Sisters of Westwinter
The First Law of Atla
Chapter One III: Blood & Snow
Chapter One, Part Two – Sisters of Westwinter – Chapter One II: The Court of Ice
The rank of Pikemen scattered as hot breath spilled from the gaping throat of the dragon, still hidden within the tall pines. The ferocious roar vibrated Kerrick’s lungs and sent a cold spike through his spine. Klauven screamed into the forest, guttural and violent. Spittle flecked from his lips and dashed into the disturbed piles of snow on the ground. He raised his crossbow with one arm and charged forward, with no command issued to the soldiers.
Most of them backpedaled further, making distance between themselves and the thrashing of the dragon. Kerrick’s legs refused to move, despite how badly he wanted to be in the back line with his pike forward, waiting. He couldn’t summon the strength to move at all. He remained where he had been when the roar had first vibrated through him, legs locked in place, pike pointed into the darkness.
A boy two years his junior approached, by the name of Heindor he wore a long black mop of tangled dirty hair that often fell into his eyes. He was a strong boy, stronger than Kerrick had been, but he was notorious in their camp for the stickiness of his fingers.
“Snow, we should go help him.” He whispered. His pike rigid before him, certain. Much unlike Kerrick’s own, which bobbed in the cold air between the sounds of Klauven’s screams and grunts. Heindor didn’t move until Kerrick twitched. His squad mate was right. To remain in the cold and let Klauven die wouldn’t do any of them any good. They were forced with two options, both of them spelled death. Either they pursued and fell to the dragon immediately, suffering fewer losses but ultimately having a chance to win the fight thanks to Klauven’s aid, or they fled and left Klauven to die. The Dragon wouldn’t stop, knowing more mortals wormed their way through its woods. It would take to the skies and hunt them down, they would wind up in the river just like the scout regiment they were sent to collect.
Of course, there was also the possibility that Klauven lived after they abandoned him, and he didn’t seem like the forgiving type.
Kerrick moved, barely a finger’s width, and Heindor nodded. The mop-headed thief charged forward without looking back. His pike raised as he screamed and others followed. A chorus of fearful shouts rang from the other soldiers that had surrounded them, most of which charged forward and into the sounds of the dragon’s anger. A pair of them collided with Kerrick and sent him stumbling forward to keep from collapsing into the snow. Then, he continued. With intention, he placed one foot in front of the next and before he knew it, he was marching with just over half the platoon as the rest remained safely outside the trees, pikes at the ready.
“The Capital won’t abandon us. So we won’t abandon one another!” Heindor shouted, his pike raised above his head as they marched quickly through the underbrush. Their impromptu leader turned back to face them briefly, his greasy black bangs slapped the side of his leather mail. His eyes bounced across the faces of the other soldiers. Most of them followed with terror on their faces and teeth gritted tight. The few who did not express their fear, stared onward as if unconcerned they were marching to their death.
“What can we do help him?” Kerrick whispered to Heindor.
“We are part of the land as sure as anyone else!” Heindor responded by shouting once more to the troupe. “What did you join the military for, men?” He continued with a cocky look on his face.
When none of the soldiers replied, Heindor paused and turned to face them.
“Today, you joined to fight!”
A few of the soldiers cheered and stepped in line with the boy as the squad broke through into a clearing littered with felled trees and splashed with blood. In the center stood Klauven, hands wrapped around two hand axes, less than a step from the snout of a sprawling violet dragon.
“You are going to die.” Kerrick thought, and came to a halt in the rear of the group as they set their sights on the Huntmaster and his prey.
Klauven spun an ax deftly in his hand with a flick of his wrist, and quickly shot the weapon spinning from his palm as he ducked beneath a lunge from one of the dragon’s connected limbs. He crouched beneath the gaunt arm and slashed upward with his second ax, rending open the flesh of the beast. I howled and slammed down upon him. Heindor winced, watching the Huntmaster dodge nimbly beneath the dragon as he leapt onto its shoulder. The serpentine body groaned as Klauven stepped across the splintered spines that protruded from the Dragon’s back and towards its tail, hidden somewhere deep within the forest. In response to his steps, the dragon pushed against the earth with each of its legs on the left side, four in total that lined its elongated rib cage like a large centipede, and shoved itself onto its back. Klauven stepped over the trunk of the dragon as it swiped with its other limbs, and dodged beneath each of the swings, slashing wildly at the scaled wrists of the dragon. It roared in frustration as he dodged and stood atop the beast’s belly.
The pale, pinkish skin of the dragon’s underside was littered with scars and stones that had been embedded into its flesh. Large patches of scales had been chipped away and broken, and far more had been worn down from constant grinding against the earth. The dragon’s limbs were short, segmented by large carapace like shields that covered the tops of its arms and shoulders, similarly to the large banded sheets of scales that appeared to shield its back. Each segment was attached by a collection of sinewy ligaments that stretched and pushed and allowed the dragon to squeeze down, Kerrick assumed, to fit through smaller spaces.
“This beast,” Klauven began after dodging a particularly close swipe at his neck. “Is a cave dweller. Little snake rests in mountainsides and feeds on nocturnals, birds and the like.” He spun behind one of the four limbs on the dragon’s side, one which moved sluggishly and clumsily. He spun the hand ax in his hand and slashed at the tendons on the leg, and the dragon’s claws on the leg went limp.
“Cave snakes, as ye’ see, don’t have wings. Can’t take to the skies.” Klauven slashed twice more, ensuring a full cut through the tendon before he jumped off of the dragon’s belly and to the opposite side. It rolled, pushing with the plating that covered its backside, the large purple clumps of scales dug into the ground and exposed the taught muscles and ligaments that were exposed beneath as it rolled back to its feet. Klauven stepped to the side and with a carefree swing slashed through another of the legs. His eyes never left Kerrick’s squad as he danced around the dragon as if he knew he wasn’t in danger.
The beast howled in pain as deep crimson blood burst from the new wound. It opened its jaw wide and black spittle flew from the depths. Klauven took a step around its legs and slipped a folding spear from beneath his coat. A long metal handle that had been rigged with springs to unfold with force as soon as it was drawn. He swung the folded weapon and the springs tripped, shooting the mechanism outward and producing a serrated blade atop a long pole handle.
“Not so fast, lad.” Klauven spun the spear in his hand and rammed it through the dragon’s cheek, locking its jaws open. The metal tip burst through the opposite side of the dragon’s cheek and tore tender, pink flesh from the gums and tongue to the other cheek. He gestured to the gaping mouth as the dragon began to whimper.
“Cave dragons have a special bite.” He hooked his finger around a drool covered muscle against the dragon’s cheek and pulled it outward, revealing a long singular claw that had previously been folded up within.
“For trapping prey.” Heindor assumed aloud, and Klauven raised a finger.
“Close.” He gripped down tight on the claw, draped in spittle and wrapped tight with muscle he pulled, bracing his own weight against the steel spear that lodged between the two vertical jaws. With a grunt and a great pull, the bone that held the mouthed claw in place cracked and Klauven pried it free from its joint, as if he’d broken the meat from the leg of a crab. He twisted and tugged as the dragon attempted to slash at him with its claws to no avail, until he tore the inner claw from the dragon’s mouth.
A waterfall of blood poured from the wound and the dragon reeled back, whimpering as Klauven tossed the claw to Heindor.
“Take a closer look.”
The boy spun the mandible around in his hands a few times, awe filled gasps echoed beneath the sounds of the dragon that had begun begging. Klauven turned away from them to face the beast, and reached into its throat. The boys stared, shocked, as the Huntmaster stretched his arm into the dragon’s mouth and down into its throat.
The dragon whined, louder than before, and tears began to form in the corners of its eyes as Klauven reached whatever he’d been looking for, and pulled, hard. As soon as he did so the dragon’s body fell limp. It collapsed to the ground, eyes unblinking as Klauven withdrew a large misshapen pearl from within. The surface of which reflected light in an unusual pattern, dodging waves of purple and blue light shone from the surface of the pearl as he held it out to the winter sun with a grin on his face. The stone itself barely able to rest comfortably in his hand, arrested the attention of the troops. All of them save for Kerrick, whose eyes remained on the Dragon.
“Soldiers, this is the secret to every dragon attack, and every death at the hands of those snakes.” He tossed it gently into the air. “This is their power, locked up tight. You pull this, a dragon is useless.” He gestured back to the dragon as he led the group away from the clearing, abandoning his weapons.
The soldiers followed eagerly as he continued on, telling them about the pearl and the claw, but Kerrick couldn’t pull his eyes from the snow. The growing pool of crimson-violet blood and the dragon, who remained still, stared up at him with tears in its eyes.
Where Klauven had maimed the dragon, were sickly green pustules, some of which had popped and spread across its skin. The blood mixed with the festering stink and dripped from the body onto the snow, melting it on contact. Kerrick took a brief walk around the side of the dragon, curiosity overwhelming him as Klauven and the troop grew distant on their way out of the woods. Down the dragon’s sides, hidden beneath the scales, there was a yellow-green rash that had spread across the dragons skin. Ligaments that held the scaled carapace along its back had been infected, parts of the muscle and sinew grown sickly green due to the rash. Against his better judgement, Kerrick approached and prodded one of the ailed tissues with his hunting knife. As the blade pierced the flesh, it deflated, a bubbling frothy stew of blood and puss spewed from the diseased tissue.
“This dragon was sick.” Kerrick, realizing that there was more to Klauven’s showing, peered into the woods where the dragon’s long body vanished into the trees. There, in the back, there was a metal mechanism hidden beneath a bundle of bushes. He approached, and with each step, the Dragon’s whimpers grew more frustrated. They turned from fear to fury as Kerrick approached the mechanism and took a closer look at it.
He knelt to observe what appeared to be a small catapult, multiple levers attached to thin steel wires that all braided together. Those wires wrapped around the hind legs of the dragon, as well as having tangled themselves in antennae-like limbs that protruded from the dragon’s hind, near the base of its tail. The machine appeared to have been wound tightly, the cords wrapped around trees to build tension. Nearby, a handful of trunks were scarred badly by what appeared to be whip marks.
“This wasn’t a lucky encounter, was it?” Kerrick placed his hand on the dragon’s tail and felt it heave a breath. “You were sick, and you were brought here for a show, weren’t you?”
The dragon remained silent.
Kerrick noted the painted stamp on the trap. The name “House Windvar” delicately aligned above a blue and white shield that stood behind a towering tree trunk. A family crest he was intimately familiar with. He turned away from the trap and back to meet the dragon’s head. When he did, he placed his hand on the spear and knelt beside the creature, its breath slowed, and eyes fluttering.
“I’m sorry.” He whispered to the dried bloody puncture in its mouth as he gripped the spear. He pulled until it gave way, and tore free from the weakened flesh. The dragon made no more noise.
“Nothing to be sorry for.” The Huntmaster replied, leaning against a nearby tree as Kerrick struggled to slide the spear from the dragon’s jaw. “Got what was coming to it.”
Kerrick yanked the head of the spear through the dragon’s cheek and swung, splattering blood against the snow. “I’m sure the wire trap back there helped.”
Klauven sneered. “Suppose it did. Would have been a lot harder to take down if it was free.”
Kerrick pulled the lever at the base of the spear and released the springs, allowing the handle to fold once more into place. He kept a tight hold on it as Klauven paced around the dragon’s head.
“You’re a good soldier, Snow.” The Huntmaster said. “Never abandon your weapons.” He winked at Kerrick and dug into his pack, to produce a small silver necklace with a pewter trinket affixed to it. A shield, painted white and blue. “Found this at the Windvar Estate, routine clean up for Vandruss, don’t ask me any details. I only do what I’m commanded to do.”
Kerrick caught it and gripped the necklace tight in his hand.
“How does he know?”
“Anyway, kid, we should get back. Don’t want to get separated. We have a job to do.” Klauven stepped away from the dragon and left Kerrick once more in the clearing, alone with the dragon. Before he followed, he took a last glance at the beast who had closed its eyes, and realized its chest no longer moved.
“So be it.” Kerrick whispered. Then, he followed his commanding officer back to the road with a heavy heart.
Chapter One, Part Four: Sisters of Westwinter: Chapter One IV – The Beggar
Thank you for taking time to read the new entry! I have a pretty busy month on my hands, but come September I’m aiming to be ramping up the release schedule. I will let you know!
If you haven’t seen any yet, make sure to go check out “The Red Summer” over on my Instagram, I’m posting poetry I’ve been working on that has come from the mental health struggles I’ve faced over the course of the last year.
Until next time.