Prologue

He was running down a long, narrow path through the Moss Woods. He stopped for a single moment, staring at the mossy boulder that he had once played upon when he was younger. At eleven years old, he was almost a man; he was no longer a child by his own standards. He smiled at the memory, and continued running on.

The path curled and curved through the forest familiarly, until it gave way to a bright clearing. A delight met his eyes, as the sun glittered on the dew dappling the grass. A narrow stream wound through the little field, singing as merrily as a brook. Small silver fish swam within, but they were not what he was here for.

He followed the stream downward, smiling as it led him to a small pool. Lying near the pool was his trusty fishing rod, which had provided a meal for his family more than once. He flopped down onto the bank, resting one arm against a boulder he had put there just for that purpose. Grasping his rod with his resting hand, he opened his other to reveal the worms he had been so tightly clutching. They wiggled weakly, moving even as he ran one through with the hook. With a gentle toss, he threw it into the water; hooks were hard to come by, as they took time to make, and a real metal hook like the one he had were almost impossible to find. He had gotten lucky, finding this one buried in the mud several months ago, and he treasured it.

He rested his head back on the grassy bank, letting out a sigh of contentment as the sun warmed his eyelids. The rod bobbed gently in his hand with the current, until it suddenly gave a jerk. Sitting upright, he grasped the rod with both hands, tightening his grasp as he felt a tug on the line. It was a big fish, he was certain.

"Come on," he challenged the fish. "Give me your best shot!"

And so began a fierce battle, lasting for nearly half an hour. Even as he pulled the rod closer to him, the fish fought back, sending mighty splashes into the blue sky.

"You're not getting away!" he growled, blue eyes narrowed with determination. With a last pull, he ripped the line right out of the water, and with it the fish.

It was not a fish at all, however, but a fierce monster, a dragon with a mouth of flame. The creature roared, and as it did the sky turned black, the grass gray, the water a murky brown. He shook like a leaf, trembling in fright at the mighty creature bursting out of the water before him. The dragon let out a fearsome roar and its throat glowed red, as Hell-hot flames flew from his mouth, right towards the boy's face.

He bolted upright, panting, finding his body slick with sweat. He licked his lips, tasting the salt of his fear. His mouth was as dry as cotton as he slowly lowered himself onto his cot. He closed his eyes, giving himself a slight shake, but the image of the dragon was burned into his mind.

Has anyone been taken tonight? He wondered. There used to be alarms, and screams when the dragon struck for the night…but I guess it's been going on so long, it's no longer a surprise…whose spirit will be stolen tonight?

A chill ran through his body, and he shivered again, pulling his thin, scratchy sheet up to his chin, then over his nose. When he was younger, the comfort of the rough cloth over his body had made him feel safe, safe from the monsters stalking the village and hiding in the shadows. Now that safety had long since faded; a thin sheet wouldn't stop the dragon that struck the village every night. It hadn't helped the other children; why would it help him?

He sent a longing look to the left, where his parents' cot waited invitingly. He could see his mother's sides rising and falling, could hear his father shifting slightly against her. Slowly, he closed his eyes, trying to keep his parents in his mind instead of his fear.

Slowly, his breathing eased as weariness set in upon his young mind. I have to swim tomorrow, he thought drowsily. And fish, too. I'll get a really big one…Mother will be so proud…even bigger than the last one, and it won't be a dragon at all, just a fish…a delicious fish, enough to feed the whole family….His face slackened slightly, as he began to drift away.

A sudden roar pierced the silence of the dark home, and his eyes sprang open. The little hovel shuddered, and with the rasp of stone-on-stone, the bedroom wall fell away entirely, hitting the dusty ground with a crack. The last thing the body saw was the dragon's giant form, silhouetted against the moon, as a claw dyed silver from the moonlight streaked towards him.

The boy's body gave a single shudder as the dragon's claw touched the center of his forehead. There was a white flash and the boy went limp. With a pump of its mighty wings, the dragon launched itself into the air. The great creature disappeared into the night, flying towards its cave where it slept by day.

His mother rushed forward, cradling her son in her arms, sobbing into his tangled hair. There was not a single mark upon his body, just like the others; his heart was still beating, his lungs still drawing in feeble breaths. And yet, his eyes did not open, his eyelids did not flutter, his face bore no mark of sentience as his head sagged against his mother's leg. His father stood silently, his hand on his wife's shoulder, head bowed in sorrow. A stale wind ruffled their hair through the hole where their wall had been, which seemed to be the final blow, as the father sank to his knees.

The dragon had claimed another victim that night.

AN: This story is currently under revision. I've removed the other chapters (1-15) but they'll be reposted once I finish editing them. Then, hopefully I'll have some new stuff to post. :)