To be a Hero – Tasha Hazelwood

The imagination is a strange place. The two worlds, reality and fantasy, distort and blur into one another, indistinguishable. Sometimes, the world in our minds is created as a way to escape from the grim, bleak, dangerous reality that follows quickly on our heels like a beast, ever-present, snapping impatiently. 

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Shadow and mist danced and twirled around the trees that guarded the eerie clearing, where a lone dragon stood. Its obsidian scales gleamed in the fading light, glowing with an otherworldly presence.

Eyes flicked rapidly. Eyes glittered ferociously. Night swelled as its silver-coloured irises narrowed. Twilight beckoned as expanding pupils sparkled with longing, wonder, curiosity… and fear.I stood by the eerie clearing, an outsider and yet the creator of this world, that was in my mind. The dragon and I stared at each other, locked in the same position, waiting for something, anything. Neither of us made a sound. Neither of us made a move. The majestic dragon lifted its head slightly, its pupils seeming to draw in the last rays of light as it gazed at me before twisting away and sprinting into the distance, out of the clearing and into the dense forest beyond.

I jolted awake. Light seared through my eyelids, forcing them to open. The world spun and the features of the room muddled together, contorting into writhing shadows. I stood up and crept along to the edge of the cave entrance, slipping out into the moonlit forest just outside. I wandered deep into the forest, enjoying the glimpses of stars between the swaying branches of the trees, listening to the whispers of the shadows. As I came across a clearing, I was startled to see Azrael, God of Death, leaning against a tree, his arms crossed, staring at me with an amused expression on his face. I still remembered when he had found me in these woods as a scared young goddess, running.

“Hi, Az.” I greeted warmly. To this, he merely grinned, plucking a knife from his belt and, with a flick of his wrist, he threw it directly at my eye. Time slowed as the shadows littered around the clearing hissed in warning, and my hand flew upwards instinctively, fingers closing around the hilt milliseconds before it would have hit me. I raised my eyebrow at Azrael. This was typical behaviour for him: he liked to push me to my limits in training. 

“That was good, Nyx,” he remarked, walking over to me. “Remember always to be ready for danger.” He suddenly crouched and spun, swinging his right leg out into my ankles. I crashed to the ground. “And to react instantly.” I rolled my eyes at him and jumped up to my feet. Turning around, Az barked at me, “It’s time to begin training!” We were always training, but I did not know what for. Azrael was like a father to me, so I did not question him, just trusting in his judgment. We sparred with knives, twisting and turning, jabbing and blocking, lunging and retreating. Parrying back and forth, we danced with agility and dodged with dexterity. Then, we moved onto our powers. 

Supermoon: how an illusion makes the full Moon appear bigger than it really  is

 “Okay, Nyx, keep in control of your power,” Az began, “reach out with your mind and communicate with the shadows.” I did as he instructed, expanding my consciousness to hear the murmuring shadows. “Now, draw power from the moon, and let the shadows expand,” Az directed.

Bracing myself, I closed my eyes and felt the power of the moon wash over me like a tidal wave. Pure undiluted power flowed through me and suddenly I could feel every shadow everywhere. The shadows felt the power too, expanding and covering everything. With this darkness, I could do anything, I could disintegrate, I could obliterate, I could assassinate. I was dangerous. Something ancient stirred in my chest, making a soft growling noise. It was the dragon, the dragon inside me.

Suddenly, the shadows snarled, alerted by an alien presence. I turned, ready to strike.

“Please, don’t hurt me!” a female voice cried, “I come seeking help from the great Nyx, goddess of night.”

My pulse thundered in my ears; she knew who I was. To see her more clearly, I dispersed the shadows. A young dark-haired woman came out of the trees, riding a black stallion, wearing glinting armour, with weapons strapped to her body. I instantly knew that she was an Amazon, part of a race of women who were known for their riding skill, marksmanship, and courage.

Beauty will save the world

Tilting my head in acknowledgement, I welcomed the warrior, “Greetings, Amazon. What is it that you need from me?”

The Amazon dismounted and spoke, “I am Penthesilea, queen of the Amazons. My people are at war with the Athenians and we are suffering. Our scriptures speak of a hero, one that has the power to control the darkness, one that could turn the tide of the war.” Her voice took on a pleading note, “Please! My people are dying, we are being oppressed by the Greeks.”

Az interrupted, “We can’t help you,” he said sharply, “so, please leave.”

Shocked at this hostility, I intervened, turning to disappointed Penthesilea and apologizing on Az’s behalf, “I’m sorry, he didn’t mean that. I don’t really understand what I could do though.” However, I had a sinking feeling in my gut that I knew exactly what she wanted me to do. 

Confirming what I suspected, the Amazon replied, “Fight in the war. Use your darkness and shadows to kill their leader.”

Sneering at Penthesilea, Azrael protested, “Nyx, don’t do this. Don’t help those people.” 

I shrugged and, seeing no harm in telling her, said, “He is Azrael, God of Death.”

Penthesilea gasped and stepped back, hurt written all over her face. “You are in league with the devil?”, she demanded. “But he is helping the Athenians!”

I whirled around to face Az. He stared straight into my eyes, unblinking, and I knew that it was true. My mind reeled from the shock, and the pain, and the anguish of being betrayed. Unexpectedly, his lips started to curl into a grin that was a merciless mixture of joy and regret. 

“Oh, Penthesilea,” Az started with a mock disapproving tone, “I really wish that you hadn’t told her.”

His hand moved faster than my eyes could follow to grip my jaw, his fingers ice-cold. Desperately, I reached for my shadows, but Azrael seemed to be blocking them with his power. The temperature started dropping and ice started to form in spirals on the trees and the ground, as the air grew frigid. Then, an intense pain began in my head, growing in severity, until it was all I could focus on. Then came nothingness.

As I dragged myself up, pulling chains attached to my wrists and gritting my teeth at the throb of pain that pulsed through me, I stared at the featureless room. I looked towards the door, or rather the bars that kept me trapped here. I was in a cell. Azrael appeared with a long needle gauge, and I tried to shriek but it came out muffled. Az explained what he was doing. “You are a primordial Goddess, Nyx, so your blood is made from ichor. With your blood, I grow stronger and I can defeat the Amazons.” He pressed the needle gauge to my exposed arm, pushing it in me, and a terrible anguish came, breaking over me in waves. The ancient creature within me stirred awake and roared its misery. I saw it in my mind: in the clearing, the dragon was rising, spreading its wings.

Dragon - Fantasy & Abstract Background Wallpapers on Desktop Nexus (Image  1147114)

Power flowed through me and I ascended, suspended in mid-air. The shadows quivered with the power, growing and merging together. I screamed one final time, and reality crumbled, the shadows rose to my level and flowed into one another, until they became one writhing shadow that consisted of pure undiluted power. The silhouette of a dragon began to emerge, great onyx wings appeared, and eventually all of the black dragon manifested itself, with shadows swirling around it.  The great dragon and I stared at each other, we were one, the same being but in different forms. Together, we pushed our power out and assassinated, turning everything to ash.

Light seared through my eyelids, forcing me to wake. Blinking I sat up, my muscles protesting. Penthesilea was sitting on a chair beside the bed that I was lying on.

“Come, everyone is waiting for you,” Penthesilea beckoned.

I swung my legs over the side of the bed and stood up, my head pounding. Penthesilea opened the door, and light blinded me, before my eyes adjusted. Thousands of people stood outside, all gathered there. For me. For what I had done. Taking a deep breath, I stepped out of the doorway. They cheered, “Hero!” and brushed their hands against my shoulders. I walked on, my head cast down. I had killed so many. Was I really a hero?

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