flASH fiction: Volume 5: Grandest Audience (16)

Grandest Audience
Jason Pere

Everywhere inside of the Red Sanctuary was hot. It was like being thrust into a hearth after its fire had been extinguished and being sounded by the ambient heat of dying coals. Aaron Luckworth had experienced only a few moments outside of his cell since coming to the sacred bastion of the dragoon but the passing glances he had stolen of the scaled creatures that inhabited the great fortress revealed that they did not seem bothered by the ever-present heat at all. Aaron was far from adapted to the odd temperature of the Red Sanctuary but he found that he was not wholly uncomfortable with the lingering drifts of hot breeze that wafted thought the structure. The architecture of the dragoon certainly made a more favorable impression upon him than the chill of drafty castles and keeps back in his home of Rayward. A few beads of sweat upon his brow was a small price for the Lace Commander to pay in order to be free of the cold air that haunted the halls he was accustomed to walking. He did not even bother to wipe the preparation form his skin.

Inside of the grand audience chamber, it was even hotter and stuffier than the rest of the Red Sanctuary. It was almost like wading through one of the innumerable bogs that populated the Bloodwoods region of Argaia. The heat in this room was so thick Aaron could have sworn that he would have been able to reach out and grab a handful of the atmosphere in the palm of his hand if he wanted. He had to wonder if the natural state of the grand audience chamber was genuinely hotter than the rest of the structure or if the increased heat was a product of his own making. Fear had always put the touch of fire to Aaron’s skin.

Sia of Red lay sprawled out on her dais at the far end of the massive hall. She presented every possible element imaginable of a creature that was possessed of power and majesty. She had never claimed to be a queen or any sort of royalty but Aaron looked upon the mighty red winged wyrm and could not help but acknowledge something immensely regal about the beast. Kings and queens of the human world would have given fortunes to possess the sort of bearing and presence that Sia of Red effortlessly maintained about herself. The narrow gaze of her serpent’s eyes piercing down her long maw and boring into Aaron from across the full distance of the room, reduced the man to a fully disarmed and deferential state of being. Aaron found his feet were not solid underneath him despite being firmly planted on the black stone underneath. The frightening dignity of the red creature made him feel as though her were floating just outside of his own body.

A soft pat on the back brought the unnerved Lance Commander back to his mortal coil. He glanced to his side to see Donakis standing next to him. The sight of Sia of Red had done a wondrous job of making Aaron completely forget about the dragoon warrior and the Master Black who had escorted him to the grand audience chamber. Even having the various dragoon guards that lined the walls set within his field of vison, Aaron had only been aware of himself and the red matriarch until the touch of Donakis restored his sense of the present. Aaron slowly began to approach the dais where Sia of Red was resting after a silent and subtle flick of Donakis’s wrist in the direction of the dragon.

Aaron was floating no longer. Each step he took toward the dais felt like his body was fast turning into stone. As he drew closer and closer to Sia of Red, each footfall became harder to command. His body was rebelling against him and every instinct within the man screamed to turn and flee. Still, Aaron continued his slow trudging forward. The last step that brought him before Sia of Red felt like it took a full rising and setting of each sun between the time his foot left the stone floor and came to rest on the black rock once again.

“You are the human Aaron Luckworth, You believe in peace between dragon, our children and the human kind,” said Sia of Red as she rose her neck up and loomed her full height over the lone man standing before her.

Aaron trembled and looked about the whole of the audience chamber as if to find some source of courage. He found that there was precious little in the way of inspiration. His mind started an explosive series of jumbled and incomprehensible responses but none of them transformed into anything audible. In the end the Lance Commander was only able to utter a single word. “Yes,” said Aaron meekly.

“Humans and my breed have been at war for generations. The crusades that your kind have launched against my children has claimed lives in numbers beyond counting. Tell me how you can believe in peace after all of this?” said the powerful red winged creature with a twist of her long neck and loud snap of her giant maw to punctuate her statement.

“My people have grown in numbers. Humans are prosperous and over time space in our cities has run out. Men and women needed to expanded and settle more of Argaia in order to live. This was cause for the crusades in the first place, the need for more land…” Aaron started but he was cut short by the deafening boom of Sia of Red’s voice.

“You need not lecture me on the history of my children and your kind. I was there at the beginning. Tell me what you believe, or were you claiming peace simply to prolong your life?” Sia of Red snarled with a predatory gnashing of her fangs. The anger in her voice was enough to cause smoke to pour from her mouth and shake the very walls of the grand audience chamber.

Aaron felt like his life was now being measured in remaining seconds, not years. A paralytic fear tried to take hold of him and quell his being until the mighty red dragon doused him in a spew of flames. Aaron looked down at his fine armor and cloths, seeking a refuge for his gaze. He knew that he could not find the words that might save him if he continued to look upon Sia of Red. It was the scarlet stains of human and dragoon blood, long dried into his cloak that gave him the will to speak once again. “I wear the blood of man and dragoon alike one my body,” he said as he lifted the crimson tails of his cloak aloft for the dragon to witness. “As you say the human’s crusades against the dragon and their offspring have claimed enough lives and it was all for land. There is enough land for both our kind to live peacefully, at least I believe this. Our cities have long been uncrowded. We need not continue slaughter. The crusades and conquest of Argaia have decayed into a matter of pride at this point,” Aaron said fervently.

Sia of Red rested back onto her haunches and the smoke trailing from her nostrils and jaws subsided. “You seem to speak ill of your own kind. Have you no pride as a human?” she asked.

“We continued to press a war and make widows and orphans on both sides for no justifiable reason. What is there for a human to have pride in?” Aaron responded.

The red dragon growled in a low purr and her mouth twisted in a peculiar fashion. It was the closest approximation of laughter and a smile that such a beast could muster. “So you would end the crusades just like that? Aaron Luckworth would command the kings and queens of his people to cease the way they have clung to for generations.”

“If I could stop the killing this moment, I would. I will say this much. Whatever happens, I am finished taking up arms in the name of the crusade. I know that I can not command even the weakest royal families in all the land but perhaps I might reason with them. Not all of them could continue to want more blood upon blood,” Aaron said with a weary shake of his head and a remorseful inflection that carried years of guilty weight with each word.

“You would oppose your own and serve the dragoon?” Sia of Red asked.

“No,” said Aaron. He saw that his answer rekindled the fury that smoldered inside of the dragon and he quickly searched his mind and heart in order to shape the words he needed to express the feeling that had plagued him for so long. “I would serve unity between human and all dragonkind. If I can make such a pledge, I believe that others might as well.”

“So you wish to be released?” Sia of Red said with a cautious amusement.

“I can see your concern, that I speak false and just wish to return to my army that I may continue the fight. I ask you this, you knew if I spoke false once before am I doing so now?” Aaron asked the winged wrym with a deferential nod of his head and vulnerable spread of his arms.

“No, as before you are telling the truth as best you know it,” Sia of Red stated after a few lengthy accessing moments scanning the man up and down. “This is certainly something for me to think on. You have earned yourself a few more days of life,” she said with a reflective cadence. “Back to his cell,” Sia of Red instructed Donakis and Harhanov who remained behind the Lance Commander on either side.

“Thank you,” Aaron said to Sia of Red as the pair of dragoon moved to escort him from the grand audience chamber. As he turned and began to walk from the room he felt the first sensation of cool air on his skin since his arrival in the Red Sanctuary. The sweltering heat of this place had begun to transform into a hospitable warmth that he would happily have enjoyed for the rest of his days.