By Jas Saunders
Klareth gulps down a deep breath once she reaches the top of the castle, no longer running to reach the sky halfway. She has to preserve all her remaining energy if she wants to hit her target where it hurts. Ripping its way through the dark sheets of cloud, the sun blinds her. Her burgonet’s visor does not block the glare, instead raising itself to the sun in appraisal of its warmth. The sun’s rays peek through the cracks of gloom and smoke, trying to follow where the fire had been blown, so it can strike another match to set the sky alight. She longs to hide in the shadows for just a second more. The top of the castle feels like a stage and all eyes are on her, both friends and foe. A bead of sweat trickles down her forehead.
Down below, knights run in every direction on soot-covered grass. Metal clangs: swords and shields collide, panic driving their decisions. Beneath their gauntlets, their knuckles turn white as they squeeze their castillon swords, tighter and tighter. Dragons roar with laughter as they knock knights off their feet with single tap. The cuirass trembles on her chest with every heaving breath, it shakes with every step her feet pound into the limestone steps. Klareth’s bones ache, every fibre of every joint, but her heart yearns more painfully for saving her people; for saving Éirinn.
Éirinn had been the first one to introduce her to the world of knighthood. She showed Klareth the ropes, but not once did she ever give in to jealousy even as Klareth’s skills overtook her own, and the student became the master. However, no matter how good they were, the stress never entirely went away. Éirinn had already tried hacking away at the dragons that patrolled the perimeter of the Royal Garden, but now she was left waiting for someone else to take the reins from her numb hands. And the poor horses…it was all too much for them to bear. They needed Klareth to bring them home.
Standing at the top of the castle, at the highest point Klareth had ever been, only seems to welcome the terrors in their entirety. She can see everything and everyone. The pressure crushes her, like she’s buried beneath the crumbling brick and stone down below, destroyed by the swish of a dragon’s tail. The helmet feels heavy on her head, with the steel collar of her gorget protecting her neck and squeezing with her every anxious swallow.
Finally, in her heart, she knows it’s time. She makes her way onto the crenellation, the sandstone battlement, and heaves herself up onto the edge of its square surface. She tries to stand as tall as the scaled menaces surrounding her. Only from up here, from such great heights, will she be eye-to-eye with her enemy. His eyes light up once he finds her, the most formidable of all their rivals, and she takes in another gulp of air. Just in case it will be her last. With claws like a scorpion’s pedipalp pincers, and as sharp as one’s stinger on its behind, the dragon is one to not mess with. It opens its jaws and lets out a screech that nearly brings Klareth to her knees from fear alone. Somehow, it’s reminiscent of the Knight Commander forcing her and the rest of the team to train harder during practice drills. A cruel smile curls on the dragon’s scaly lips, smug at the destruction his meaty muscles had created.
He flaps his wings as hard as a bat’s as he lunges for her. Klareth closes her eyes tight, bracing for impact. She senses him in front of her. Just before he opens his mouth and devours her, she swings her sword as hard as she has ever swung.
When Klarissa opens her eyes, the baseball has ricocheted and is still soaring high into the cloudless, blue sky. The sun dazzles her. She looks down to the bat in her hands and then to the pitcher. Beady, dark eyes stare back at her from underneath the peak of her cap. The pitcher crosses her arms, unimpressed. It only enhances how huge her biceps are, strong enough to crush a man’s skull. Her long, black ponytail swishes and shimmies down her back like the slither of a snake.
“What are you doing!?” One of her teammates shouts. “Run! You hit a homerun!”
Her legs feel like jelly at first, but Klarissa breaks into a run. Starting off steady, she gradually breaks into a sprint. Erin has a huge smile on her face by the time she makes it to the second base. When she makes it to the last one, she raises the baseball bat above her head, her sword.
Victory is theirs!