It was an hour before dawn when they came, their flames licking at the wooden buildings and burning down countless days of work in a series of short, quick blasts. Ash and shouts filled the air as people awoke, bringing their weapons onto the streets and preparing their counterattacks as the freezing air around them filled with ash.
Callum had already been awake, sketching by candlelight and silently flipping through the few dragon books that his younger brother had managed to smuggle to him. As soon as the first fireball flew past his window he was up, blowing out the candle that illuminated his room and rushing down the stairs as the battle cries began to grow.
Ezran would be fine, he was a light sleeper. If the fire hadn’t woken him his pet glowtoad would. He knew what to do during these attacks. He was the future chief, and if anything he knew more about how to avoid dragons and survive than anyone else in the entire village of Katolis.
This was a common occurrence, after all.
All clans had pests, it was just a fact of life. Evenere had quite the mosquito problem as soon as the snows melted; Duren was located far south and, while being blessed with bountiful harvests every fall, was cursed with large numbers of insects and birds out to destroy their crops. With Katolis, however, a viking would be as good as dead if they didn’t know how to act around dragons.
Katolis was a strange place to outsiders, Callum supposed. Located far north and right at the edge of dragon territory. A cold, barren land filled with relentless freezing snowfall for nine months of the year, and endless rain the other three. The most lively thing on their island was the vast expanse of evergreens, ones that somehow managed to survive the countless fires that ravaged the village on the island’s shore. Most would rather leave its icy embrace after the first few dragon attacks--but alas, they were vikings.
They had a big problem when it came to stubbornness.
A dragon, illuminated by flames, swooped down past his head the moment Callum opened the door, singing the tips of his hair and causing him to inhale the thick scent of smoke. He coughed once, rushing through the lingering dark clouds and down the streets while promptly ignoring the annoyed shouts from those around him.
“Why are you out here?”
“Don’t get in the way!”
It was an absolutely lovely morning greeting. Note the sarcasm.
Within a minute he was in the forge, calling a quick greeting to Ethari and slipping on his apron before pulling a strange contraption from behind a pile of scrap metal.
“Well, you certainly got here quickly.”
“I was already awake when the first dragon attacked,” Callum replied.
“What in Thor’s name were you doing up before dawn?”
And it wasn’t anything important. He was meant to be a viking, and drawing wasn’t a very vikingly activity. But still, what Ethari didn’t know couldn’t hurt him.
“Him” being Callum himself in this particular scenario.
The machine in Callum’s arms clicked, causing his grip on the metal contraption to falter. Seconds later a large bola shot out across the forge, causing a shelf of damaged weapons to snap and fall crashing to the floor.
“I’m assuming that’s your latest dragon-killing invention?”
“And I’m assuming you meant to fire it just now.”
Callum rolled his eyes, as he crossed the forge to where the net-like contraption lay in a tangled mess, “It’s just a minor calibration issue. It’ll be fixed in no time.”
“Don’t let your father find it, then,” Ethari warned, an amused smile playing at the corners of his mouth, “It’d be scrapped for parts before you even had the chance to destroy a watch tower.”
Callum ignored Ethari’s verbal jab, carefully re-attaching the bola to it’s mount and setting it aside as a new pile of ruined weaponry was placed at the window to the forge.
“That happened one time like, two years ago? You’re never gonna let me live that down, are you?”
Ethari drew his attention away from Callum and back to the flaming metal in his gloved hands.
“What about the time you nearly burnt down the forge while testing that wind spell you stole from Claudia? Or the time you destroyed a line of catapults after filling them with scrap metal instead of rocks? Or when you set a Gronkle free in an attempt to--”
“ Okay , I get it. So I'm a little accident prone,” Callum admitted, hastily detaching the metal parts from the ruined blades and tossing them into the forge to be smelt down and reused for new weaponry, “but that’s only because no one will give me a chance. How am I meant to fight dragons when I’m never even allowed outside ?”
“For now you need to focus on eating more and growing some muscles. Maybe then you wouldn’t be seen as such a lost cause and--”
There was a loud crash as a nearby building was crushed, and Ethari cursed as he looked out the window, “That was Runaan. I’m going out to help.”
Ethari grabbed his preferred weapon--a large silver hammer that resembled the ones they used in the forge--and made his way to the door.
“ Don’t even think about leaving this smithy! ” he called out as he left.
Callum then proceeded to leave the forge.
You see, here’s the thing. Callum didn’t necessarily mean to exit the building. It just sort of happened. Y’know. As things do.
Around a minute after the blacksmith went to help his husband there was a loud rumble, pulling his attention away from the melting metals.
The warning was never necessarily needed. That’s what made this certain breed of dragon unique. If it wanted you to know it was there, you would know. Storm clouds appeared seemingly out of nowhere, the growing drum of thunder shooting throughout the sky as lightning struck at the village.
The verbal warning was only an unneeded confirmation.
“ Storm Fury, get down! ”
This. This was his chance.
Callum hoisted up his masterful invention and made his way out of the forge, the freezing early-autumn air biting into his skin in a sharp contrast to the fiery heat of the forge. His breath fogged as the blue silhouette shot across the suddenly stormy sky, its shape indistinguishable from the lightning that surrounded it. Sparks rained down around him, creating small fires as the sparking electricity hit dry wood.
Storm Furies were rare, only three of the dragons ever being known to appear to mortal eyes. Large, evasive creatures known to live thousands of years at least.
Panicked war cries filled the air, and the smell of ash and burning blood stung his nose along with the sharp cold. Callum crouched down, setting the tail end of his bola-launcher-thingy on the street and aiming it upwards, to where a long streak of lightning was shooting across the sky.
Just wait for the perfect opportunity to strike. As soon as the lightning fades, in the split second before the dragon disappears into the storm clouds…
There was a long moment of silence.
Then, the icy blue lightning flickered very slightly, and the sparks began to fade.
Callum pulled the lever, launching the bola through the sky. It hit the blue shape and a loud, pain-filled screech echoed over the island of Katolis.
There was a beat of silence, as a long streak of lightning shot down across the sky. Into the forest.
He’d done it.
He’d done it.
He’d shot down a Storm Fury.
He’d shot down the most dangerous dragon their clan had ever faced, and now he would finally, finally be seen as a real viking.
Then, because his luck had been going too well to possibly be true, all hell broke loose.
There was a sudden warmth creeping up the back of his neck. Warm, wet air replacing the dry cold. A low rumble filled his ears as he froze.
Callum slowly turned to face the dragon that had approached him, looking upwards at the Monstrous Nightmare.
Had they always been so incredibly large?
He slowly began to step backwards, trying his hardest not to think of the large dragon watching his every move with murderous intent.
His foot hit a fallen piece of rubble, causing him to stumble.
His glorious bola-launcher-net-thing slipped from his hands and hit the dirt below him, causing a racket that was most certainly several levels too loud for someone trying to escape being burnt to a crisp by one of the most dangerous dragons known to man.
The Monstrous Nightmare illuminated it’s body in flames.
Callum ran, his heartbeat erratic as fire filled the air around him. He ducked behind a house that was promptly engulfed in flames, tripping and stumbling onto his back over the sloping ground, sliding sharply across the rocky dirt before coming to a halt against a large rock that bordered the village’s docks. His left shoulder flared up in pain, and he was vaguely aware of a sudden wet, sticky sensation creeping down his arm. The dragon let out a single long roar, letting fire spill from it’s mouth and across the ships behind Callum.
The dragon turned its attention towards the boy, and he felt his heart drop. It’s eyes narrowed slightly as Callum desperately pressed his back as far against the rock as it would go, ignoring how the action tore at the damaged skin on his upper arm.
A growl grew from the dragon’s throat, its lips peeling back to reveal dozens of razor-sharp teeth that could easily rip the small boy to shreds--bones and all. Heat was surrounding him, and in Callum’s adrenaline-fueled panic he could hardly tell that the flames had engulfed the entirety of the surrounding area. There was a snap, and the looming shadow of a watch tower fell slowly over his head. (Callum mentally cursed. Ethari would never let him hear the end of that.) It crashed, shaking the ground around him as the dragon roared and went to strike its prey--
A large, rough hand grabbed his injured shoulder, sending streams of white-hot pain through his arm as he was harshly pulled from his huddled position against the rock. His vision blurred, and the pain-filled screech of a dragon nulled his senses as he peered through the growing smoke to see what appeared to be the figure of a large arrow sticking out from the neck of the Monstrous Nightmare. It was quickly followed by the sickening crunch of dragon scales being split in two.
The dragon fell to the ground, dead. A figure pulling an axe from where it was embedded in the creature’s neck as Runnan--the clan’s best archer--removed the arrow.
Callum pulled his eyes away from the two vikings, his gaze drifting over to the sea. Two of their largest boats were engulfed in flames. He could see hoards of dragons flying quickly across the dark waters, escaping with a very large amount of livestock. The grip on his shoulder tightened, and through the pain Callum wondered if his captor was bothered by the feeling of human blood on his hands.
“ What were you thinking? ” an angry voice shouted into his ear, and Callum flinched. He looked up towards the chief, a man that towered over him and managed to look equally as regal as he was frightening.
“Hey... Harrow!” he managed to squeak out, “Okay so like, I know this looks bad--”
There was a splash as a large piece of ship fell into the sea harbor.
“... really bad, in this case... But I shot down a Storm Fury!”
Harrow the Vaste. The chief of Katolis. His technical-not-really step-father.
He was in a load of trouble, wasn’t he?
Harrow looked down at Callum, an exhausted expression on his face. He loosened his grip on Callum’s shoulder and pushed him towards their home, turning back briefly to address the vikings in the area.
“Marcos, Runaan, dispose of the Nightmare. I’ll be with you to assess the damages in a moment.”
Callum held back a cringe, quickly following the chief through the ruined streets, trying his hardest to ignore the stares of those around them.
His ankle was starting to throb too. He tried not to think of how sore and bruised the rest of his body was.
They passed by the fire brigade, and Callum almost wished that the dragon had just killed him.
Claudia--the pretty girl who used to play with him and his brother when they were little and their parents were in important meetings--gave him a pitying look. Her older brother, Soren just scoffed at him. There were the other teens surrounding them. Rayla, the girl that Runaan and Etheri had unofficially adopted; Nyx, the aspiring sky mage who had a talent for causing chaos; Corvus, the eldest of them all and the one with the most experience dealing with dragons.
Then there was him. Callum the useless. The one who’s only talents included doodling and destroying things.
He ducked his head as he passed his peers.
Ezran was waiting in front of the door with his glow toad in his arms when they reached their house. It was thankfully untouched, if you managed to ignore the several patches of ash along the wood.
Harrow glanced at the small dragon with a look of discomfort, but didn’t say anything as he gently coaxed Ezran into the house.
Glow Toads were harmless creatures, found commonly in swamps and shallow rivers. They were small, slow, and more often than not the favorite food to any animal larger than them. Their one defense was the soft glow that they emitted at random intervals.
Vikings liked to use them as bait for catching dragons.
Ezran cried for a week straight when he discovered what their clan had been raising a group of them for, and in an attempt to quell his son’s cries he allowed the boy to take one as a pet. Hence the toad’s name--Bait.
Callum was pretty certain that Harrow regretted his decision immensely.
“Ezran, go to your room,” Harrow ordered. Ezran gave Callum a quick glance before shooting up the stairs, not wanting to anger the chief further.
“How many times do we have to have this conversation?” he asked as soon as the younger boy disappeared.
Callum remained silent.
“We were meant to take those boats and leave this morning in search of the dragons’ nest.”
“And now you can’t.”
“So, you see our problem?”
Callum bit his lip, all too aware that his brother was listening in despite being in another part of the house. Sound carried through the building far too easily.
“I know this seems really, really bad. But I shot down a dragon. We don’t need to worry about a Storm Fury anymore. Just get together and send out a search party and--”
“I saw it fall, it should be just past the Caldera cliffs--”
“ Callum .”
Callum shut his mouth.
“You need to get your head out of the clouds and back into Katolis where it belongs.”
Callum avoided Harrow's gaze, the feeling of his eyes sharp and stinging against his skin. Just like his shoulder, which was really starting to hurt now that the adrenaline was wearing off.
Harrow sighed, seemingly reading Callum’s thoughts and gesturing for him to sit at the kitchen table.
“Remove your vest and shirt, they need to be mended and cleaned.”
Callum complied, wincing as the fabric tugged at the torn skin. Harrow left through the back door, presumably to use the water pump that was located behind the house, and returned with a bucket of water and an old rag. He didn’t bother lighting the candle that sat in the middle of the table, content on working in the soft pre-dawn light.
The wound was thankfully nothing more than the top layer of skin being shredded. It wasn’t deep, and there wasn’t any danger of permanent damage. The chances were that it wouldn’t even leave the slightest scar. That didn’t make it hurt any less though, as Harrow pressed a layer of cloth bandages against his upper arm and tied it the slightest bit too tight.
Harrow stood as soon as the wound was cleaned and bandaged, making his way to the door and leaving without another word.
That was fine. Callum was used to this.
Ezran chose that moment to slowly creep down the stairs, having heard Harrow leave.
“Are you okay?”
He stood from the table, grabbing the small pile of blood-soaked clothing and tossing it into the water bucket so that the blood wouldn’t dry and stain. He’d wash it later, before the water frosted over.
By the time he’d changed into a new set of clothing the sun had finished rising, illuminating the main room of their home and providing the faintest presence of warmth, a gentle relief from the normal biting cold.
The chances were that the sunlight wouldn’t last. It would probably rain or sleet later.
Bait grumbled from Ezran’s arms.
Callum silently got to work, pulling out a stale loaf of bread and two eggs before spending several minutes striking at the flint and steel in an attempt to illuminate the fireplace so that Ezran could at least have a warm meal.
“Weapons-grade bread?” Ezran asked in an attempt to lighten the tense mood, and Callum couldn’t help but smile.
He eventually got the fire to light and the eggs to cook, but neither of the two brothers were strong enough to cut the bread.
Callum went upstairs before his brother could remind him to eat.
His sketchbook laid open on his desk, a charcoal pencil beside it.
He immediately got to work, sketching out a vague map of the island and marking all of the locations the dragon could’ve possibly landed. The most likely location was a heavily wooded area just past the Cursed Caldera cliffs.
The only problem was that… well… it was the Cursed Caldera. Dragons loved to nest inside the caves that littered the cliffside, and Terrible Terrors were a common menace in this particular section of wood.
He didn’t want to have a foot bitten off.
But at the same time, this was his chance. He’d seen the dragon fall from the sky, he’d heard it’s pain-filled shriek. And, because his luck was just so wonderful, no one believed him.
So now it was a simple choice. Risk a terrible injury, kill a dragon, face immeasurable glory and finally be accepted by those around him, or be the village laughingstock for the rest of his life.
Callum closed his sketchbook, slung the strap to it around his shoulder, and grabbed his only weapon--a small dagger.
It would appear that he would be going on a long walk through the forest today.