Emma woke in the snow lands.
The valley she found herself in was familiar. Snow touched the mountain tips that surrounded her, and blanketed the ground around her. The mountains to the left were those close to her kingdom, and the ones to the right were of the neighboring country. She stood at the barrier between her country and her father’s enemies.
She had to be dreaming. There was no way she was here. In this place, again.
Emma wore what she remembered wearing that day. A blue felt cloak. Her name had been stitched into the sleeve with gold thread. That was impossible. She was too big to fit in this jacket. She was twenty five years old and had long outgrown a coat worn when she was seven.
Her memories of her mother stitching the name into the soft fur of the coat was fresh in her mind. She wore that jacket everywhere. Even in the midst of a warm spring, Emma would insist on wearing that jacket. Her boots were black and clearly made for the deep snow she stood in. The valley was silent beyond the echoes of wind hitting the east mountain side; the side that faced the frozen lashes of the Eastern ocean.
The screaming of battle cries echoed in the west side of the valley. She knew those cries well.
As she relived that moment in time, she remembered what happened next. A dragon would appear before her, and offer her a way out. A way to avoid this war, and a way to avoid dying. He said he could end it all, and all she had to do was make him a promise.
“If you become my heir, I’ll stop these men from taking your kingdom. I’ll make it all go away.” His voice was raspier than she remembered. But it was still more comforting than anything else she heard. When she found out that her father intended to go to war with the neighboring country, Emma had made it her personal mission to make sure it didn’t happen. And now this dragon was giving her a way to do just that.
Emma’s frantic tears were already freezing on the tip of her nose and on the edges of her cheekbones. She was so small compared to this magnificent dragon. Her daddy was always going on about how evil they were. How dragons would kill every single human if they didn’t kill the dragons first. But this dragon was helping her, so they couldn’t all be evil, right?
“I’ll make it all go away.” It echoed in her head. What was an heir anyway? It didn’t matter. Save her country. Save her world, her father. Damn the consequences.
Her father was leading the charge from the east side. Their battle cries resonated in the same way the west side did. The dragon waited indifferently. He didn’t care if humans destroyed themselves. Normally, he wouldn’t bother to interfere. But this human is interesting. This human would make a good heir to his abilities and his knowledge.
He could make it all go away, little Emma thought.
No. No, he couldn’t. She’s seen all of this before. She’s seen how the dragon obliterates everyone on the west side. How he kills everyone in sight. How he curses her. No. She mustn’t make that choice again.
Emma turns from the dragon, and pulls out her own sword. The ring of the blade resonates in the valley as the battlecries breach the empty space around her. Where had the sword come from? She could feel the dragon smile triumphantly, even when she had clearly refused his offer. She’ll never depend on someone else to solve her problems again.
She cut her way through every enemy that came her way.
“If you become my heir, I’ll stop these men from taking you kingdom.”
Emma pulled up and sliced a mans stomach open. She tried to ignore the fact that she was hurting someone else to get what she wanted. Freedom. Escape. A lapse in otherwise sound judgement. Responsibility for her selfish actions.
“I’ll make it all go away.”
She was aware. This had to be a dream. She could have never defeated these men when she was little. Emma knew it was a dream. If only she had been older, more experienced... then maybe. Maybe she could have done it on her own. But this just wasn’t possible in reality.
Her focus wavered from the fight and a sword caught her in the hand. Emma’s sword dropped and she gritted her teeth in the very real pain. How could this be fake? When she was feeling this pain? It had to be real. But… she knew how it really happened. How Verin, the dragon, killed every soldier on the west side, and forced a curse upon her.
Emma grappled for the sword with her other hand. She wasn’t left handed but it would have to do.
Enemy after enemy, she killed them all. No one would threaten her home anymore. No one could make her do something she didn’t want to do. Even if it was just some stupid dream, she could live in this reality for just a little longer. A reality where she didn’t destroy her own life to avoid the consequences of another.
She met the dragon head on. Everything else had faded into the gray as she ran at Verin. If she killed him, there wouldn’t be any more pain. If she killed him… she froze in front of a frozen dragon. Verin would let her win if that was what she desired.
Emma’s sword was raised high above her head and both hands gripped the sword with poise. Verin ruined her life. Emma reasons. He deserves it. I’ll kill him. I’ll make him regret ever coming to Carnil Kingdom. But as much as Verin tortures her every move, she couldn’t do it.
Because in an utterly soul crushing moment, Emma stares down the truth. She loves this dragon like her own father.
And as the world faded away around her, Emma was left with that painful truth.
She was nine now. Emma didn’t see many people other than Verin the Dragon and her father. When it rained, she turned to a dragon. Her reality didn’t seem quite the same though. There was a memory… a thought just out of reach. It gnawed at her like a pesky mosquito that was just out of reach.
Verin waited patiently as Emma learned to fly. He was curled up in the grassy meadow soaking in the sun like the true reptile he was.
“Tail up, wings out, and head down. Push off with all four feet at once.” Verin instructed. He couldn’t say it enough times, it seemed. Emma readied herself for flight. She would lower herself on all fours, throw back her butt and launch herself forward into the air. It was always a painful landing. Her wings were out, and her head was down. What could she possibly be doing wrong?
But she already knew how to fly. No. How could she know something like that? Verin only started teaching her when the snow finally melted. She tried again.
“Stop launching yourself forward and start pushing yourself up. Flight isn’t all about going somewhere.” Verin readjusted his wings and stretched out his long neck to catch more of the sun. Emma wanted to argue back, but was too distracted.
Something wasn’t right. She could feel it now. The vibrations in her head. They pull toward the truth, but it’s out of her reach.
Emma lowers herself and pushes up. Her wings flap hard and the wind glimpses off her scales. She’s flying! But she already knew how to fly. The vibrations are stronger now. A loud buzzing numbs her ears.
She learned this from Verin already. It was years ago.
The moment changed again.
“Now you’re a real dragon!” Verin laughed as Emma caught her first fish from the running stream. It had taken weeks, but she finally did it. A meal all on her own.
“I did it!” A twelve year old Emma celebrated as the fish fell from her mouth. It landed back into the river and swam away. Verin laughed harder and nuzzled her close. He caught two more fish and they ate them raw. Emma can still feel the happiness from that moment when Verin announced that she was truly a dragon.
The moment changed again.
“It’s about time you realize that you aren’t human anymore!” Verin growled. Emma remained in a challengingly human stance. Verin wasn’t scary anymore. But here, in her most vulnerable state, she had to be careful not to upset him.
“I am a human! And I will rule over Carnil one day!”
“Never in a thousand years would they let a dragon like you rule!” A cruel laugh escapes the dragons lips.
Never. And Verin was right.
No. No, he wasn’t right. She could be anything. She could become human again. There was no giving up now. But the bitterness seeped in. Emma could never be queen because her father kicked her out of her own country. She remembers now.
And then she was standing in that field again. The sword dripping with blood that she never took. And a dragon she could never kill. Snow blanketed the valley around her with an eerie silence. And beneath the snow, remained the fallen army with both her enemies, and her friends.
There was no winning. No matter what she did, no matter what she chose, She was loose something. Her humanity was so important to her, and if she refused the dragon, she would lose it killing her enemies. But if she joins Verin, she loses her family. Her home. Neither choice offered her happiness in the end.
Blood dripped from her hand. The red liquid bounced against the snow as the stark differences in temperature melded together. Silence. Nothing moved, and she was alone.
So she screamed. She screamed until her lungs were broken. She screamed until she couldn’t feel anymore. Until all that would come out were rasps of a broken voice and a broken heart.
Falling to her knees, she dropped the sword. Emma hoped her enemies would come again, so that she could truly just die. Someone sat next to her, but she didn’t dare look up. Maybe they were doing her one last pity before ending her life.
“All the souls I’ve eaten… not one has ever simply given in…” The voice was raspy and broken like hers. It touched her on the back, and shoved her forward.
And then she emerged from the dream, and into the dreamscape.