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Duty First

How do you justify a call to arm and saving lives?

By Mark GagnonPublished 2 months ago 10 min read
Duty First
Photo by Anne Nygård on Unsplash

As dawn broke in the eastern sky, the Army of the Soulless crested the hills surrounding the village of Tranquility. When they appeared, even the area’s most dominant predator, dire wolves, moved deeper into the surrounding forest. The Army of the Soulless had only one goal—to defeat and destroy every living creature in its path. The Jikininki soldiers were driven ever forward by their rulers known as Beast Masters.

Beast Masters arrived over a century ago from another dimension. They looked like humans but possessed an insatiable thirst for violence and power. Using knowledge from their world, Beast Masters created a hoard of zombie-like creatures, crafted from the bodies of former prisoners. These were known as the Jikininki. World domination was their goal and anything less would be unsatisfactory.

Every able-bodied man and woman eagerly answered the call to arms. The villagers were determined to defend their land, their way of life, and their very existence. Jason, having just returned home from medical school, willingly joined their ranks.

When Jason reported for duty, the commander of the militia told him his talents would be best served caring for the wounded. He was to stay behind and set up a field hospital. Jason decided his first order of business was to locate a building large enough to care for the huge amount of wounded he knew would desperately seek treatment.

He located a large barn at the far end of town used for storing hay and farming tools. Jason placed two hay bales end to end and covered them with sackcloth. This was now his operating table. Other similarly arranged bales would be patient beds. Next, he organized the medical supplies he would need to treat the wounded: bandages, gauze, and ointments for treating external wounds; a book of spells and incantations for internal maladies.

While Jason was arranging hay bales, the barn door opened and a woman with a young boy rushed inside. The boy, clutching a stuffed dragon in one hand, stared wide-eyed at the barn’s interior.

“Why are we in here, mommy?”

“Shush, Alexander! We need to stay here until the bad people go away, so you must be as silent as a cat.”

Alexander pointed, and in a childishly loud whisper said, “Is that one of the bad people?”

Cleo looked in the direction her son was pointing and saw Jason staring back at her.

“Jason! I thought you left for battle with the others.”

“Hi Cleo! I tried to, but your husband told me to stay here and prepare to help the wounded. Is this your son?”

“Yes, this is Alexander. Alexander, say hello to Doctor Jason.”

“Hello, Doctor Jason! My dad has gone to fight the bad people. Are you going to fight the bad people, too?”

“Not right now, Alexander. My job is here to help the villagers the bad people hurt. I could use you and your mom’s help with that.”

“Of course, we’ll be happy to help, won’t we Alexander?” said Cleo in an upbeat tone for Alexander’s sake.

The trio went about converting the old barn’s first floor into a workable clinic. While they worked, Cleo told Jason that she was told to hide Alexander in a root cellar with the other children. She felt that trapping him in a hole in the ground made no sense, so she opted for the barn instead. They finished their work and waited for the first wounded to arrive. Hours passed, but no one came.

The villagers, armed only with pitchforks and homemade weapons, were hopelessly outnumbered. They fought valiantly, but the inevitable could not be denied. The Beast Masters spent the evening celebrating their victory while the Jikininki gorged themselves on the dead and dying villagers. Jason, Cleo, and Alexander watched the revolting scene from the barn’s hayloft. It was a vision of horror that would remain burned into three-year-old Alexander’s mind for the rest of his life.

Cleo’s decision to hide in the loft was justified. They watched as the children in the cellar were discovered and taken away by the Beast Masters to be used as slaves. The Jikininki got the weak ones. It was obvious they had to escape the village now or suffer a similar fate.

Jikininki don’t sleep. They enter a period of inactivity while the Beast Masters rest. Knowing this, Jason left the safety of the barn to search for survivors. Alexander and his mother lay in the loft until just before sunrise. Feeling it was now or never, Cleo, with her son clutched close to her chest, ran for all she was worth toward the woods. She knew this would be their only chance to make a dash for freedom.

Jason stealthily walked the tree line in search of wounded villagers the marauders may have missed. He took his time, making as little noise as possible while avoiding the Beast Master’s sentries. Crossing a clearing several hundred feet in front of him, Jason spotted Cleo running as fast as she could, clutching her son tightly. What he witnessed next broke his heart and filled him with rage.

The forest was just feet away when a high-pitched, whooshing sound broke the silence. Cleo heard a heavy thud as an unknown force pushed her to the ground. She felt a searing pain as the arrow penetrated her back and pushed forward, piercing her heart. Her last words to Alexander were, “Run! Don’t stop running until the trees can protect you!” Driven by a blinding fear, the young boy obeyed without hesitation.

Jason, unable to contain his fury, raced toward the Beast Master with a throwing ax in one hand and a long knife in the other. The murdering brute spotted Jason too late to fend off the attack. It wasn’t much of a fight. Jason’s wrath-fueled ambush overwhelmed and slayed the creature before he mounted a defense.

Jason immediately moved from his slain foe to Cleo’s motionless body. He knew she was gone, but the doctor in him compelled him to try to revive her. Unable to bring her back to life, Jason collapsed next to Cleo’s corpse and wept silently. She was both his friend and the first patient he had lost. Jason knew there would be many more before this war was over. Now his duty was to find and protect Alexander.

Alexander continued running deep into the forest until his little legs could run no more. The child collapsed with exhaustion and dropped into a deep sleep on the forest floor. He had escaped the carnage that overwhelmed his village but now had to survive a new set of dangers.

When Alexander finally awoke, the sun had already started its descent into the western sky. His first thought was to look for his mother, but the horrific memory of her death forced its way back into his mind, and he sobbed uncontrollably. Slowly, Alexander’s grief was replaced by hunger.

He scanned his surroundings, looking for something to eat and drink. On the other side of a field, Alexander spotted several bushes covered in berries. He liked berries and made his way toward them. Midway through the clearing, the rustling of brush followed by low growls made him freeze. Entering the clearing from the other side slinked a pack of dire wolves. His young mind first thought ‘dog’ and he smiled at the approaching pack. The alpha male let out a low, menacing growl and Alexander became very frightened and close to tears.

He slowly retreated as the pack approached. As he was about to break into a futile run, a voice from behind cautioned, “Don’t run, Alexander. They will only chase you. Let me get into position and I will tell you when to go.”

The boy looked over his shoulder and saw Doctor Jason brandishing his ax and knife.

“Doctor, the bad people hurt my mother?” whimpered Alexander.

“We’ll talk about that in a while, but first we need to get rid of these wolves.”

As the wolves began circling, slower now that an alpha human was in their midst, a sudden powerful gust of wind blew Alexander to the ground. The surrounding earth shook and the sky above them darkened as a beast, large and terrifying, landed between the humans and the dire wolves. They snarled and howled at the interloper, but none of the pack advanced on the beast. A dragon raised up to its full height, inhaled a massive breath of air, and spewed fire in an arc separating the wolves from their prey and himself. The dire wolves knew they could not fight a creature of such magnitude and with one last snarl from the alpha wolf, the pack ran back into the woods.

The massive dragon turned and lowered his head in a gesture of friendship to the quaking Alexander and his adult protector. Dragons are incapable of speaking verbally, but if a person has an open mind, they can communicate telepathically. No one has a more open mind than a young child.

A deep baritone voice seemed to wrap around Alexander like a warm blanket.

“My name is Draco. I will not harm you. What are you called?”

A meek voice replied, “I’m Alexander. I’m three. This is my friend, Doctor Jason. We’re running from bad people.”

“Alexander, please tell your friend I mean him no harm and if he can open his mind, we can speak to one another.”

Alexander turned to Jason. “The dragon’s name is Draco, and he is our friend. He says he wants to talk to you in your head like he does with me.”

Jason had learned about telepathy in medical school but had never tried it. He closed his eyes and cleared his mind, anticipating a positive result. He wasn’t disappointed.

“The child tells me you are a doctor and his friend. I am Draco and I hope we may become friends as well.”

“My name is Jason, and I welcome the friendship of such an esteemed being as yourself.”

“Jason, I want to take you and young Alexander to a place of safety. You will both be welcomed and well cared for. It’s far from here and we’ll need to fly to this place. Are you willing to do this?”

Upon hearing this, Alexander jumped up and flapped his arms like a bird, excitedly asking, “You can teach me to fly?”

“No, but you can ride on me as I fly. Are you ready to go?”

“The man hurt my mother!” whimpered Alexander. “She never got up!”

Thinking about his mother lying in the dirt caused him to cry again.

“I’m sorry that happened, my friend. I am taking you to a place that will teach you many things, including how to fight bad people. Come, we must go now. It’s a long way.”

Draco lowered one wing. Alexander wiped his eyes and, with Jason’s help, scrambled up onto the dragon’s back. He found a secure place where he could wedge his body between the armor-plated scales.

“Draco, I won’t be coming with you,” Jason said. “I am a doctor and have taken an oath to help people. Along with my oath, humanity has issued a call to arms and I must obey this edict.”

Draco bowed his head to Jason. “A man of honor and principal. You have my undying respect and friendship.”

Draco took to the air. At first, Alexander was terrified, watching the ground shrink below him. His young mind quickly transitioned from fear to elation as the flight soared above the clouds.

“You both will always be able to talk to me no matter how far apart we are,” said Draco. “Our bond is strong. All you have to do is call me in your mind and I will hear you.”

Alexander really didn’t fully understand what Draco meant, but it didn’t matter. He was flying like a dragon on his way to a new home.

Jason watched as the two flew high into the sky. He communicated to Draco that he understood completely and was honored to be his friend. He turned and walked back into the forest. Duty first would be his words to live by until humans win the war.


About the Creator

Mark Gagnon

I have spent most of my life traveling around the US and the globe. Now it's time to draw on these experiences and create what I hope are interesting fictional stories. Only you, the reader, can tell me if I've achieved my goal.

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