The wind carries minuscule dots of pollen across the valley, shaken loose from the violet flowers that blanket the ground. Beyond the valley is a great stone tower, a massive granite pillar that pierces the sky.
High above this all, Frain soars majestic. Her massive leather wings stretch out wide in both directions, keeping aloft her titanic scaled body. Her jaw unhinges as she roars at the afternoon sun, spewing rolling waves of fire that wash across the sky.
She is far outside her territory; she spied the stone tower while hunting yesterday, and now she means to investigate it. Where there is proud architecture there is wealth; wealth that would look far finer in her hoard.
Landing atop the tower she buries her talons into the hard stone. Fragments crumble away into dust in her grip as she stretches her long neck down, eyes peering into to the window-slits.
It happens so fast, she cannot react until it is far too late. Wooden contraptions hidden within bushes and behind trees fire in unison, launching mighty spears all around her. While such paltry spikes simply bounce off her scales, most fly wide over her head; it is then she notices that the spears are tied with a shining string. She jerks and twists, but it is too late; she is tied to the tower.
She flexes and leaps against the stone; but the cords grow only tighter, constricting against her rigid flesh. Rubble and dust bursts from beneath her talons as she scrapes against the tower, but soon the cords grow so tight her talons become useless; suspended in the air by shimmering strings.
‘Aha! Looks like the old git was right, it worked!’ A man is shining silver armour proclaims to soldiers who are scuttling out from the forest. ‘A fine prize for our efforts!’
She inhales, and roars fire down across the crowd below. The soldiers duck and weave, or flee for safety within the tower. The knight neither flinches nor moves, he simply holds his hands to his hips and laughs as the fire rolls around him, and is repelled by his armour.
Jerking and pulling, she desperately strains every muscle against the diamond cord that binds her. Not a single string breaks, and each tug seems only to tighten her bonds. Smoke pours from her nose as Frain sighs. Her muscle relax; her head droops. She is captured. She knows well the strange ways of the humans; they fear and hate dragons, they capture and kill her kind in the name of their own protection, or for the high values paid for their corpses. Once they have secured her fully, she knows she will be slain, carved up, and sold piecemeal for the profit of her captors.
In a week of sombre captivity further spears are carefully aligned and fired, tightly securing every talon, every muscle. She immolates any soldier foolish enough to lower his guard , but soon realises she cannot move an inch, cannot flex. She is completely trapped against the side of the tower where she was first caught.
Defeated, she watches the work of the soldiers. The knight occasionally leaves the relative comfort of his unnecessarily large tent to assess their work, but rarely for long. The soldiers do all the labour. She eyes one tying new straps to her legs, and another taking measurements of her wing tips – for what awful purpose she chooses not to imagine. She will not live to see these pieces taken from her.
A whistle pierces the gentle chatter, and the man sat atop her wing-tip tumbles from it, an arrow lodged under his arm. He crashes to the ground with a loud thump, and lies silenced.
All helmets turn to the arrows origin; a shaded patch in the woods. Another arrow flies from the darkness, and another soldier collapses to the ground. The soldiers draw their blades and begin to yell chaotic orders to each other, each voicing a different strategy.
From the woods walks a maiden wearing a flowing golden dress adorned with small white gems, her long hair flowing in the valley winds, shining in the afternoon sun. She drops her bow from her left hand, and in her right she carries a sword.
The soldiers look confused and stagger, struggling to assess the situation, but soon their training is remembered and they run towards the young woman. She slices and cuts her way through each soldier in turn, cleanly ending one before the next is upon her with an artful mastery Frain is unused to in humans.
The knight stumbles from his tent as he straps the last of his armour on, crying out ‘What the hell is going on out here?’
He stops, and looks to the bodies of his dead men. ‘Gods. What did you do?’
She does not speak as she raises her blade, slowly approaching her foe.
The armoured man does likewise, smiling arrogantly at the young woman. ‘Stolen daddy’s sword, have we darling? Best hope you know how to use it!’
Frain glances to the bodies of the knight’s allies, snorting.
He breaks stance and sprints the short gap between them, raising his blade above his head in both hands. The maiden extends her sword and steps to the side. Frain watches as the knight impales himself, falling to the ground with his sword still above his head. His eyes look surprised, briefly, before his face strikes the earth.
The maiden walks toward Frain and stares up at her, a gentle yet sombre look upon her face. She uses her blade as a lever to uproot the nearest spear, releasing one of the many wires binding Frain, before speaking for the first time: ‘I am so sorry for what has been done to you, I’ll have you free as soon as possible. I am Princess Ava of the royal house of Gardury, and I’m here to rescue you.’