There weren’t always dragons in the Valley. A cold war had raged between humanity and dragonkind for five hundred years prior to the sun’s rising on this 15th day of Blodeuyn, 807ac. The two species never mingled and unexplained accidents occurred in the melting pot of hostile peace, never tipping the scale back into open warfare after the casualties from the last true war they’d fought. Until now.
Twenty-eight days ago, a rider from the seafolk’s coastal town in the east had come to warn both dragonkind and humans of an oncoming threat. His story was so outlandish that neither side would have believed him if not for the madness in his eyes as the man spoke of his home burning. A tenuous truce had been formed between the two warring races in light of what may be on its way and every moment since had been spent building strategies, training, and preparing. The ancestral hatred that had tied them was now broken, reforged into a bond built on the need to survive.
Dragons flew from the Valley now, accompanied by an avalanche of battle steeds that ran beneath them through the mountain pass that led back into the Valley. The beasts glittered in the sky, bright scales reflecting the light of the sun. The pounding of hooves on the ground beneath them shook the earth, but it was the war drums that thundered in Rhea’s skull and spurned her forward. It was her duty to follow the charge; lead her fellow warriors, yet her gaze lay fixed on the sea of enemies in front of her.
The line of bodies didn’t waver nor did it move closer. Mottled gray skin covered in garish war markings became clear to her sight far sooner than she wanted. The drygau were unmounted, but twice the size of the tallest man in the Valley. Wretched creatures who fed off desperation–they lived on the eastern continent and, from all their records, preferred to kill their prey slowly. There had been a handful sighted on the continent in the last hundred years, but this… this was unheard of. Thousands of drygau had landed on their shores and ripped through the seafolk’s coastal town within days.
Rhea had no idea if she’d be returning to the Valley when this skirmish was done or if she’d join the ranks of irrecoverable bodies that littered the ground their horses were now trampling on. Her grip was tightly wrapped around the reigns of her horse. Training had been done in the same leather armor she wore now, but she was still stiff–no training could prepare her for this.
Her blonde braid flew behind her as she turned to the horse running beside her. Fiercely grinning from atop his grey war steed, Cedrick looked every inch a man. His armor clung to him like a second skin and his hair was tousled from the wind. His battle-worn sword already in his left hand, she had no trouble picturing him as her husband as they ruled the Valley together as their parents intended them to. If they survived this, that is. A grimace settled on her face, but looking at him made her pull her bow from behind her in preparation.
“I’ll see you when we return!” He called to her, voice carrying on the wind. All she could do was nod, before she watched him gallop towards the frontlines. Rhea saw him fall in line with those at the head of the line. She remained in her spot, shoving down the fierce anxiety building within her. It wouldn’t help her. She pulled an arrow from her quiver to notch it in advance. Although her station allowed her to ride at the front, her spot as an archer dictated her position. Rhea was the deadliest shot in the battalion, outmatched only by her mentor, Saeth, who would never be riding out to battle alongside her if not for the desperate situation they were in. He was nearing elder status when the war began, but the arthritis had yet to take his hands, merely shaking them on occasion. Eir, their elder who specialized in healing, kept his joints painless with a truly awful-smelling herbal tea.
He was somewhere behind her and she prayed that he would make it back, that they all would, although she knew that was naivety talking. Papa, Mama, Cedrick, Saeth, Cydymaith… as if answering her unspoken call, a roar came from above her and she glanced up to see her friend, Cydymaith, who happened to be a green-scaled dragon that she called Cyd. Her parents disapproved of how close she’d gotten to the dragonkind in the Valley, but she saw no reason to harbor hatred against an entire race of beings that would be fighting for the lives alongside her. When this was all over, she hoped for nothing more than for humans and dragons to hold fast to their bonds forged of fire and steel.
The frontline crashed into the drygau. Rhea aimed, released, and was notching another arrow by the time her first sliced through the thick skin covering the forehead of a drygau attempting to cut her father’s head off. After that, there was no time to check on her loved ones. She rode her horse, dodging the despicable cretins murdering her people, and took out as many of them that she could with her arrows. Bodies crashed around her, horses dying, and people screaming. There was no time to think. No time to breathe. It was chaos.
Then she heard a scream she recognized and her head whipped around. In that moment, she was grateful that she was an archer, trained to see far away, for otherwise she doubted she could’ve picked Cedrick out from the crowd – but there he was, clutching his left arm, his sword knocked from his grasp, and a drygau with bright orange markings in front of him. In his right hand, there was a glint of a dagger. He wasn’t helpless, but she still wanted to help him. She notched her arrow and took aim. SLAM.
A scream spilled from her lips as she was thrown from her horse. She hit the ground and all the breath left her body as she lay there, stunned. Time slowed down. In her worry about Cedrick, a drygau slammed into her from behind. Had they gotten through the frontlines already? She could see him stalking towards her now. She had no idea where her horse, Braswyr had gone. She’d named the steed after the one of the gods her parents worshipped. Rhea didn’t believe, but as the drygau stalked towards her, she began to wish she did.
She was still struggling to her feet when the drygau made it in range of her and she had to dodge his ferocious, heavy-handed swipe. She was faster than them, but all it took was one blow to take her out due to their strength… and she didn’t know where her bow was. Scanning the ground, she saw it some ten feet away. The ground was muddy and fighting surrounded them. Even if she could escape the drygau, she had no idea how she’d get to her bow.
The drygau swung again and she dodged, even as she felt her ribs protesting, cursing herself for not having a second weapon on hand. She knew how to use daggers and swords, but they had so few weapons to fight with… her face set in a scowl as she focused on her opponent. There was a nasty, vicious grin on his grotesque face. She saw nothing in his pale, beady eyes that she recognized. Even in her own people, the vilest human she had ever met in her twenty-three moons, had a bit of warmth in their eyes. A spark, whether of madness or guilt, it didn’t matter. But the drygau… a chill went down her spine and her bones felt like lead. Looking into the drygau’s eyes was like looking into a formless cloud that could look back. A swirling blank mass of unbridled hatred… and yet it wasn’t a heated hatred. It was like… the drygau hated her from a distance, but didn’t care enough to hate her personally. She was just in his way.
He swung and there was a loud squelch as she tried to pull her feet from the mud that she had sat too long in, her body still weak from his gaze. As an archer, this was the closest she’d ever gotten to one of them. And it was too close. Fire spread across her face as his longest claw sliced her – she was barely fast enough to not permanently lose her nose, but as blood started pouring down her face, she knew two things. One, her nose was broken, and two, she was going to have a nasty scar if she made it out of this alive. As it was, the drygau had somehow recovered faster, as if the sight of her fear and blood excited it and made it stronger, and it was already swinging at her again. This time, she couldn’t move, and as it was, she couldn’t close her eyes either. She was frozen, and she stared, aghast, into the face of her killer as his head was torn off.
“Cyd!” Rhea wanted to scream, cry, or run, but this was no time or place for that. Nonetheless, she was grateful for the reprieve as Cydymaith landed on top of the drygau, her green-scaled dragon friend the most beautiful sight she’d seen in days. It didn’t seem that he agreed, however, as she was treated to a nasty glare from a dragon. She still couldn’t help grinning.
“You’re not allowed to die on me, silly human,” said Cydymaith, and in an instant she knew he wasn’t really mad at her, just scared. Rhea reached out and stroked his scales, her lips twitching downward at the sight of the scuffed scales, coated in blood. Her only relief is that most of it seemed to be blue dragon blood.
“I won’t,” Rhea declared, even as she knew it wasn’t a promise she could keep. “Help me get my bow back. I saw it over there.”
Rhea jogged over to where her bow was with a snarling, fire-breathing dragon watching her back. It was right where she’d last seen it, covered in a bit of mud, but after wiping it religiously, she deemed it still usable. Not as though she had a choice, even as she pulled a slightly dented arrow from her crushed quiver. Rhea grimaced. She wouldn’t be much use at all with this equipment, but nonetheless, there had to be something she could do.
“Cyd, can you get me in the air? I saw Cedrick a while ago and he needed help. I’ll look for new arrows while in the air.”
As much as the last line made her sick, she knew she needed to. Bow was usable, but the arrows wouldn’t hurt a fly with as messed up as they were. She’d have to take an intact quiver from an ally… as far as she knew, drygau had no archers, just as they had no cavalry. They were all damn berserkers.
“Quick, Rhea,” said Cydymaith. “It’s not safe here.”
Rhea hopped onto her friend’s back, glad that they had gone on joyrides previously to this. Cydymaith was a younger dragon, not very big as of yet. He could comfortably carry one armored person or two unarmored people, but that was his limit until he grew. As they took to the air, she scanned the ground before pointing towards an unattached quiver. It had dropped and although it was surrounded by bodies, none of them were of her people. It made her feel better, even though she knew someone out there may be dead due to not having it.
“Over there!” said Rhea, shouting over the wind.
They dipped low and Rhea hopped off to snatch the quiver, quickly dumping hers. As attached as she was to her quiver, it was useless to her now and there was no way she’d be trying to fight with two quivers on her back. Slinging it over her, she hopped back on Cydymaith and they took off again, scanning the battlefield once more. Rhea recognized a few people, both still fighting and alive. When possible, she aimed with her arrow and shot from the sky, sniping drygau who looked a bit too close to killing her people. It was as she was aiming that she noticed…
Cydymaith dropped immediately. Rhea never spoke to him like that, with her voice filled with desperation, or as if commanding him. But there was no part of her that could have reigned in her words there and it was all she could do to wait for him to land instead of jumping off eight feet off the ground. Rhea scrambled off of him as fast as she could, her gaze fixed on the fallen silhouette laid out twenty feet away. Too far to get to safely and Cydymaith couldn’t have landed any closer without getting attacked, but close enough to see the strands of tousled blond hair being stained crimson. Her feet dragged her forward against her will and collapsed beneath her, her knees sinking into a mixture of mud and blood. “Cedrick,” she whispered hoarsely. “Please wake up.”
Her hands reached out to him, testing for his breathing and his pulse, but there was no rise and fall of his chest. No heartbeat pumping blood through his wrist. His face was so pale. Rhea’s breathing started coming out heavier. She didn’t want to believe it, but she couldn’t refute it. He was already dead. There were no last words, there was no goodbye. Good god, she hadn’t even told him she loved him or wished him luck. She couldn’t even remember the last words she spoke to him anymore, although his were now burned in her memory. I’ll see you when we return. Except… he would never return.
She tugged at his armor and none of it moved an inch. He was half-buried in cold mud and his limbs were stiff. They shouldn’t have been stiff. Maybe it was her and not him. She tugged harder and his arm came free, his hand still clutching his favorite dagger. The dagger she’d gotten him. The dagger that she’d seen him clutching from across the field, before she’d had to fight for her life and couldn’t do a damn thing to save him. She knew it wasn’t her fault but… damn it. The dagger hadn’t done a thing to save him. She hadn’t done a damn thing. She felt like screaming.
But there was a war to fight. And in no battle had they ever been able to bring home the dead. The pressure built in her chest. She reached out and pulled the dagger from his fingers. Dead. Cedrick was dead. She stood and she had no idea how she stood, but her legs that were weak were now strong. There was a numbness spreading through her, or maybe an anger, and she couldn’t tell which. She had no idea why these drygau had come to their lands, come to slaughter her people, and taken from her those which she loved. She… she hated them.
“Rhea,” said Cydymaith from behind her, his snout pressing against her back. “We have to get out of her, it’s not safe on the ground.”
Rhea turned without a backwards glance, slipping on top of Cydymaith and putting the dagger into the slot in her armor that was made for it. The spot that was empty because she hadn’t brought one with her. Had she brought one, would she have been able to fight her drygau off without Cydymaith’s help and get to Cedrick faster? Rhea shook herself, aiming an arrow with her bow and shooting a drygau through the forehead that had similar orange markings to the large one that she saw in front of Cedrick. It wasn’t the same, but it made her feel better. Now was not the time for what ifs anyway. All she could do was kill. She shot arrow after arrow, rationing the ones she had left, only shooting when she thought she could save someone’s life, someone’s life who could keep on fighting. When had she needed to start making those hard decisions? She saw herself through a new light when she saved an arrow that could have killed a drygau, a drygau that was about to land a killing blow on one of her friends, her people, who had already lost their arm and weapon and would bleed out before help would be gotten. She felt like a monster.
It was when she had three arrows left and a fourth notched that the horn sounded for a retreat. A retreat? It was standard procedure at this point, with the amount of people they had lost. They had retreated from every battle so far, the drygau content to let them pull back and fight them another day. Their numbers never seemed to lessen. This time, though, the retreat made her angry, and even as Cydymaith turned to fly away, she spotted something that made her pause.
“Wait! Cyd, that’s Braswyr! I need to get her,” Rhea pleaded.
“What? Rhea, we can’t–“
Even as she begged, she knew it was a terrible idea. Braswyr, her horse, was neighing and bucking, surrounded by the fighting and unable to escape. But there was a circle around her. No drygau had tried to kill her yet, uninterested in the emotional feed that came from a horse as opposed to the still-living humans that were helping others retreat. They had a chance. And even as she thought that, her friend dipped down, heading towards the horse. Smoke curled from his nostrils and she knew that he would be furious later, but she was grateful nonetheless for what he was willing to do for her. She knew the only reason he’d said yes is because Braswyr had been a wild stallion that Cedrick had brought in from the very plains they were fighting on now a few years back and he had kept her wild, allowed Rhea to try her hand as taming her. It had been a long, hard battle, but Rhea had earned Braswyr’s respect and loyalty. And now, with Cedrick dead… Rhea’s hand brushed Cydymaith’s scales.
“Thank you,” said Rhea, too quietly to be sure that Cydymaith even heard her over the wind and sounds of the still-remaining fighting and the retreat horns. He never replied, but he landed a few feet away from her horse, trying not to spook the beast further. The horses, at least Braswyr, had gotten used to the dragons in the past hundred days, but Braswyr’s eyes looked wild and it was never a good idea to startle a horse in battle. Rhea approached calmly.
“Braswyr, it’s me, girl,” said Rhea soothingly, hands held out in front of her. Braswyr whinnied loudly, almost bucking, but not quite able to make it off the ground. She didn’t even look at Rhea, but her movement was so weird… Rhea scanned the horse, finally noting that she had an injury on her that seemed serious enough to prevent her from riding. Rhea cursed. Why, why had this battle gone so wrong? She turned back around.
“Cyd, she’s injured. There’s nothing… nothing I can do,” said Rhea, her voice choked up but firm. She was a realist. As much as she had wanted Braswyr, there was no way she could be ridden out in retreat and there was no way for Cydymaith to carry the horse at his age and size. “Let’s get out of here.”
The arrow came quick. Rhea leapt forward, throwing her arm out and screaming as the heavy arrow collided with her armored arm, knocking it out of the way and slicing through her armor. She stared in horror, almost unable to believe the force of it. It felt like her arm was broken and her armor had been… sliced? But the arrow that had been deflected and Rhea felt utter relief. It had been heading right for Cydymaith’s wings but she hadn’t recognized the arrow and they should be the only ones sending them, so who…
Rhea scanned the field only to see a sight that made her jaw drop. A massive drygau sat upon a wyvern, a land serpent that was a cousin of sorts to dragons, and the drygau was undoubtably female. Rhea had never seen a female drygau before and she wished to never see one again. The female was easily twice the size of an average male drygau and still a bit bigger than the largest one she’d seen. She was covered in armor and was carrying a massive bow with the same arrows that had almost taken Rhea’s arm off. A female drygau … archer? Rhea had never seen such a thing and she didn’t think it bode well for them or her people. The female was coated with warrior markings and symbols in all sorts of the bright colors that each of the different types of male drygau wore. Rhea had no idea what they meant, but she had a bad feeling about why the female wore them all. Atop the matted, wispy locks on the female drygau’s head sat a gnarled and twisted crown of thorns, dried smears of blue blood dripping down her face. It reminded her of a story about an old god her parents worshipped who sacrificed herself for her people, but this image… it was a mockery of whatever that god had done, Rhea was sure of it. The very sight chilled her to the bone.
“Cydymaith. We need to leave,” said Rhea, her voice deathly calm, even as she watched the female drygau pull another large arrow out and notch it, aiming right for them. “Now.”
Rhea jumped onto Cydymaith’s back, for once riding him backwards. She’d never done it before, but he had a few knots along his back that she could hold onto and this way, she could watch the female drygau. Rhea’s stomach clenched. She’d have to try to get Cydymaith to dodge, for Rhea was doubtful if she could take another hit from one of the she-drygau’s arrows. The worry knotted in her stomach and she thanked her lucky stars she was an archer because as soon as the arrow left the bow and she saw the trajectory, she shouted.
Cydmyaith dove and the heavy-weighted arrow whistled above her head. It was at least a two foot miss, but she swore she felt the wind from it and her stomach clenched. Her eyes had followed the arrow but now jumped back to the she-drygau and terror filled her in an instant. Another arrow was already on the way, as if the first one had been a setup, and as it left the view of the light, she realized it wasn’t just one arrow, it was two. It was as thought everything slowed down. The second one looked as though it wouldn’t hit at all, but the first was heading right towards Cydymaith’s wings… and the second… if he veered to the left, it almost looked like it would go right through her.
She wondered if she’d really get to meet Cedrick again this soon, but just as the thought crossed her mind, a mighty roar echoed through the skies and a great shadowy beast soared in front of her. Another roar followed, sounding pained, and she heard Cydymaith cry out. For a second, she wondered if he got hit, but then she realized there was no way that was possible, for the dragon in front of them was so … Rhea stopped.
There was only one dragon that large with that color of deep black scales that shone a midnight blue only in certain lighting. Rhyfelwr, Cydymaith’s father, had blocked the arrows from hitting them. Judging by the sound… he didn’t come away unscathed. Her heart clenched.
“RHYFELWR!” said Rhea, screaming to the wind as Cydymaith’s roar joined her frantic yell, but their voices where soon drowned out by the mighty voice of an adult dragon.
“GO!” Rhyfelwr roared, the scales on his throat heating up as he unleashed a fire so hot, she could feel it from in the air, already far enough away from him that for a moment, she was in awe.
As much as she expected Cydymaith to turn around, he kept flying. He was wobbly, as if he wanted nothing more than to go back, but he merely flew her back towards the Valley, further and further away from the injured Rhyfelwr. She didn’t know if Cydymaith had learned from her earlier mistake or if he was simply wiser than her, but she felt immense sorrow all of a sudden for the sorrow she had caused and her stupid decisions.
“Cyd, can’t we help him?” Rhea said, her voice breaking. She already knew the answer and Cydymaith didn’t bother replying as he flew them towards the Valley and left his father to his fate.
About the Creator
I am a twenty-four year old writer. My favorite genres to write in are fantasy and non-fiction. The best writing advice I've received thus far is: "You can't edit a blank page."
I am rather fond of bees.
Very well written. Keep up the good work!
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
On-point and relevant
Writing reflected the title & theme