By MOHAMAD NOR AIMAN MOHAMAD NOR AZAM RASHID

Dark smoke trailed beyond the mountain peaks to kiss the clouds above. The odour of burning wood and burnt flesh dominated sickeningly, detectable leagues from where the fires raged.

The once proud city was aflame, fires licking hungrily at anything that came their way. Here and there by the streets and back alleys, corpses, burned beyond recognition, lay in eerie stillness like strewn rubbish. From their poses it can be discerned how their final moments were spent. Some lay poised for flight, others lay as though shielding from an oncoming attack, a couple lay entwined in each other’s arms, hoping for a final comfort.

The suddenness of the dragon’s arrival is beyond that of a storm, its onslaught left even the most senior and battle hardened soldiers shaken. It flew across the city when it attacked, a crimson blur. Its strikes were infallibly true. Buildings burst to flames from its fire, and were rendered to rubble with the whipping of its long spiked tail. No man, woman or child were spared once they were within the dragon’s sight. Those who dared resist the fearsome beast found their arrows, quarrels and javelins colliding with scales harder than stone, barely giving the dragon a scratch. These brave souls saw an end to their lives in quick succession thereafter, all enveloped within the flames spewed from the dragon’s maw.    

From the burning carnage, a man walked the main street, the street leading towards the city’s main gate. Clad in ring mail which was torn on his left shoulder, exposing the bear burnt flesh within, an empty scabbard by his side, he made a haggard sight. He walked with a slight limp, though his face, covered in soot and ash, showed neither pain nor discomfort, but utter horror at the destruction before him. If it were not for the golden crown resting upon his head, decorated lavishly with diamonds, emeralds, garnets and a myriad of other exquisite gems, none would have guessed him to be the King.

The king walked towards the main gate, the only living thing there, oblivious to the fires roaring around him, made numb by the sheer hopelessness. The crown was passed down from father to son for more than ten generations; each bearer swore oaths to protect their subjects. His failure to uphold his sacred oath of protection, and the thought of his bloodline ending with his untimely death, left a bitter taste in the king’s mouth. Silently, he cursed fate for keeping him alive to watch his subjects die. He cursed the dragon for bringing destruction and ruin to his home. All tears were spent long ago, leaving behind a hollow shell of a man, devoid of any hope.

After what seemed like an eternity to him, the king passed beyond the burning gates, remarkably unharmed. He looked beyond his city, to the snowy mountains before him, its peaks hidden in the clouds, eerily serene compared to the fiery death not far from them. No movements to be seen, no animals afoot, not even a single bird in flight. No one but the king, alone, without help, without hope.

A gust of wind, a looming shadow, and the dragon flew by, rushing from behind the king. It flew past him to land a hundred feet ahead of him. The king saw, for the first time, the dragon.

From its reptilian yellow eyes to its spiked spine, the dragon was an awesome sight. Its snout contained rows of long, sharp teeth, bloody from its recent meal. Smoke came from its nose, as it regarded the king. For a moment, time stood still, as the predator eyed the prey. The king then took a step forward, closed his eyes, and raised both hands, submitting, inviting. His face showed calmness, of resignation to his fate.

The dragon, taken aback by this turn of events, hesitated for a few seconds. Then, almost sneering in contempt, it opened its jaws wide, and from the recesses of its throat, fire rumbled, ready to be spewed forth to its final prey.

As the flames engulfed the broken man, its heat washed all the coldness from him. The fire embracing him as a mother would a child.