The Fantasy Prologue
There weren’t always dragons in the valley, but now every morning when you woke, you could smell the rotting stench. It was a mix between manure and death, and for the past year the land was ripe with it. There was no getting used to the smell no matter how much time passed. It was in your clothes, it was stuck to the earth now. Today as I walked pass the row of huts that once made up our village, I actually looked at the land. Most days I just walked with my head down, as I was tired of seeing the scorched and dead earth that was once fertile and green. Mostly it reminded me of how sick I was of eating meat and grain. What was left of the grain would be gone soon too, and then it would only be the meat. The tangy, dark, dragon meat we had all become used to. Lately I wondered if it was better to starve than to eat the stuff. Some days I would wretch after, it was so rancid. We would find them dead in forest, after one of their friends had ripped them to pieces. It was our main source of food now. We heard tales from men of places that had not yet been overtaken by the demons, places where the water was still clear and the plants still grew to abundance. Maybe just stories, we had sent our best drengs out time and time again in search of these lands, but to no avail, they came back each time with less men and even less hope.
Usually I would take my walks to escape the dark hole that had become our world in hope I’d see a plant or animal somewhere, but today I wanted to bring something to Dahlia. It was in one of our old temples that now rotted in the sun, nobody would miss it now or care that it was taken. The Gods had left that place long ago. I got my prize and took the walk back to Dahlia. Dahlia had been my neighbor since I was born. We grew up together. She knew all the little there was to know about me and my simple life, and I had loved her since I could remember. It was always thought that one day we would wed. Some days her face was the only thing I had to look forward to in this wasteland of ash and death.
The people had taken to the underground. We started digging almost immediately after we heard of the way that the Skylfings were keeping them at bay and surviving, and we would do the same. The only way we humans had learned to keep them away was to use our own dead. We would poison the bodies and when the dragons ate them enough, they would stay away from the land in those areas. But not for long. They were stupid, ruthless, parasitic creatures and they would forget a poisoned land soon, so we stayed underground. We had watchmen and warning systems in place if they remembered and returned but sometimes that did not matter. I wouldn’t call what we had homes, more like square caves of earth but we lived.
I went to Dahlia that day with my prize in my hand. She did not look at me, and my first thought was that she was asleep. But when I looked closer, I saw that she was shaking. I dropped the trinket, once so important, now metal in my hand. I ran to her and she took a shaky breath and told me that she did not feel well, but not to fret, she just needed some rest. But I knew what was happening, I had seen this before. Nothing, not watching my land reduced to ash, not watching my family be killed in front of my eyes, nothing, could have prepared me for the emptiness I felt at the thought of losing Dahlia. I held her in my arms, and I thought of the day I saw her on the tor, all green eyes and fire… the day she had turned into a woman before my eyes. Changed in an instant from that silly girl I played with in the meadow and the mud. I thought of the herb that was used to cure this sickness, whilst it existed. How many people could we have saved if only they had not taken the land from us as well. They had taken everything, and now her…. No. No. I made the plan so many had made before me, in search of a fantasy… But there was no choice. I held Dahlia for a long time before I left. The next day I set out. My first stop would be the land of the Skylfings. I’d be a lucky man to survive the night, let alone make it to the borders of their lands. I had only the stars to guide me, as the landmarks were gone to the fires. I’d either be breaking bread tonight with my brethren or in Valhalla with the Einherjar.
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