Story Every Day – Day 4

The year before last was my first attempt at NaNo. I jumped into NaNo with no real concept of what I was doing – I’d never even tried to write a novel before, and joined on pretty short notice. It was a fantasy steampunk sort of thing. I did a little world building and dove right in. I forget how much I wrote, maybe 8-10,000 words or so? I haven’t really thought about or done anything with the concept since then, so I thought I’d revisit that world just a little tonight. I had to dig up some old notes to try and remember some of the geography and names.

I still think the setting and concept has a lot of potential. Maybe sometime I’ll work on it some more. A little under 700 words.

The Watchtower

Keergan stamped his feet to warm them and stared out across the snowy hillside. The little watchtower (really, a shack) half covered in snow perched on the eastern edges of the Avallee Mountains, far from the busy cities where his betters lived. Keergan snorted at the thought, then turned his gaze east. Any day now his relief should arrive, so he could get off this rock and go somewhere warmer for a few months. He checked his watch—noon approached already. There’d likely be no relief today. Might as well make the rounds.

Keergan locked up the “watchtower” and stomped up the ridge toward his first patrol point. He shifted the route every week or so, mostly to break the routine more than any security threat. The Amaranth Empire had driven the dragons and goblins from the northern lands over two centuries before; the goblins had fled south, where they still roamed to this day, and the dragons to the west, into the mountains. Sane humans rarely ventured into the mountains, but a dragon had not ventured from those rocky passes in ninety years. Keergan had seen a few, on excursions deep into the mountain range, but they were solitary, shy creatures now. Nothing much to worry over.

Still, he kept his rifle handy and his sword sharp.

At the top of the ridge, he peered through his binoculars at the nearest mountain peaks. Clouds shrouded the distant peaks, and the nearer, shorter mountaintops were covered in snow. Not much interesting to see. Keergan dropped the binoculars to his belt and stared at the dragon for five full seconds before realizing what he saw.

The beast stood on the next hill over, just a few hundred yards distant. Somewhat larger than a large horse, its ruddy scales flexed in the mid-day sun. Heavy spines ran the length of its body and tail. Four massive trunks for legs stretched across the snow, ending in long, curved claws that gripped the rocky ground. The signature triangular head angled in Keergan’s direction, and he knew it had spotted him.

Keergan’s mind reeled trying to recall dragon biology. Carnivores, they usually fed on small livestock. The mountains had plenty of goats and similar stock, but what if they’d run out? Were there greener pastures beyond the mountains, to the west? No one knew. If they ran out of food, would they return to their old hunting grounds? Keergan was well aware that there were no goats around here. Keergan himself was the only food for miles. At least this wasn’t one of the winged varieties, thank the Archive.

Keergan crouched and swung his rifle to his shoulder. No one really knew if a single armed man could take a dragon in combat, but the guns had gotten much better since the days Keergan’s ancestors had stood on these hills to watch the monsters flee their lands.

The beast reared up on its hind legs and roared. A massive, deep roar, Keergan’s hands fumbled reached for his rifle’s safety and lock. No rookie to the wilderness, Keergan yet felt a tremor of fear shiver up his spine.

The creature roared for some time, a long, almost sad sound. Finally, it settled back onto all fours as the defiant bellow trailed off. It glared at Keergan for a long moment, then slowly turned and sauntered beyond the distant ridge, back into the west.

Keergan let out a slow breath and leaned heavily on his gun. He remained crouched for some time, waiting for the creature to return, possibly with allies. But neither the dragon nor any of its brethren darkened the hillside again that afternoon. Had it been a probe of the kingdom’s defenses, to see if the humans still kept an eye on the mountains? Or had there been something else in that almost mournful cry?

Keergan decided he didn’t want to know. His relief would be here soon anyway. He eased to his feet, shook the cramps free, and trudged back to the watchtower.