Chapter 5: Merciless

I woke up with a hand covering my leg. Not knowing where I was at first, I grabbed the hand and turned it over, meaning to break it.

I heard a deep cry, “Hey I’m just trying to get you unlatched,” Aiden said annoyed. Four hour dragon rides were cramped, and sometimes problematic when it came to flying over such a big expanse of ocean, where, if you crashed, there was a possibility that no one would ever find you again.

“Sorry, I didn’t know it was you. Is Zal out?” I leaned forward from my seat, and smelled fish and flowers, for the first time in four years. The grass was a deep, dark green and overgrown, but it felt good tickling my ankles. I felt like I was back home – real home – again. The race track was off to my left, and built with all the extravagance that comes with the Orva province. Over to my right was the city and the fortress on top of a tiered hill.

I watched as Zal bent down to graze. Aiden had dropped us outside of the equestrian house. I was a bit surprised that he hadn’t made us wait outside of the main fortress while he moved in. Privileged and a dragon rider as he was, Aiden would live in one of the most beautiful places on Eldoris, Orva’s fortress. I would live in a small student’s house off to the side, far from the lavish ways of the royals. And I suppose this was exactly how it was supposed to be.

“Yeah she is over there, see? “Aiden finally answered me.

I walked over to my only friend, “Say, say, are you tired girl?” The braids I had given her were falling over her face as she looked up at me with her black eyes, and went right back to grazing.

I grabbed my one bag and headed into the house. The hallway was a vast expanse, a void. As a frequent winner in the North, I was one of the first people to move in. On all of the broken wooden doors a name was written in cursive. My name had never seemed so forbidding.  

I didn’t think he would, but Aiden was following me close behind. “Want me to carry that?”

“No I got it, you should head to the fortress and move yourself in,” I was trying so hard to not be bitter.

“I can help you… here, “ he reached for my bag. He was reaching for every object that I had held dear in my life: my riding boots, riding jacket, some clothes, a hair brush and somewhere at the bottom of that bag was a black rock, the only thing I had left of home.

I tugged the bag back, “Trust me, I got it sweetheart.” He looked at me, even more bewildered than before. “Go play in the fortress with all of the other little riders.” And with that I shut the door, looking at my bed with one blanket on it, a small bathroom off to the side, and a chest of drawers at the base of the bed. I sat on top of that and pulled a drawer out that was to the side of me legs. Piece by piece, I took everything that was dear to me, and put it in that drawer, until I got to the black rock. I mulled it over in my hands, feeling the smoothness, the intensity of how something so small could bring back memories of playing in the mud, walking to the lake, the black rocks that expanded over the base of the field with yellow flowers, and I remembered the day that I lost everything.

**

Flashback age fourteen

I kept trying to tell my legs to move but they refused. Shock overwhelmed me, sitting crouched inside the trap door room, a three foot by three foot space. I had been here all night. I knew if I moved from this spot, the smell of old wood, the safety, it would all become real.

They were dead, and I heard everything. Every cry, the sound of metal hitting flesh, the struggle of a downed man, my father, and the way he fought for that last breath after they had already killed my mother.

“Move Maia, breathe Maia, get going Maia, before they come back to burn the house down with you in it Maia,” but my always quick feet wouldn’t budge from under me. My small, shaking hands were wrung together in the tightest of fashions, and they wouldn’t lift to remove the bit of floor above me.

Sounds, they were footsteps. They had come back to burn this house down, and I would die with my parents bodies. My eyes darted left and right looking above me, through the small crack in the flooring. I saw black boots, a dragon rider. It was at this moment that I thought I had failed my father, and that was the worst feeling in the world.

This small space was as black as night except for the crack in the wood, and I wanted to stay in there forever. Then a large hand lifted the flooring. My heart skipped a beat and I gasped and squinted at the blinding light that was overcoming everything in sight. The light covered everything but the hand that was reaching out, not to hurt me but to save me – Markus.

He saw the terror in my face as my back straightened. He bent down and put his hand to my face, tilting it up to his, “What the hell are you still doing here little rider. You need to leave.”

It was past his shoulder that I first saw my father’s boot in an odd position, and surrounded by a pool of blood. Markus moved my face back to look at his, “Don’t look, close your eyes, I’ll carry you outside.”

I shook my head in quick succession. “I need to see it,” I whispered, “I need to remember this moment for the rest of my life.”

There is darkness in all of us. It winds acute corners, and extends round and round our souls. For some of us, it tightens until the soul can longer gasp for breath. It tightens until the soul is black like the color of my mother’s lips. Some of us are more ethereal than others, as we are aware of the darkness as it begins to consume us – and I could feel it. As my eyes glanced from the broken glasses and the disheveled look of the room to their dead bodies; I could feel the darkness grasping tighter and tighter, as the blackness filled the corners of my soul.  

My mother was splayed and stripped, her hands bloodied from the strong fight she had put up. Another corner was filled.

My father was next to her with a gash extended across his abdomen. In his last breath, he had reached for her. My soul was being choked.

That would be the last vision of my parents. My mother on her stomach, face turned to my father, and his large tan hand covering the olive skin of hers. I felt consumed.

It was over, as it had just begun. The simplicity of it overwhelmed my curiosity, the chemicals that no longer moved through his muscles, and the blood that should have been pumping through my father’s heart that was now pooled across the floor.

This life, this short, and almost blissful part of my life was over. The fields of yellow flowers, my mother’s pies, my father’s hands picking me up to twirl me after a long day in the Capitol were all gone.

We were outside now, in the long and overgrown grass. “Can you stand,” Markus murmured in my ear.

“Yes, but give me a moment,” the tears had stopped now, I was in running mode.

Markus steadied me then went to the porch where he grabbed a black cloak and a bag. “It has all of your necessities,” he faked a smile, the first time I had ever seen such a lie cross his face while he was speaking to me.

I noticed that Zak wasn’t there; it must have been too risky. How long would it be before I would see my favorite dragon?

“What if I fail?” I nudged my hand up Markus’ shoulder.

“You won’t.” He said so quickly it almost assured me.

“They need to be buried.” Sporadic thoughts flowed through my head. They were rapid fire like short bursts of a dragon’s flame.

“You need to go,” Markus was starting to sound urgent.

“Markus,” I looked at him, through him for the first time in my life. I saw his pain, the patience, the need for forgiveness that I just couldn’t give him right now.

He picked me up in his arms again, and put me on Zal, tying the cloak around me and the bag to her saddle. He placed a black rock in my hand, the ones that he and I picked up in the fields. Then we would skip them across the water of the lake. It was a game that I always won.

His hand stayed over mine for a while, and then he took it back and pointed. “This is home, never forget that.  Now run until you find the Northern Heights. And little rider never look back.”

He hit Zal’s hind end and I was gone. 

The End

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