*Nainika's Note* This was my creative writing final and I wanted to share it with y'all! Enjoy.
Hell threw one hell of a party.
Or at least, Kelia thought, if Hell looked anything like this, the party would fit right in.
Along with the moaning, tortured souls, that is, because she certainly felt like she was being tortured.
The entire village was outside, spilling into the streets. Doors stood wide open, lights remained on, and people ran in and out of others’ homes. Bonfires sent crackling embers flying every which way, and smoke twisted into the inky velvet of the sky, mingling with the smells of burning meat and sticky sweat.
People she had only seen staring down at her in disapproval, danced with wild abandon underneath the baleful eye of the full moon. Neighbors that had refused to give her any spare food when she begged, swung around her, offering cured meats, glasses of wine, plates of cheese, and skewers of roasted vegetables.
The sight made her sick.
This was nothing more than a glorified death party.
Usually, the Festival of the Dragon Moon was a somber occasion because it meant that one Maiden would be offered to the Great Dragon, who lived in the cave on Sky Mountain. But after the year the village had had, nobody expected the Great Dragon to show and demand a Maiden.
Famine had struck the entire country, killing most of the people. Bodies piled up along the River Hyrezn because the graveyards closed against the onslaught of dying people. It had taken fathers, cousins, sons, daughters, and infants from their mother’s cold sunken bodies. If Kelia had had a family, they wouldn’t have survived. All her family members had been killed during an icy freeze when she was just a baby. Kelia was raised by the villagers and didn’t remember anything from before.
Kelia knew nothing could make her celebrate like the villagers who were currently gyrating to the musician’s ensemble. Even though his instruments were moth-eaten and barely more than scraps of metal and rags, he played them like he would die if he didn’t give himself to the music.
Disgusted by the revelry, she turned around and tried to make her way out of the center of the excitement, but hands kept tugging her back in, trying to make her dance with them. She fought for a few minutes with an overzealous boy who seemed determined to feed her some cheese and grapes. She twisted free of him only to crash into yet another.
“No, leave me,” she insisted as her old school teacher attempted to coax her into dancing with him. Nevermind the fact that his wife had recently died from starvation, and he still had a round paunch under his tunic despite everyone else’s sunken cheeks. His clammy fingers wound around her arm, squeezing tightly, and panicked, she shoved him away.
But he was drunk and pliant, and her shove pushed him into the mayor’s wife, who tripped into the blacksmith’s adopted daughter, who clutched the arm of the jeweler’s mother-in-law, who crashed into the old veteran’s cane, which caused him to stumble into the butcher’s arms, who dropped his knife onto the baker’s son’s foot, who screamed in pain and fell backward into the bowl of punch which splattered onto the florist’s father’s donkey, who brayed in panic and shot down the street, dragging behind him the string of lights that had been attached to his back.
The lights ripped off the houses as the donkey galloped down the main street, tripping the people who had been dancing behind him, with the string, causing them to fall into the fountain. As glass shattered and people cried out in pain and surprise, the musician’s music screeched to a halt as everyone looked up the chain of fallen, moaning people to Kelia. She blanched and tried to duck behind an abandoned booth, but it was too late.
They’d already seen her.
Angry shouts came from the crowd as they looked at the young woman who, in their eyes, had disrupted their festival. People picked up whatever they could find next to them - a flower pot, a broken wine bottle, a pitchfork, the butcher’s knife still embedded in the baker’s son’s foot - and started walking to Kelia, who still stood motionless behind the booth.
The first line of people had almost reached her when a shadow fell over the crowd, plunging the crowd into darkness. From somewhere down the street, the runaway donkey brayed once in fear, before falling silent. Everyone looked up and gasped, sinking to their knees as the Great Dragon circled over the mob. Kelia took advantage of their distraction and turned quietly to sneak out down the street.
The Great Dragon’s voice seemed forged in the heart of mountains, molten lava scraping over dusty rocks. Everyone cowered, but from the magic of the roar or his presence, Kelia couldn’t tell.
But even as her mind told her to run, her knees buckled, and with a cry of pain as her ankle wrenched, she collapsed to the ground.
The flapping of his wings covered up the sound, or so she thought, as the Great Dragon landed on top of the carved dragon statue. He shook out his wings and roared, shaking the bell at the top of the church tower.
Even though she was scared out of her wits, she couldn’t help but admire the beauty of the Dragon. His scales were molten silver gleaming in the moonlight, highlighting the sheen underneath his wings. His eyes flashed icy blue as he surveyed the crowd, his midnight blue horns rising from his head. Smoke curled from his nostrils as he glared at the village folk.
“You do not look subdued.”
Kelia blinked at the Dragon. Subdued? Did he consider them sheep, braying to his every need?
Arrogant, slug-headed, flying death worm.
“This is the night, is it not?”
He lowered his head to gaze into the Mayor’s eyes. Kelia could see the sobriety fall over the previously drunk man like a bucket of icy-cold water.
“Y-yes, oh Great Dragon,” the Mayor stammered, bowing and almost falling onto his face.
“Then where is my Maiden?” the Dragon growled, the sound reminding her of a rockslide crashing down the mountain, taking out everything in its wake.
Everyone was silent for a long minute before the butcher stood, arm shaking, and pointed his carving knife at Kelia.
The Dragon’s head swung around, and his icy blue eyes fixated on her.
“Come then, Maiden. You have been sacrificed.”