews took aim at the great beast but they were not fast enough. The fearsome skeleton had disappeared back into the hail and mist, leaving them quaking in anticipation and cold. My feet thudded against the paved stones of the fortress as the iron portcullis crashed down behind me. I bent double, coughing and wheezing from the effort as I tried to breathe.
“You’re out of shape.” the Sergeant said beside me, similarly out of breath but hiding it better than the other men whom he turned to address. “Alright men, it’s looking bad out there. But have no fear! You are the king’s best men, every last one of you! I expect you all to be worthy of such a title!”
The men were still shaken. Afraid and cold, their morale was in danger of being shattered with their nerves. The Sergeant took another breath of air as he continued his speech.
“Now I don’t know where this monster has come from. All the beasties that’ve attacked us up ’till this point have been fleshy enough for our crossbows to work. But that just means we’re going to have to change tack. Remember lads, with the wall at our backs we can never be knocked down! Sigmund, Berthold, Chelsea! I want you three on the net trebuchet! Knock that infernal thing out of the sky!”
I saluted with the other two guards. Berthold and Chelsea were good soldiers. I’d served with them since I was enlisted in the army. The three of us turned and ran for the towers as the Sergent barked orders at the rest of the unit. Our feet fell heavier than the rain around us as we ran, the chaotic cacophony of battle echoing against the impassible granite face of the mountain. The trebuchet tower was the tallest spire of the fortress, the large wooden machine of war permanently fixed into the tower to launch giant nets at the dragons that menaced civilised lands.
“By the king’s quivering thighs why do there have to be so many stairs?!” grunted Berthold in frustration.
“Shut up and keep climbing!” Chelsea said, her own exhaustion coming through in her voice.
Despite the stairs and the grunts and colourful oaths of exertion from the others we made it to the top. The roar of fighting and the roar of the beast hastened us as we loaded the net into the sling. I took lookout while the others worked, gripping my crossbow tighter than ever. I heard something above me and I saw the beast whoosh by overhead, a dark shadow in the rain. It landed on a lower tower to the trebuchet, its claws pulverising the ancient stonework as it clung like a skeletal gargoyle. It reared its mighty head towards us and I felt my innards droop.
“Get down!” I screamed as I dropped behind the ramparts.
Dragon fire seared overhead. It lasted only a few moments but it felt like an eternity of heat and smoke. The rain turned to mist before falling once more as if trying to pin me to the floor. Despite that I got up and looked behind me. My crossbow slipped from my grasp. Berthold, Chelsea and the trebuchet were no more. From the waist up my friends, my companions I had served with since the beginning, were nothing but ash and char. The once mighty trebuchet was now black embers and half-melted bolts. I suppressed my grief, but my anger and despair broke loose and flowed hot through my veins. I drew my sword and looked to the dragon preparing to take flight once more. It was going to pass directly under the tower.
That would be its last mistake.
Without a moment’s hesitation I leapt from the tower, as did the dragon. I fell as heavily as the rain as the skeletal dragon soared underneath me. I crashed into its ribcage, grabbing a hold of one of its spines for stability. The blaze within its ribcage scorched my skin despite the cold, but that mattered not. I saw the wing beating furiously as the dragon looked behind itself at me. It would try to shake me off if I gave it a chance. That chance would not come for it.
With a furious yell I thrust my blade through the storm into the dragon’s joints, where the wing met its titanic body. Lightning tore across the clouds as we fell, the dragon’s cry an ear-splitting shriek and mine a defiant scream.
I was one of the king’s best men. I was a guard of Stonegate Fortress. And I would never let a dragon burn the lands I swore to protect.