The Masquerade: Chapter 3

Æstella was now running back towards here home. She had never seen a dragon before, but like any kid she had heard the tales and they all ended the same way: destruction, despair, death.

She had planned on turning her day off into a weekend getaway. The burlap sack she had packed that morning with essentials was now lying next to a tree near where she had first seen the dragon. She had abandoned it in favor of speed; nothing in the sack would help, but it would surely slow her down.

Æstella had no clue what she would do once she reached her village and home. The village was not very big, a humble mining village that sat on the mountain range that bordered the kingdom. It was small enough that it never garnered any attention from the rest of the realm. Its small size had always annoyed Æstella who dreamed of the big cities. Now however, she worried it was too large to escape the attention of the dragon flying in that direction.

It was already dusk by the time Æstella reached the familiar woods that bordered the edge of the village. She had wandered and explored these woods enough growing up that she could have explored them in the pitch black of night.

Her ability to navigate the forest at night was not necessary however, as the forest was not in its usual dark slumber. Shadows of the trees stretched toward her as the occasional forest animal ran from the glow emanating ahead.

Æstella ran over the crunchy, brown pine needles and undulating ground towards the glow. She had worked near forges long enough to recognize the glow of a hot fire, but something was a little off. The glow from the fire was too red, and immediately her mind thought to the dragon.

The dragon must have attacked the village, she thought, and this oddly red fire is from it. I have never seen a dragon or its destruction, yet this fire’s glow feels so familiar.

When a man fully engulfed in flames came stumbling through the forest, she realized why everything was familiar. Æstella must have forgotten her nightmare in the panic after seeing the dragon. Now it was all flashing before her eyes once again, including the small helpless girl screaming for her father.

“No,” she whispered as she connected the dots. “No, no, no.” She ran towards the stumbling, flaming man as he started falling to the ground. If everything else from her nightmare was coming true, then this man was—

She couldn’t bear to finish the thought as she dived onto the ground next to the man. Æstella started shoveling dirt over the man’s body to quench the flames. She managed to put out the flames with some effort, but she couldn’t tell if she saved him.

Holding back tears, she wiped off the dirt covering the man’s face. Taken aback, she leaned in closer for a better look, but was surprised to find that the man was not her father. The man then surprised her once more as he abruptly coughed and let out a pained grown while she had been staring into his face.

She was glad to see that the man was still alive, but she still needed to find her father. “Stay here,” she spoke loudly at the man hoping he would hear her. “The ground and dirt should help keep your burns cooled.”

The man let out another painful grunt which she hoped was a sign that he understood her. She had helped the man as much as she could, so she stood back up and made her way into the village.

It was chaos. Buildings were burning and people were running in every direction. Shouts came in from all sides for water, help or lost loved ones. As far as Æstella could tell there was no order in the chaos; no one shouting commands to organize putting out fires or finding survivors. It was just chaos, and Æstella was another piece of it. She ran through the streets, occasionally pushing others and being pushed herself as she rushed towards her home.

The sight Æstella saw when she finally reached her home made her stomach drop. Like many of the houses she had seen along the way, her home was engulfed in flames. Because her house had been part of the smithy, it had been built to withstand fires better than the average houses in the village. The strange red flames however, didn’t seem to care as the house burned just as well as any other house.

Destruction, despair and—

“Dad!” she yelled.

<– Chapter 2 Chapter 4 –>
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