The scratching of a quill on paper was the only thing that matched the crackling of logs engulfed in flame. As every member of the room sat in comfortable silence, swathed in the plush fabric of the chair they reclined in, the innocuous yet ongoing noise lent a calm atmosphere. Arced around the fireplace, the seated were a barrier to the darkness behind them, which seemed to swirl, opaque and ethereal. Unlike the others, the creator of the scratching sat uptight, atop a wooden chair, scribbling hurriedly.
"What is it, you're writing?" a woman asked as she turned from the fire, her kind, aged face illuminated by its glow.
"A letter to someone in the Garrison, there's a terrible shortage of ladders around the Build."
"Seems a bit menial for a general on the Block, huh?"
A head appeared from the second chair by the fireplace. It was an older man, grey hair showing thinly.
"Yeah, but someone's got to do it, Hare has been going on about it for -"
A crash shocked through the darkened room.
"What was that!?"
The door slid open. A young boy peered through, his hair tousled and his eyes sleepy.
"Mummy, I saw some men outside, the crash, what's going on?"
The woman got up and hurried to the boy, comforting him while the two men woke themselves from their stupors and looked around. Another crash echoed, and dust fell from the rafters.
"We need to move, now."
Getting up the older man rushed towards the door, shepherding the woman and child with him. The other man followed quickly. Racing down a set of red rugged stairs they dodged smartly dressed people rushing past. Catching one of them the older man said, "James, whats going on!?"
"My Lord, I don't know, we heard crashes, and there's smoke coming from the stables."
The man cursed, "Smoke? Have you seen anyone around the keep?"
"Go, gather the other servants and get them to the courtyard, we need to get out of here now!"
The servant ran off, throwing a "yes sir" behind him.
The group continued, following James down the stairs.
"We need to get down to that courtyard, go!"
"What's even going on!?"
Just then, a bell sounded, cutting through the noise. It rang clearly, signalling disaster. Ringing, ringing...
The older man shouted, beckoning the group to follow. Reaching the bottom of the stairs they turned past a kitchen packed with guards signalling for the servants to rush out of a pair of wooden doors. When they saw the group, one motioned for them to join the crowd.
"My Lord, Lady, over here! We need to get you out of here!"
"What's going on?"
"We've reported various fires all around the keep. The stables, nursery and servants quarters have all been affected."
The Lord spoke, "Whose dealing with it?"
"We've got the cooks directing everyone out of here, and the whole squadron at the flame points."
"Good work. I want those fires out!"
With that, the group rushed into the banquet hall, following the last of the crowds. They passed the table quickly, dodging banners and chairs. As they reached the door, it slammed shut, the last of the crowds gone.
"Hey! Open Up!" the younger man shouted, slamming his fists against the door. There was no answer, "Come on! This is the royal escort here!"
"Mummy, what's that up there?" The little boy asked, pointing to the rafters. They all looked up sharply. A charred black log above them cracked slightly, revealing the orange glow of flames.
They sprinted over to another door and slid through it as the roof came crashing down. Flaming fragments, charred wood and shattered rafters fell, the walls sinking and the roof melting away. Running, they dodged debris and ducked around corners. They stopped at a large window, panting. A red glow emanated from behind the glass.
The building was hardly recognisable. Like the sun, the flare of red engulfed it, bringing it down into the earth like an avalanche. Horses fled everywhere, bringing up and cloud of debris. Some horses desperately kicked against the wood, their manes ablaze as they fall to the ground.
"The horses! We have to do something!" The boy shouted.
"It's too late. Most of them escaped anyway!" The woman put a comforting hand on him.
"But..." He whimpered as the front of the stables fell.
"Come on! We have to go!"
They continued their sprint as the fires came around the corner. Carpets smouldered, paintings dripped and the roof leaned. Bursting out into the red night, they ducked as a swarm of ember showered them. Men stood around the stables, water leaping from their buckets to the fire like snakes as they shouted and called, organising their front against the flame. The group stopped again, panting hard. Looking back towards the castle they saw chaos. Smoke billowed from the keep like a tornado, shingle and slate fell under the heat, flames blanketed parapets, smothered windows and rose above roofs like vultures circling a kill. Almost all of the buildings that were outside the keep were gone, ash now replacing fire. Even the keep itself stood precariously, slab and stone falling silently as their supports melted and burned. The sky was opaque, the night silenced by ash and smoke. As they stood, an ash cloud grew, moving towards the stunned group.
They turned, but it was too late. The black cloud enveloped them, bringing them to their knees. Coughing violently, eyes slitted and hands upraised defensively, they flailed and screamed. Darkness swirled, separating mother from son, brother from brother. A voice desperately cut through the black.
"Towards me! My Lord, my Lady, to me!"
They surged toward the noise, inching low against the smoke. Seeing light, they quickened their pace until they burst forth out of the cloud. A guard, plated and armoured stood to attention.
"My Lord, we must get you and your kin to safety. There is nothing we can do for the castle."
He motioned forward, to where wagons leant against the trees. More soldiers swarmed there, tying horses to the transport and loading a meagre supply of food on to the bays of wood.
"But Mummy," the little boy looked up to the woman, tears glinting in his eyes, "I don't want to go!"
"Everything going to be O.K, we will return when we can."
"But what will we do now!?" The younger man said anxiously.
"We will leave, maybe go to your Grandfather's" the older man looked down kindly at the boy, "And then, we will find out how this happened, and make sure it never does again.
A wagon rode by next to them, horses nickering impatiently.
"Come on everyone, let's get out of here." The older man saluted to the guard by the wagon and hopped into the wooden bay. The others followed, into only the young boy was left.
"Come on, child," The woman smiled, " We have to go."
With a last hungry stare the boy stepped into the wagon. The horses whinnied and they began to roll forward. The boy looked back. He saw his home, his sanctuary destroyed, his bedroom, ashes, his friends gone. He saw the flames. Like birds, he saw them flitting through the rooftops.