Clay Pots and Dragon Eggs

The huge  old Elitian hardwood desk had been torn to splinters and the clay masterpiece he had hauled up here at Master Valan’s request was a pile of rubble. Puddles of red and blue ink still ran across the stone floor, ruining the priceless Mardesian rug with huge purple inkblots. Telltale pieces of bright orange shell lay amongst the wreckage, and the wind howled through the tower window, marking the newly hatched creature’s escape route.

Tully ran a hand through his short blonde hair, grimacing at the sticky feel of blood. Nausea overtook him as he looked at his hand, and he staggered to the window to be noisily sick on the cobblestones hibelow. He regained his wits gradually and turned back to survey the damage. What he saw made his stomach churn. The creature hadn’t just made a mess in its haste to get out, it had destroyed whatever got in its way. Tully shuddered to think what it would have done to him if the exploding desk hadn’t rendered him senseless.

A scream from below made him look outward again, to see the object of his recent torment  begin its idea of fun on a lone woman, Samel’s mother he thought. It swooped down and feinted away, each time getting closer and closer, seeming to enjoy the terror it was inflicting on its prey.  Sickened, he watched as the creature spread its magnificenht yellow gold wings and bore down on the terrified woman with what Tully was sure was evil intent in its dark eyes. The cruelly pointed beak opened to reveal rows of savage looking teeth, making Tully cringe to think of their capabilities. He closed his eyes and tried not to listen; the guilt and panic overwhelming him. This was his fault. Tears squeezed out from under closed lids and he isank slowly to the floor, trying to block out the sounds filtering from below and wondering what to do next. Before too long the Kings Guard arrived and began shooting arrows at the beast, along with much encouragement and suggestions from the gathering crowd.

“Get her to safety NOW!” someone yelled, and Tully lifted his head in time to see someone grab the woman, it was Samels mother, and take her to the safety of the chandlery across the road. In the meantime, soldiers were still shooting at the flying reptile, arrows bouncing harmlessly off its scaly hide. Finally it began to get annoyed at its intended midday meal being interrupted, uttered a harch cry of frustration and wheeled off toward the forest behind the village.

Shaken by what he had seen, Tully tried to make sense of everything that had happened in the space of one short hour.

“I wonder what that thing actually is?”                                                                                                                           

‘It’s called a Mantra Dragon, if you really want to know,” an oily voice from behind him answered.

He had been so intent on what was going on he hadn’t realised he wasn’t alone. He tried to take a step backward but there was nowhere to go. Saras, King’s Advisor and most feared man in Mardesia stood directly in front of him, looking at him as though he were a new and interesting species of bug. Tully decided that if Saras even attempted to touch him he was out the window, wings or not. As if Saras could read his thoughts, and Tully wasn’t convinced he couldn’t, an ugly smile appeared on his face, making his normally charming and youthful features look twisted and cruel.

“Aren’t they the most beautiful animal you’ve ever seen?” he sighed tenderly, making light of Tully’s obvious fear. “I see there’s been a b it of a mishap in here young man. Would you care to explain or should i simply assume the worst and throw you in the dungeons?” Saras’ smile grew wider, and his eyes mocked him as he realised the full extent of the boys fear.

“I…..I….”

“Oh come on boy, i don’ t have all day. I have to catch my little pet project before he finds a hidey hole for the night.” His oily smile was still there, but his voice was now tinged with impatience. He looked past Tully and seemed to see his tower for the first time, his face going from it’s usual deathly pale  to beet red.

Images of lying in the dungeons until he starved, or given to the dragon as a snack loomed large in Tully’s mind and he bolted to the door as fast as his injuries would allow. As he reached for the handle he felt a crackling sensation,  as though heat were being  drawn into the room, and the door  began to close on him. He dove for  the small gap left but missed, striking his head on the outer edge, causing the cut on his scalp to reopen.  He looked up to see Saras standing over him, eyes flashing with rage, and grabbed the nearest thing to hand in a last ditch effort to get away. It was round and smooth and felt satisfyingly heavy, but Tully’s head wound chose that moment to fail him, and he sank into darkness.

The steady dripping of water and the stench of rotting hay slowly forced its way into Tully’s consciousness, but he could not bring himself to open his eyes. He felt hot and dizzy,  as though he gavehad sunstroke, but a tentative feel beneath  rancid  smelling straw revealed cold damp stone. A biting wind seemed to be coming from somewhere above him, making him shiver uncontrollably. Pulling his woollen cloak tighter around him, Tully felt something   shake against his ribcage slightly. Heart racing, he lay completely still, willing whatever it was to go away. He sincerely hoped it wasn’t a rat.

Tully couldn’t stand rodents. Evil disease ridden things they were. The thought of one of them crawling its way across him was suddenly too much to bear, and he sat bolt upright as he felt another ripple across his chest.  He brushed and beat furiously at his upper half for a good minute before h realised that there were no rats or mice on him, but that something was definitely now in the straw beside his cloak. Tully held his breath; ready to bolt if he even caught a glimpse of it

He sat transfixed, the rancid smell getting stronger and more familiar until it finally hit him where he had last smelled that odour. The events leading up to his blackout came to him with a jolt and the accompanying nausea he felt on an increasing basis lately when a panic attack was imminent began to worm its way into his stomach. Realisation that he was trapped and that Saras could come for him at any moment got Tully moving in the direction of the biting wind where he discovered a small arrow slit in the stone. He must still be in the castle somewhere. Trying to figure out which side he was on and how high up he was, Tully dragged his body onto the stone bench, wincing as stone grazed burnt hands and legs. 

Breathing heavily from his efforts, he tried to get his bearings. His head ached abominably where it had connected with the heavy door and he had to stop himself from scratching and reopening the cut several times. The tops of trees to the left gave Tully the idea that he must still be on the east side of the castle. The sky was a deep shade of purple due to Mardesia’s second moon just beginning to rise over the forest’s edge, competing with its distant but constant twin for superiority over the planet it orbited. Tully sat watching for several minutes, lost in the deepening twilight. A loud crunch and a wet plop snapped Tully out of his thoughts and he nearly fell off the bench.

Nervously licking parched lips, he slowly made his way over to the now furiously wriggling pile of straw. The dark mauve of twilight cast shadows into the corners of the room, making it harder for Tully to make out what was happening. He took an involuntary step backwards as a glimmer of bright orange shell was revealed. A dragon egg! Tully pulled his cloak around himself; as though somehow being completely covered would give him more protection.

He watched in sickened fascination as the egg was slowly chipped away from the inside, the movements becoming more and more frantic the larger the hole got. The tip of a large beak poked through the opening revealing the cruel teeth Tully remembered from outside Saras’ tower. Tully scuttled backwards as far as he could get until h backed up against cold stone. He felt the hairs on the back of  his neck stand up as he turned his attention back to the middle of the room, to find two beady intelligent eyes staring at him  hungrily.

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The sounds soon…

The sounds soon identified themselves as footsteps, coming closer and eventually stopping just outside the iron door, and Tully realised from the sharp command on the other side that the footsteps had company. He doubted it was friendly.

The door began to swing open slowly, and a balding middle aged face Tully did not recognise stuck itself through the small opening, tongue nervously between teeth as though not knowing what he would find. He looked at the floor first, and not finding Tully where he had expected was a bit disconcerting for the man. His gaze travelled around the room quickly and he took a step backward, slamming the side of his head on the edge of the door as his eyes lit on the sight of the dragon, with a visibly terrified Tully apparently taking cover behind its bulk.

‘What’s taking so long man?’ barked a voice that set Tully’s stomach to churning. “For Mard’s sake man, is he dead or alive?”

‘Ah…um well… he’s very much alive Sir.”

He was shoved aside by the other speaker and the face that had always set Tully’s heart to racing and made his stomach want to empty was in the doorway, staring at him with barely concealed interest; Saras shock at seeing both Tully alive and a dragon in the tower covered in an instant. Tully could almost see his mind working, and whichever way he turned it over, it did not bode well for his future well being.

“Good to see you up and about Master Jaxson, and I must thank you for playing mother to my hatchling. I was quite upset when I saw it missing I must say.” His gaze flicked from Tully to the lizard who returned his gaze with just as keen an interest.

Saras took a step forward in the muck filled straw, his attention now fully focussed on the animal in front of Tully’s shaking form.

‘Hand me the lamp,” he ordered softly, becoming more mesmerised the more he looked the creature up and down.

Full night had descended over Lagonia, and although shadows seemed to take on a life of their own, Saras was by far the most menacing in the room, purely as it seemed to be studying him as much as its owner was.

Tully was too scared to move as Saras and the dragon seemed to be in their own world, summing each other up.

Suddenly the dragon took a step forward, and Saras’ eyes widened in expectation, a smile of triumph playing on his face. Tully began to shiver even more violently and his head was pounding as loudly as his heart. Although he had not eaten in two days, Tully could feel everything he had left fighting to come back up.

If he hadn’t already been cowering behind the beast, the waves of dizziness which washed over him would have unravelled him. He began to feel as he had when Saras and he had crossed paths back in his tower, as though a storm was about to break above his head.

Indeed, Tully looked to one corner and could actually see the straw lifting off the floor as though a strong breeze had just blown through the room.

The dragon whipped its head around to stare at Tully intently, and turned back to Saras, cawing softly, but Tully thought with almost a hint of warning. Saras himself suddenly looked both shaken but triumphant, as though he couldn’t believe his luck, but Tully was too busy trying to calm his shivering body and even worse stomach, and did not notice when Saras began warily walking toward the dragon, as though walking toward a toddler with something dangerous in their hands.

“Come now my beauty,’ he crooned, ‘lets not get off on the wrong foot here now. I bet you’re hungry huh? Two days now without food or water can’t be good for you now can it? If you come with me now we’ll see to that and anything else you fancy.” He eyed Tully then, and the dragon narrowed its eyes warily, but took a step forward, all the while keeping an eye on Tully who had been trying to figure out how to inch toward the door while the other two seemed preoccupied with one another.

“That’s it beautiful, come on now, haven’t you gotten big in such a short time? Just like your brothers, such perfect specimens and born for just one purpose in mind, I promise you, you will be greatly rewarded.”

The predatory look Tully had seen in the dragon’s eyes the day before was now on Saras’ face, and Tully knew he had to make a run for it; or die trying.

He made a bolt for the arrow slit, determined as he had thought earlier, to end his life on the cobblestones below rather than put up with whatever fate either Saras or the dragon had in mind for him. A harsh caw sounded behind him and a horrible stench overcame him as he looked up from where he was crouched near the narrow opening to find the dragon blocking his path to freedom and a furious Saras glaring at the both of them, all his careful work undone.

He lifted both his hands in front of him, and Tully felt those same sensations in the room but coming from Saras direction. The beast cawed once again in warning, although to who Tully was not sure, and almost threw itself against Tully as a barrage of pure energy slammed both Tully and his seemingly recent protector against the tower wall. Hot mouldy straw showered them, and Tully absently shook off a piece before his sleeve caught fire. The lizards weight was not insubstantial, and Tully began to panic as he realised the great beast did not seem able to move and he could see Saras moving toward them slowly, arms raised for another attack. What the hell had that been?
The temperature in the room had somehow seemed to rise to a damp sort of mugginess, and Tully thought the air smelt as though it did right before a storm. He tried to cry out, but his throat felt completely parched, and all he could do was to put his own arms up in defence of his face to shield himself. He felt the heat push against both he and the dragon and with a move borne of sheer desperation and instinct, somehow pushed back against whatever it was that seemed to be coming from Saras.

The wind whipped up between them, picking up a cone of straw and throwing it as though in a tantrum, flinging droplets of boiling water everywhere. Tully’s arms stung from the water as well as whatever it was pushing toward his enemy. The dragon began to wake from its daze, and bugled loudly and tried desperately to get to it s feet. When it did manage to rise, Tully noticed two clear handprints on its side where he had pushed against the beast while trying to get out from underneath it. They were an iridescent blue, and seemed to glow with energy.

Saras took full advantage of Tully’s distraction and pounced once more. Energy seemed to whip around the room and Tully found himself slammed back against the wall, every nerve tingling and feeling as though he had been burnt all over, whimpering.

Saras loomed over him menacingly, a rictus grin on his face, the electricity in the air making the hair on his head stand crazily on end, his clothes were ripped and singed in several places and his skin was as red and burnt as Tully’s but he did not seem to notice any of this in his determination to destroy the boy lying in the straw at his feet.  He raised his arms further for a final strike, and from somewhere Tully found the strength to throw himself to one side and push back at a blast that landed and jolted all the way up his left side, making him scream. He curled into a ball, crying and waiting for the end to come, knowing there was nothing more he could do, when he felt something sharp dig into his back. He cried out once more, but blacked out when he felt himself being lifted, knowing the end had finally come.

 

 

The icy shock ripped him from unconsciousness and made his bowels tighten in terror at the realisation that he was being carried recklessly through the air by the small dragon who was struggling with the dead weight it bore. He was soaking wet, but felt as thought he was on fire, the heat and freezing cold alternately setting his nerves to screaming. The smell of smoke permeated his brain and he attempted a look backwards to see what was happening. His sudden movements put the creature off kilter and it dipped dangerously low, cawing harshly. He settled back to his original position and shut his eyes, praying to Mard and crying in terror the whole time at what he had seen and for where he was now.

Flames engulfed the town below, and he could see tiny figures running for their lives or trying to defend their homes with buckets of water in long lines. What Tully had noticed just as he flew behind the ranges was the castle tower, a gaping hole smashed through the top, flames leaping and smoke billowing out. The whole left wing of the castle was aflame, and Tully saw soldiers doing the same in lines as the people were to defend their own homes.

The dragon bore him over the ranges, dipping and soaring as it laboured more and more with its burden. Tully didn’t understand why the dragon had taken him out of the tower and was not entirely sure that he was headed for any better situation than the one he had left. He wasn’t sure that he wouldn’t have preferred to be left where he was just to end up a dragon’s first meal.

 

The dunking he had received started to set in and Tully began shivering violently, unable o stop himself, which set off his heat ravaged nervous system, making the dragon’s job of carrying him more difficult. As it got closer to the mountains he could hear its breath start to come in harsh labouring caws, as the smoke started to catch up with them and sting their eyes and throats. They reached the other side of theMarinRiverand the dragon finally allowed down, exhausted, crashing though the trees, making Tully scream each time he hit something. It crashed to the ground, finally letting Tully go, but keeping a close eye on his unmoving form as it recovered from its extended and unexpected flight.

Tully simply lay where he was, unable to move other than the shivering that racked his body, listening to the sounds of the forest and catching the occasional sound from across the river, a cry of despair or the sound of something crashing.

He tried to look up past the trees but the night was so intensely black he could see nothing unless the erratic sheet or fork lightning lit up the tops of the trees. He could hear the dragon’s breathing start to calm and panic began to set in as thoughts of what the beast intended once it recovered began to filter through his overstretched imagination. He rolled over and sat up, and instantly emptied his stomach as waves of pain and dizziness washed over him. He forced himself to stay sitting up, and moved himself until he was sitting against a tree. He rested his eyes until the dizziness subsided, and opened his eyes to find the dragon considering him with eyes that seemed to glow the same iridescent blue as the scales.

A racking cough came from deep inside Tully, and when he looked up again, the dragon was standing over him. It chirruped at him, cocking its head to one side, scratching a claw along the ground. He couldn’t understand what it wanted, and could see that it was getting frustrated. Eventually it nudged him with its beak, cocking its head again, and Tully realised it must want him to get up and follow. Slowly and painfully he dragged himself up and shambled with the creature using the glowing scales as his only reference in the pitch black night. Lightning and large cracks of thunder startled him into faster movement despite his pain, and not surprising, the hunger he had not thought of until now. Tree roots threatened to trip him and rocks appeared out of nowhere to roll his ankles. Near tears again and knowing he could not hope to outrun the dragon; he almost sank to the ground in frustration. The dragon cawed at him impatiently but seemed to have an almost anticipatory look on its face. It chirruped again and moved a little faster, nudging him to keep up. Once again his exhausted body failed him, and he collapsed on the forest floor.

He woke sometime later to a cool rag being placed on his overheated face. He was lying on a makeshift bed of leaves and moss, and a young girl was peering at him intently. He opened his mouth to speak and a small bowl of cool water was placed to his lips.

‘Hello,” he smiled tentatively at her when she placed the bowl beside her. She smiled shyly at him but did not make a sound. The girl indicated another bowl beside her which Tully’s nose identified as something delicious. He eagerly assented and tried to sit up, but dizziness pulled him back down. The girl looked horrified at her lack of wits and indicated for him to lean on her while she spoon fed him what turned out to be a thick meaty broth. Her smile became quite impish when she realised his embarrassment at almost cuddling up to a girl of his own age, injured or not. The food revived him enough that after a minute of so he began to look around more at his surroundings. That he was in some sort of shelter was obvious, as no wind or outside noises permeated the walls, and he started to ask questions, but only miming seemed to elicit any response.

“Dragon?’ he asked curiously. “Where is the dragon that brought me here?” Did you see it?” She shook her head, confused, but when he asked again with arms as outstretched as he could get them, pretending claws and fangs and making a loud cawing sound.

She stepped back then, suddenly terrified, and Tully knew she understood all too well.

Frustration set in again, as he recollected the events of the last couple of days. Tears came to his eyes as he began to think of his family and friends, and whether he would see any of them again.  He beat at the wall with his fist, now needing to feel the physical pain to try and stop the mental images that started to flood his mind. He turned and saw the young girl’s face, clearly warring with her terror and the fact that he was obviously upset, and turned his anger on her.

“Get out,” he screamed at her, “For Mard’s sake get away from me before I hurt you too.”

She turned and fled as several men ran into the room, surrounding him.

 

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