They struck at dawn.
From the east, their dragon ships approached in silence, hidden by the rising sun at their back. By the time the townspeople saw their draconic silhouettes, all too familiar from their nightmares, it was too late. There was no time to prepare a defense, only to hide and pray.
The great drum, around which the temple itself had been built, was beat. Villagers scurried into hiding. They locked their doors, barricading themselves inside with their furniture. They took their children into the basements and waited. A few stalwart men and women took up what weapons they had, pitchforks, sickles, filleting knives, and waited at the beach to mount a defense, to try to dissuade the raiders from landing in their peaceful village.
High above the ships flew crimson banners, emblazoned with ravens, harbingers of death. The raiders landed. Men leaped down from the ships into the surf and drew their swords, ready for battle. Their shoulders were covered in furs, taken from wolves and bears slain by the men themselves. Thick beards and metal helmets, decorated with long horns, hid most of their faces, leaving only their eyes and noses visible. The townsfolk were no match for them.
The skirmish ended in a few blows. One man had died, a woman had lost her arm, but would live. The others laid down their arms, and were roughly dragged to the village. House by house, the raiders broke down the doors and stole the inhabitants, snatching children from their mothers' arms, collecting them all together, careful not to kill unless necessary. Corpses were without value, a waste of profits.
Those who resisted had their homes razed, given over to the fires. Those who went quietly suffered no further injury. One by one, the town was collected in the square, their limbs bound, and guarded by the youngest and oldest amongst the raiders, while those in the prime of their lives continued to hunt out the survivors.
The sky turned grey, discolored by smoke, before their work was done. But soon, the entire town was gathered. The largest amongst the raiders stepped forward and removed his helmet, emblazoned with tall, gilded wings. His rust-colored beard reached down to his chest. Beneath his furs, he wore chainmail under a plain tunic. He circled his prize, examining the villagers. He stopped. He signaled to his men and pointed at a young man. Two soldiers waded into the crowd and lifted him up by his arms, throwing him to the ground in front of their leader.
He knelt down before the captive and took his jaw in his hands. The young man turned his face, earning him a brutal slap. The crack echoed through the air. Everything else was silent. His cheek flushed as the man gripped his face tightly, forcing him to look him in the eyes.
"You," he spoke with a voice like steel and gravel, "you have the eyes of a storyteller. What stories do you hold inside that skull of yours? Or do I need to slice it open?"
The young man's eyes went wide. His lips fumbled about, producing no sound. Finally, he found words, and spoke. "No! Uh, I—I had an idea for a story about a boy who grows up in a small village, but then he finds out he's really a demigod and special, a-and he goes off on adventures and saves the world, and the girl he's always had a crush on realizes how amazing he is, and falls in love with him."
The gob of spit struck the boy just below his eye. "Pathetic. Unimaginative. Obvious wish fulfillment. The world will be better off without you," the man declared. He raised his sword, and swung it downwards.
"Stop!" cried out an old man. The sword halted in its path. The raider looked towards the source, and smiled.
He sheathed his sword and stepped towards him. "What do you have, grandpa, that is worth this boy's life? A play? An operetta?"
His hands shaking, the old man reached into his coat, and pulled out a thick stack of papers, yellowed with age, wrapped in twine. Across the front page, handwritten in dark ink, were the words, "The Tragedy of Pyrrhus." "It's my novel," he admitted sadly. "I've been writing it for years. Please, take it, and leave this town in peace."
He unknotted the twine and leafed through the pages with a trained eye. The edges of his lips tugged upwards higher and higher as we read through. He redid the knot, and tossed it back to one of his men. "This should bring in a good income. You have ransomed your village's safety today, old man." He drew his sword out of its scabbard slowly, the glistening, metallic cry filling the silence for far too long. "But we can't risk competition." Crimson splattered through the sky, staining the ground. With a dull thud, the old man's head came to rest on the ground. His body slumped forward onto the earth. The raider sheathed his sword and turned his back to the townspeople.
Wordlessly, he and his men marched back to their ships, shoving them off the beach, back to the seas whence they had came. The town was left to mourn, bereft of its stories.
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