This was our land once. We reigned over it, fair but ferocious. Since then, I’ve watched, silent, cast in stone, as our domain fell to destruction under their rule. The once lush green fields are now jagged, brown, and sharp. It refuses to grow back after they tore into it, mined it, and pillaged it. Water which had sprung up along the shores twinkling, catching the light and carrying it back to a distant horizon, has become murky, dark, carrying their waste, pushing it back onto the land as if to say, this is yours, not mine, you take it. But they don’t take it. They ignore it, or worse, grab it only to hurl it deeper into the ocean, which cannot bear it any longer. Yet, they called us beasts.
Up here, atop the castles, the monuments they built for themselves, time loses meaning. Days become indistinguishable, and we cannot be sure if a hundred years have passed, four hundred, or many more. Down there, the folks have changed, time and time again, lineage only traced from the faint resemblances in their features. Their lives are short, easily extinguished. With each generation, our story becomes blurred, a tale that is spoken less often.
We’ve become nothing but a dark story they tell around the fire at night. Conquered demons and evil monsters defeated. History is written by the victors. They don’t remember us – the few of us they left behind – not really. Their words float up through the stone that binds us; it echoes, ringing in our ears, cruel torment. When their fingers, fragile and weak, point up at our kind, they call us hideous, grotesque. They do not know we are looking down, meeting their gaze, thinking them far worse.
It’s just as well they don’t remember. Their version had been distorted from the start, ignoring that we’d been here first. We ruled this kingdom they invaded. All the creatures here accepted our dominance. There was a mutual understanding between predator and prey; we all lived by nature’s design. Driven by survival, we took no pleasure in the necessary violence. We ate to live and nothing more. They are the ones who perverted it.
When they first arrived, there were just a few of them. Slow and confused, they came ambling out of the woods, starved and exhausted from their journey. We thought them harmless. As they saw the animals were plenty, they began to cut them down. As they saw the fish swam in our waters, they cast their nets. And as they saw the protection provided by the jagged cliff overlooking our domain, they lay upon our earth as if it were their own. They took without asking. That is when we knew we must act.
At night they took shelter in their makeshift homes. We flew down, torching their supplies, a warning which they ignored. They forged weapons. We burned them too. Reinforcements came, bearing more arms, and the building began. They gave us no other option, and so we took our first victim.
Our target had been clear: we wanted the one who yelled the loudest, attacked first, and was the largest among their kind. We chose their champion. Diving down, picking him up with our talons, tossing him in the air, trusting it’d be enough to make them flee. The women cried out and hid with the children. Even some men, faces grey with fear, ran in terror. As he howled in pain, we pulled at his flesh with our sharp teeth. The meat gave us no delight; it was foul and rotten, just like they are. This, we believed, would be clear enough. This, we hoped, would make them leave. Still, they stayed.
Instead, more came. In droves, they arrived, this time led by a man clad in robes, shining with metals adornments. They revered him. He spoke with fire in his lungs – like us – and they listened. New, powerful weapons followed. As we flew in the sky, high above them, circling, they pierced our wings, split them, until we fell to the ground and to their mercy.
My brother – though they were all my brothers, was the first to be struck down. As he mounted his charge, they shot at him, and he fell into the ocean. He tumbled like a boulder, grey and thick and tough, landing in the water with a colossal splash. When his carcass first washed up on the shore, they did not know what to do with it. We did not either. Before them, we did not die easily; we survived. Even time struggled to kill us. It’d been centuries since we needed to bury one of our own. Before we had the chance, they severed his head and mounted it like a trophy.
After that, our defeat came quick, the thrill of success and a taste for blood urging them on. For the first time, we were divided, unsure whether to fight or to flee. Our choice was made for us. We stood no chance against the weapons they devised next. Massive metal nets littered with spikes shot up to capture us, dragging us to the down, slicing us along the way. Closing around us, they held us captive. They poked, and jabbed, and tormented us with their sharpened spears. A few of our clan died that way, not knowing it was the better option.
The cement and stone came next. Our eyes would shut, and in what felt like a moment, we’d wake to find ourselves incapable of movement. It weighed on our claws, it scratched at our leathery skin, it clung to our wings. It took our shape, contouring to reflect our image back at them. Our ears, our eyes, our mouths remained free, so we may suffer longer. They did not know how long we could survive like that, how the rain could quench our thirst, and the birds that flew past could still be caught, trapped by our long, split tongues, to feed our hunger.
In the courtyards, they had us wait, watching them build more homes on what had once been our land. They’d come to us, stand beside us in mocking, spitting at us. Staring into our eyes, listening to the huff of our breath, reveling in our misery. As soon as their tallest buildings, towers, fortresses, and churches were constructed, they hoisted us up. A decoration, a symbol of their victory over the beasts.
Below us, they frolic and waste their short lives, oblivious to the fact that we remain and the danger we still possess. They gather at the tower tonight, coming inside the high arching doors far below our feet, taking shelter from the coming storm. They huddle together, not giving a thought to us perched at the edge, the flames of their torches burning in our eyes.
Tonight, there is buzzing in the air. A storm, cold and bitter, harsh, with thunder rolling and the crack of lightning. Long before they trapped us, entombed us, we were one with the elements. We could sense what was to come, an ability which time has not dulled. We know that tonight, the lightning will set us free.
It flashes at us now, that bright light, the sword of the earth which, too, is tired of their oppressive reign. The left side of the tower is struck and their screams, yells of panic ring out, but we know it is just the beginning. One powerful strike, and the tower is crippled. Another strike, the tower quakes, and the stones start to crack and tumble. One more, and the tower falls. Taking us with it. Casting us to the ground, smashing open our prisons, and setting us free.
A gust of air howls and brushes against our leathery wings as they spread far and prepare to take flight. For a moment, we doubt ourselves, question the damage done, and if upon leaping into the night sky, we’ll plummet like the stones which are crashing into the wild ocean below. Our tired and strained eyes look toward one another, focusing on our brethren as the flames burst below. This is the moment we’ve waited for, and in unison, we summon our breath, our fire, and cast it at the tower and those running, screaming from its doors.
As we charge through the skies, as we swoop down and torch their homes, as we pluck them from the ground and toss their frail bodies into the air, as we tear at their flesh, they know nothing but terror and surprise. They’ve forgotten us. They’ve forgotten our history. They did not see this – us – coming. But tonight, we will make them remember. And this time, we know not to have mercy. They taught us that.
Mikayla Randolph resides in California, where she works in the tourism industry. She is currently editing her debut novel, a modern gothic horror, and her work has been featured in The Chamber Magazine. When not writing, she enjoys reading, traveling, and taking too many photos of her dogs.