Message in a Bottle

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She still remembered how it looked when she was a child.  Red and ominous, a dragon's eye peering down at them from the heavens.  Jagged lines were etched across it, as if some internal force was trying to get out, cracking it open from within.  She had spent hours staring at it from the top of the walls protecting her father's keep in the Vershon Sands.  How it had frightened her, a little girl that was the only child of one of the most powerful nobles in the Kaliak Dynasty, the largest realm on Scylla. 

No Dynasty army, no vaults of gold, no murmured charm or spell could make that baleful ball leave their skies.  Not even her father, Marduke of the Vershon, whom she loved and worshipped as a god in his own right, had that power.

She had cast up her first prayer that day, like a castaway throwing a message in a bottle into the red-tinged sea that was their night sky.  She hurled it far into the unknown in the hopes that something out there would hear.  They would hear and come and make the dragon's eye go away.

"Day dreaming again, girl?"  The throaty voice asked and, startled, Dame Nilena Morningwind drew out of her reverie and looked at her companion with a frown.

"After the blood we've bathed in these last few days, I think I've earned the right, drake."  She huskily replied, fatigue coloring her very word.

The indurlaan, roughly translated as lizard man in the old tongue, grunted sourly, the sound like jagged metal against stone.  Hunched over the neck of its riding dragon, it turned away from her and stared at the distant horizon.  Nilena stared at it for a moment longer, her thoughts churning before she too turned away.

To call it a drake was as insulting to the indurlaan as it was calling her, a veteran paladin knight going on nearly twenty years now, a girl.  It bore only a passing resemblance to the heavy shouldered, thick necked ground dragons that served as mount and pack animal in the Vershon, with its stunted wings, blunt snout and stubby tail.  Just as she, with gray in her blond hair, and lines on her once beautiful face, bore only a passing resemblance to that young, frightened girl that stared at the red ball that hung in their sky so very long ago.

A cold, sand-filled wind abruptly lashed at the pair of them, forcing Nilena to pull her tattered cloak more tightly around her in a vain attempt to keep it from biting more deeply.  She could still remember getting that cloak, with its stylized angel wings, on the day she was raised as a knight, the first woman to do so.  It had been new then, finely sewn silk and linen, its stitching exquisite.  Care had gone into its making, as went into her burnished plate and mail armor, and the longsword that would become her primary weapon.

Nothing was new now, twenty years later as what had been a red ball filling only part of the sky, now dominated it.  The dragon's eye had become Bane, the End of the World.  By its angry red light armies struggled and died, kingdoms shattered and fell and those without hope grew in number.

Nilena had been raised to the knighthood for two reasons: she was skilled and accomplished, wielding the weapons of hope and resolution like none other before her.  And, with the heavy losses the knighthood had suffered thanks to the wars that now washed over the Kaliak on all sides, the order was forced to take any and all comers to fill their ranks in this age of desperation.  She had been the first, but certainly not the last woman to enter the knighthood, their ranks now replete with them, along with old men and children.

Thinking of that, tightened Nilena's face.  'We do what we must.'  She grimly thought.  'We all must shoulder the burden.  Or the tide of hopelessness will wash us all away!'

Nilena twisted in her saddle to stare once more at Bane, now rising to fill the night sky with its hated red light.

"If only I knew,...

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