The man in the distance shook his lantern, like how one would shake a container to free it of something. Flame dripped into the air, rising and taking shape. The serpent was birthed from flames, its form straightening from the flicker of light that pervaded the lantern. The fire coiled around him, his friend, and the dragon, encircling them as my thorn’s had guarded me against the wolves. The flame serpent’s stature was that of a guardian: Proud and strong, it dared me to come near them.
“Begone trespasser! None of these are yours!”
Out of the darkness that blanketed the area around them, this fire pursued me. The fire hissed and cracked, as I saw the head of a snake slithering towards me. It skirted the snow covered landscape, melting it and leaving a trail of mist as it rushed me.
“Wait! Wait! Hold on!”
My words did not reach them in my panic. I stumbled through the thick snow, trying to gain my bearings. My foot, as it pushed through the snow, slid off a protruding rock from the ground. All that I could see was white and cold. I raised my head, trying to lift myself with my arms, but the fire serpent had encircled me. The snow around us melted, and I saw a multitude of flat and pointed rocks that were laid on the earth.
The serpent watched me, as if waiting for a command from its master. Its eyes were old and jaded. This was not its first experience. I waited, and I hoped I could reason with them.
“So what ya got for me Geis, some damn varmint again?” Just outside of the fire serpent, I saw an older man. His face was large and red, and his stiff, grey hair was disheveled from his hood. He watched me with his right eye, which was blue and clear, but his left eye was blind. “Who sent ya? Was it that Goetz again?” The fire of the serpent reflected in the man’s blind eye, like a righteous fury.
“I-I don’t know who that is. I-”
The old man shook his lantern, having the fire serpent coil closer to me. “Now yer gonna tell me who sent ya. Otherwise old Geis here will fry ya up.”
“I don’t know anyone by Goetz! My name is Joas. Listen, can we talk about–”
A spark from the serpent caught a portion of my sleeve on fire. I attempted to smother it as the old man began interrogating me.
“Ya ain’t gonna be able to put that out lest I say so. Now who sent ya here?”
The fire crept up along my robe, singeing my left arm. I took off my outer robe and threw it into the serpent, where it burned like oil. The old man stepped back as I did, watching it until it was complete ash. His eyes returned to me. Parts of my left arm were swollen and black. He watched as I panicked, looking for some way to run out of the coiled serpent.
“I don’t know Goetz! I don’t know who that is!”
He clicked his tongue and raised the lantern. “Geis!” The serpent unwound itself as its body was absorbed by the lantern. The other figure ran to him, shouting.
“Fynn, Fynn! Did he tell you who sent him?”
The young boy’s question was greeted by an intimate connection between himself and the man he called Fynn: His fist. He fell backward from the force of the hit into the snow. Cupping his face, the young boy attempted to say something, but he was cut off by Fynn.
“How many times have I told ya Fox to be checking them wards around the mountain?!”
Fox’s eyes grew wide as his voice staggered. “I-I did check them like you told me to! I just went out three days ago to look at them all, I swear!”
“Then how in the voids did this fellow get in, Fox!”
“Cause he’s some poacher, that’s why.” He stood up, watching me with his wide, brown eyes. Disbelief hung in them. Fox waited for me to do something, to show that he was right.
“Look at him ya dumbass!” Fynn pointed at me, shaking his finger in anger. He stepped closer to me, grumbling, as he removed his own coat.
Fox looked towards my robe, noticing it had turned to complete ash. His eyes lifted to me, watching as I held my sorely burnt arm. Portions of my arm were a charred black, like meat that had been roasted. I was cold, alone, and scared. Gripping my left forearm in pain, I squeezed it and clenched my fist to try and divert my attention away from it.
“What’s yer name, boy?” Fynn wrapped his coat around me, then lifted my left arm to examine the burnt marks. “Ain’t nothing that will kill ya, but we’ll need to hurry on back.”
“My name’s Joas.”
“Aye. I’m Fynn. This idiot here’s my apprentice, Fox. Fox! Where in gods damn void are yer manners?”
Fox’s eyes looked away in guilt. “Hello Joas. I’m Fox. I’m sorry this happened to you.”
“The fault’s mine,” I waved off his apology. “I kinda just wandered into here.”
Fynn reached behind himself into his satchel. “Good thing I’m always carrying this here.” He began wrapping up my arm. The blood had coagulated from the extreme fire, but portions of my flesh were raw and tender. The bandages soon became red as he tightened them. I saw his eyes divert from my arm to the bangles on my wrists. “A Thornweaver, eh? Why didn’t you defend yourself? Well, probably a good thing ya didn’t. Otherwise old Geis would’ve had a field day with you.”
“That’s… Sort of the reason I’m here.”
“Eh? What you mean by that boy?”
“I don’t remember… Who I am. I just know my name is Joas, and I had been wandering the woods for some time until I met you all.”
“Titania preserve him.” Fox looked behind me into the open field of snow. “The nearest forest is several miles away. Any way you look at it.”
“Hmm. Still an hour from the cabin.” Fynn looked towards the dragon in the distance. “Think you can walk that much?”
“I think I can.”
“Alright. If that kid can walk, so can you. We can sort things out from there. And you Fox. Guess what yer doing.”
Fox came up beside me, lifting my right arm around his shoulders. “Yeah I know. I’ll help him to walk a bit.”
“Ain’t that. I’m talking about the wards.”
Fox scratched his head. “I could’ve sworn…”
“Yeah? Well he got past them. So yer gonna check on them again. Maybe it’s good that the wards were down. Otherwise he would’ve been fried and no one would know.” Fynn looked at my weakened stature, imagining my entire body charred and black.
We walked back towards the dragon, who waited patiently for them to return. Fox’s shoulders were bony and awkward; the body of a lean boy. Fynn was of a larger set, even without his coat. He did not seem to mind the cold. The dragon laid on all fours until we arrived, wherein it stood up and sniffed me.
“The kid ain’t gonna do nothing to ya. Just interested is all.”
It was much larger than the three of us put together. I figured it was about 24 feet long, including its tail, and about 12 feet high. I patted the dragon on its head, which it did not mind. Its scales were hard like a rock and jagged. It were as though I was petting a golem. The dragon moved away from me and began following Fynn as we trekked into the darkness.
“You… called it a kid Fynn.”
“Yeah? Its still young. Guessing you lost more than just your memories, eh?”
“I find it kind of amazing, seeing a dragon like this.”
“Ain’t nothing special about it. We see ’em every day. Bathe them. Feed them. Watch them.”
Fox adjusted my body as he re-positioned himself to carry me. “Clean up their shit.” He patted down the coat Fynn had clothed me in.
Fynn turned to us as he motioned his hand into a large circular object, grinning. “Oh boy, ain’t that some fun.”
“Yer in a dragon sanctuary, Joas. We watch them. Make sure no poachers come out to get them.”
“So that’s why you attacked me.”
“Yeah. They’re always a handful. Some have tried to kill Fox and I. Though old Geis is always too much for them, anyhow. Its how I saw you ain’t no poacher.” He looked back at me. “Nah, you ain’t even a killer.”
The snow was cold. Snow is cold, but I realized my own body becoming further tired. Hypothermia. My body shivered. My feet were heavy. Lifting them to walk through the snow became daunting. I wanted to lie down to rest. The pain in my arm had become dull.
Fynn must have seen what I was thinking. “Oi, Geis.” He shook his lantern as the fire serpent slithered out of it. It did not seem menacing now. Geis slowly crawled close to the ground in front of us, laying out a road of melted snow.
When it returned, it did not reenter the lantern; instead, it came close to my body. The bright flame of the serpent had grown dull, though it was warm. It coiled underneath my robes for a few moments as we walked. Geis’ tongue hissed, as though in apology.
“Oi come on now. I can’t see anything.”
Geis returned to the lantern, lighting our path up a mountain trail. I saw various rock formations, but I couldn’t make much out in the darkness. The young dragon bit into one of the rocks, crunching a piece of boulder down like bread.
“You wouldn’t believe how often that could happen to me.” I saw Fox with a small smile on his face. “They’re like little pups. Always wanting to chew on everything. Until they grow up that is.”
“Then they’re smarter than even most scholars, I reckon.” Fynn patted the dragon. “But with years come wisdom.”
“Of course Fynn here is wise.”
“Yer trying to say I’m old?” He smoothed back his hair. “I’ll have ya know I use to be a stud in my days.”
Fynn began talking about some of the women he knew in a nearby city (????-do Springs).
I did not catch the name.
The two of them rambled on about various things, from what was a good wife to who was going to feed the dragons. They would turn to me and ask some questions, try to make me laugh–They just tried their best to keep me conscious. I was becoming drowsy, and each step up the mountain seemed harder, even though Geis had melted the snow.
“Alright we’re here. I’ll take the dragon out back. Take Geis and Joas inside, Fox.”
I had not realized we had reached the cabin. My body seemed to have moved on its own for the remainder of the journey. Geis slithered through the air into the cabin as Fox opened it, lighting up the rooms. In the first room I saw it was something of a chemistry workshop. Multiple vials and beakers were filled with substances. Measuring cylinders, magnifying glasses, and thermometers littered their desks. Several books were stacked near a burner. I would never do something like that; it was dangerous.
“Hey Joas, can you–Hey Joas!”
My vision tilted as I focused on the burner and the books. I just wanted to sleep. Everything grew dark.
I woke up, but I was somewhere else. I was sitting in a corner of a library on the floor, reading a book. No. It was a study. An incense was burning; it smelled like lilacs. They were her favorite (Whose?). I thumbed through a few pages when a mumbled voice called to me. The book was almost done. The early morning sun would not appear for another hour or so. I would be done soon (Why was I so fixated on this book?). She came over to me, pressing her soft body against my back. The whole of creation seemed far more remote than her. Whispering something into my ear (What was it?), I pressed my head into her shoulder and neck. The warmth of her cheeks permeated my lips.
She mentioned something as her hand ran down my left arm. Pain throbbed in my arm, but my heart throbbed in unison. I let the book drop from my lap onto the floor. Grabbing her arms as they enveloped me, I pressed myself into her. My body yearned for her warmth, her comfort, to become one with her.
I told her I would never let go.
She, and the rest of the dream, dissolved into nothingness. My memories once more sunk deep into the unknown that was my self.