“So boy, you want to hear a story about dragons do you?”
Hatham nodded eagerly, his eyes sparkling with that naïve twinkle of innocence that only a child raised in The Free City could possess. Hatham had always love his Uncle Ron's stories even when his mother scolded his uncle for telling him such “useless tales” that his mother claimed would rot his brain and leave nothing but dust and cobwebs between his ears.
“Imagine it boy, nothing but darkness and rock, nothing in this world ash and no light but that of a dim sun and a fading moon glowing in a wasteland of nothingness” His uncle let out a raspy cough before twirling his thin grey beard, wisping it between his fingers as only a wise old man would.
Or as a mad drunkard would as Hatham's mother often described him as.
“Then bang!” Uncle Ron clapped his hands together so suddenly that Hatham almost fell into the fire burning warmly by his Uncle's rocking chair. “The top of the sun burst open sending fire raging across the lands from Arcadia to the Whispering Seas, and then they came.”
“The dragons, Uncle?” Hatham asked in an enthusiastic voice.
“Don't interrupt boy!” Uncle Ron's voice cracked like a whip quickly silencing Hatham, turning his face into one of determined concentration. “The dragons did come, wings as wide as forests, tails as long as rivers and bodies the size of mountains!”
Although Hatham did not believe the supposed facts his Uncle was giving him he still enjoyed listening to his stories. His friends in the lower streets called his Uncle mad but Hatham preferred to think of him as charismatically imaginative and loved his stories no matter how far the fiction he spoke of drifted from the actual facts.
Even though Hatham knew the old tales and has known them as long as he could remember he still loved hearing them repeated in such a way that they almost seemed to be part of his life. Of course everyone knew the legends of the old, The Reign of Fire where Dragons ruled over their human servants with fear and a fiery fist, The Deal of Demons, when a select few humans gained the power to fight back against their masters and so the first Sun Hunters where born and led their race into glory, throwing bolts of moonlight that pierced the Dragons' scales as if they were naught but brittle glass. Then the Free Age began and humanity was allowed to Flourish in peace whilst new Sun Hunters were created to guard the walls of human cities, ever watchful for the beat of scaled wings and the fiery roars that every orphan girl and rich king feared.
Ron let out a sharp yelp as Hatham's Mother gave him a rough kick to the shin.
“Stop teaching the boy nonsense and filling his head with sewer rot and help me hang out the sheets.”
“Yes Margret....” As soon as Hatham's mother was out of earshot in an other room Ron gave a loud snort “Moody Cow” He said before giving Hatham a toothy grin showing off his river weed stained teeth, a greenish yellowy colour that marked him as a constant user. “Best get going before she asks you to help too sonny.”
He gave Hatham's short dirty brown hair a ruffle before walking in the direction of his mother and pulling up his grubby trousers.
It Hurts so much.
All Hatham could focus on was the agonising pain that racked his burnt body, his skin nothing more then blackened paper covering burnt flesh. It all had happened so fast, the beat of red wings, the fire storm that wrecked through the city, the rain of ash and the heat that scorched everyone around him, and those eyes.
Those yellow predatory eye that seemed to mock him as Hatham had lain there in the rubble clutching the body of a girl he had loved, or what was left of her that was as her delicate features had been turned to a burnt husk and her fair hair was merely replaced with a scorched scalp and smell of burnt human flesh filled Hatham's nose.
The red dragon almost seemed like it had laughed at Hatham before it consumed him with it's fiery rage.
Why am I alive? Why me? Why not them? Why am I not dead?
Hatham would have given anything at that moment to die. He closed his eyes hoping that the sweet release of death would embrace him then paused for a second in his thoughts. The emotions of rage and anger consumed him at that moment and he realized that if he died here and now, who would there be to avenge everyone he had ever known, he now had nothing left to live for except that one complete and singular purpose of revenge. He now realized that he had nothing left to lose.
Such a sad sight, so close to death with nothing you can do to stop it claiming your small, fragile, burning soul , but I can give you the power you seek boy.
The soothing voice echoed in his head, almost distracting him from the pain in his body.
Take my hand, let me in and together we can achieve wonders.
Hatham did not even question what this creature was that filled his head with it's soothing offer of power, it was a Demon. It was from the stories of legend, but Hatham cared not for what it wanted, he did not even thinking about the offer presented before him. He simply stretched out his hand and whispered with a quiet, hoarse voice.
“Yes....I let you in”
A cool breeze whipped over his scorched sorry excuse for a hand and for once in that moment as he was surrounded by the burning city that was once his home he felt peace and closed his eyes, and embraced the darkness that surrounded him.
Captain Harris Quinton stood atop the hill and viewed fro himself what was left of the so called 'last free city'.
Stupid people he thought.
This is what people get if they parade their freedom and pomposity in front of something they could not handle. He sighed and took poppy seed from his seed pouch and crunched down on it in his mouth releasing a flavor that he had come to know and love.
“Sir!” a high pitched voice said, interrupting his enjoyment of the seed.
A recruit ran up to him and Quinton did not bother to try and remember his name as he took the small piece of parchment the recruit was carrying and waited for him to run back to the ranks before opening it and reading it's contents.
The letter was simply a reminder of his orders sent to him by the High Councillor of Ferendin, Investigate the ruins of the city and salvage any valuable items from within the burnt rubble.
Survivors were to be interrogated or executed on the spot.
Harris sighed, it would have been far more effective to leave any survivors that were found alive in order to make an example of those who defy their better. Harris hated the High Councillor and hated his job. He was given the tasks of mere raiders and bandits, salvaging through rubble and stealing from those whose bodies had not even begun to rot yet. Harris would have been lying to himself if he said that he did not feel any guilt at performing his task, but as The Free City had shown, it was best to remember your place in life and follower the tasks given to you.
Ambition and defiance were merely a quicker path to death in Harris' book.
He smirked, thinking on how he was now standing here, looking over the ruins of a once great city, and here he was debating ethics in his life. He popped another seed into his mouth and mounted his horse, slinging his leg over the saddle and adjusting the armored folds of his mail that were disturbed when great movement was exerted. Harris waved his hand and gave the signal for the men to enter the city through the various holes in the walls and the main gates themselves. The lackeys would do most of the work while Harris would merely gaze around at the ruins and maybe pocket a few trinkets along the way. He rode on his horse to the blacksmith's quarter of the city which was built within the second inner wall and was lodged into the furthest side of the wall, away from the living houses in order to avoid smoke seeping in through the poorly built wooden hovels in the lower quarter. The city itself was an ingenious design and even though Harris was no architect he could tell that the three walls of the city itself would have kept out an army of thousands for years due to the steep mountain terrain that backed the city itself and gave a slope to the outermost wall while the other two walls were reinforced with cannons and musket holes that allowed for sniping over a long distance over the first wall.
Harris continued through the blacksmith's quarter and over a period of about two hours he has collected some unfinished pieces of jewelry and a couple of well forged north steel swords that would sell for a good price back in Ferendin since weapons were always in demand from the common folk due to bandit attacks and other monsters roaming the forests south of the market city.
Although it was a small haul most of the salvage would be sold off secretly when they got back home since making a small profit on the side of being paid by the High Councilor was always a positive end for anyone.
What a person did not know, would not hurt him.
And it can't hurt me either, he thought.
Harris paused and took a long whiff of the city. The smell was awful, it was the smell of burnt corpses and cold ash. Normally on a salvage job like this the corpses in the settlement would have not even begun to decompose yet, so the smell here was worse than anything he had taken in before. As he approached the ruined slum district he sighed once more before popping another side into his mouth as he directed his horse past a large wooden supports that had collapsed and some were still slightly burning.
The houses were obviously small in size and had contained many families living in vertical sections. It was a poor people's residence but in a city like this even the poor did not suffer as greatly as the slum district civilians who lived back in Feredin. Harris dismounted and began to search through what was left of the homes, pushing past fallen beams and lifting up ash stained objects that had lost their shapes and purposes after fire had consumed them. He didn't expect to find anything of value here, but every city had it's thieves, and every thief had to have a stash of something hidden away where no one could find it. If this was true then obviously Harris was missing every possible place a thief could be hiding his riches, as he searched from house to house.
Just my damn luck, he thought.
He pushes with all his might against a beam that had toppled over from one house to the next, causing ash to float down like snow making him shut his eyes to avoid any of it blurring his vision. The wood creaked and he knew the unstable supports would soon come crashing down on top of him if he spent too long mucking about in the ruins. Harris took a deep breath and pushed further into the house only to out to a circular clearing of ash that looked like a something had neatly carved a crater in the neighborhood and then had just left.
Harris looked to the center and saw a faint glimmer of wait buried under a pile of charcoal, wood and ash. He walked towards it and lifted away a heavy part of the wood and uncovered something that even in his job surprised him.
It was a boy.
The boy's skin was as white as snow and seemed to have no flaw to it while his hair was still a deep brown with faint streaks of a dark snow like colour running through it. The most amazing thing was that even after the attack and even after being buried under the rubble for God knows how long. He had not a scratch on him and even the black charcoal or grey ash did not stain his naked body but simply seemed to run off it or avoid it like water off a well built roof.
Whoever this boy was, he seemed to be the only survivor in what now was The Free Ruins and probably the only evidence of a dragon attack ever occurring.
Either way, Harris' orders dictated that he take any survivor into custody, to be prepared for interrogation, or to be executed on the spot. Although Harris did not like the thought of a boy who looked like he was only just approaching the late stages of his teens being killed just for what had seen of where he lived, he figured he would debate the ethics of this later. For now Harris carefully picked up the boy in his arms and checked him for any serious wounds or infections, but the boy had no such flaw on his body.
Harris sighed once more and carried him off in the direction of his horse, once again contemplating the many vast reasons why he should be payed more for his job.