What Lies Beneath

By Cheyenne Hexamer (Sun Valley High School, Aston, PA)

At first she thought this was nothing but a dream, but having pinched herself it was clear that it was not. She sat there, dozens of burly men clad in torn clothing and animal hides bustled around her screaming at each other. They messily clacked their shaven wooden cups together that were over brimming the rim with some unknown brew. She sat on that tree stump at the end of the table, her widened eyes staring at the dozens of plates sloppily filled with a vast amount of food that could’ve been served at a king’s castle. She, a fourteen year old girl, was petrified. After discovering a hidden passage obscured by a thick, brown door, she opened it to find a bridge.

Having crossed over it, she found herself in a completely different world. Instead of being surrounded by trees crisp with orange and red crinkled leaves, she found herself in a snowstorm. The strident gusts of wind kicked up the thick snow that blanketed the ground, whipping her face bright red and blinding her. The drop in temperature had chilled each pore on her skin and bit at her frail bones. Wading knee deep through snow, she trudged on. It must of been over thirty minutes before she stumbled and fell.

Before she passed out, however, she felt two calloused hands yank her up by her arm before she slipped into an icy slumber. Now here she was, amongst men who seemed to be like vikings. From what she gathered, they called themselves the night elves. Although they looked far from the tiny, pointed eared men that would skip about in Christmas stories. They were also at war with a race called the Pucas, shapeshifter deities that protected the forest and served under the mighty dragon, Bludenacht.

They were once united allies, but once the dragon appeared, they had craved nothing but blood shed. They see everything as enemies against the forest and have made a pledge to make sure no living thing within their line of vision would be left standing. Having their village right near the forest, they have been the primary target for execution. The shaman within the village predicted that a hero would arise from the door connected to the old spirit tree. That was her, she was now considered to be the soon-to-be savior of this village.

She also must go on this journey to the dragon’s den alone while they fought off the Pucas from preventing her from proceeding forward. Breaking her thoughts, one of the burly men hollered, “We have ate, we have shared our harvest. Now it is time to go to war!”

All of the night elves around them cheered loudly in agreement, making all the blood drain from her face, “Now?!”

“Aye,” he bellowed in reply while his men huddled to exit the eating corridor, “All apologies, lassie, but we’d rather get this done before dawn. We believe in you.”

“Wait!” she shouted, but he had already disappeared to go gather his weapons and horse.

What she wanted to say was how was she supposed to do this when she didn’t even believe in herself? The whole weight of their race was now pressing down on her shoulders and clinging to her back. If she didn’t do this correctly, they would be wiped out from existence and she wouldn’t ever be able to leave this place without acknowledging the fact that she would be a killer. Her stomach was somersaulting endlessly into twists and knots, leaving the stinging feeling of bile to bite at her throat. Even if she felt as if she were going to upchuck the leftovers she had from last night, she felt herself being carried forward by an unknown force.

Making her way out, they were already gathering with their horses at the end of the village. She was able to see them more clearly now that the snow died down. Wrapping herself in the fur cloak that the men had given her, she approached the crowd of warriors. The one from before had a stern glint in his eye as he held out the harness of a great brown stallion and a sheath that held a massive sword, “Get on this one and keep this by your side. You’re going to need it, child. I wish you luck and a safe return. Let us dine together in triumph the next time we meet.”

She didn’t say anything but gave a hesitant nod before climbing upon the horse’s back while slinging the weapon over her shoulder. They sent her off with uplifting farewells, leaving her to gallop forward to her fate and out into the unknown. The hills that were blanketed with white became steeper, leaving her to cling to the horse’s neck. The wind picked up and roared in her ears as soon as she caught sight of a line of trees. As she got nearer and nearer, she could practically hear her heart beating against her ribcage.

As soon as she and the horse entered the forest, the whole atmosphere darkened. The horse’s pace became more frantic and quicker, it’s hooves practically flying out from underneath itself. After a long time of just dashing forward, leaves rustled and fluttered to the beaten path as if they were being disturbed by some outside force. Did the Pucas sense her arrival? An arrow that whizzed by her ear automatically answered that question for her.

Letting out a startled shriek, she ducked as the horse darted forward at the speed of light. The bare barked trees and murky white sky whizzed about above her until she felt the ground fall out from underneath both her and the animal’s feet. Twisting around her falling body, her widened eyes caught sight of the cliff of where the forest abruptly ended. She heard the horse flailing frantically while letting out a cry of pain as she tumbled down a jagged stone hill. After a few moments of sheer excruciating twisting, she rolled to a stop.

The only movement from her after that was the casual twitch of her screaming muscles that were now battered and bruised down to the bone. She didn’t want to move. She had had enough of this. She was fourteen, frail, and not a hero. There wasn’t any chance of her getting to that dragon in time now. She would be the reason a race was doomed into extinction.

She was immediately snapped out of that thought the moment she felt a loud snort vibrate the ground she laid on, following a fierce gust of blistering hot wind that scorched the back of her shivering silhouette. Slowly, she rose her head, only to be met by two giant pair of cerulean eyes that glowed against the icy landscape around her. Its pupils narrowed to slits in order to focus in on her tiny form as it sulked closer with a single thunderous step. She was brought to a crouching position as it flared it’s nostrils, letting out twin blasts of sultry winds that blew both her hair and fur cloak back. She couldn’t make out its size for its shining crystal hide of scales blended in with the falling snow.

There was no doubt. This dragon was the infamous Bludenacht.

It’s needle-like teeth were bared and the fins on each side of its scaly face fluttered against the snowstorm. Two horns with tips sharp to the point spiraled out the top of its head. It truly was the most terrifying beast she had ever encountered. With her weak knees wobbling, her twitchy hand raised the sword from it’s sheath. Her heart screamed at her to flee as she pointed the tip of it towards the dragon’s snout. After a few moments of unbearable silence, the dragon’s lips drew back in a grin as it chuckled.

Immediately, the sword fell from her fingers as she stared wide-eyed at the beast. It had laughed at her. Lowering itself to eye-level with her, the point of its snout nearly brushed against her own nose. Without opening its tremendous mouth, a voice rumbled from it’s throat, “Hyacinth, she who bears the name of flowers,” his voice pulsated against her eardrums as his tone became more sincere, “you are not ready to face me.”

Soon, her eyes flickered open to reveal a bright blue sky and trees full of autumn leaves.

Hyacinth woke up leaning against the same door she had entered in her dreams.

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