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.
“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.