Anso pulled on the bin of rotting vegetables and discarded bread crusts. At ten years old, he was a strong boy, but the bin was large, heavy, and unwieldy. Anso grunted and twisted his body, straining to move it across the road of hard-packed earth. It was springtime, with a chill in the air, yet still the lad was plastered in sweat.
“Erika!” Anso gasped. “Gods! Are you going to help or what?”
Anso’s younger sister was a wisp of a girl, all elbows and knees beneath a mop of jet-black hair. She looked up from poking a beetle with a stick, startled.
“Help me, you twit!”
Erika wandered over to the bin and frowned. “It’s too big, yeah? We can’t get it all the way to the stables.”
“Ma said to take it there. She told both of us. So you help me right now, or I swear I’m gonna–”
A deep rumble of thunder rattled shutters and sent nearby dogs barking. Both kids looked skyward, blinking and confused.
What had moments before been a clear blue sky was now swarming with angry clouds, moving overhead like thick sludge around a drain. Blue lightning crackled within the mass, along with orange flame and some sort of green ethereal highlights. Thunder boomed again, shaking the earth with its bellow.
Drops of rain began to fall, and Anso heard something hiss amidst the light patter. He looked at the discarded food within his mother’s bin, which seemed to be smoking. Lettuce leaves and half-eaten cucumbers curled, pockmarked.
“Ow!” Erika complained. She was holding her hand out, a blistering dot smoking from her fair skin. Another drop struck her forearm and she yelped. “Ow! Anso!” she said, shaking her arm. “It hurts!”
The temperature suddenly dropped. Anso’s eyes darted from his sister to the smoking vegetables, panicked, his breath making a puffy cloud before him. Thunder boomed again.
“Erika! Run!” Anso screamed. “Get inside!”
His sister had apparently realized the threat of the rain and was ducking, hunched to try and make herself small. Without realizing it, Anso had retreated to the far side of the street, under an awning. He reached out his hand to Erika. Several raindrops struck his outstretched arm, though, burning him and causing him to snatch his hand back.
“Aargh! Erika! Hurry! Run!”
His sister’s little stick legs tangled and she fell, then scrabbled to pop up again. She was crying, not looking where she was stumbling, guided by her brother’s voice. Thunder boomed again, and Anso could hear panicked horses screaming along with the dogs. Voices of people all around him began to yell in fear and pain. Erika was five steps away. Four.
A ball of fire fell from the sky with a whoosh, engulfing Erika in its bright blaze. The resulting explosion of fire and dirt sent Anso sprawling backwards into his father’s tavern, hitting his head hard against the wooden wall. When he looked up, disbelieving, where his sister had been there was now a five-foot circle of black earth and a charred lump. The bin of vegetables was on its side, flaming and smoking and gathering a thin film of frost.
Anso’s eyes darted left and right. He whimpered. A lightning bolt, searing itself onto his vision, struck the building across the street, immediately followed by a boom of thunder so loud it stole Anso’s breath.
Another ball of fire landed in the street. Behind eyes squeezed shut, another flash of light was immediately followed by another deafening boom. His ears rung from the cacophony, and behind the ringing he could hear people and animals screaming everywhere.
It was almost unbearably cold now, coating everything in frost. The rain increased, eating away at everything it touched. Lightning and fireballs fell constantly from the sky.
Amidst the chaos, a green mist rose from the streets as if from a haunted bog. It was the mist that killed Anso, burning his lungs from his small, strong body before he had finished taking a single breath. He dropped to his side, mouth agape, eyes bulging, and frost forming over his horror-stricken face.
Over the town of Breachill, the clouds swirled and swirled, ever darker. And from its center, drowning out all screams, explosions, and peals of a thunder, a mighty dragon roared.
Tangled in sweat-soaked sheets, Jethro Vermillion screamed into the morning darkness, the dragon’s roar still echoing in his ears.