At first it was just a tiny speckle of light winking in the distance, no bigger than a star. Aldric squinted at it but remained where he was, crouched on his bedroom windowsill. The meek little house rattled and, like a plague, the light continued to swell, billowing as if a drop of white paint was being dripped into a lake of black. Aldric fell to the floorboards, his hands clasped tightly over his ears. Something was falling from the sky and it was bringing the thunder down with it.
Light gushed through the window panels and though Aldric was anticipating something to burst through them at any moment, nothing did. The light continued to spread, devouring all in its sights. When Aldric could no longer stand the painful sheet of white emblazoning his room, he rolled over and shuffled into a corner, legs held to his chest. He did not see the flames scorching through his window, singeing his tatty curtains and disappearing again as if sucked back out into night. Nor did he witness the look of fear that his father had etched upon his face as he realised exactly what had crash landed in his beloved field. He also did not see the starved bloodthirsty beasts slink away from the wreckage unscathed. Neither did his father.
A long silence passed by and Aldric, unsure whether he was awake or asleep, stayed put, listening. The silence was eventually broken by a collaboration of voices: young and old, men and women. It seemed that the community had come together, angry and disturbed by the noisy arrival. Overcome by his curiosity, Aldric uncurled and tiptoed around the shards of glass obstructing his path towards the window.
No words could escape him as he gazed upon the wreck steaming away in its crater. Aldric could not see the anger in his father’s eyes as he watched him approach the scene with his sword half raised but he knew it would be there. With a longing to investigate the wreck first-hand, Aldric tore himself away and stole down the rickety staircase two steps at a time.
‘Chesley!’ someone shouted gruffly from outside. Aldric stopped at the doorstep and shivered as he listened to the familiar voice quavering through the dark, ‘Is that you?’ A tall man, dressed all in black, approached Aldric’s father. He wore a sash of badges on his arm and, like Chesley, clutched a sword raised defensively in his gloved hand. He stared keenly and slowly gave a nod of acknowledgement. ‘Ches, it is you.’ The two men walked further up the field until they were enveloped by night.
‘Well who else is it going to be?’ he replied solemnly, shaking his head, ‘We have to get these people out of here Graison.’
‘Take your son and leave,’ Graison replied, lowering his sword, ‘let the authorities handle this.’ Chesley lifted his head, his eyebrows narrowed, but Graison looked away. ‘I didn’t mean to offend you,’ he said, ‘but it’s not your place anymore. Your son needs you. After all, you left us for him.’
‘You know that I’d do anything, anything to stop this from happening all over again.’ He paused and glanced up at the wreckage before closing his eyes in remembrance.
‘I know,’ Graison sighed, ‘But your son...’ The image of Aldric shot into the forefront of Chesley’s mind. Though just turned thirteen, the boy was overly curious and rash, always acting on his immediate impulses like a young child would.
‘I’ll get him to safety,’ he opened his eyes. The thought of his son alone with no perception of the danger he was in pulled him out of a trance and pushed him into panic. He edged away and hurried back to the dilapidated house he and Aldric called a home, ‘But I will return,’ he called back over his shoulder. Shaking his head, Graison stepped up to the crater and examined the wreckage. It was an ovular hold, slightly blackened and filled with many mini-craters, most of which were emitting large amounts of smoke.
‘Okay,’ he spoke loudly over the crowd, ‘Back away and let the professionals handle this!’ A group of men, all wearing black uniforms and sashes of badges, stepped forward. Some people scuttled back to their homes but a few remained, refusing to leave until questions had been answered.
A resounding boom blasted across the sky, stretching through the yard and shaking the barns with a metallic echo. Startled, Chesley spun around. A beam of blinding light shot up into the starry night sky and for a moment it seemed that night had disappeared. It stirred up cries of surprise amongst the lingering few. A dark figure stood on top of the wreck but for a minute nothing happened. Some people backed away from it. Others seemed to be trying to negotiate. But then it jumped. It jumped straight on to one of the men and dug in its jagged claws. There was a scream, a slash through the air, a thud and a squelch. Chesley shut his eyes and uttered a quiet utter of disbelief. He gently pushed his son inside, hurried past and locked the door behind them.
‘What is it?’ said Aldric, ‘What’s out there?’ Chesley, dismissing his son’s enthusiasm, grabbed a shabby brown shoulder bag off a nearby peg, rushed into the pantry and opened a trunk. He shoved everything edible he could find into the bag, muttering under his breath that it was precautionary, before throwing it into a corner once it had been jam-packed. Aldric lingered where he was and observed his father who hastily rushed around.
‘What are you doing? Are you going somewhere?’ said Aldric. Chesley stopped, as if he had not decided on the next actions to take. After an extensive hesitation, he gathered up the things he had collected and thrust them into Aldric's arms along with an old sword.
‘No,’ he said, ‘you are.’
‘But why?’ said Aldric, ‘I want to know what that thing is! Why aren’t you telling me?’ But Chesley raised a finger to his lips, drew his sword once again and, without moving his gaze away from the front door, spoke in a whisper.
‘You can get out the back-door,’ he said, ‘Go to December’s place.’
‘You always send me there."
‘It’s the best place.’
‘But I don’t…’
‘Just go,’ Chesley hissed, ‘Run!’ Aldric slung the heavy bag over his shoulder and was about to do as his father had instructed but a loud crack and a blizzard of splinters hurled forward as the front door obliterated. His stomach heaving, Aldric took off and raced out of the back door and across the grass.
He did not get far. Aldric skidded and turned to see what was going on but he could not see his father through the kitchen window. There was someone else there. A dark scaly figure dressed in what looked like piloting gear. It turned its head sharply and stared directly into Aldric’s eyes. However, as if distracted, its gaze wavered to the floor instead. Chesley was staring up at the ceiling. His face was cut. His sword lay on the ground beside him.
‘Give it up old-timer,’ it snarled as it leant over him. Its face was visible for just a second as it stepped through a beam of moonlight. Chesley’s eyes widened as he saw a flash of white gleam off of the creatures jagged teeth. It bent down further and looked into the glossed eyes of his prey. Chesley tried to tilt his head away. He could feel the creature’s cool stale blooded breath on his face. Chesley fumbled his hand across the floor until he found the hilt of his sword. Gripping it tightly, he swung upwards, intending to slice the creatures head off but the creature darted out of the way in time, lunged forward and seized Chesley by the neck. Chesley choked and his sword fell away from him.
‘Get off of him!’ Aldric yelled as he banged against the kitchen window. The creature released Chesley’s weakening body, bent down, picked up the sword and clasped it securely in his fist. For a moment he fumbled with it. He examined the sleek design, embellished hilt and slightly rusted edged blade. It had not been used for a very long time. The creature took a snide look towards Aldric before directing the blade towards Chesley’s heart but fortuitously his victim moved out of the way. Plaster and dust projected through the air as the sword stabbed straight through the dry wall. When it had settled, the creature had gone.
‘I told you to leave,’ said Chesley as Aldric peered around the cracked doorframe.
‘I wanted to help,’ he mumbled, ‘it was going to kill you. If I hadn’t distracted the thing…’
‘I could have handled it on my own.” Aldric shuffled his feet against the gritty tiles and Chesley lowered his voice, ‘You acted honourably,’ he said, ‘but I want you safe.’
‘Where did it go?’
‘It has more important things to do than pick battles with people like us,’ said Chesley, ‘but it sounds like he’s sent us visitors.’ Initially, Aldric didn’t know what his father was talking about, but then he heard it, the low sinister rumble of the Jagophite’s growl. Three of them appeared on the front doorstep. They were on all fours, reptilian and ferocious, their yellow teeth like shards of glass and they had black wiry fur on their backs and all along their fin shaped tail. One of them had fins on its sides too, and all shared the same webbed feet, stumps for legs, claws and rounded head. Aldric had never seen a real Jagophite before, let alone three! He had heard stories about them but even they had not fully prepared Aldric for the beautifully monstrous sight that beheld him. One of them waved its tail which was much more flexible than it looked. They sauntered closer and closer and Aldric was unable to move out of both fascination and fear.
‘Get out of here now!’ Chesley shouted at him. He remained unmoving, ‘I said, NOW!’ One Jagophite took a step forward and tilted its head in a curious manner and the realisation that the beasts were real and deadly was enough to force Aldric’s legs to run.
Cornered, Chesley dived into a nearby cupboard and crouched low. He held the door shut, tightly. How dignified, he thought to himself, his own sarcasm ringing in his ears. All those years spent as being one of the most accomplished soldiers ever to be in the forces for years, and now he was hiding in a cupboard? He could hear the Jagophites scuttle away and for a moment, all he had thoughts for was Aldric. The dreaded creature headed towards the back door so he burst out of the cupboard brandishing his sword. The Jagophites turned around and bared their fangs. They leapt at Chesley who dodged out of the way and threw himself to the floor, landing underneath the belly of one of his foes. He unleashed all of his rage and thrust his blade up and through the Jagophite’s scaly skin. Dark green blood gushed out and the creature gave out a terrible roar. In anger it thrashed against the walls. The other Jagophites snapped at Chesley, desperate to take revenge for what he had just done, but speedily, he slid himself across the floor and headed for the backdoor. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Aldric disappear over the hills.
Chesley ran unrelentingly to the wreck site but slowed down as he reached the scene. He was surrounded by blood soaked bodies. There were loud snarls as the two remaining Jagophites chased towards him. Chesley reached for his sword but it wasn’t on his belt where it ought to have been. Yet he continued to fumble, for something, anything that was lying about on the ground. A rock! Chesley hurled it in their direction but they darted out of its way and just as one of the Jagophites lunged, someone else had stumbled forwards, clutching at their, wounds and pierced its underbelly with their sword. The other Jagophite halted and stared for a moment before deciding it the better option to flee.
‘Coward,’ whispered Graison. Chesley nodded at his friend thankfully but the relieve he felt about finding Graison alive was short lived. Graison’s sword fell out of his hand as he stumbled sideways to the ground.
‘Do you have a communicator?’ said Chesley urgently, kneeling by his side, ‘Let me call for help!’ Graison shook his head slowly, his breaths coming in short gasps. Chesley saw what damage had been done and bowed his head in remorse. ‘They will pay for this Graison. I promise. I’ll destroy them all!’
‘I’m sorry, he took my blood,’ Graison shuddered, ‘but the beast won’t stay humanoid for long.’
‘No,’ said Chesley, ‘it will be on the prowl for a new source. I have to fight it.’
‘No! Don’t choose...’ said Graison. Chesley looked at him a pained and puzzled expression etched upon his face. He said nothing in reply. Graison shut his eyes, and spoke in a painful whisper to his oldest comrade. ‘Don’t choose the battle over him, Ches...choose your son...choose him. Go, I don’t matter, you know I don’t matter!’ Graison’s grip loosened but just as his hand fell it was caught. Chesley held his hand and watched helplessly as Graison struggled to breath.
‘Aldric will be fine,’ he said half-heartedly, ‘He doesn’t need me.’ But Graison shook his head over and over again, opened his eyes and stared. He tried to speak but no words escaped from him. ‘Stop,’ said Chesley, ‘Look, Aldric’s in good hands, I’ve no reason not to fight anymore. Comrades in battle together...remember?’ Nothing more could be said. Graison slipped into sleep for the night though Chesley knew that it would be the last time that he ever did.
As he bowed his head in respect, he noticed a communicator hanging off Graison’s belt. Grabbing it he dialled the code that would enable him to get in touch with the authorities. No-one answered. Graison’s words echoed in his mind and Chesley winced as he was hit by a surge of guilt. Aldric had no idea what was going on and that put him in even more danger, if that was even possible. With a yell, Chesley hurled the communicator at the Jagophite’s ship and the device smashed into plastic shards with wires protruding in all directions. No-one was coming. He looked back down to Graison and knew there was nothing to be done.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said simply before turning away from the dreadful scene of slaughter. Chesley raced over the hills to chase after the person, who to him, was the only person alive who really mattered.