“ Valeria!Valeria! We need to go to the castle!”, Celeste called out anxiously. I opened my eyes feebly, and found a lantern glaring at me. I flinched at the sudden exposure to light and squinted at the moon from my bedside window. It barely seemed to have moved since I had fallen asleep. It must be around midnight. Astounded at my wake-up call, I turned to face Celeste, “Right now?”
Celeste lowered the lantern. From the scanty light that fell on her face, I could make out that she had been crying. “I had the nightmare again,” she said, her voice shaky, “The forest was ablaze, and the flames devoured on everything that was there-living or non-living. All I could hear was horrid screams of people burning and the hissing of snakes. It was the snakes that spat fire. We were at the edge of it- you, me and mother, running for our lives. Suddenly, I tripped. Mother lifted me and put me on my feet, but a snake got her. Before I could save her, she pushed me forward, begging me to run. Then she…the fire…she…” Celeste broke off, and started to sob uncontrollably.
Mother’s death still haunted her, even three year later. Celeste was devastated; the loss was too much to bear-she was still nine then. Father had died a month before in the battle, and soon after mother did, in a castle fire. Celeste refused to bury the charred bones and ashes that remained of mother, keeping it safe with her. I was all she had. I took up mother’s work in the castle, to keep us both alive. Since three years, I have been trying to make life easier for Celeste in every way possible, but I am unable to even lessen her grief, let alone relieving it. Lately, she has turned into a recluse.
I wiped her tears and pulled her into a strong embrace. “It is just a nightmare. It will pass. We have to be strong, Celeste.” I whispered softly, stroking her long brown curls. She continued to sob for a while. Then, she pulled apart and looked at me, “We need to go to the castle, Valeria,” she said. Her nervous eyes displayed the urgency. It was beyond my comprehension. “Why?” I asked “Because I fear it might come true.” Before I could protest, Celeste explained, “I have a reason for it. Black smoke is rising from the castle. There are many lives in danger.”
I looked out of the window again. Our cottage was situated in the forest near the castle, and from my window, I could get a full view of the stone structure. Thick black smoke rose from the tower at the back, but there was no sign of fire, anywhere. Celeste was a known psychic, who was a prodigy at mystic arts. None of her predictions had ever failed. I decided to trust her intuition, and got up to dress.
“We will enter through the back door,” I said, as I locked the cottage door. Then swiftly and silently we started to move towards the castle.
The stench of char was strong in the atmosphere. Although the black rising smoke was thick enough to engulf the castle, it didn’t impede our vision. Only a very large fire could give way to a smoke like that, however, there were no signs of guards or any other men in the vicinity. Strangely, I didn’t hear anything while I was sleep. What on earth had happened?
We hurried through the forest. As soon as we reached the back doors, we threw our cloaks. The temperature was becoming unbearable. I pushed the door open warily, expecting a terrifying scene. Ironically, there was nothing unusual that I could notice.
I climbed up the dark stone stairs, Celeste following closed behind. The silence was eerie. No guards on duty, no sound of snoring. I headed straight to the main chambers, from where there was a corridor to the rear tower. The stench grew stronger as I advanced. I mustered my courage and entered the chamber.
There was nothing but ashes all around. And smoke, signifying the fresh burn. In the full moonlight, I saw skulls and bones buried in them. The walls had burned down, there was practically nothing left of the castle this side.
“It has come true! It has really come alive,” Celeste squealed. I turned around to see her; she was laughing and crying at the same time. “Did you do something dangerous, Celeste?”, I asked, stunned at her reaction. Celeste continued to laugh and cry. I turned towards the ashes, and caught a glimpse of snake like being. Scaly and leathery, the black thing slithered in between the ashes. But it only moved from side to side.
And then it hit me. It was the tail of a dragon.
Dragon bones. It was a dragon that she had brought to life.
I used to bring Celeste along with me to the castle, whenever I came for work. So that she was not a source of interference for others, I generally asked her to stay in the antique chamber. The antique chamber was full of old and dead things. She would never get bored there, that was my idea. Little did I realise that she actually would meddle with the dark arts.
“Why, Celeste?”, I questioned quietly. I was still in a great shock.
“I just wanted to bring back mother,” she spoke, tears brimming in her eyes. She now seemed to fully realise the extent of destruction that she had brought along.
“We need to hurry.” I turned to leave, holding Celeste by her hand. But we were very late.
The dragon had flown towards us from behind. Facing us was a black scaly head of the dragon, the size of a room. Its golden eyes blinked wickedly at us. Celeste let out an ear-splitting scream.
All I saw was a great blast of fiery red.