Book One: Epilogue
Updated: Jul 4, 2021
Mason Rutland shifted his weight from the right foot to the left. Again.
Nothing helped. His feet were tired, sore, and demanding a reprieve from this hours-long post at the base of Wilder Tower.
“My dogs’re barkin’,” he muttered, glancing briefly at his fellow guard, Merle Burleson. Rutland had always thought the man’s name was joke-worthy, but he was an ox of a man and fully capable of breaking someone’s face. No one made fun of his name.
“Eh?” Burleson said, squinting at him.
“I said my dogs’re barkin’. Means my feet’s tired.”
“Why don’t you just say your feet are tired, then?”
Rutland rolled his eyes. Burleson was as dense as he was big. “Didja see the new coach Cap’n Hunt got?”
“What about it?”
“Kinda fancy, if ya ask me.”
Rutland shifted his weight back to the right foot. “It’s jis fancy, that’s all.”
“Well, it is the Captain’s coach. He’s got a right to a fancy one.”
Minutes passed by, but nothing else did. Rutland shifted back to his left foot.
“How much longer ya reckon we gotta—”
The doors to Wilder Tower clattered and swung inward. Both Rutland and Burleson snapped to attention and drew their short swords.
“What the…?” Burleson exclaimed, a deepening scowl darkening his eyes.
The head of a red dragon exited through the doors of Wilder Tower, its jaw gaping wide. Blood dripped from its maw and ran down its face, blood so deeply crimson it was almost black. Both men trembled with fright.
Then the dragon roared. The hilltop, the tower, and the entirety of Wilder District rumbled with the terrible sound. Its head twisted right and left, and Rutland saw death. His death, to be certain.
Fear crawled up his spine and took up residence his mind. It wreaked havoc on his senses and offered him a horrible choice: run like a little schoolgirl or die in a gristly bloodbath.
A split second after Burleson, Rutland dropped his sword and ran.
Rutland finally came to a winded stop fifteen blocks away, completely in another district of Westmeade. His chest heaved for air, his heart was a thundering drum, and his legs burned with panic. His feet were perfectly fine.
The dragon was nowhere to be seen or heard, and Rutland collapsed against a stone wall to think. There’s a rinkin dragon in the tower! Livin’ right underneath our feet is a real-life, rinkin dragon! I seen it, and it nearly ate me! I gotta warn the Captain! Gotta muster the guard…but I’ll be strung up for desertin’ my post. Burleson, too. Cripe…I gotta get back there and get my sword, at least. Prove that I didn’t completely lose it.
With an exhausted groan, he forced himself to march steadily but cautiously back to Wilder District.
A small crowd of people gathered around the bottom of the hill that led to the tower. Rutland cursed. Cripe, they’ll all be kilt. Not wanting anyone to spot him and rightly accuse him of dereliction, he slipped into a side alley and watched the crowd slowly shuffling away from the tower. They would pass right in front of him, he reckoned, then he would be free to dash back up the hill, retrieve his sword, and resume his post. Dragon or no dragon. Now, with the guilt of abandonment pressing on him, he decided justice would have him face it squarely. So, where’d the dragon go?
The crowd grew in size and energy as it passed by Rutland’s alley. They shouted praises, curious tributes of heroism. In the lead was the alabaster form of Ordin. He was covered in blood, from his matted and tangled hair to the heels of his boots. He only knew it was Ordin because of the grey wolf obediently trotting beside him.
The mystic held aloft the charred haft of a spear, and on that spear was the head of a red dragon. Rutland blanched, both in fear and in awe. They kilt it! They done kilt that dragon!
He spotted a flash of bright red hair bobbing amidst the throng. Good…I’m glad Cora made it.
In a rickety cart laid the mangled body of an Audric, his growls and groans rising above the din of the crowd with each pothole the cart found.
A second cart held the blonde-tufted Elric Reichtoven, waving to the crowd and—Rutland drew up and peered closer—was he blowing kisses to the women? He had known Elric most of his life, running together as children, playing with wooden swords, and chasing the same girls. They joined the city guard at the same time and trained together under Sergeant Reimart. They had dreamed of joining the Sentinel League some day, riding across Alikon and saving the people from dragonkin of all kinds. But Elric had quit the guard with hardly a goodbye to join a freeblade company under probation. The dumbest of all your dumb decisions. Rutland shook his head at his friend. I never thought you’d amount to anythang, Elric, what with yer bein’ such a dunderhead. But now lookit ya. Yer a rinkin dragonslayer…
Sonuvacrap, Elric. You got me re-thinkin’ my whole life.
Later that evening, Mason Rutland penned his letter of resignation.