Fruitlessly, she pulled and struggled against the rope holding her in place. The men who had brought her here had been thorough in their attempts to keep her in place. At one time in her life, she might have called them neighbors or even friends, but as they’d prepared her for her death, not one had been willing to meet her eye or hear her plea, not even Kyrad.
Hot air washed over her with the putrid stink of the dragon’s breath as it settled just a few feet from where she lay on the platform of the high mountain. She could scream but no one would help her. They had purposely left her here to die, a sacrifice to the hungry dragon in return for peace amongst the village, a scheme which all seemed entirely too convenient in her opinion. She’d seen the way the others looked at her.
“Die gracefully,” they had told her when the calling had been made. “It is, after all, a great honor to be the chosen one.”
Layla sucked in her breath as she watched wide eyed as the dragon paced along the edge of its high perch. Just a few more wriggles and her left hand would be free.
The dragon let out a loud, bellowing roar that shook the mountain and echoed far into the distance. Layla wondered how many people down below in the village looked up, cowering in fear, as they held fast onto each other for comfort. They were waiting for the dragon to claim his meal so that the sacrifice would be complete. Layla closed her eyes and held back the hot tears that threatened to spill down her cheeks. No, she wouldn’t face death as a coward. There had to be another way. She continued to strain against the binds as determination filled her. In the name of her parents, she would prove them all wrong.
In the distance, thunder cracked in response to the dragon’s roar, a deep sound that shook their world. Dark clouds swirled above, moving closer at a rapid speed. The first fat drops of rain began to spill down on them as the dragon turned to focus back on Layla. He sniffed tentatively and his arrow tipped tongue tasted the air as he approached her. Even though she had nowhere to go, she sank back into the rock as though she wished the mountain would split wide and swallow her into its depths. The dragon spread his wings wide as he arched his back and shot a plume of smoke and fire into the night almost as if he were thanking the gods in triumph. Rising on his hind legs, he was easily four times the height of a grown man. Nevertheless, Layla held steadfast onto the only thing she had left – hope.
Red bead eyes regarded her with curiosity. She’d managed to free her left hand finally but she didn’t dare to move while she was under such close scrutiny. She held her breath, biding her time, waiting for the dragon to make a move.
The dragon ambled forward until its snout was pressed against her nose. Layla squeezed her eyes shut and said a silent prayer to the gods and then as the dragon lifted its head and opened its jaws wide to snap down over her, she quickly flung her weight to the right where she still dangled helplessly by the hand still tightly bound. She watched in horror as the dragon’s razor sharp teeth clamped down over the brush and rock. It recovered, snorting steam from its nostrils as it took two steps back, preparing for the next attack.
By some miracle, Layla managed to free her right hand. She scrambled into the bushes before the dragon’s teeth could catch her. The dragon roared as flames shot from its jaws and ignited the bushes where Layla sought protection. She squealed and ran, barely escaping the snapping jaws. The two went back and forth this way for a while, the dragon insistent on catching its prey and Layla determined to escape. She needed to get to the other side of the platform where she knew there was a way over the mountain, to the safety of the village below.
But as the dragon nipped at her feet and tore at the bottom of her gown, she realized with a heavy heart, even if she managed to escape, where would she go? The village was no longer her home and her friends were no longer her friends. If she returned from the mountain, she would not be considered a hero, but rather a coward that sacrificed the village for the sake of her own life. This left her with only one option, she couldn’t simply escape from the dragon’s clutches, she needed a way to kill it.
Rather than make a break for the path when she had the opportunity, Layla grabbed a large rock and flung it as hard as she could, aiming for the dragon’s eyes. It hit with a satisfactory thunk right between the eyes. She hunched over, trying to catch her breath, while the dragon, stunned by the retaliation, took off to the sky and began circling overhead again. This gave Layla a moment to try to clear her head and think.
The rain fell faster around them and soaked the dress until it clung uncomfortably to her body. Layla scrambled, desperate to find anything that she could fashion into a weapon before the dragon returned to its perch. Her hand clutched the pendant that still dangled around her neck on a golden chain. It had been a gift from her parents on her eleventh birthday during a time when her life was still filled with so much promise for the future. Angry, she ripped it free allowing the chain to drop in a heap to the ground. She picked it up and used it to fasten a rock quickly to the end of the longest stick that she could find. She’d only just finished her makeshift weapon when the dragon’s talons touched down just a couple of feet from where she worked.
She squealed, sinking back into the shadows and nearly losing the stick in the meantime. The dragon roared, rearing its ugly head and shooting flames in every direction. This time, it meant to have its meal, the initial curiosity replaced with a ferocity that she didn’t believe she had the strength to match. Who was she to slay a dragon, after all? If it were such an easy feat then any of the large men from her village would have surely completed the task by now instead of cowering in fear anytime she proposed such an idea. Layla cowered, her heart hammering wildly in her chest, biding her time until the dragon’s next strike.
The dragon scratched the ground with its sharp talons much like a bull paws the ground before it charges. She watched as tendrils of smoke rose into the air from its nostrils, the heat turning to steam as the rain cooled the fire. Layla shivered as fear and dampness crept along her spine. Every moment stretched into an eternity before finally, the dragon made its move, running at top speed from one end of the landing to the space where Layla laid in wait. It was now or never, she knew, so once again she said a silent prayer to the gods who listened and raised her weapon just as the dragon towered over her. Its large body shook as the beast howled into the night. And then, much to her horror, its full weight sink down over her.
This isn’t how I want to die.
Burning filled her nostrils and made her head throb. Barely able to catch her breath, she heaved again attempting to lighten the burden of the beast that lay over her. Finally, she managed to drag her body out from under the heap of dragon. It’s breathing had ceased but still, Layla looked over it in awe. She had listened to a story once as a child that her father had told her about a knight that slay a dragon with a diamond to the heart but she had never regarded it as anything more than a fictional story, another of the many her father made up to amuse her. But by some grace, it had actually worked.
The rain poured down in a heavy stream but she didn’t notice the chill that soaked her to the core. She only stood and watched the dragon, weary that she had come so close to being its meal and instead, championed over it. Her hands shook by her sides, both proud and devastated to have brought the end of life to a fellow creature of her world, no matter how fierce it had been.
Tears of remorse poured down over her cheeks. Moving slowly to the edge of the mountain, she peered down through the dark to the few lights that burned in the village below. Always someone kept watch. Tonight, they could sleep peaceful, she thought. The dragon would no longer be a concern. Tonight she did not become the sacrifice that the village had hoped for. In her heart, she felt reborn, destined for something greater than she could comprehend. With much effort, she turned the dragon to his side so that she could pull the long stick from its chest and marvel at the blood-soaked pendant. She wiped it with her dress, took a deep breath, and then considered her return to the village.
Thank you for reading and please feel free to share your thoughts. Each day I am posting a ‘snippet’ based on a paranormal creature that begins with the corresponding letter of the alphabet. I am using this as a fun writing exercise which I am hoping will also be enjoyable to read, but keep in mind that due to the fact that I must post a new snippet each day in April except Sundays, the posts may be a bit rough. I’ll do my best, however, in the limited time I have available to me. 🙂 Let me know your favorites or the posts you find most intriguing because I plan to develop those into a full story later in the year!
Check out the other participants in the A to Z Challenge.