by Sian Kelly
The dragon banked left, flying just above the horizon, low in the sky, and for one eternal heartbeat Atlas lost sight of her in the glare of the setting sun.
He shielded his eyes, searching…….There! A few quick strokes of her powerful wings and she was propelled high into the stratosphere.
Atlas thought she was beautiful. Her sleekly muscled frame and the length of the ivory protrusions along her spine marked her as a mature and exceedingly rare white-ridged variant of the Easter Blue Dragon.
Already the town of Copperbluff burned. Unlike most dragons the eastern blue didn’t breathe fire, yet their mere gaze could heat metal until it set alight anything it touched. They were renowned for their intelligence and their cunning. The with-ridged variant was also rumored to be incredibly vindictive. Atlast had noted that the dragon did seem to be especially enraged.
Atlas tracked her trajectory as she rose. She reached her apex and appeared to stop and float, weightless, a goddess waltzing gracefully across the heavens at dusk. She roared, an angry cry which tore even the bravest soul’s courage to shreds. It was a fell sound, and it promised death and destruction for the town far below and for the people there who cowered in fright. Then the dragon folded her wings behind her and dove towards the earth.
Standing along in the street Atlas brought forth the single arrow in his possession and nocked it. Master Hanshi had carved his bow during the Xxebani wars and had named her Plummet. Atlas drew the bowstring, bending back the polished arms of yew wood until it seemed they must break. He sighted down the arrows shaft.
The dragon descended with terrifying speed, growing from a mote in the sky to immense in the blink of an eye.
Atlas witnessed her power advancing, edging closer as everything formed of metal began to glow and run like red mercury, igniting anything combustible and creating a wave of fire which rolled towards him until he was surrounded by flames. Then he felt her awesome power first hand as the dragons gaze raked across him like invisible claws.
Atlas was prepared. He had divested himself of all metals save for the razor-sharp steel point now trained on the creature’s heart.
Time slowed when he released the arrow. It sliced through shimmering waves of hot air and disappeared in the smoke and steam. The dragon veered left, but Plummet was an ancient and mighty weapon. The arrow flew swift and sure and true. The dragon shrieked in surprise and agony when the steel tip struck. She crashed through the upper levels of the town granary before exploding out the far wall, much less gracefully now, erratic, writhing in pain as she moved against a backdrop of emerging stars, heading eastward.
Atlas watched as his bow was once again proven to be aptly named: the dragon faltered, then fell.
Later generations would retell the story, never with much accuracy yet never failing to recount the thunder that was heard that day when the wicked blue beast tumbled from the sky and slammed into the side of the distant Aishwarian Mountains. Those majestic peaks were miles away, more than two days hard ride to the east, yet the earth still shook with enough force to make atlas stumble where he stood, enough force to collapse the remains of the damaged granary, leaving mounds of wheat and corn and rice to smolder among the fires in the street.
For the briefest of moments Atlas experienced the most inexplicable, irrational pang of guilt, and he wondered if he had made a mistake.