It’s not every day you come across a baby dragon. It’s also not every day that a tiny fire-breathing creature decides it isn’t leaving your backpack. Maybe feeding it blueberries wasn’t a great idea if you wanted it to leave. Yet, here was the little girl, feeding this untamed little monster while deliberating the consequences. “Mounica! Try to keep up, girl!”,someone called out. Sighing, she picked up her backpack, gently tucking in the baby dragon and trudged along with her group. They’d been hiking through the dense forest, non-stop for five days now, with no sign of civilization anywhere. The village tantric had warned them of the forest’s dangers, untamed monsters, wicked warlocks and the worst of all, the Dark Warriors. Believed to be the most dangerous and elite soldiers of the kingdom of Atrocia, the Dark Warriors were currently in possession of the Diadem of Aurora. A diadem that could only be forged on the night of the blue moon under the illumination of the Aurora Borealis in the Northern Arctic. Until the previous week, the diadem was her tribe’s most valuable treasure. Forbidden to be worn by anyone but the tribal chief, the diadem bestowed the wearer with immense magical powers, provided he/she could handle it without going insane. Mounica had heard many stories of insane men and women who were foolish enough to try and wear it; only to have their minds befuddled beyond repair. Now though, the diadem was somewhere in the Dark Warrior camp in the forest, it’s former wearer and their tribal chief dead. Mounica tried to remember the previous week. What had started off as a boring and routine day, had ended in fire, murder and theft. She remembered how the Dark Warriors had broken into their village and captured their tribal chief before decapitating him and taking his head along with the diadem.
The baby dragon yawned, exhaling tiny sparks of fire, pulling Mounica back to reality. Somehow it had climbed out of her backpack and onto her shoulders, resting peacefully around her neck like a furry scarf. Small fumes of smoke emerged from its nose and mouth everytime it exhaled, which kept her warm. The other tribe members threw her awkward glances now and then and she couldn’t blame them. Dragons were violent creatures. They were capable of instantly vaporizing any moving creature in their path and were far from being domesticated. This one though, was a mere baby, probably not older than a few days. The only reason her group had allowed her to keep it was because she was the next tribal chief-to-be, which was another pressure she had to deal with. The village tantric’s prophecy was clear in her mind, the words etched into her memory, refusing to fade. She repeated the lines again trying to decipher any hidden clues. To the east you shall quest
To where the lost diadem rests
You shall lose what you are
Igniting the diadem’s power
An oath to honour with the last breath
Unleashing the wrath of the evil death.
Repeating the lines only gave her a headache. Nothing about the prophecy felt optimistic, yet here she was, leading a group of their mightiest men and women, to retrieve the diadem from the Dark Warriors. The word ‘leading’ felt like an exaggeration. It was her group that took the lead and dragged her along instead of the other way round. But could she blame herself? Ever since she was born, she only knew of life inside the tribe. Going outside the borders was strictly forbidden for kids and once the village tantric pronounced her the next chief-to-be, at the age of ten, her parents had gotten extra careful. She clearly remembered the day of the pronouncement, how they had all gathered around the central hearth, how the tantric had chanted incantations to invoke the Gods and how he had opened his eyes and pointed his crooked finger at her, declaring her as the next tribal chief.
The dragon gently nuzzled her chin bringing her back to reality, yet again. She gave it a little pat on the nose and fished out a compass from her backpack. It showed they were right on track, heading east. But for how long? She didn’t know. It was starting to get dark so she clapped her hands for her group’s attention. “We shall set up camp here for tonight”, she announced. Some younger lads in her group looked relieved while the others just looked annoyed. She understood their predicament. They wanted to get the diadem as soon as possible. But depriving themselves of food and sleep wasn’t going to do them any good and it was dangerous to keep moving in the forest after dark. She settled down under a tree with the dragon peacefully snoring in her lap, watching her people meticulously set up the night camp. These were her people and she would rule over them one day. She felt proud and sad at the same time. What if she failed? What if she couldn’t bring all of them back alive? The prophecy wasn’t exactly cheerful either, what with losing what you were and unleashing the wrath of death. The Dark Warriors were the cruelest, most stone-hearted people of all mankind and fighting them was almost suicide. Yet she knew she had to deliver. The fate of their whole tribe felt heavy on her inexperienced shoulders and she felt all alone amidst this group of adults. Someone called out to her informing that her tent was ready. The tent wasn’t very comfortable but it was better than sleeping outside. Someone had made a little bed for the baby dragon too, using an old wooden box and a quilt. She carefully laid the dragon inside it, watching it snore ever so peacefully. Then she lay down on the foldable cot made for her, letting her mind relax. After what felt like an hour of battling with her thoughts, she finally fell asleep.
A loud boom jerked her awake. She could hear people screaming and running outside the tent. She rolled onto her side to check on the dragon inside the box, but it was gone. She carefully got up and grabbed her backpack. She had no weapons but for a small dagger at the bottom of her backpack. That had to do for now. She carefully tiptoed to the opening in her tent, peeking out from the gap to see what the noise was all about. Suddenly, someone grabbed her arm and yanked her outside. She struggled to run but the person’s grip was like iron. She tried stabbing the person with her dagger but she got treated to a sharp blow on the head as someone wrenched her dagger and backpack away from her. Great! Now she was completely weaponless. Still struggling, she looked around to see what was going on and her jaw dropped. All the members of
her group were on their knees, their hands bound by magical shackles that only broke with a powerful spell known to the captor. Dark Warriors had surrounded their camp and were seizing all their weapons and food. A few bodies lay here and there, members of her tribe who had died trying to protect them. It was an ambush. Unease coiled at the back of her mind. What was she going to do? Far from retrieving the diadem, she was pretty sure she’d be amazed if she made it out of there alive. The lines from the prophecy rang ominously in her head. Unleashing the wrath of the evil death. Someone bound her hands with the magical shackles. They vibrated uncomfortably around her wrists, getting tighter the more she struggled. “Lead them to the General!”, a Dark Warrior commanded. The others nodded in agreement and herded the tribals outside the camp. With no other option, Mounica silently followed their commands. She wondered where the baby dragon had gone and wished that it was safe. I never even got the chance to name it, she thought. They marched for a few minutes before reaching a large clearing full of soldiers. The Dark Warrior Camp, she realised with dread. The encampment was huge with gigantic security posts on all four sides, two Dark Warriors on each post, looking for any sign of trouble with their large telescopes. So that’s how they found us, Mounica wondered. They stood before the entrance in a line while the guard checked with the security for clearance. She could make out a few phrases like ‘foolish tribals’, ‘large stash of weapons and food’ and a large amount of teasing from the security guards, but she couldn’t care about it. All she wanted was to escape. Going inside those gates was a one way trip.
Suddenly, she felt something warm crawl up the back of her shirt. Before she saw it, she knew. The baby dragon was back! It snaked up her back coming to a rest right under her shirt, where no one could spot it in the dark. Clever thing!, Mounica thought. I’ll name you Spike. The guard finally opened the gates and led them all inside. Huge tents formed an inverted-U around a huge central hearth where many soldiers were having food. The captives were made to kneel down in a line in front of the tallest, most heavily guarded tent in the whole camp. Mounica’s knees hurt but it wasn’t like she could complain. After sometime, a Dark Warrior emerged from the tent.“The General wants to meet the chief-to-be”, he announced. That meant her! All her group mates were looking at her. She could see fear in their eyes and realised she might not make it out of that tent alive. But she’d known that ever since they’d gotten captured. If she was going to die, she’d make it count. With that not-so-pleasant thought in mind, she got up, which was not easy with her hands tied behind her back. So naturally, she stumbled and fell. Roars of laughter surrounded her. Great! So now she was providing entertainment to the Dark Warriors. One of them pulled her, not so gently, to her feet and marched her into the tent. Inside, it was almost dark with the only light coming from a small torch in the far corner. A large golden throne occupied the center and on it was seated the most gigantic man Mounica had ever seen. He smiled maniacally as she approached. “Allow me to introduce myself”, he spoke, his voice as loud and deep as thunder. “I know who you are”, she spat. “You’re General Nefarious, the head of the Atrocian Army’”. “Ah, yes”, he chuckled, “that’s what they all like to call me. Here, I think this might interest you”. He walked over to a large wooden table in one corner, with a square box on top of it, concealed in a red cloth. Giving her a cruel grin, he removed the cloth
revealing the most gruesome thing Mounica had ever seen. It was the tribal chief’s decapitated head, almost rotten and catching flies, like a gross trophy of some kind. But what caught her attention was the chief’s head. There it was. The Diadem of Aurora, it’s gem glinting ominously in the torchlight. Mounica couldn’t believe it. The diadem was right there! But why was the general showing it to her? Maybe he was convinced Mounica couldn’t even run away, much less steal it. He wasn’t wrong. “I believe this belongs to you, now that your chief here is dead?”, he asked in an innocent voice. Mounica kept calm. She knew the general was trying to tease her but she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of it. “You know little girl, I could easily get you and your friends killed right now”, he said, “but what fun would that be? I’d prefer a little more drama.” Both the guards behind her howled with laughter. He wanted drama? What was she, a puppet?, Mounica thought. The general continued, “You see girl, I intend to give you what’s rightfully yours. I will give you the diadem right away. But on one condition- you have to wear it right now, right here.” Mounica couldn’t believe her ears. Wear the diadem? But she was too young! The diadem needed years of training and she had none. She’d go insane the moment it touched her head!Maybe that was the drama the general wanted, she thought bitterly. He’d make her go insane. The dragon, Spike, wriggled around in her shirt sending chills down her spine. The general picked up the diadem and moved towards her in slow motion. She wanted to run but the two guards behind her, grabbed her by the shoulders, forcing her to kneel down. The general stood above her, holding the diadem with both his hands. “And now, for the crowning ceremony!”, he cackled sinisterly. Mounica shook her head but she knew it was all over. As the diadem neared, she could feel its pull on her hair, tugging at loose strands, ready to confound her mind and swallow her memories, leaving her as blank as new parchment. She took a deep breath, ready to face whatever was coming. The prophecy rang clearly in the head. You shall lose what you are. So this was it. And the general placed the Diadem of Aurora on her head. At first, she didn’t feel anything. Then she started screaming. White hot pain shot through her skull, making her feel like her brain was melting. She felt the grip on her shoulders loosen and flopped face first onto the floor, damp mud smearing her face. She felt agony like never before. The diadem kept getting hotter and hotter, the pain increasing exponentially, threatening to burn away her head. Her whole life played in her mind, her strongest core memories visible one after another, as if they were happening right in front of her. Just when she thought she couldn’t bear the pain anymore, it stopped. Had she gone insane? But if she had, then why did she remember everything? She opened her eyes slowly, not sure what was happening. The world looked different, as if through a clear lens. She could see the dark tent as clear as an eagle, could feel the baby dragon still breathing down her back, surprisingly unaware of all the commotion, could see the general and both his guards watching her in awe, could see and count every strand of hair in their long beards. The diadem felt warm on her head and she realized it was glowing. A gentle golden aura radiated from the central gem, making the surroundings glitter golden and silver. Even the ugly guards looked pleasant under its light. Mounica stood up, her hands still bound behind her, not sure what was happening. The general, who had been staring open-mouthed until then, commanded his guards. “Imprison her!”. Rage coiled inside her head. Who was he to
imprison her? All she wanted was to break the shackles on her wrists. And then the unexpected happened. The moment she thought of the shackles breaking, they started glowing golden and broken down into a thousand pieces, collecting at her feet. She knew what was happening at the back of her mind but she couldn’t believe it. The diadem had somehow answered her will. There was only one logical logical explanation for that. Somehow, the diadem had accepted her untrained brain. She remembered the lines from the prophecy. Igniting the diadem’s power. She knew what she had to do. As the two guards approached, she willed her diadem to make her knuckles as strong as lead. She dashed towards the guards at top speed, ducking under a guard’s raised arm and punched the second guard right in the stomach. He flew backwards, hitting the golden throne before collapsing in a heap. The dragon, Spike, climbed around her neck again, probably trying to enjoy the view. The general picked up an axe and charged. Before he could reach her, Mounica thrust her arm forward, snatching the axe from his grip, making it suspended in the air above his head. “Move and I shall drop your own axe on your head”, she warned, her voice a lot more powerful and confident. The general stood rooted to the ground, not moving a muscle, probably contemplating his next move. Before she could guess what he had planned, the dragon leaped off her shoulders and landed on the first guard’s head, who was about to attack her from behind. He whacked at the baby dragon with his iron baton, but it bit his nose and coughed up enough sparks to set his freshly oiled hair on fire. Mounica turned her attention back on the general. “Promise to leave and never come back”, she warned. “Never”, the general spat. “I will NOT be defeated by a mere child.” He dashed to the nearest wooden pole holding the tent aloft and with all his strength, pulled it off the ground. The tent began swaying dangerously, threatening to fall on them any moment. The torch in the corner of the tent blazed brighter as if to warn them that it could set the tent ablaze, if it ever fell, burning them all alive. Mounica knew she had to act fast. With one hand raised, he kept the tent aloft and with the other, she raised the golden throne up into the air. The general ran around uprooting all the poles one after another with superhuman strength. “I gave my oath to the throne of Atrocia”, he wheezed. “I will fight to the death”. Beads of sweat blossomed on her forehead as it took all of her will power to concentrate on not letting the tent fall and bury them underneath.Various objects around her started to levitate, as if answering her call. Pushing all of her strength and will into it, she launched the golden throne at the unsuspecting general. It landed right on top of his head causing him to collapse, where he stayed, unmoving and dead. Breathing heavily, Mounica lifted up each pole, hoisting the tent back. Then she picked up the baby dragon, which had gone back asleep at her feet and placed it gently around her neck, where it curled, letting out a steamy breath. Cautiously, she moved towards the motionless general but before she reached him, she knew. The general was dead. The prophecy rang in her mind, yet again. An oath to honour with the last breath. The general had taken an oath to serve Atrocia until the last breath and he had. Mounica knew what she had to do. Using her newly acquired powers, she made his lifeless body float in the air and led him outside. Rows upon rows of Dark Warriors had lined outside the tent, unsure of what was happening inside. The tent had started swaying all of a sudden and had stopped as abruptly as it had begun. Everyone’s gaze directed towards Mounica as she walked outside with
the general’s body suspended in the air. The soldiers were silent, yet their eyes betrayed a bundle of emotions, awe, astonishment and the greatest of all- fear. “Leave in peace”, she commanded, her voice booming over all others. “Leave in peace and the bloodshed shall end here. Leave in peace and you may live to tell the tale of your general’s death. The Diadem of Aurora belongs to us and it shall stay that way.” All the Dark Warriors stood transfixed. Finally, one of them stepped forward. “We shall go back in peace, My Lady”, he said meekly. Mounica nodded her head. She was well aware of her body glowing with a soft glowing aura and her tribe members staring at her as if she was a hero. Maybe she was, although she couldn’t say that out aloud. She jogged to her tribe members, freeing them from their shackles. They surrounded her, chanting her name and cheering their victory. The diadem glowed in all its glory and for the first time since wearing it, Mounica realised that her destiny had been fulfilled. This was what she was meant to do. She could already imagine the celebrations awaiting them back home. But all that had to wait. If she knew the Dark Warriors correctly, they would not let her tribe get away with killing their general. They would be back, probably with the entire army of Atrocia, to wreak havoc. And when they do, Mounica knew, she will be ready.