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Innocence's End

When we discovered dragon’s breath O innocence’s end

By SC WellsPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 14 min read
Photograph by S C Wells

When we discovered dragon’s breath

O innocence’s end

Gentle waves caressed the shore and Innocence’s toes. Mother no longer sat with him in the afternoons. Her bones were too brittle these days to carry him to the shore. Besides, he had grown and his arms had filled out enough that he could drag himself. 

Innocence’s mother always said that he was the first child of the new age of innocence which was why she had named him so. As he stared out to the bruised sky and waters, he hummed the song she would sing when they used to sit by the shore.

Our fears became passions til’ they colonised our souls

O innocence’s end

The western shore lay beyond the red gate; the only visible structure before sunset during high tide.

His gaze rested on it. Nanna had told him the gate connected this world with the spirit world. Soon after, she shed all her weight, her skin turned papery and awash with blue and purple, her muscles withered away, and her tummy swelled. Innocence wondered if he now contemplated her front door.

Footsteps pattered behind him.

“What’s on the other shore?” Tori said from behind.

“Mother tells me that’s where the golden forest is,” Innocence said.

“I want to see it.”

“You’ll have to visit it without me.”

“I’d rather wait until I’m big enough to carry you,” she knelt beside him, “your mother says dinner will be soon.”

Innocence turned to see those big brown eyes and a smile split to her nose. The adults said her mouth was wrong but he thought her smile was the most perfect thing in their empty world. Waving her away, he pushed himself up with his arms strong from having been relied on so much. Tori handed him his crutches and they journeyed up the brown forest. She slowed her pace as he dragged his foot and, despite being younger and carrying a delicate frame, she asked him to lean on her when the path became too rocky or wet.

As they neared the highest point of the brown forest and saw their home, the temple ruins, in sight, Innocence’s crutches slipped on moss. Tori held him tight but winced as he stumbled and grabbed her arm.

“Sorry,” he said.

“It’s fine,” Tori hid her pain with a smile. 

When Innocence was stable on his crutches again, he glanced at Tori’s wrist. She pulled her sleeve down, covering the flash of purple. It was not the same purple that had consumed his grandmother’s skin. Those had come from the sickness within. Tori’s came from elsewhere.

When rage tastes sweet and justice is hell

O innocence’s end

They entered through the stone gate and up the crumbling steps, greeted by a pair of squat dragon statues. The stone form of Tori’s uncle, Ikari, stood waiting for them with arms crossed. He was the only person Innocence knew who did not suffer any defects or illnesses. For this reason, he felt like a tower of a man.

“You’re late,” he growled.

“Sorry, uncle, sir,” Tori’s voice withered.

“It’s my fault. Sorry, sir,” Innocence said, “she was helping me.”

“You were helping a damned cripple when you should be making my dinner? Do you like seeing me starve?” Tori’s uncle grabbed her wrist. She swallowed her cries.

Innocence’s stomach twisted as Tori was dragged away.

With gnashing teeth we bit first

O innocence’s end

That night, somewhere between a dream and a memory, a young Innocence scrabbled through soil and leaves. He sliced his hands and elbows on debris as he went.

He crawled with determination. He was not using his crutches so it must have been when the children from the time before had teased him about his useless foot and hidden his crutches.

He aimed to crawl until his anger consumed him. At least then the embarrassment and pain would not be so bad.

But now he was lost.

Innocence’s eyes, stinging with tears, had been glued to the soiled leaves that crunched under his elbows until he felt heat on his cheeks. He looked up at a metal grill with jagged teeth. Something glowed from deep within and eyes momentarily lit up as deep inside an engine whirled, died, and whirled again.

The young Innocence crawled into its mouth and curled up, allowing his anger to boil up inside him, fuelling the machine and warming him. He stayed even after he realised he was inside the mouth of a dragon.

Scents, sweet and acrid, dulled his mind. He drifted from wakefulness to scenes he had never seen before. A flash that captured the land. Everything shattered; everything burned.

After his mother and grandmother found him, his grandmother said, “Rage only brings with it more rage.”

We did not know they were us and we were they

O innocence’s end

The next day Innocence dragged his foot back down to the shore. Tori was already swimming in the low tide. Her tiny frame splashed amongst the concrete islands. Metal poles askew and jagged threatened to harpoon her.

“What are you doing?” He asked as she paddled up to him.

“Pract-is-huff-ing,” her little chest heaved.

“Why?”

“So huff when I’m hoo big enough, I can swim you to the western shore,” she rested her chin next to Innocence’s toes.

Warmth filled Innocence’s chest, but he said, “That’s okay. You can go without me. I don’t want to slow you down.”

“I can’t. What if there’s monsters?”

“Mother told me there aren’t any monsters anymore. Even all the dragons would have shut down by now.”

Tori rested her head on her arms and looked up at Innocence with her big eyes and split smile.

“Do you think there might be others?” She asked after some moments.

“People?”

Tori nodded.

“Maybe.”

“Then you have to come with me otherwise I’d be too shy.”

“You’ll be okay without me. I’d just slow you down.”

“Don’t be silly,” Tori giggled. Her expression fell just as suddenly as it had lifted, “Do you think they’d look like us or like uncle?”

“So long as they don’t mind what we look like and that I can’t walk right, I’d be happy either way. Anyway, it’d be nice to know there’re others out there.”

Tori nodded, she forced a smile but it fell as her face melted into her arms still covered by drenched sleeves, muffling her words, “uncle says I look wrong. Says anyone else’d think so, too.”

“Then his brain is wrong.”

“What if when the others see me they don’t like how I look?”

“Then they’d be silly and you shouldn’t listen to anyone like that.”

Innocence wanted to say she was perfect; that her smile was everything in the world to him.

But he didn’t.

From the west it came in fiery haste

O innocence’s end

When Tori helped Innocence back up to the temple ruins that evening, Ikari was waiting for them. He slapped Tori across the face.

“I’m hungry,” he barked.

“It’s not her fault, sir, she was helping me up the forest,” Innocence started forward to shield Tori from any more hits but his crutch found an uneven slab and he fell.

“That’s right, it’s your fault. How dare you make her help a cripple like you when I’m back here starving,” Ikari spat as he dragged his niece away.

In a flash, its breath ravaged the land

O innocence’s end

Every time Innocence caught a flitter of Tori, he noticed an eye painted purple or a nose of scabs. It became clear that the less time he spent with her, the less her body was marked and the less she limped. So he did his best to avoid her. Before Tori would open her mouth to invite him down to the shore, he would shuffle away saying that his mother needed his help.

Weeks turned to months and eight months came but autumn never left the brown forest. His mother’s bruised skin now clung to her skeleton, her hair thinned, and her eyes paled to pools that focussed on nothing.

One late afternoon, Tori tiptoed into Innocence and his mother’s room of paper walls.

“I’ve made some mountain vegetable soup for you and your mother,” she smiled as she placed the steaming pot down.

“Thank you,” Innocence muttered. Tori should not be there. If her uncle lost his temper at her it would be Innocence’s fault as always. Innocence led Tori to the paper door, “Mother will appreciate the soup.”

“I’m good at swimming now,” she shot.

“Oh, that’s good.”

“I can show you if you like.”

“No, thank you. I’d better stay here with mother.”

“I’ve thought of an idea to get you across to the western shore.”

“That’s okay. I don’t think I want to go.”

Tori’s eyes widened but she spoke anyway, “I’ve been putting together a raft, see, and I thought I could push the raft with you on it. It’ll work really well.”

“That’s okay.”

“I could bring the raft up here and we could make it together.”

Flashes of Ikari beating Tori when he saw her with Innocence instead of foraging or cooking ran through his mind.

“No, thank you.”

“But—“

“I said I’d rather not go.”

“Bu—“

“I’ll just slow you down. Really.”

“I wouldn’t want to go without you.”

“You’ll have to.”

“But I—“

“I told you I don’t want to go with you!”

Tori’s mouth dropped and her lower lip wobbled.

“I—“ Innocence’s throat closed up, dry with sharp words. He could not allow Tori to get hurt because of him. He would never let it happen even if it meant saying what he had to say, “G—get it into your ugly head that I don’t want to go with you.”

His words tore through his mouth, cutting from within. He choked on the hurt that he had forced out and, when Tori ran back to her and Ikari’s rooms, he collapsed to the ground and retched up his shame.

From deep within the paper rooms, his mother’s words laboured through the air, “Innocence, anger poisons all.”

They did to us what we had done to them

O innocence’s end

“You must take more, mother,” Innocence lifted the bowl to her shrivelled lips.

Her throat contorted as she sipped the soup.

“How is it?” Innocence asked.

“Delicious,” his mother’s voice was more cracked than the stone dragons at the temple’s entrance.

Innocence smiled.

“You must thank Tori for me next time you see her,” his mother said, “she is so kind to have made this for us.”

“She is.”

“You must—“ she coughed from words caught in her throat.

Innocence wiped her mouth.

“You must go with her, Innocence. You must go away from here.”

Shocked, Innocence said, “I can’t leave you.”

“You must. That man, Ikari, his rage-- it’s a poison. You must leave and take sweet Tori with you.”

“Mother, I can’t.”

“It’s my fault, my child. I’m sorry. You must go.”

“Don’t be silly.”

“The rest of us have succumbed; We’re too weak. Leave first thing tomorrow morning. You must do this for me.”

Innocence’s lips pushed together into a hard line. He stopped his tongue. He would not leave his mother to rot away but he did not want to argue with her on this. Instead, he said, “Tell me of about the time before— Before the age of innocence.”

His mother chewed on her thoughts. “It was different.”

“How?”

“In ways that are impossible to describe to you who has only known of this age.”

“What happened? Why did the time before end?”

“You know I can’t tell you.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s better that way,” words caught in her throat and she choked on them, “I—“

Innocence rested a hand on his mother’s shoulder, “It’s okay. You don’t need to talk if it hurts.”

“I fear that if you knew, the rage would consume you,” she managed.

Innocence put his arms around his mother and lay next to her, his head resting on her chest.

“Do you remember the time Nanna and I found you in the dragon’s mouth?”

Innocence nodded.

“You were angry at those older children for taking your crutches.”

“I was scared, too.”

“Anger and fear often feed each other.”

“I remember it smelt so strange and I saw things,” Innocence’s voice trailed off, “a premonition I think.”

“Not a premonition.”

Innocence looked up at her face.

“Memories,” she said and, when he met her gaze with confusion, she continued, “not yours but the memories from the time before.”

She stroked his hair and sang to him, her voice raspy with decay.

We are dust and as dust we are equal

O innocence’s end

That night, Innocence dreamed of just before the big wave came and drowned the concrete world, when Tori’s parents were still alive. He dreamed again of the metal grill and its steel teeth, of his anger at the older children and of his fear of finding himself alone. He curled up and sobbed in the dragon’s mouth while the stringent miasma filled his mind with visions of fire. 

After a while, the breeze carried the calls of his mother and grandmother.

His mother with strong arms, like she had back then, and his grandmother not yet showing any signs of her sickness carried him back to their decaying concrete world.

“Hush hush,” Innocence’s mother whispered into his hair.

Innocence pulled his face up and looked at her through blurred eyes. His mother’s collar was drenched with his tears.

“It does no good to fuel the dragon with your anger; its heat is not the heat of fire, but the heat of rage,” his grandmother tutted.

His mother’s voice tickled his ears and hair as she sang him Innocence’s End for the first time. Her voice caressed him and, above, golden leaves danced in the sun.

As dust, we flew high and as fire, we rained down

O innocence’s end

When Innocence woke, he knew he must tell Tori he had been to the golden forest before, and that she must never go there. She must not learn of the rage that poisoned the land.

He took the rest of the mountain vegetable soup to his mother but he could not wake her. Most of the other residents at the temple ruins were either too weak or had withered away, nor could he find Tori and he refused to let her uncle’s anger mark his mother’s purity. So Innocence buried her by himself. He laboured all morning and most of the afternoon to clear the ground of its leaves with his bare hands, dig the dirt with his crutches and mark her grave.

Afterwards, he dragged himself to Tori’s corner of the ruins but she was not there. Instead, he found her uncle scowling by an empty pot and an unlit stove.

Their children screamed and our children burned

O innocence’s end

By the time Innocence had dragged himself down to the shore, the sun glowed red, framed by the red gate and setting the sky alight.

He studied fiery waters but Tori was nowhere to be seen.

He shouted her name but no reply.

He called for her until a meaty hand pushed him into the water.

“Where’s she gone you cripple?” Ikari barked as he grabbed Innocence’s hair and dragged him out. Ikari’s face was hot and red, his breath rancid, and his fist strong. 

“I don’t know, sir.”

He hit Innocence’s nose.

“This is your fault,” hot breath and spit sprayed Innocence’s face.

The boy shook his head, “N-no.”

“She’s gone for good. It’s your fault!”

Another hit.

“It’s your fault!”

Another.

Innocence’s cheek was fire. His nose stung and his vision burned.

“It’s your fault, you pathetic cripple!”

Another.

All Innocence saw was the sky and fire and rage.

And then he saw the truth. None of this was his fault. None of this was his mother’s fault. None of this was Tori’s fault.

It was the fault of this beast poisoned by his rage.

A final hit met Innocence’s roar and teeth. He bit on the hand’s flesh until he tasted hot iron. Ikari’s eyes radiated with shock. Innocence used his chance to drag them both into the waters. The larger man thrashed and clung to the boy while Innocence clawed at his eyes and nose. Ikari, heavy with meat and muscle, sank and dragged Innocence with him, deep into the drowned world of concrete and wires and skulls and machines.

Innocence wrapped his hands around Ikari’s neck and squeezed. He squeezed hard and he screamed and he screamed and he screamed in silence.

“It’s your fault you monster you monster you monster!” Bubbles boiled from his lungs as he roared. 

He only stopped when the rage burned away from Ikari’s eyes and became cold fear and then froze into a twisted nothing.

We hid our knowledge in darkness to waste away

O innocence’s end

When Innocence next opened his eyes, he clung to the shore’s mud and choked up water. He did not know where the current had hauled him but he could still see the sunken red gate glow silver under the light of the moon. Wrapping his arms around his knees, Innocence shivered.

The water was still and sparkling as it reflected the stars. No matter how much Innocence looked for it, he could not find earlier’s violence echoed on its surface.

He hummed his mother’s song.

I’m sorry my child you did no wrong

O innocence’s end

On the horizon, the day’s first breath pushed away the comfort of the night. Innocence watched the drowned world reveal itself in the wounded light. Concrete islands lay twisted and jagged poles jutted out from below.

He stared for a long time, hoping and not hoping to find Tori’s silhouette. She was not there. She had gone.

Innocence’s crutches had not washed up with him so he dragged himself with aching arms into the forest where tree trunks were stone in the dawn’s bruised light.

His head pounded and his eyes stung. He hauled his useless foot with fingers that blackened and tore with mud and blood with each heave. All he smelled was the damp soil and a miasma drifted to him.

Light touched the tops of the trees and the leaves burned gold.

Something reflective gleamed and decayed in the shadows. He grabbed at metal to pull himself up but it split his palm and left him holding a puddle of mud, rust and blood. More of the forest’s leaves awakened and the dawn’s golden light fell onto the face of a dragon. Covered by the golden forest’s permanent state of autumn: rusting and angry and rotting and weak. 

And that smell: putrid, sweet, acrid. It burned his nostrils.

Innocence screamed.

He felt the heat flood from deep within its stomach as the laws of nature snapped. He saw the dragon’s breath. Searing light caught and held all in a flash. Fire burned the land. There was impossible heat as the flesh and bone of those in the sunken concrete world vaporised. The howl of a wind pushed by the impossible force when the smallest possible things are ripped apart plummeted all. Buildings crumbled, glass shattered and steel melted. Everything burned, even the rain. He felt the ripples that carried one dragon's breath after another throughout the world. The waters swelled, boiled and raged until they consumed the land. Sickness spread, poisoning all it touched. All was autumn and decay.

We swear we did not know it would come to this

O innocence’s end

Innocence screamed for the world that was no more. He screamed until he could scream no more.

The dragon’s eyes flickered red, its engines spluttered and whirled, and it died— the last of its energy spent.

As Innocence sobbed and whimpered, he pulled himself inside its mouth and curled up. His hands screwed up, clinging onto whatever of himself remained, hating the knowledge he now held, and the rage he had allowed to rip through and sicken him. He waited until the spirits of his mother and grandmother arrived to cradle him. But when they did not come, he sang their words instead.

I wish we never knew of dragon’s breath

O innocence’s end

Sci FiShort Story

About the Creator

SC Wells

Thank you so much for reading my stuff!

I love travel, photography, and writing speculative fiction.

I’m also on a never-ending quest to improve my storytelling so any feedback is massively appreciated.

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Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  3. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

  1. On-point and relevant

    Writing reflected the title & theme

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Comments (4)

  • Jazzy 11 months ago

    These words were so poignant, I was captured by them!

  • R. J. Rani2 years ago

    This story left me with feeling. You did an amazing job weaving tragedy with pure innocence. Thank you for sharing!

  • Claire Guérin2 years ago

    I wish I had your way with words. A powerful pacifist story, and such a strong delivery on your promises with the protagonist's weakness become his strength!

  • Test2 years ago

    This is a beautiful story, and such an interesting take on the challenge. Your world is truly alive with such emotion and sadness, and Innocence is a fantastic character. Excellent work!

SC WellsWritten by SC Wells

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