The Other Eight
A man laid on the forest floor, weak, air dragging in and out of his lungs in fading gasps. Already his vision was growing dim. He was beyond help now. The end was near.
A dying mind must choose its thoughts carefully. They are too precious to be squandered.
He thought of his family--his wife, his brothers, his parents, each and every one of them waiting on the other side. He would be with them again soon. He thought of how little he was leaving behind. A tiny home, a failure of a shop, and an indifferent town. He would not miss them. Still a young man, he thought of the years of life that he was losing. Half of a lifetime still lay before him. He would not miss that, either. The world he knew was a bleak one. Disease, hunger, and poverty were everywhere. What he felt most was relief that he would endure it no more.
Most impressively, not once did his final thoughts touch upon the beast standing over him. Blood pooled around its mighty claws. A cold rain began to pound upon its green scales. Its reptilian head towered above, smoky breath rushing out between stout daggers of teeth. The dragon watched life slip away, just as it had countless times before. Then, in a few bounding strides, it was gone.
“All out! Everybody out!” cried a scraggly man, as he hammered at a crude bell.
Far to the southeast, the town of Isintist was a small one, but dense with people. They poured from the houses as quickly as they could. It was the alarm bell, and the smell of smoke left little doubt as to the reason. A fire was raging in a large house toward the edge of town, the site of the Rinton family’s home and farm. Every able body rushed to the scene. It would be nice to say that each had moved so quickly out of a sense of duty, but the truth was far less heroic. The village--indeed, the entire region--was in the midst of a terrible drought. The grass and trees were dry as tinder. Were the fire to spread, it would quickly be out of control and their own homes would be next. Best, then, to do what could be done to stop it before that happened.