Charlotte Wales 2018/19

The Story of the Dragon Rider

Of all the things that could have happened… I’m alive. Shivering and bleeding, but alive. Snow gently falls around me. It’s very cold because my furs have been ripped open and holes in the animal skins were everywhere. At least my shoulder bag is intact. It has the wood drakes’ favourite food in it. In my hands is a small egg, about the size of a hen’s egg. But this will hatch much more than a chicken… I rush back home. I must keep this a secret. How will I explain my state to mother and father? Don’t explain, I told myself. Just stay away for a bit. Then come back. So I headed to the fort I had made in secret. It was little more than some large sticks leaning against a thick tree branch, tied with rope. It was just big enough for me to lie down inside and sit up. The egg must be kept warm. The sun is setting, and soon it will be dark. I light a torch with flint and steel, the flames licking the air. I lean it against the tree trunk inside the fort and from that flame, I make a campfire. I took some jerky out of my bag and eat it while thinking about what I did today. A wood drake egg. Small creatures, but they made great companions if one was brave enough to stick a hand inside the nest. What made wood drakes so dangerous was their ability to drink water, and spit it out boiling hot. I dig a small hole and fill it with snow. Then I hold the torch near it. The snow melts and becomes warm water. I plop the egg in. It floats. That’s good. Wood drake eggs are meant to float.

 

I turn my attention the throbbing in my left leg. A cut is there, about the length of my index finger. It bleeds heavily. I use a rag to wrap the wound. This was going to be a long night. I look at the egg again. The flames of the campfire are getting low. It must stay hot. I take some more wood from a small pile that sits next to me in the fort. I had planned in advance. I knew I would sleep in here at some point, and fire wood was essential to surviving the freezing temperatures of the night in winter. I remove some of my layers of furs, and hang them over the fort to keep the warmth in. I shiver and add more fire wood. Soon, though, the fort warms up a little. But it’s still cold. At least the egg is warm. The cut is from one of the egg’s parents. I was discovered, and blasted with sizzling water. I was lucky it missed my face. Then the wood drake, although only the size of a rabbit, had pounced on me. It had jumped out of a tree, limbs extended, gliding towards me with a fierce expression for something so small.

 

I escaped with the egg, but a wood drake could easily have killed someone my age. I hate the word ‘child’. It just undermines you. If you’re a child, you can’t be trusted with important jobs like taking care of the honey bees in summer, or hunting small game in spring. I have been planning this for ages. I know all about wood drakes. Their eggs, if at the right temperature, will take only a few hours to hatch. They would have been very fast producers, but they can only mate every two years. And most hatchlings die anyway, so you only see a couple every year. That’s what makes this little guy here so special. If the creature dies, the blood will be on my hands. It has been over two hours. It’s dark, cold, and I can hear the howls and cries of wolves in the distance. I shiver. Then I hear something. My droopy eyelids snap to alertness. The egg bobs around in the water. Plop, plop, plop. I hear squeaking. It’s finally happening! Then the shell cracks, and a little snout pokes out. The warm water pours into the egg. I scoop it out quickly. This is how many wood drakes die. I tip the water out, ignoring the pain in my leg. Then I let the wood drake hatch out some more. Once it has hatched enough, I remove the remaining shell.

 

The creature was beautiful. It had bright colours. The membrane that connected to all of its limbs was bright orange, while its body was a mixture of blue and green hues. And those eyes! They were golden, like the honey that father extracted from the hives in summer. Its long tail curled around my hand. “Meep!” It said. I reach for my bag, which rests in a corner. “Here you go. I hope you enjoy it.” I say as I wave a piece of jerky in front of its nose. I don’t know why, but wood drakes love jerky, for some reason. The tiny creature snaps it up and asks for another with its eyes. I feed it until its belly is bulging and it looks sleepy. Then, having imprinted on me, it curls up in my lap and goes to sleep. Then I go to sleep too, my body shielding it from the cold. The reason wood drakes were so bright was because most of the year it is warm and sunny. Only a few months are cold and snowy… I wake up to the sun streaming in through the gaps in the fort. Sitting on my bag, the wood drake is watching me with golden eyes. “Look at you.” I say, feeling weird, talking to something that can’t understand me. I feed my new friend some more jerky, then get up. The thing doesn’t run away. It just watches. I reach out to pick it up. It shies away, then sniffs my hand and comes to me when I offer it some more jerky. I look under the wood drakes chin. There was the tell-tale red spot underneath. “You’re a boy.” I say. I go to pick it up again. It doesn’t move this time. I hold it up to my shoulder and it climbs on, digging into my furs. The sun shines today, and the snow was starting to melt. I grab my bag and take my now soaking furs off the outside of the fort. I decide to leave them there, though, so they can dry. What should I name you? I wonder.

 

I look into those golden eyes, and suddenly it’s clear to me. Aurum. It was the perfect name. “Come on, Aurum, let’s go home.” I march back home, which isn’t far. I don’t know how mother and father will take Aurum, so I don’t go too close when I say, ‘Hello, father.” He turns around from what he was doing in the garden. “You should have been home last night!” He barks. His eyes widen as he sees Aurum. “What? You went and stole an egg from a wood drake nest? You could have been killed!” He looks so mad he might turn into a dragon. Then he turns around and calls to mother, “Linda! Look what your daughter brought home.” Mother comes out of the small stone cottage that we called home. “What is it, dear?” Mother stares me up and down, then her eyes settle on Aurum. “Stupid child! That thing is sitting right on your shoulder! It could bite you and you won’t stand a chance.”

“But he won’t bite, Mother. He’s my friend.” I argue, but Mother just shakes her head. Aurum leans forward on my shoulder, sniffing the air. “Sophie, what have you done?” Father says. Then his face crinkles in a smile. “That’s my girl! I knew you would prove yourself one day.” I step back in surprise. I look at Mother, who is also smiling.

 

“We’re so proud of you,” she said, “this day ought to be celebrated. Shepherd’s pie for dinner!” “Yes!” Shepherd’s pie was a rare dish in our house. It required so much meat to make. I spent the day playing with Aurum while Mother and Father watched with obvious delight. Dinner time came, and I watched the steaming plate in front of me. Aurum sat on my shoulder, and I sometimes fed him bits of meat from my plate and let him drink water from my cup. Then, after dinner, bellies full, we went to sit by the fire place. “It’s time I told you some things, now that you have your own wood drake, Sophie.” Father said. I was curious, since dad rarely kept secrets. “You are one of the youngest to tame or hatch anything in several years. This I know for sure.” Mother nodded, then added, “This means you will likely be a very successful Tamer, and believe me, I know all the signs.” I struggle to take this all in. Tamers were extremely rare, since many feared the creatures and beasts of the world. “You have a strong heart, and a fierce will. You are the closest so far to a distant relative, who lived long ago.” Mother said.

 

“Who? I asked. Father looked me in the eyes. “Sherrin, who stole the egg of the great fire wyvern.” Could this be true? Sherrin had lived so long ago… “How do I know you are telling the truth?” I ask.

“If you don’t believe us now, you will later, when you have a wyvern or a dragon of your own.”

“A dragon of my own…” I rolled the words around on my tongue, trying them out. It was all still hard to believe. “If Sherrin was a relative of ours, then why aren’t we living in a castle, with all the gold we could wish for? She was legendary.” Father looks at me gravely. Aurum sniffs my ear and sneezes in it. I would have laughed, but this was not the right moment. “Sherrin had her wealth taken away when her wyvern fell in the War. She had a place she called home. She hatched, tamed and rescued many creatures and kept them there. But no one has been able to find her secret place. Out of grief, Sherrin jumped off a cliff so she could be with her wyvern, dead. And her secrets died with her, along with her wyvern’s name.” Mother and Father looked very sad by this. “Come on, it’s time for sleep. It’s late.”

 

I was tucked in, and good nights were said. Then all was quiet. The fire was nothing more than glowing coals. Mother had let Aurum sleep on my bed, and he curled up at my feet. Of course, I couldn’t sleep that night. It wasn’t snowing either, so the snow would not be replenished. Tomorrow was the first day of spring. It must have been just after midnight when I heard the growling outside. Mother and Father had told me what to do in this situation. Don’t go to wake them up. Just hide in the little room under a secret trapdoor, located under my bed. Aurum was awake, watching through the window. I got up and had a look. I had never seen one before, but they instilled fear in everything. When I saw it, wandering through the garden, it took all my self-control not to scream. It looked like a horse, but it walked on two legs, and had heavy looking claws for feet. The creature’s muscular arms were tipped with claws just like the feet, only longer. It had a long, billowing horse tail and a mane that fell over its eyes. The creature was a shade of nut brown. Its mouth, unlike that of a regular horse, stretched all the way to its cheeks, like that of a reptile. Inside that mouth were terrible teeth, designed to rip and tear.

 

The seeker lumbered around the garden, sniffing at the place I was playing during the day. I hopped down from the windowsill, taking Aurum with me. I crawled under the bed. Baby Aurum squeaked in protest. “Sssshh!” I hissed, but it was too late. I heard heavy breathing at the window. I was under the bed, fumbling with the latch that held the trapdoor closed. It opened inwards so it wouldn’t bang on the bed frame, and I climbed down the ladder into a small room. I closed and locked the trapdoor behind me. What about Mother and Father? I thought. I didn’t even wake them up. I waited in the dark. The heavy breathing kept going, like it would never stop. I was terrified. Aurum grumbled. “SShh.” I whispered. Then there was a shriek, and I heard the window smash. There was scratching and the sound of stone cracking. Then heavy footsteps sounded above me. The seeker was inside the house. Then I heard screaming—it was the worst sound I could possibly hear—because I knew that those screams belonged to my parents.

 

Mother or Father must have thrown something at the seeker, because it made another sound. Then there were more screams and gurgling as the seeker killed my parents. I knew it. I just knew they were dead. There was a grating sound as the seeker slid my bed across the floor, exposing the trapdoor. Claws raked the wood, and chips of it fell down. Aurum squeaked again, and dove into my nightclothes. I could feel him wriggling around. I wish I had someone’s nightclothes to dive into, or maybe a snug pocket. Then the scratching stopped. Something wet and dark was dripping through the cracks in the trapdoor. I already knew what it was, and I watched as it filled the room, coating the floor in inky darkness. Aurum had gone still, but I could feel his tiny heart beating. A chunk of the trapdoor falls away and wacks me on the head. I stifle a yelp. I look up. A cruel eye is watching me from above. It is all black. Nothingness stares at me from the other side. I hear a hiss, but I realise that hiss is coming from me. Not from me—but from Aurum. I feel intense heat in his body and then a stream of boiling water squirts out from my shirt and into the seeker’s eye. It draws back and howls. Then I hear heavy feet clomping away into the night. Seekers only kill what doesn’t take much effort to take down. I was hiding, so it went and ate my parents instead.

 

I curl up on the wet floor and cry. Mother and Father are gone. Gone forever, and in the worst possible way. Not even wolves take on seekers. I hug Aurum and drift into an unsteady sleep. When I wake up, light is streaming in through the hole in the trapdoor. I climb the ladder and cautiously poke my head out. As usual, Aurum was already awake and sitting on my shoulder. My room was a wreck, not to mention the rest of the house. I could smell blood everywhere. When I’m sure the seeker isn’t anywhere near, I climb out and into my room. I explore the house. Both my parents’ bodies are gone, but I see drag marks. I have no wish to follow them. A cool breeze stirs my hair. I look through the wreckage and find my shoulder bag. Father made it for me. Then I grab the necklace that hangs on a hook over Mother’s side of the bed. I stuff it in the bag and look inside to see if there is any jerky left. To my surprise, there is. The seeker must have been too busy... Never mind. I feed Aurum, pack what’s left that’s useful to me, and head over to the fort. I had no one. Actually, I had Aurum, but other than that I was alone.

 

I dumped my things on the ground and sit for a while. Then I start to cry. Parents gone. Forever. Aurum gets off my shoulder and nuzzles me. “Meep?” He says. I go to hug him but he leaps away. He sits on the pile of things I brought here, and I realise I have a lot of work to do. But can I do it? Can I get up? Can I escape my grief? Yes, you can, a voice in my head says quietly. My Mother always said to listen to the quiet voice, the one that you often ignore. So I got up, and Aurum hopped on my shoulder. He was so small. But he would grow. I need to make the ceiling higher. But first I need to fill the gaps that sit between the sticks that are already there. So I go back to the house and get some planks from the wreckage. These are long, so I decide I can hit two birds with one stone and fill the gaps and make the ceiling higher. This takes a while, and I’m so hot by the end that I need to remove my furs, which I had put on during the morning. I don’t need them now. It is quite warm. The ceiling is considerably higher, and the planks fit together nicely. My stuff will stay dry if it rains.

 

Aurum explores the area around me, climbing trees and jumping off their low branches, gliding to the ground and climbing up to go again. I stop to watch him sometimes, but mostly I work. I find that once my mind is occupied, I can do things better. As long as I don’t think about it… No.

 

 

 

 

 

I arrange my stuff neatly on the floor of my fort. I put it into piles: Foodstuffs, clothing, healing remedies and other things I need.

 

 

 

                  5 YEARS LATER

 

 

I struggle to hold the small wyvern down. By small, I mean a wingspan of nine feet and a length of seven. It snaps at my hands as I try to hold down its head. I have pinned the creature’s wings down with my legs and I sit on top of the squirming thing. Aurum, now fully grown, sits in a tree, watching with interest. I get a hold of its horns and shove a thin blade coated with a narcotic into its neck. I don’t go deep enough to kill, but I go deep enough so the narcotic goes into the wyvern’s bloodstream. I continue to hold the small fire wyvern down as its thrashing slowly gets weaker. Once the creature is asleep, I step off it and enter the small cave that is its lair. To my delight, three eggs sit in a circular bowl of melted stone. I take one and leave, scattering powdered meek flower around to mask my scent. I can’t have an angry fire wyvern, although small, following me back home. Aurum jumps out of the tree and glides to my shoulder. As he lands, I think about my prize. I had stolen the egg of a small fire wyvern, so it wouldn’t get bigger than the one I had put to sleep. The reason I had stolen it was because I needed some defence against predators. Recently, I had barely escaped with my life as a pack of wolves investigated my home.

 

A small fire wyvern would change all that. I tucked the egg away in my shoulder bag to keep it warm as I opened the door of my hut, which had a ladder going to the upper floors, which were attached to my tree. I lit a fire inside and put the egg straight in the flames. The fire had to be supervised constantly, otherwise my home might catch fire. I checked the sun’s position in the sky. Every hour, I would turn the egg over and put more fire wood in the flames. I watched the smoke curl up through the hole in the roof. Small fire wyvern eggs took up to two weeks to hatch. I can’t keep supervising a fire for two weeks. I need to hunt, get water, sleep… So I slathered the walls with a wood drake saliva, which Aurum provided an almost infinite supply of. Wood drake saliva was fireproof and anything coated in it was fire resistant for up to three days. I had forty minutes until I had to turn the egg over again. I guess I could take Aurum out and go hunting for a rabbit burrow. I step back outside and breathe in the fresh air of spring. I even spot a wild wood drake gliding from the tree next to mine.

 

 

I walk for a while, looking up and checking the time frequently. I spot a rabbit burrow. It isn’t too far away, so I walk back and check on the egg. As I turn it over with tongs, I glimpse the embryo inside. It has its wings curled around itself, so I don’t see much. Then the egg is back in the fire. But I could make out tiny horns and a spiky tail. I didn’t know the egg was this close to hatching. I sit with the egg for the rest of the day. Guess I won’t be having fresh dinner. At sunset, I get up and go to a wooden box where I keep my leftovers from any meals. I find some eggs, gathered from my pygmy wyverns upstairs. I get a small cooking pot and set it over the fire with the egg underneath. Aurum squirts boiling water into the pot. As the eggs boil, I think about what I will call my new fire wyvern when it hatches. I eat dinner and sit on a wooden log that I use as a stool. Then surface is smooth from years of sitting. “What should I call our new member of the family?” I ask Aurum, who sits watching the fire. He turns his head and looks at me with those golden eyes.

 

“Fireflight? Flame? Thorny Devil?” I laugh. “Thorny Devil. Just ridiculous…” Aurum replies with a “Merp!” I take the cooking pot off the fire and let the eggs cool. It is dark now, and the creatures of the night are becoming awake. I don’t like the dark. The most horrible thing happened in the dark. I sit and eat the eggs. They are very filling, and soon I feel my eyelids drooping. I watch the fire. Then I hear tapping. Faint at first, but then it gets louder. Soon it fills my head with a tap, tap, tap-tap, tap… I hear a crack and a jagged line appears in the shell of the egg. I get up and smother the flames as much as I can. I sit and watch as more cracks appear across the brown speckled shell. Then weak chirping fills the room. I can’t help this one hatch like Aurum. I would burn myself. So I watch as a grey fire wyvern hatches and stumbles out of the flames. I offer it some leftover rabbit meat. I didn’t eat it for dinner because I knew this would happen. The wyvern looks up at me, yellow eyes glinting with fierce intelligence. Then it snaps up the meat. I feed it until there is no meat left. I reach out to touch it, but I’m still cautious. This wyvern could give a nasty nip. The creature snaps at my fingers, and I take my hand away. The fire wyvern makes its way over to me, still chirping.

 

“No more meat. I will go hunting in the morning.” I tell the creature. I offer it a boiled egg. Maybe it will it eat it? The wyvern sniffs it and takes a bite. The boiled egg crumbles, but soon every bit is gone. However it is clear this little guy has no intention of sleeping. It explores the hut, trying and often failing to jump and climb on boxes, stools and supplies. I reach out and pick it up. The wyvern screeches in protest and wriggles, then looks at me. I look at it. I’m the mother. I was the first one it saw. I offer it my last boiled egg. Holding the fire wyvern in one hand and the egg in the other, I feed the creature. Then I put it down and let it explore some more. I wait for the creature to tire, and eventually, after a really, really long time, it does.

 

I am very tired myself, and I fall asleep upstairs.

 I wake up to a very strange smell. As I climb the ladder down to the hut, the smell becomes stronger. I spot the fire wyvern fast asleep among various spilled herbs. “Oh, no.” I say. I find Aurum asleep, too. He lies on the floor, snoring. I pick both creatures up and put them on a stool each. To get rid of the smell, I open the hole in the roof and open the door. Then I climb up to the very top floor of my tree house to escape the smell.

 

 

 

On the top floor, I keep pygmy wyverns. I sit down and pick one up. It has large blue eyes and a darker blue body, with wings like the sky. This one was my favourite out of the six. I give it a pat and then put it down with the others. The pygmy wyverns were very small—only the size of small birds, like robins-- but the eggs they produced were delicious. I come down to check on the wyvern and Aurum. Aurum is awake but the wyvern is still asleep. I take Aurum and put him on my shoulder. “What happened?” I asked. “Did the wyvern spill herbs and make you go to sleep?” Aurum looked at me with those intelligent golden eyes. The fire wyvern had yellow eyes, and were more aggressive looking. I saw the wyvern move and get up. It grumbled groggily. I scooped it up and took it outside to see the world. Throughout the day, I came to love my new friend, and Aurum even played with the wyvern. He was climbing trees and pretending to jump on the little creature before gliding away.  I’m thinking about what the wyverns name should be. I knew she was a girl, so maybe… Sky? Sky sounded like a good name. So since then I’ve been calling her Sky. The weeks sped by with Sky around. I took her hunting with Aurum, and she even breathed her first stream of fire.

 

I was sure to write that down when I got home. I watched with fondness as Sky began to retaliate to Aurum’s teasing. She was jumping in the air, trying to catch him. I didn’t want her to burn Aurum, so I had to be careful watching them play. One day, Sky truly earnt her name by flying after a bird that had escaped me when hunting. She retrieved it burnt to a crisp. I rewarded her by letting her keep the prize. Soon, Sky was as tall as my waist, and growing bigger by the day. Her horns were now sharp, deadly things that could impale anything small. Her teeth were that of a predator.

I came back home with two rabbits for supper. I tossed Sky one rabbits and she ate it whole. She went to snap the other one off me but I held it back. “Mine!” I barked. Sky was still learning. But nothing came near us now. We were totally protected. I took the rabbit inside and skinned it, preparing it for the next meal. Maybe I’ll make some rabbit jerky. Sky had grown a lot in the last few weeks, and she was nearly at her full size. Her body, once small and grey, was now large and muscular, but she still had a graceful look, the muscles in her wings not standing out too much. She was too small to ride, but I was hoping maybe if I tied a soft but strong rope to one of her talons, maybe she could carry me from place to place. But how would I get her to go forward and change direction? It wouldn’t work, sadly. I put some of the rabbit meat into a cooking pot and let it simmer over a low flame. I cooked the meat in a paste made of rallow berries, a delicious wild berry that grew in these parts. Life here was good. I had Aurum, I had my pygmy wyverns, and now I had Sky.

 

The sun had set and Sky took up her usual position outside for the night. It was warm, so I didn’t need any blankets. I lay there in bed, listening to the wolves howling in the distance. It continued for a while, a lot longer than it usually did. The howling got closer, and then something else interrupted the wolves. It was deep, guttural and loud. I heard the wolves yelping. I heard stomping, coming closer and closer. Sky was growling. Then there was the intense heat of dragon fire and bright light. Something outside howled in pain and Sky roared in triumph. I went downstairs. Aurum tried to come with me but I put him back on the bed. Stay here. I stuck my head down the ladder and what I saw astounded me. They were so rare, but so dangerous. I took my dagger out of my belt, which I always wore, even in bed. Then I dropped down and ran outside to face the forest drake. Sky was in terrible danger, even if she had fire. One bite and she would be dead, as the forest drake carried a deadly poison. Sky was flying around the huge creature, breathing fire, but I could tell she was getting tired. She was still so young. I screamed at the creature to get its attention. The forest drake turned towards me. Its eyes glowed a poisonous green in the dark night.

 

The thing about forest drakes was that they were big, so they were bad at turning. The thing took a snap at me and Sky breathed more fire, but it sputtered out mid-stream. But the momentary flash of light had forced the forest drake’s eyes to adjust, and that gave me time to slip around and jump onto one of its massive legs. Using spikes as footholds, I climb onto the drake’s back. It reared and it took all my strength to hold on. I couldn’t use my dagger or else I would fall. I briefly saw Sky flapping her wings with great effort. She tried to breathe more fire, but all that came out were sparks and weak flames. The forest drake turned around and snapped at my dangling legs. I pulled them up just in time. Sky turned and flew into a tree out of exhaustion. The forest drake hesitated and watched Sky fly away. I saw my chance and tried to stab the drake in the shoulder. My dagger clanged of its hard scales. My dagger was my only weapon. I was surprised by the lack of impact my trusty knife had had on the forest drake, and the creature shook me off. I landed hard on one side and rolled to a stop around ten feet away. The forest drake turned on me and snarled. I had lost my weapon.

 

It was hopeless. I was going to die tonight. The forest drake advanced towards me, growling. Then Sky launched herself out of the tree, biting at the drake’s neck. I was too stunned to think about anything. My head was booming. Then red hot blood sprayed my face, and Sky fell to the ground, screeching in agony. I heard a second, smaller attempt at a roar, and Aurum jumped out of a window, claws extended. He landed on the forest drake’s head and sprayed boiling water into its eyes. The forest drake shrieks and shakes its head wildly. But Aurum holds on with an iron grip. He continues to squirt boiling water into the forest drake’s eyes while I crawl over to Sky. I reach over and pat her head gently. The poison of a forest drake had no cure. It would slowly ebb the victims life away until death. Sky looked at me with one yellow eye. Her fire was quenched. It was said the wyverns and dragons alike had an unquenchable fire. I see now that isn’t true. Sky had a huge bite mark that led from her side to her leg, spilling blood. I sob and watch Sky until she closes her eyes, like looking at me is too great an effort. I notice then that the area is disturbingly quiet. I look around, and there is no sign of the forest drake. Big foot prints lead away into the dark.

 

I crawl over to my dagger, which lies a few feet away. I hold it over Sky’s heart. It was time to quench the embers of her life that remained. I cried and held the dagger there as Sky’s breathing grew evermore shallow. Then I plunged the knife into her chest, and Sky let out a small grunt. Then she lay still. I feel something tugging on my shoulder. “Sophie. Sophie.” A familiar voice said. I turned around and saw Mother. Then she slowly disappeared. “Mother! Mother, wait!” I cried, and slumped over Sky’s body. “Don’t give up. There is someone who still needs you.” I turn around again and see Aurum. His throat is red from all of that boiling water, and he is panting from exhaustion. I scoop him up and lie there. Wolves come, but they don’t touch me. Sky’s body must have warded them off. They stand around and wait for me. Wait for me to do what? I thought. They are waiting. Waiting for something. I get up and face them, Aurum on my shoulder, dagger in hand, dripping with Sky’s blood.

 

Then I turn and walk away. I head to my hut but I don’t sleep inside. I sleep out, where Sky used to be.

 

The sun was filtering through the trees and a light breeze stirred the leaves. I was sore and had various cramps throughout my body. I lifted my head to find that Aurum, as usual, was awake and watching me from a low tree branch. I sit up. What happened last night could not have been real. But there is no sign of Sky, and I know it is true. Sky is dead. My shoulder feels bruised and throbs painfully where I fell last night. I’m back to the start. At least I wasn’t too attached to Sky when she died, I thought. But that didn’t make me feel any better. I couldn’t keep living here. First it was seekers, who killed Mother and Father. Then the wolves, and now a forest drake. I start to pack my things. This was not a safe place to live. I didn’t know where I would go. But I would go somewhere. Maybe steal some more eggs and tame a couple things. But that would take time. I couldn’t take everything. I filled my pack with food, water, a bed roll and various healing remedies. My pack was very heavy when I had finished.

 

After hours of debating whether or not I should leave, I decided. I took the pygmy wyverns and set them free. I still had the blue one in my hands and was about to let it go. But then it looked at me with those large, hopeful eyes, and I decided I should keep it. It was female, so it would produce one egg every day. Another reliable source of food. I put Aurum on one shoulder and the little pygmy wyvern on the other. Then I gave my home one last look. This might be the last time I see it again. I set off. As I walked, it turned out that the little wyvern liked my chest pocket, so it stayed hidden most of the time. Hours slipped by and as I walked the landscape slowly began to change. The trees were more sparsely placed, and it was warmer. I spotted one wood drake, and some birds, but after a while it grew very quiet. It was late in the day, so I guess things were winding down. But still… I continued walking for another few hours and it got warmer, despite it getting dark. I found a tree with low hanging branches that would give me good cover. Then I lay down my bedroll and went to sleep, Aurum and our new companion sleeping next to me.

 

I was woken up by a heat so intense I was drenched in sweat from head to toe. I packed up my stuff and drank from my limited supply of water. Aurum glided over to my shoulder, but the blue pygmy wyvern was nowhere to be seen. I followed a set of small tracks and found her gorging herself on a very small bird. I scooped her up and let her climb into my chest pocket. I continued walking. The trees I saw were blackened and covered in cracks, but were still standing. This was not the work of a dragon or wyvern. I continued and the heat grew more intense. Soon it hurt to go on, but I had to find the source of the heat. The trees thinned out more until I only saw one every six feet or so. I continued a bit more before spotting something glowing up ahead. When I got close enough, the heat blasting me by this point—I saw a river of lava snaking through the blackened trees, glowing and radiating heat. Then I noticed small things jumping about in the lava. Heat fish. These things were too hot to go near, and if they stayed out of lava too long they would harden into stone. Aurum was panting rapidly and my pygmy wyvern had decided it was too hot in my chest pocket. Through the trees I could make out a barren plain. I considered going back, but I decided to go around the river in a slightly different direction instead. The heat grew less intense as I walked away to my left.

 

Long hours went by and I was drinking too much water. At least Aurum and the pygmy wyvern were not as bad now. After more long hours of walking the sun told me it was midday, and some grass was starting to appear by the trees, which were more frequent. Soon the temperature was pleasantly warm and the grass was green instead of an ugly brown. Aurum caught himself a snack when I stopped for a rest. There were plenty of birds and lizards in this area because of the warmth. I angled myself towards the wastelands again, but stayed clear of the lava river. The trees thinned out once more and soon I was walking across a dead, barren plain. The sun was hanging low over the horizon when I stopped to sleep, but there was nowhere sheltered. I would have to be extremely careful. The trees that were left were too brittle to climb. Sleeping was extremely uncomfortable. I twisted this way and that, but I could never get into a comfortable position.

 

Hours after dark, I decided to keep walking. Aurum was also awake, sitting on the ground. This plain did not suit wood drakes. I think the only one who got any sleep was the little pygmy wyvern, snoring quietly in my chest pocket. The landscape didn’t change much through the night. I saw the lava river glowing in the distance, and the ground was powdery and black. Dead bushes and the odd tree were the only signs that this place had once supported life. In the end, I was too tired to keep on going, so I spread out my bedroll and tried to at least get a few hours of sleep before dawn. I must have been extremely tired, because I don’t remember anything after lying down.

 

I wake up to a boring grey sky. There was nothing to do except pack up and keep going. I nibble some jerky as I continue to cross the plain that seemed to have no end. I let Aurum and the pygmy wyvern drink from my now very limited supply of water. It was a good thing they were small. I continued walking. There was nothing else to do. I really need a name for the pygmy wyvern, I thought. I looked down at the small creature in my pocket. Those deep blue scales… As I was walking, I noticed that the ground sloped gently upwards, and there was something big in the distance. It looked like a giant cage, or some building with giant pillars. There was no way of telling the time here, with the clouds looming in front of the sun. After what felt like an hour, my legs were burning. The hill was one of those hills that drained your energy over time, instead of hurting your legs after a few minutes. The building was closer now, and I could make out large bumps and ridges nearby. As I crested the hill, I realised with horror, what the structure was. A huge ribcage stretched, cracked and white, along the top of the hill. At one end was a skull with huge horns as think as my torso, and I would have to jump to reach the eye sockets that would have held eyes like giant moons.

 

At the other end, I could make out leg bones and a tail, part of which had been covered by dirt over the centuries it had been here. The end of the tail, which was still visible, was covered in spikes, which looked like they could still impale a fully grown forest drake. Aurum jumped off my shoulder and onto a giant rib, looking like a gecko as he climbed to the tip of the bone. Sitting at the top, Aurum looked quite majestic. His golden eyes sparkled. This creature had got to have died of old age, because at that size, nothing was killing it. I walked around the skeleton, but I found nothing else interesting. I took one last look at the dragon skeleton, then called to Aurum. At my voice, he leapt off one of the dragon’s many ribs and glided towards me, landing perfectly on my shoulder. The little pygmy wyvern had slept through the whole thing—she was snoring away gently in my pocket.

 

Gently I reached inside of my pocket, and I felt warm round objects at the bottom. Eggs, I thought. At least I knew what was for dinner tonight.

I started walking down the other side of the hill when I stopped. Up ahead, clouds of incredible size hovered low over the plain, and I could see the rain as it came down to embrace the ground like an old friend. I decided to make camp in the dragon’s skull, since I could see a storm boiling up ahead.

 If it was dark before, that was nothing compared to this. The wind howled outside, and rain seemed to whip the giant skull with incredible strength. The rain riveted holes in the dirt which quickly turned to mud, which had started seeping in through gaps between the giant teeth. The fire I had tried so hard to light was dancing around wildly and threatening to go out. Pygmy wyvern eggs boiled in my smallest cooking pot. Rain was pouring in through the eye sockets, which I had learned to avoid going near at all costs. Aurum was curled up near the fire, hoping to get some warmth. There was nothing to really think about, and even though the storm raged around our shelter, the absence of stress I felt allowed for me to finally pick a name for the little pygmy wyvern which was now sitting in the collar of my cloak. Star. It was perfect for one of her colour. “Time for sleep, Star and Aurum.” I curled up by the fire, and although there was lots of noise outside, I fell asleep almost instantly.

 

One thing I noticed when I woke up: It was sunny outside. Sunlight streamed in through the eye sockets and warmed my face. The fire had gone out, and it looked like I wasn’t about to have any breakfast, because when I went to my bag there was no more jerky or berries or anything. That’s odd, I thought. I was worried now. I would have to find food soon, otherwise I would starve. I looked around and also found that Aurum and Star were missing. I stepped outside and found Aurum dining on a bloodied body. It took me awhile to realise the body belonged to Star. “AURUM! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!” For the first time in years, I screamed at Aurum. He had jerky last night. He shouldn’t be hungry. “YOU HAVE JUST KILLED MY LAST SOURCE OF FOOD! BAD WOOD DRAKE!” I screamed some more, then sat with my head in my hands. I felt Aurum watching me so I looked up. He was staring at me icily. “Don’t look at me like that. It isn’t my fault.” But it is, a voice in my head spoke quietly. You kept them together when they wouldn’t mix. I looked down at my worn boots. It was my fault. “I’m sorry, Aurum. I didn’t mean the things I said.” He just sat staring at me, then a jet of boiling water splashed my chest. It burned like fire. “OW! What was that for?” I snapped. Then I grabbed my stuff, shoved it in my bag, and left the dragon skeleton with Aurum still sitting next to its giant teeth. The sun was already warming me up, and by the time I had gotten to the bottom of the low hill I was sweating. I looked back. I could not see Aurum near the skull anymore. Instead, he was halfway down the slope, looking at me. Knowing that he would follow me, I set off towards the distant horizon, which had also changed. The low cloud and storm had concealed what lay ahead. I could make out the outline of trees, packed closely together.

 

Since I could see the sun, I could tell the time. An hour went by. Then two. Aurum was always just behind me. I would have stopped for lunch but I had no food. I was fairly sure that Aurum had raided my food supplies, but that didn’t explain why the berries were missing, or why my stuff was so neat. Hunger took big bites at my belly, which growled in protest. The trees on the horizon were much closer, and the weeds were looking a little bit more green. Maybe I wouldn’t starve after all. I stopped to rest, and Aurum caught up with me. He looked sorry. I guess we both were sorry. He rode my shoulder as I walked, a whole new chapter ahead of us.

 

To be continued…

My Good Boy

Here he was. My good boy.

Standing in the driveway, a little bit different, but you couldn’t notice it if you tried hard enough. I closed my eyes, picturing Oscar as he was before. Golden, silky fur, almost white. Bright honey eyes. Oscar was a big golden retriever. We’d had him several years but he’d still been in his prime at the time of the accident. I remembered trying to grab his collar, my hands scraping nothing but air. Oscar ran out onto the road. I remembered the big thud as the car collided with Oscar and the brutal sound of his neck snapping.

I stared at the dog in front of me, his fur matted, sticky eyes covered in dirt. His head hung low, sagging on his shoulders. Congealed blood was still on the side of his head, and Oscar’s ribs looked crushed and knobbly on one side where the car had hit him.

“Oscar?” I called. He turned his head towards me, and limped in my direction. I backed away. “Stay.” I said. Oscar stopped. So he still remembered his old commands. Feeling like I was in a dream, I called Oscar again and let him follow me to the tap in our front garden. It had a hose attached. I picked it up and aimed it at Oscar.

Oscar’s daggy fur was soaked within minutes. He blinked away the water and dirt from his eyes, and the blood came away from the side of his face, flowing down towards the drain by the side of the road. I didn’t let the water blast him too powerfully. Even walking had moved bone fragments around his body, and they stuck out differently at every angle.

It would be a long time before mum or dad came home. Well, two or three hours wasn’t a lot, but when your dead dog had showed up on your driveway, three hours was a long time to wait.

I told Oscar to stay and went inside to get a towel to dry him. I went to the laundry and grabbed the old dog-towel that we had since put away. I didn’t think I’d use it on Oscar again. How wrong I was.

I went outside to find Oscar still patiently waiting for me. He wagged his wet tail. It slithered over the concrete like a slug. Feeling sick, I started to rub down Oscar’s head. I had to hold it up, because Oscar couldn’t do it on his own. I saw the gash in his temple, which widened as I dried him. I could see the shiny, white bone underneath. I moved on down to his neck. I was deliberately leaving Oscars left side. The side that was screwed up. I didn’t want to look at it. There was a funny smell about him too. Like how my dead fish had smelled after we had come back from our holiday. The summer heat was scorching.

I backed away and decided that Oscar’s other side could dry by itself. I walked him up the stairs to our front door, and Oscar went inside the second it opened. When I went in behind him, I saw that he’d gone to his old dog bed, and was sitting in it guiltily. There were paw prints on the floor, dry and dusty from outside. I wiped them away with the dog-towel and put it back in the laundry. I turned the AC on and went to my room, locking the door behind me. I didn’t want Oscar coming in and sitting on my bed. Even though he was clean, there was something about him that seemed dirty.

I whiled away the hours playing on my laptop and listening to music on my phone. I actually managed to forget about Oscar for a while. Then I heard keys jingling in the door.

Shit.

What about Oscar?

Will I let dad deal with it, or should I hide him?

 

In the end I called Oscar. He came running to me, his shoulders bending in all the wrong ways. He sank lower to the ground as his legs buckled beneath him, and he had to drag himself through my bedroom door.

I heard dad walking through the dining room. “Hey, dad!” I said, my voice strained. Even though humans can’t smell fear, they can certainly hear it. “You okay?” Dad asked. “I’m fine!” I called from my room, shutting Oscar and me inside. I didn’t trust myself to come out and face my dad. My emotions play easily on my face, and right now I’m terrified. I hope dad decides to just shrug it off, but I don’t think so. He’ll probably try to talk to me later. I turn around as a disgusting crack resonates around my room. I see Oscar trying to jump on my bed, but the more he crouches down, the more his bones flex in ways they shouldn’t. I see his skin moving under his fur. Finally, he tries to launch himself up. I hear a tearing sound and see a piece of rib rupture Oscar’s side. I star in horror as he circles the bed and lies down, undisturbed by the black, sluggish blood leaking from his chest.