“If we don’t end war, war will end us.”
“Secure the ropes!” Karos shouted.
Fields of it fell onto the beastly creature that now laid tethered to the ground. Five other men surrounded the beast as it flailed and struggled against its confines. Before the last stake could sink into the ground, a breath of green fire torched the men. The lariats snapped one by one until the creature’s head rose from the ground and let out another gust of fire.
Flames burst around them leaving not a single path open for escape. However, Karos took a chance and leapt through the rising flames. He closed his eyes as the wails and cries of the soldiers being torn apart and burned alive rang into the night air.
More came to replace the fallen. They needed the stake in the ground before it broke free. Their attempts were futile, for the beast shook and recoiled. While spreading its wings, the latches snapped at once. It let out a screeching roar as it reared its neck forward.
“Run! The beast is loose!” a man cried running while Karos and the others followed. They were too powerful for just a mere handful of men. All of the options left open to them was to run.
They ran across a barren land paved in blood and fire of their fallen comrades and the beasts that now roamed the skies. Towards the valley, continuous flames licked beyond the river and into the desolate land as the men rushed passed. Karos remembered how it used to be filled with blades of grass that cut across the massive lands in arrays of autumn colors. The only hues left was that of charcoal and tar stained with blood and bodies.
Soon, they stumbled across their comrades working with a fiery beast causing Karos to put up a hand, gesturing for them to stop. However, a majority continued to run forward. They had given up hope of salvation. For the ones who had not, they helped pull the powerful beast to the ground with the might of their numbers.
“Pull the beast is near down!” Karos yelled. Mud dripped from his hair and silver blood coated his skin. He wore the armor of a commander and pulled with a fervor of the mightiest of men.
Soon as the tethers were secure, he sprinted the distance and climbed onto the beast. He slid his sword out of his scabbard and with a strong thrust of his sword, he shoved the blade through the opening of its scales to the soft flesh.
The beast cried a long, dying screech before its body fell with a thud that quaked the earth. It caused his men to back up and soon a small chant swarmed the air. He did not bask in their praise because he knew the battle had not ended.
“There will be more! Keep forward.” Roaring thunder and lightening rolled across the horizon from above at his utterance. Much like a beacon, it lit the way for the wayward souls of the fallen.
The drum of catapult fire banged to the sound of their hearts as they marched. The roars of the creatures filled the humid air with fear and dread. It caused the men to halt, others to flee. The few left continued. His eyes took in the disheveled, horror ravaged faces he once called his brothers-in-arms. They were a motley crew of dying men and scavengers.
His green eyes hardened at the sight of the hundreds of bodies now speckling the ground like pebbles of sand. The once fly-ridden corpses now lay motionless and still. Their flesh now burning to a fine crisp. The smell of the decaying bodies was putrid, but he kept going.
The dragons were not far. Just a bit longer, he thought as his heart hammered out of his chest. He must salvage what remained of his men. He would get them to safety as best as he could.
Karos saw more bodies of the dead littered the ground, decomposing and decaying by the heat of the flames from past lost battles. Claw marks speckled the remains and left opened gashes and wounds. The lacerations were accompanied with pus and maggots crawling out.
He covered his mouth for fear of inhaling the stench of death and smoke. It was a looming shadow growing longer and stronger as the flames devoured everything in its path.
Closer, he thought. At this rate, they would not make it before the dragons would catch wind of their scents.
The screams stopped. The screeches ceased. Nothing but the sound of fire crackling and hissing under the onslaught of rain could be heard causing Karos to halt.
He looked to his left and saw the missing limbs of the fallen laid on the ground like misplaced property. The Kianu River that everyone knew for its sparkling, blue waters, now looked much like a bloody river of death. Dead bodies, horses, and the remains of the massacre floated on top of the rapids, which carried them with the current. A place untouched by the madness they called war did not exist.
They were coming.
Small beads of sweat formed around his brows mingling with the raindrops coating his face. The dryness of his throat had him feeling like he was hallucinating. He closed his eyes as his mouth watered. He had to push back the growing need to dispel the remaining contents of his stomach in front of his men.
“Look! Look, over by the cliffs. If we just use something as a distraction— we can escape!” one man cried.
“What will it be?” another man asked.
“A person, of course.”
“Do not entertain such nonsense! We will all get out of here.” Karos pushed onto one of their shoulders as he walked passed.
The hesitation playing on each of their faces disappeared the moment they looked to the sky. One nod came from the man before they took Karos’ hands and tied them together with rope meant for the beasts.
Karos fought one of them off before two more of his men came and dragged him towards the cliff. He wrestled out of another one’s grasp causing him to fall off the edge before he pushed another to his death. Just as he lunged at the man who thought of this plan, his legs were kicked behind him.
“Do not think so ill of us. Do not.”
His comrade cut along the side of his arm with a dagger until blood pooled onto his arm.
They ran off towards the north leaving him behind. He closed his eyes and lifted his head towards the heavens letting the rain from the sky coat his face. The earth rumbled and shook as the screams of the men pierced through his ears.
Karos did his best to rise, but with nothing sturdy to lean against, he was at a loss. Instead he tried reaching for a dagger hidden near the top of his shirt. He grabbed the hilt of it with his teeth and carefully dropped it in between his hands. His hands worked at the rope feeling as the rumbles became closer and more pronounced.
He felt the hot, steamy breath of something prodigious and large breathing onto him. His body shook under the raw power of its mere exhalation. The palms of his hand held onto the handle of his sword now decorated in warm, red liquid from his own person.
Warily, he opened his eyes again. They peered into a set of moss, green ones filled with nothing but rage and fire. He took another cautious step backward. He realized just how big and foreboding this beast was. No amount of space would distance him from the behemoth.
The scales on this creature looked dark, pitch black. Due to the lack of light, Karos could not tell the true color. The huge plates shined under the bit of the moonlight manipulated by the surrounding flames. They were as thick as tree trunks and larger than his entire self. Its long, ivory horns coated in grime and blood spanned over three feet, rivaling even that of the biggest horned animal.
In less than a second, Karos had his unsheathed sword in hand. Yet, it only caused a puff of gray smoke to rise from its beastly nostrils. It reeked of death and decay, nothing but malice and a torturous, fiery death.
“Dragons,” he hissed.
As if in response, it bared its sharp teeth glazed in human blood and flesh. Its curling talons dug into the loosened soil drawing its neck out to let out a ferocious roar. It caused the earth to rumble. The beast’s eyes narrowed in on Karos with enmity.
Waiting, just waiting.
Death was upon him. It mattered little to which God he would see at the altar. The God of Mercy was dead to him and only Malice lived above watching, waiting just like the beast.
It took another step closer causing the rocks beneath them to cave in under the pressure. All light was lost then. The God of Malice beckoned him closer.
All quotes in this book have been cited and will be sourced appropriately in its own page in this book. Many of them belong to great literary minds and very little are made by me. Besides the quotes I have made up myself, the rest do not belong to me. There is a reason for why I put Xamdú as the “source” instead of H.G Wells and many others.
Thank you for reading!