By His Own Mercy
The Lance Commander was heavily disoriented and could not tell if he stood or lay on the ground. In fact he was not fully certain whether or not he was still alive. His last memory was the image of Sia of Red roaring in a bloodthirsty rage as she flew overhead and spewed fire from her maw.
The first thing to come back to Aaron Luckworkth was his sense of sound. It was a terrible gift. He became aware of the screaming of men and women in agony, the frantic sounds of knights vainly attempting to fight or flee the madness and lastly the ghastly cry of the mighty red winged wyrm as she loosed flames down upon the regiment of Rayward cavalry.
Aaron’s nose was the next thing to come back to the moment. It presented him with one choking whiff of charred meat and putrid smoke. The Lance Commander was immediately pushed into a bout of hacking and retching by the noxious fragrance of flesh burnt to a crisp. He felt his belly churn and threaten to unload itself on the earth as his sense of smell assaulted him as fervently as any enemy arrow or blade. The odor of boiling blood was unmistakable and as vile as it was easily discernable.
The Lance Commander’s coughing fit made him become acutely aware of how badly his body hurt. His chest felt as though he had a horse in full barding standing on it. He realized that he had been thrown to the ground in the anarchy of the dragon’s vengeance and sat up. The simple act sent waves of searing pain all up and down his spine. He could not tell if his flesh was burned beneath his armor but it may as well have been put to flame with how intense the discomfort was. His muscles and bones ached as thought they had been ripped, splintered and torn inside of his flesh. Thankfully, Aaron noted that nothing appeared to be broken, at least if it was he had not discovered it yet. He was able to quell his coughing and regain control of his breathing. The air was mired with thick and rank death on the breeze but at least he was able to fill his lungs.
As Aaron stood his vison cleared. As he rued the return of his hearing so did he loath the sights that his eyes showed him. All of the field was made of red and black. Two horrific colors sprawled out in front of him. The brightest shade of scarlet that he had ever witnesses danced across the traveler’s path as deadly flames hungrily consumed all that stood in their way. In the wake of the fire lay a twisted black mess of ash and bodies so wickedly charred and maimed that it was impossible to tell where one man ended and the next began. In truth the fire that Sia of Red had brought down upon the Rayward knights had fused many of the men and women to one another as it washed over them. Aaron regraded himself and found that he had seemingly been spared the worst of the scorch that had burned the rest of his regiment to nothing but blackened bones. He wished he could have called such a phenomenon a bit of mercy or good fortune but as tormented as his heart and conscience were, any prolonging of his life was just further torture.
The heat of the fire that ripped thought the slaughtered regiment of cavalry was dwarfed in comparison to the scalding tears that streaked down the Lance Commander’s cheeks. He had seen the brutality of war countless times prior but now he felt personally responsible for each and every soldier who had been burned to death under his command. The weight of hundreds of dead upon his shoulders was more than he could bear. In the distance he was able to make out the shapes of a couple of riders fleeing the flames with great haste. He could not fault them. Their retreat could not be called dishonor by any stretch. To stay here was to die and a handful of lances and horses would not be enough to offer any meaningful sway to the present culling.
The spirit broken Rayward officer felt the earth move beneath his feet and something heavy struck the ground near him. He could sense the presence of something large and ominous nearby. He turned around with heavy feet, slowed by a guilty weight and felt his heart shrivel into a little ruined ball as his eyes came to regard Sia of Red looming over him.
The great red scaled dragon fumed with black smoke pouring from her clenched jaw and nostrils. Small flickers of fire danced in her majestic eyes as she looked down on the pitiful wounded human. The worn scales and numerous battle scared that decorated Sia of Red’s body seemed like fitting harbingers of the pain she was about to dispense. She towered over the defeated man with all the poise and dignity of a warrior queen. Even soaked in fire-born gore she was a thing of majesty that belittled any royal family in any court of man that reigned in all of Argaia. The mighty red dragon let out a low predatory growl as a morbid prelude to what was to come. Her eyes glowed brighter and ceased to have familiar discernable qualities as they were ignited into two burring balls of flame. Fire began to pour from her mouth as she drew in a huge breath.
Aaron Luckworth closed his eyes and spread his arms. Even as Sia of Red charged her belly to incinerate him, it was hotter than the man had ever known. He could not fathom what it would be like to have her cover him in fire. He did not care at this stage, he welcomed anything that could deliver him past the reaches of his own guilty mind. He knew that death was the only sanctuary for him now. Aaron’s body trembled with a mix of fear of the brutal fire and a longing for freedom from a heavy heart. As the battle around him subsided a war was fought with his own heart between the instinct to live and the desire to punish himself for his folly.
“Great Mother, please wait,” came a voice above the crackle of fire and the growl of the dragon.
Aaron opened his eyes and saw Donakis looking at him from beside Sia of Red. The yellow scaled dragoon warrior wore a conflicted expression as her brow was heavily creased and eyes were troubled.
Sia of Red’s eyes snuffed out their wild flames and returned to their normal state. “What is it my daughter?” she asked.
“This one is…strange, not like the others,” Donakis said as she stumbled to pick her words.
“How?” Sia of Red growled.
Donakis raised a finger toward the large red scaled creature before turning her eyes to Aaron. “You said you would not see the end of the dragons or the dragoon. What do you mean?” she asked the bloodied Rayward officer.
Aaron coughed and wheezed as he cleared the soot and smoke form his lunges enough to talk. “I do not believe that our kind are so different. I believe there can be peace,” he rasped. The words took a toll on him as he spoke them. He found himself on his knees hacking and gagging after he had finished speaking.
“This one speaks true. I do not know if there can be a peace but at least this one believes it,” Sia of Red stated with a thoughtful tilt of her powerful neck and serpentine head.
“Great Mother, may he be spared then? At least for a time, time to talk?” Donakis asked with a hopeful childlike innocence twinkling in her eyes.
“For a time. He shall be spared for a time,” Sia of Red said calmly.
The dragon’s voice was a blissful melody that rang like tiny golden hand bells. Sia of Red exhaled but instead of fire falling from her mouth a soft pink wind flew from her lips and rushed over Aaron Luckworth. The Lance Commanders coughing ceased immediately as the light breeze encompassed him. As he took in a breath of the pink haze, Aaron slowly slipped back to the ground and rested in a peaceful dreamless sleep while the rest of the world remained ablaze around him.