This story was born out of a Speculative Fiction class at my college and I've been wondering if I should expand it. Here's my attempt at expanding on this story and the universe it inhabits.
“They’re late. They’re never late.” The Duke was grousing as he paced the doorway to the watchtower. The Queen pursed her lips in response. She was in her thirtieth year of life and her fifteenth as royal representative of the tower.
“Do not fret, Wallington. We have never failed to provide the sacrifice. The lack of strength within you amuses me to no end.” She watched his eyes grow wide as she spoke, but he could not rebuke her. If he had, she’d have every right to substitute him in place of the intended sacrifice. Queen Polema narrowed her eyes at the annoyance of Duke Frederick Wallington. He was a short, rotund, and aggravating man. He was also from a lengthy line of impressive Wallingtons'. There was even a story or two about how his ancestors had helped grapple the wild expanse of old into the Kingdom of Polema. There was movement down the muddied path. “You see, they arrive as we speak.” The huddled group hustled quickly as they spotted the royals at the door.
“Our apologies, your highness. We were delayed by the indecision of the mothers.” Polema didn’t frown, but her insides tightened. A thousand years of religious observance was wearing thin on an already ragged population teetering on the edge of civil war.
“You are forgiven as always, Sir Rogan. Let us go in and prepare.” She turned her attention to the doors and gently laid her hands on the sigils that had been carved by her ancients. They began to glow at her touch and she spoke her words of honor with great care. Polema remembered the tomes of history she had been required to memorize. The books told of ancient words that had been a part of a long dead language and had powered enchantments and charms in the first days of the world. Now all that remained of that time was the invocations of power. And what power it was. The Queen turned her attention back to the lighted sigils, tightening her focus. An old drunk aunt had died slurring her words many years ago. It is what had granted Polema’s promotion to where she stood now. A moment passed. It was this moment where she always bowed her head. She would either feel the rush of old air as the doors welcomed her in thanks or the explosion of fire as the doors bade her banished for her insolence. The smells of the aged hallways reached her nose, a smile crossing her lips. They moved quickly, Queen Polema taking the hand of the sacrifice and leading her to the room of requirement. The others went about the business of lighting the torches and cleansing the altar that straddled the canyon the watchtower stood sentinel over.
“How is it? Is it quick?” The young girl stood shivering despite the thick overcoat draped over her thin frame. Polema whispered the sparking words as she passed her hands over the fireplace. A crackling blaze soon burned, warming the room. Fire was the easiest to create. Anger and rage fed the power that infused it. Polema had plenty of that on reserve.
“It is different for each person, my child. It won’t hurt, if that is what you are asking.” Polema motioned the girl to the large bronze tub that sat in the middle of the room, “We will need to cleanse you.” The girl hesitated and nodded as she nervously shed layers. The Queen grasped the edge and spoke the words of water carefully, her mind focusing on the warmth of the water she was striving to create. You had to be careful with the calling of elements. Water was the most unpredictable. As a child, two of her friends had drowned after invoking the wrong amount of water in their basement washroom. There were the stories filtered through the streets about someone drowning every month or so. It took her two attempts but the third was the trick. The crafting of the cleansing water was no easy task. The mind had to be singularly focused on the components. Steam and soap slowly began to fill the basin. She helped the girl into the water. Polema winced at the caked dirt and the heavy bruises. She reasoned the girl would have been put to work in a far field, her size and stature preventing her from laboring with the others. The crafters of the land had to be strong. Her failures would have welcomed the abuse of her elders.
“My mother cried.” The girl was surrounded by steam and bubbles as she mindlessly washed the world away from her. She was staring at a point in the wall. “I’d never seen her cry. She couldn’t let me go. They had to pull her away.” She wrapped her hands around her quivering shoulders, tears at the edge of her eyes. The Queen mechanically poured water over the girls back, listening. She had heard such things before. Fifteen years of plaintive fear coupled with terrified regret. It usually finished with helpless acceptance. The girl spoke again, “I’ve always known I’d be chosen.” She locked eyes with Polema, an unusually determined fire now burning behind the eyes of the girl, “But I know He will not accept me.” Polema felt her stomach grow cold. The girl had stopped washing and was staring into her eyes, jaw set. “I will bring about the end. My mother told me the voice was wrong and that I should ignore it.” The only sound in the room was a crackle of the fireplace. Polema was holding her breath, unsure if she breathed what would happen. “But I lied. I listened. It spoke to me. And I answered.” The young girl wasn’t shivering anymore. She lifted her lithe form from the tub and walked carefully to the wall and slipped the towel into her hands, drying away the cleansing water.
“What have you done, girl?” Polema was standing, one hand on the blade at her side, trying to remember the words of war. The air had grown tighter, and the eyes of the girl had gone from those of a doe to that of a snake. She dressed in the tight shawl of the sacrifice and spun her long hair into a ball atop her head.
“I have done what She told me to do. I will bring the wall down. I will bring it all down.” She advanced on archway to the altar, hands clenched. Polema drew her blade and extended her other hand, calling upon the great power that ran deep in her family. She spoke the words of war, of destruction and of power. The air around the girl crackled with fire and there was a rumbling crash of thunder that shook the watchtower. Polema nearly fell to the ground and she heard the shouts of the others. The Queen bounded through archway, snatching the staff from the wall, shouting words that would throw anyone off the clip and into the abyss. Nothing moved the girl. Polema felt the power surging back through the staff to her body, lightly bruising her soul. The girl had made it to the altar, but two guards were approaching her. No sooner had they stepped into the girl’s field of vision were they flung off the precipice. Polema shuddered at the sound of their falling screams.
“I defile this place in the name of restoration by the power of Serenity!” The girl’s hands began to glow, lightening crackling across the sky above. Dark clouds roiled as the earth-shaking thunder answered with each strike. Polema pushed against the sudden gale that sought to shove her back into the watchtower. She was shouting the words of the wind to combat the force, abandoning any attempt to specify the amount she wished to invoke. She pushed her body step by step towards the girl whose body was now alight in an unnatural glow, words slurred in a guttural growl. The ground began to shake and split, fire erupting from the depths. Polema was inching closer to the girl and was nearly there when the altar cracked under the pressure of the girl’s words. The light around the girl erupted into roaring flames and she screamed as it burned her skin to the bone. Polema watched in helpless horror as fresh skin began to form around the girl as she hung in the air, flames rushing in a circle around her. The wind ceased, and the clouds began to spit rain, the thunder rumbling constantly now. Polema threw every word she had at the girl, but each invocation was flung back to her twisted and bruised.
“It worked.” The voice of Duke Wallington turned her attention. He stood with the guards, his blade drawn. A devious smile played with his lips as he spoke. Polema frowned, the grip on her sword tightening.
“What have you done, insolent fool?” She cast a glance around. Her guards were gone. Probably murdered. Or tossed aside by the girl abomination. Her mind worked to replay the words that had been spoken. The power of Serenity? The name was familiar.
“Only what we should have done a long time ago. We have awakened Serenity. And she will rise. Oh, she will rise.” There was a beastly roar from the canyon and the ground shook anew. Wallington cackled, his glee spilling over his lips, “You stand no chance against us now, Polema Waterwalker. We have Serenity’s fire.” As she moved to ask, her question was answered by the screeching roar and the extraordinary gnarled wings of an ancient dragon. The perverse and enormous body lifted above her. She had heard stories of the beasts, even glanced at the drawings that littered the palace halls. They were thought extinct. The wings stretched over her, blackened and littered with gristle. The eyes were boiling with a fiery madness and the uneven drool soaked teeth reeked with black smoke. Wallington laughed loudly and shook his head, “You will regret your unkindness towards me, woman.”
The girl, once suspended, was now being lowered to the ground, her body crackling with flames. Her guttural laughter joined Wallington, who bowed to her. Polema wasn’t listening. She was running. She called upon the winds of the canyon and they lifted her above and over Wallington. She ran, sputtering the words of speed to her feet and felt the warmth of the power flow through her toes. Through the watchtower she fled and out the doors she had opened hours ago. Sir Rogan was running up the stairs, blood splattering his face. “Wallington’s men tried, but failed. We need to flee, your highness. What was that horrible sound?”
She ignored him and closed her eyes, shouting her words at the doors. They would delay Wallington enough. The walls of the watchtower held high above them, a testament to the sanctity of the sacrament that had taken place just beyond them. They would need to be breached and she was certain the massive dragon they had summoned would make short work of it, but they needed time. The doors responded to her immediately and slammed closed, the sigils blackened with the curse she had inflicted upon them. She sheathed her blade and grumbled as she put a hand on his shoulder, “They have summoned a dragon. We may flee now. Tell me you have horses, Sir Rogan.” He nodded, eyes wide with terror, down the path to two shadows. They were soon winding their way through the valleys as the dragon blew the watchtower and the walls into pieces with but one breath.
Wallington watched them flee with murderous rage. The kingdom would be his. And more. He turned to the girl who had undergone a transformation into a towering woman with a terrifying snarl and a dead gaze, “Lady Serenity Wallington, it is time to claim your throne.”
They had run as far as the horses would take them. And it had killed them. "She was a blessed mare," Sir Rogan mumbled as he wiped the deep red streak from his sword on the thick grass. The Queen nodded her assent as she did the same with her blade, her eyes watching the fading light that cast on the path they had flown. The dragon was nowhere to be seen and not a glade moved in the soft wind. The world was broken, she surmised.
"Does the name Serenity mean anything to you, Sir Rogan?", as she spoke she looted through her packs for a change in clothes. The ceremonious gown would not do in fleeing a dragon and its cohorts.
"I believe it is from Wallington's history, my lady. He's been known to brag here and there about his famous relatives of old. She was the first...and the last Wallington Queen." Rogan grunted as he began to remove his armor. "If he's summoned a dragon, that would make sense."
Polema frowned as she found what she was looking for, "Tell me what you know."
"There's an old adage about not crossing a Wallington less you get the fire." Rogan slipped on a tough leather jacket and began to tighten the laces, "It comes from the way they used to burn their enemies at the stake as an example. They haven't done it in the last fifty years, but there's always whispers it's done in secret." He slipped on the charcoal gloves next, "But there is rumor that the fire actually has history beyond our current age. Some have suggested that Queen Serenity Wallington had a dragon as a familiar and she wielded it with malice."
Polema stepped behind the massive trunk of the tree that sheltered them, "Who suggests such things?"
The knight chuckled as he pulled the worn leather trousers up and tightened the buckle, "No one that anyone would take a chance in believing, your highness. It's the usual gaggle of gossip mongers and grousers that try to push the latest in false truths among the people. The trouble is, this rumor hasn't gone away like the rest. I suspect Wallington may have fanned the flames."
She stepped out from behind the tree and slipped her blade into place on her belt. Rogan looked up and gave her a momentary smile before she rolled her eyes and he sheepishly wiped it from his face. They had known each other since childhood and had shared in many moments over the years. She stuffed her dress into the pack and went to work fashioning it as a bag she would now have to carry. Her heavy leather vest and pants would keep her as protected from a blade as possible while allowing her movement. Rogan was similarly adorned, but his blade signified his status as a knight. Her blade was unique to her alone and identified her as royalty. "It's five days travel to the castle", she said mournfully, "and with that dragon, I'm not sure we should fly that way anyway." She hadn't seen her family in a year owing to her duties and she had hoped to steal away a few days after the sacrifice had been completed to embrace them once more. She feared for the lives of her family and friends. Most of all, she feared for emperor.
Her companion strapped his bag upon his back and motioned to the orange horizon, "The county seat is a an hour north of here. They may have news." Polema nodded quietly. The unspoken fear was that the city of Waterwalker would not be there when they arrived. A dragon's fire was rumored to leave nothing but the dust of life behind. Nothing could grow there for five generations, they said. Wordlessly, Sir Rogan took the lead.
"We heard it. We were the only ones to live." The woman began to cry in the embrace of her husband as Queen Polema stood in the middle of what had once been the burgeoning city of her namesake. They were members of her court and had been standing just outside the keep when the unfamiliar sounds reached their ears. They had run out of fear and they had fled with great speed and abandon into the depths of the stone castle once the screams of death reached their ears. They told of huddling in the depths of the rarely used dungeons as the building shook and the sound of collapsing stone pounded around them. They had waited hours upon hours until they had heard Polema's voice searching through the half ruined rubble of her castle. She had dispatched Sir Rogan to search the town for survivors and to survey the damage. He was walking back to them now, his face set in rage. The Queen ushered the four who had lived in to the north wing of the castle as it still stood.
"It is all cinders, your grace. Any survivors were run through with a blade. This land will be soaked with blood for a very long time." Rogan's grip on his blade was tight and twitchy. Polema let out a long sigh. They were days from another city or village. There would be men at arms ready to respond to their call, but it was the matter of getting there. The scorched earth held the remains of man and animal. "Your highness, I don't mean to alarm you, but there appears to be someone coming down the road." Polema stood, hand on blade. Her eyes caught the stumbling figure as it wandered the path into the city. She was shabbily dressed and looked as if she had been in a mixing bowl of mud, dirt, and blood.
"Steady, Sir Rogan." Polema walked towards the girl as she entered the gates and stumbled into the square. Her eyes were heavily lidded and she breathed as if the air was something her lungs had never felt. The figure stopped as Polema stepped in front of her. Her breathing slowing, the girl spoke in a gravelly growl, "Why am I here?"
"Did the dragon do this to you?" Polema imagined Wallington was on a rampage winding his way to the throne. Anything in his path would be burned to nothing. The girl frowned as her clouded eyes began to clear and she shook her head slowly.
"Dragon? We vanquished her yesterday. Tore her limb from limb and spread the blood on the earth as a reminder. Do not tell me there is another?" Her eyes were now wide and she searched the sky, hand going to her hip but growling in frustration, "Where in the kingdom is my blade? And...sweet breath of earth what happened to me?" She was seeing herself for the first time. The blood. The mud. And the general absence of a weapon. She pointed a finger at Polema, "What have you done?"
The Queen was mystified. The woman claimed to have ended the reign of the dragon the day previous. But Polema knew that wasn't the case. Was there another dragon, as the girl was suggesting? "I have done nothing, my lady. I am Queen Polema Waterwalker...and this is...was my seat," she gestured around the darkened ruins. The survivors were lighting torches and were working on building a fire to warm from the cold night air.
"You cannot be queen. I have never heard of such hogwash. I am queen."
Polema's eyebrows shot up and she resisted the urge to lay the girl out right then and there. "What queen are you then?" The girl's eyebrows mirrored Polema's.
"I am Queen Donnybrook Waterwalker, the future Empress of Eternity. You will bow before me, pretender."
Sir Rogan spoke from behind his queen, "That name sounds familiar."
Polema took several steps back, "It should. Queen Donnybrook Waterwalker was the first of our line a thousand years ago. She stood against a dark and deep evil. She died."
"I'm not dead. I'm standing here before you. A thousand years ago? Are you one of those that the donkey's kicked for sport? Where is my court? Why are none here to serve me? And why are you not bowing yet, plebe?"
Polema gestured to her hip where her sword rested, "Because I am as much a queen as you are, your highness."