It was on her way back that she ran into him. With her backpack filled with the food and supplies she would need for the next few days, she had been going slower than before. Her head was hanging low as she walked along, and she looked with little interest at the cracks between the cobbles. The shops were in the older part of the town, as was her house, and so most of the way to and from she was shuffling along the uneven ground. It proved a challenge with crutches, and there were many times where the tip had slipped as she put her weight on it.
She landed heavily on her good foot, pushing herself forward with the crutches and putting them a little distance away and swinging herself on wards. Her left crutch slipped, and this time she fell into the stranger next to her. Mumbling apologies, she started to try and stand up.
The man she had fallen on was up, and turning around as she was twisting into a better position to push herself up.
“Getting used to a broken leg?” Came the familiar voice.
Lucy froze, jumping a little in surprise. She looked up, and found herself staring at the crazy man. “You!” She cried, her energy renewed. She got back to trying to stand up with a new sense of energy. A head appeared around her head level. Glancing up again, she confirmed that it was the man who had offered it. She took it awkwardly, and found herself being pulled up. He was stronger than he looked, she noted. “T-Thanks.” She muttered, readjusting to standing again. She blinked a few times, before registering the question, and stammered a quick “Yes”.
“Well.” The man started, returning his hand to a deep pocket. “I’d best be off.” He gave her a quick nod, and made to continue his walk.
She found herself moving to stand in his way, as her mouth formed the word “Stop.”
With one eyebrow raised, he looked up at her.
Lucy blushed, unsure what exactly had come over her. “I-” She started, taking a deep breath and meeting his steady gaze. His towering height did not help her confidence. He was considerably taller up close. “I wanted to thank you.” She gulped down her nerves, straightening her back. “I don’t know what would have happened… if you hadn’t been there.”
He inclined his head at a curious angle, and a look of puzzlement spread over his tanned face. “You would be dead.”
A frown replaced the blush, and she found herself mirroring his head- tilt. “You didn’t happen to see what… what attacked me, did you? I’m afraid my memory has been a little fuzzy.” She ignored the small, draconic creature sniffing around the bins a little further down the street.
“No.” He said, a little too quickly. His face returned to its expressionless state, and he straightened his head, fidgeting a little.
There was a loud screech as the creature by the bin found what it had been looking for. Lucy stopped in surprise, unable to resist the urge to stare at it. The screech sounded familiar, and she couldn’t quite put her finger on why. She hadn’t heard the hallucinations make any noises until now.
The man’s face was painted with an expression of pure confusion, and he turned back to stare at her hallucination too. He looked back at her, following her gaze back to the creature. “Eallwealdend.” He muttered to himself, looking between the two carefully.
Lucy shook her head slightly, and looked back to the man. “What?”
“You can see it?” He asked hurriedly, looking back at her, a distant excitement somewhere on her face.
She frowned, glancing back toward the creature. He couldn’t mean her hallucination, could he? “See what?” She asked, her question slow and careful, in a very deliberate tone.
A smile broke across his face. “You know what I’m talking about. You heard it, and you looked at it.” He raised a large hand, pointing toward the creature. “That thing. The dragon.”
“… It’s real?” She muttered, more of a question to herself than the man. Her voice was quite, and here eyes widened in realisation. He had said dragon- what did he mean by that? How come she’d never seen them before? Were they common? Questions rushed through her mind, one after one in a storm of thoughts.
He nodded, a hand going to the side of his coat automatically as excitement started to boil up inside him. “You were attacked by one of those.” He said after a few moments of silence, looking back at the creature and squinting at it. “It was a big one- probably about thirty foot.” He clenched a hand as he spoke, feeling the remnants of an old grudge. “It was getting ready to carry you off by the time I got there.”
Lucy pulled out of her thoughts, brought back by a sharp jolt a pain that sparked down her spine. She winced, pressing against her side with one elbow. Her hands were occupied with holding the crutches, trying to prevent her falling over again. “Who… who are you? I never saw a… a thing like that…” She started, trailing off as she went back into disbelief.
He pulled himself up to full height, turning back around to her. “I go by Ariss.” He said, simply, dipping his head. “I think it is best if I explain more of this to you…” he stopped, and frowned. The man- Ariss- had realised that he did not know her name. “What should I call you?”
“Lucy.” She said quickly, wincing again as another spark of pain flared up, this time in the pit of her stomach. “Lucy Elwin.” She looked off into empty space, vaguely aware of a car moving down the road. The dragon had wandered off, having finished rummaging around the bins. It had probably prowled off into one of the nearby alleys, she thought to herself, mind beginning to wander. “I… I need to get back home.” She muttered, her brow furrowing. Dizziness was starting to overtake her mind.
Ariss tilted his head, nodding toward her side, and how she was leaning heaving on her good leg. “Are you all right?”
Waving a hand, she looked back up. “I’m… I’m fine.” She paused a moment, trying to remember what he had been saying. “Would you… would you mind if we did this… some other time?”
“Of course. That would be for the best. I suggest you drop by my… my house at some point.” He scratched his head in thought. “Or perhaps it would be better to arrange a meeting.”
Lucy nodded absent- mindedly. “The park.” She said, shaking her head again. The movement agitated a dormant headache, and she shut her eyes for a second. “There’s a bench, in a clear spot. It’s near a big oak.” She searched around her head for more details on the bench where she had sent the hours before she had been attacked. “It’s near where that guy dug himself out.”
A smile spread across Ariss’s face. “I know of it. Would friday night, an hour before dusk be alright?”
She nodded quicker this time, responding faster than she had the previous time.
He nodded, and started to walk on.
Lucy took a further moment, as her mind still struggled to catch up with the conversation. She turned a little to watch him go, noting the long strides he took. His hand had returned to his side, holding something long beneath his coat. He walked along as though nothing had happened, and she wondered what he could have been doing before she had fallen into him. Turning back, she started to hobble along, using the crutches to bear most of her weight. The pain had started to grow again, and was becoming a constant nag. This time she kept a keen eye out for the ‘dragons’, wary of another attack.
She barely made it to her front door, falling against it as pain started to shoot through her limbs, dancing through her calves as she balanced on one leg. The door swung open as soon as it had been unlocked, and she went with it, collapsing on the other side. She pushed it closed from her position on the floor, making sure the crutches hadn’t been caught, before curling up on the bristly carpet just inside.
Lucy felt unreasonably tired, and at the present time, couldn’t muster the energy to drag herself upstairs and into bed. So she lay there, curled up into a tight ball, rocking herself gently, trying to wish the pain away, until she fell asleep.
The sky was a deep red, and clouds trailed across, floating slowly toward the glowing yellow ball that was the sun. It sat just above the horizon, casing a rainbow of colours into the sky. Trees swayed softly in the wind, the leaves rustling in low, rolling waves. Ariss sat on the bench, legs sticking out and leaning back. His eyes were closed, as he thought back to the day, seven years ago, when he had pulled himself from his own grave. He put a hand to his right shoulder, feeling the smooth skin beneath. His wound had healed weeks ago. Of course it had.
After a few more minutes, he sat up. He withdrew his legs from the middle of the path, and instead leaned forward over his lap, fingers laced together and elbows balancing on his knees. Slowly he looked from side to side, switching every five or ten minutes.
Ariss sat there for a good two hours, waiting for the girl Lucy, who he had saved from a dragon. She didn’t arrive. She didn’t even peak down the path. The man frowned, tilting his head to one side where he sat. The night had closed in a little over an hour ago, darkness enveloping the small clearing over the space of ten minutes. Any traces of colour had been drained from the sky, and it stretched out, a deep navy, dotted with the occasional star. Ariss looked back up, scowling at the tiny moving lights. He saw flashes of red every now and then, and cursed whoever piloted the tiny metal birds. Or at least, he thought they were small. From down here, he couldn’t see much of the planes. He hadn’t noticed they existed, until he looked up at the night sky.
On his first night back above the ground, he had sat in a field, looking up. At first, he had been glad. The stars had remained constant over his period of absence, not changing a single bit. However, his gratitude had not lasted long. The sky he knew was long gone. It had been taken away by the technology that had been developed, wrenched from his memory like a piece from a puzzle. His still, black night sky had been replaced with one filled with small moving lights that flashed different colours, as they cruised through the deep abyss of the blackness. He was spiteful to any who dared fly through his skies. It had been worse when he had moved back into the town, a year or so afterwards. From his small house in the suburbs, he could not see the sky. The light of the lamps around drowned out every trace of the tiny silvery lights. It turned the sky into something completely dark, something devoid of any light. It turned the sky into somewhere hopeless.
At least, he thought to himself, the moon remained. The moon stayed where it was, and she stayed as silver and round as ever. The phases hadn’t changed, and the great moon was still a beacon on even the cloudiest of nights, when her glow was nothing but a soft patch of light through a thick layer of clouds.
He leaned back again, folding his arms behind his head. At this point, she doubted the girl was going to join him. Ariss sat there for the simple pleasure of being further away from the bright city lights than normal. Back in his day, the only thing that shone brightly was the sun. The only source of light they had at night was the warm flame of a fire, a candle. He eyed the nearest street lamp suspiciously, following the path of its unnatural glow. He sat still for a few minutes, as another person walked swiftly past his bench, hands in pockets, hood pulled over their head.
Ariss stood up and stretched, hearing a satisfying crack from his back, and feeling like a load had been lifted.
Perhaps, he thought to himself, Lucy had thought him crazy. “Wouldn’t be the first time…” He muttered to himself,putting his own hands in his pockets and stalking off in the opposite direction.
Instead of taking a straight path, Ariss decided to take one that wound between trees, crossing the centre of the path before it worked its way back toward the edge, and toward the bridge that would take him home. He glanced up at the sky every now and then, noting the moon rise.
As he walked, animals took no notice of him. They didn’t shift an inch as he strode through the tight- knit grove, and they only looked up from whatever they were doing. He passed a lone doe as she uprooted a small patch of grass, and watched him carefully, her eyes glowing eerily in the growing fog. Ariss had noticed this a while ago, and at first he found it quite curious. He grew used to it as time went on, enjoying the quiet company of deer, mice, and the occasional wolf back from before. It had been nice to have a companion on the longer hunts, nice to have something to talk aimlessly to.
He broke through the tree line, rejoining the path quickly. That was something he’d missed. Ariss spoke little to other humans. His conversation with Lucy a few days back had been the longest he had had in years. He didn’t need to speak to anyone, he had nobody to speak to and needed little that any one person could provide. Ariss had started to feel the tiny claws of loneliness start to dig into his being, clawing their way through his mind.
Packed dirt paths gave way to the flat flagstones of the pavement. At this change in terrain, Ariss refocused his attention on the outside world. He walked through rows of identical houses, each with their own personal touches thrown in. This was something he wasn’t quite so sure about. He felt a distant sense of dislike for them, but they bothered him less than they could have. His gaze dropped back to the pavement, and his thoughts wandered for a while.