== Failure ==
Pyrrha shifted her orange wings, pulling them closer to her to keep her warm against the cold night air. How am it that I, the only daughter of a noble dragon, ended up being a miserable, downtrodden orphan? she mused. Of course, the story behind that was a simple one but also a sad one. Her mother had died a few years after she was born, leaving her with only her father. When she was fifteen years old, the war between humans and dragons had started. Her father, being a noble, was expected to help fight in the war and had been called to arms only a day after the war began. That was one of the two prices of being a noble; the expectation of helping in a war effort, no matter what, and a large sum of money. Her father had inherited his position as a noble, so he was only expected to help in a war, a requirement which he had expected to never have to fulfill. He had died in the first battle he fought in.
After her father's body was brought home, she was told what would then become of her. Since she was too young to claim her father's position and fight in the war and also too young to take care of herself she would be placed in an orphanage. Those years she spent at the orphanage were the worst years of her life. Since she had still been upset at her father's death all the other dragons had ganged up on her and belittled her. Even after she recovered from her father's death they still treated her like dirt. Seeing as she was much older that what the usual adopter wanted she realized that she would never be adopted. If she was not adopted by the age of twenty-five she would be forced to join the war effort as a solider so, at the age of twenty-four, she escaped from the orphanage, leaving most her troubles and belongings behind her.
She had expected that finding a job so that she could maintain herself outside the orphanage to be a relatively easy thing to do. It turned out that she could not have been more wrong. With her poor and incomplete education no one wanted to hire her, even under all the wartime pressures they had placed upon them. So Pyrrha found herself to be a beggar in a medieval city, barely able to get even a meal a day. Her stomach growled at her, reminding her that this was one of those days when she had not gotten a meal. She sighed, as this was only one of her problems. Her clothes, which had been in decent condition when she left the orphanage, were now little more than rags. Winter was also quickly approaching, so she had to find shelter sometime soon. I could always go back to the orphanage
she thought, No, I can't go back. If I do they'll send me straight into the war force.
She sighed once again. It's going to be a long night for me
At least I have a plan for tomorrow. It was a plan she had been working on for a week now, and tomorrow was the day she would get to put it into action. If her plan worked she would be set for the winter, and possibly her whole life. If it failed
well, she would rather not even consider that possibility. But first, she had a restless night to go through.
The next day pasted by as most of her days did. She stayed by the edge of the street, begging for some small tidbits of bread from the dragons who came from the bakery across the road. She managed to get half a loaf of bread, which had curbed her hunger pains from the previous night. She was given a few coins as well, but it was not enough for her to buy anything of use to her. On the positive side, no one attacked her that day. She shuddered as she thought of one particular dark gray male, who had, with just one glance at her, told her exactly what he wanted to do to her. She had fled to her current location that day, but had been afraid to show her face for nearly a week, spending most of the money that she had saved for food so that she could spend as little time in public as possible. She still shuddered when she thought of the look in his eyes.
Pyrrha waited until that night before she put her plan into action. Her plan was simple and yet, when it succeeded, she would be set for the year. She planned to break into the bakery and steal all the money and food she could carry. The last few days had been spent around the bakery for the sake of observation; giving her the details she needed for her plan to be successful. Pyrrha planned to use the money she stole to buy housing, get some new clothes, and even buy more food when her original stolen stock ran out. If she was lucky, she might even attract the attention of one of the groups of thieves in the city, which would give her a job, a place to live, and even a family.
The bakery, constructed out of stone, wood, and some plaster, had three separate levels to it. From what Pyrrha observed she deduced that the top floor was simply a balcony and an attic, since she only saw the baker's wife out on it one time. She figured that the middle floor was where the baker and his wife slept, ate, and relaxed, as she knew what was on the bottom floor: the store. Pyrrha had taken the opportunity to scout out the store one of the times she bought some bread. The front of the store housed a wall of shelving, on which the baker displayed his goods, and a heavy counter, where the baker conducted his business affairs. While she waited for the baker so that she could purchase her bread Pyrrha had caught a few glances of the back of the bakery. She had seen a few shelves and a table, but that was all; however, she knew that there had to be some sort of an oven back there for the baker to cook the bread. As she had concluded her business with the baker she saw him place her payment somewhere under that counter, which was where she suspected that he kept his money.
A few hours after all the lights in the bakery were put out, deep into the night, Pyrrha started to put her plan into action. Grabbing the sack she had been keeping her spare coins in, she flew up to the balcony of the bakery, from which she planned to break into the store. While she expected the door to be unlocked she was not overly surprised when she found it to be locked. She had prepared for this eventuality by sharpening a few of her claws so that she could simply slip one of them between the door and the wall to force the lock to open. As she made her way inside she was pleasantly surprised; her suspicion had been confirmed. Before she took another step she listened for the sounds of the baker and his wife sleeping. She soon found them and, after ensuring that they were sound asleep, she quickly made her way through the attic to the stairs. Pyrrha carefully descended the wooden stairs, but at the bottom step the stair way let of a creek of noise. She stopped, with her heart in her gut as she listened to the baker and his wife slumber. Hearing no changes to their snores and breathes she resumed her careful descent. By the time she got to the bottom of the stairs she had caused them to let out sound twice, each time nearly causing her heart to stop in fear of waking the baker. At the bottom of the stairs she found herself in the back of the store. She quickly observed that there was indeed an oven there, along with three heavy, freestanding shelves and a table, where the baker could work his dough.
Pyrrha started to loot he bakery, grabbing strips of salted meat and some sacks of fruit, which the baker occasionally using in his bread. After looting everything useful in the back Pyrrha carefully made her way to the front of shop. As she when she showed considerable caution, as if even one person came by her orange scales could easily be made out in the darkness of the store. She quickly started searching the drawers to the counter in search of the baker's coins. She found them in the bottom drawer and started to shove them into her sack of coins.
Pyrrha practically jumped out of her scales at the sound of the voice, hovering right behind her. With a considerable amount of self-control, she turned her head to look at the source of the voice. What she saw brought such terror to her that she found herself unable to move. Standing before her was the same male from before, the one who, with just a look, had made her fear for her life. What is he doing here!? Pyrrha thought, Has he been following me this whole time? As his expression twisted itself into a grin she found herself able to move again and did the only thing she could do: run. Since he was standing between her and the front door Pyrrha ran for the back, hoping she could make it to the top floor and escape before he caught up to her. As she bolted though the door though she made a critical mistake; she looked behind to see if he was following her. As she did so she collided into one of the shelves in the back. It quickly came crashing down, leaving her pinned and waking up everyone in the nearby houses. As she lay trapped, she saw the male come stand by her.
"Tisk, tisk, tisk," he whispered quietly.
As soon as the baker came down, a startling revelation was made to Pyrrha. The first words the baker spoke were not "Who are who?" as she expected, but were instead, "What are you doing back home son?"
As Pyrrha lay trapped, she was forced to listen to the baker and his son converse and answer their questions. It turned out that the baker, named Rye, had sent his son, Ferrous, to be apprenticed to a blacksmith several years ago. A week ago he had come back home to visit his parents before setting off to start the final year of his apprenticeship. As he had left town, he had met Pyrrha and given her the greatest scare of her life, although he stated it was an accident. Earlier that day his master had let him come home for a short break, as Ferrous had missed his family greatly. As he prepared to enter the store though the front door he had seen Pyrrha robbing them. He decided to scare her on purpose this time and successfully caused her to fail in her robbery attempt.
Since Pyrrha was trapped, they interrogated her some, in an attempt to find out more information about her. While Ferrous had several questions for her Rye had only one; "Why did you try to rob us?" Pyrrha responded, with a downcast expression, "Because I needed some things in order to survive, like a shelter for the winter." Rye shook his head at this. "Why didn't you ask first? We would have gladly given you a home for the winter, considering your story. All you would have had to do was help me in the bakery. Now though we have to send for the city guards to come and taking you to be punished." Rye finished his sentence with a sad expression on his face, telling Pyrrha that he was indeed telling the truth. Sorry was Pyrrha's only response, to which Rye quickly responded, "It's too late for that. Ferrous, as soon as the sun rises fetch the city guards, so she can be sentenced. May the king and queen have mercy on you, Pyrrha."
The city guards were highly amused by the spectacle Pyrrha had made of herself. As they took her to see the king and queen to be judged they laughed and poked fun at her ridiculous demise. Pyrrha was too absorbed with Rye's last statement to really be concerned by the rude jokes the guards made at her though.
May the king and queen have mercy on you? I didn't even know they had any mercy to give in the first place! she contemplated. Her king and queen, just like the rulers of most kingdoms, were members of a special subspecies of dragon known as a demon dragon. Demon dragons were named as such due to their features. They possessed a pair of hooves for their back legs and horns on their heads, shaped like that of a stereotypical devil. They were also much larger than most other dragons, easily being twice as large. Despite their appearances, demon dragons actually made great rulers; for instance, they settled disputes between kingdoms without drawing in anyone else. If a dragon wished to expand his territory he would have to either arrange a marriage with the current ruler of the territory or kill the current ruler in a one on one fight to the death. They were also fair but strict in their rulings, giving no mercy to any law breakers. Thus, Pyrrha already knew what was going to happen to her.
They're going to cut off my left paw, she thought, self-consciously rubbing her left wrist. She had known that the loss of her left paw would be the price of failure, but she had felt so confident that she had never really considered it. It was the set punishment for thieves, so there was no doubt in her mind as to what her punishment would be. As least I won't be publicly executed. Those are terrible to see! Pyrrha thought, clinging to the only silver lining she could find. She was correct to be glad though, as it seemed that demon dragons could always find the perfect way to execute someone, whether that is a simple decapitation or something more elaborate, such as
Pyrrha stopped herself from finishing that thought; she had once overheard some of the methods of execution that had been used on traitors once, and had then been unable to sleep for days on end, finding herself in the thrall of a terrible nightmare of herself being executed by methods identical to ones she overheard as soon as she fell asleep.
As she and her escort of guards neared the manor that served as home for the king and queen, and thus the main governmental building for the city, a new, terrible thought struck her. I am going to die from this. It may not be the intent of my punishment, but I am going to die. she remorsed, her thoughts coming quicker and quicker as the realization fully dawned on her.With a missing paw, people will know that I am a known thief. If I try to return to my life as a beggar they will give me nothing, and I'll die in the winter. If I manage to find one of the gangs of thieves in the city they will reject me, as a thief without a hand is no good to them. That leaves my sole chance for survival on getting married, and who wants to marry a girl without a hand? These thoughts so entangled Pyrrha's mind that she did not even notice when they entered court room.
"All hail the royal couple, King Henry and his mate, Queen Anne!" The court crier's call final broke Pyrrha out of her deep, miserable ravine of thought. She looked up, and began to observe her surroundings. She was in a typical court room, with a few rows of seats behind her, filled with a small assortment of nobles and their servants, who had come for reasons beyond Pyrrha's comprehension. As she turned her head she observed that the guards who had escorted her were now standing near the exits, preventing any escape attempts. When her head finally turned to face the front of the court she saw the king and queen, situated comfortably in front of her. She took a moment to observe them closer. King Henry was a large, black dragon, with a quite a few battle scars from defending his kingdom, while Queen Anne was a dragon of a size equal to that of King Henry, with dark, blood red scales covering her perfect, unmarred body. As she shifted to their head she noted the perfect condition of their teeth, the thickness and luster of their horns, the simple but beautiful circle of gold which served as their crowns, and their eyes
Pyrrha stopped, taken aback at the look in the eyes of Queen Anne. It was the same look Ferrous had given her that day, and for once, she was able to identify it. It was a look of lust and the appearance of it in the Queen's eyes as she looked at Pyrrha troubled her deeply. Before she could think about it more though, the court crier began to call the court to order.
"Order in the court! Order! The count of thievery, placed on-" A deep, booming voice interrupted and concluded the crier's statement for him, saying, "Miss Pyrrha Flarewing will now be called to order." The crowd chuckled at the king's interruption of the court crier's announcement, but Pyrrha was left with her mouth agape. How had the king known her full name? She barely even knew it herself. She had no time to question it though, as King Henry moved right along with the flow of the court, as he announced in his deep voice, "She is found guilty on all accounts, and will be sentenced to
" At this, Queen Anne stopped him with a light tap on the shoulder. As he turned to talk with her as murmur arose out of the assembled people. Even Pyrrha was surprised. She knew that demon dragons went through court cases very quickly, so even this interruption was rather surprising. As King Henry and Queen Anne finished their whispered discussion Pyrrha noticed something new in the king's eyes. They now gazed at her with the same lust as the queen's gaze. Pyrrha began to tremble, fearing what her sentence would be now. She did not have to wait very much.
"Miss Pyrrha Flarewing will be sentenced in a private meeting at the end of the day. This will be the last meeting of the day." The crowd let out a collective gasp and then broke in to hushed conversation and guards came and dragged Pyrrha down a stairwell behind the court room. She was mildly surprised to find a room of jail cells underneath the court room, but she figured that they were used to hold dragons who were sentenced to be executed until such a time as the king and queen were ready to execute them. She was quickly escorted to a cell, which she found to be in surprisingly good condition. There was a large bed of straw for her to sleep on and a lid covering a hole to function as a toilet. As the guards closed the cell door behind her she tried to talk to them, in hopes of getting here questions answered, but the guards left the dungeon even faster than they had come in at. Pyrrha found herself alone and, with nothing else to do, she decided to sleep.
Pyrrha was woken by sounds of her cell door opening. She turned her head to see who was opening the door, expecting it to be the guards to take her to her meeting with the king and queen. What she found instead was a young female who appeared to be the same age a Pyrrha. Her scales were a beautiful shade of blue, similar to that of a deep, pristine lake while her horns and claws the shared their shade of white with sea foam. Her wings were a dazzling shade of yellow, transitioning beautifully into the rest of her body. She was someone who even Pyrrha realized a male would fine beautiful, but the fact that she was still working indicated that she had yet to find or take a mate. The newcomer was the first to break the silence, her silken voice reassuring someone even as confused as Pyrrha.
"Miss Flarewing, King Henry and Queen Anne have requested that you be given a bath before your meeting with them. My name is Aqua, and I have been assigned to escort you to the bath house, so if you would please follow me you can get a bath before the water gets cool."
Pyrrha perked up at the sound of a bath. The last time she had gotten anything close to a bath had been about a month before her escape from the orphanage and by now her scales had accumulated a layer of filth which she would be glad to shed. As she exited her cell, she noticed that there were no guards posted. She questioned Aqua about this on their way to the bath house and at first received only laughter as a response. Once Aqua realized that Pyrrha honestly did not know why the corridor was empty she replied.
"No one is posted because, even if someone escaped, they would have to get past the king and queen, and the only person who can defeat a demon dragon is another demon dragon. Also, before someone even got to the king and queen he or she would have to fight their way past all the guards King Henry and Queen Anne would send down to lock up the escapees again."
"How would the King Henry know to send guards down?"
"Wow, you don't know much do you?"
"I spent the later ten years of my life in an orphanage!"
To answer your question, the king and queen somehow know everything that is going on within the city."
"Well, that's what they tell us anyways. They could be lying, but every time a crime spree occurs the king and queen are able to tell the city guards exactly what they need to do to arrest the person responsible, and every single time it works. They also seem to know everything about everybody without being told. Do you have a better explanation?"
"No, it's just so shocking that they don't do something about the poor in the city and the crime gangs that are out there."
At this, Aqua stopped. She turned to face Pyrrha and replied, "Because if they help everybody then they will be stretched too thin. So instead, they do what they could if they were a normal dragon, only using their abilities when they are truly needed." Her expression indicated that no farther questions on the matter would allowed, once again leaving Pyrrha to her musings. The first thing she realized was that she now understood why Rye had turned her in; he had been afraid that the king and queen would punish him for not turning in a criminal. She also realized that Aqua, despite living in the manor, was blindly loyal to the royal couple. If there was something wrong with their rule she would probably rationalize it away.
Before Pyrrha could think about much else Aqua announced that they had arrived at the bath house. Aqua explained that the bath house was split into a male and female section and, despite her earlier claim that the water would be getting cold, was feed by an underground hot spring, so it would always be warm. She then led Pyrrha into a changing room, where she helped Pyrrha out of the rags which were her clothes. After that she lead Pyrrha into the actual bath house and then exited the room, trusting Pyrrha to bathe herself.
At first, Pyrrha was in shock. Back in the orphanage, their bath had been a simple bucket, which they had to fill with cold water from the well whenever they wanted to clean themselves, but here it was like a small pond, full of warm water! The first thing she wanted to do was jump into the pool, but before she did so she took the time to look around. Near the edge of the pool was basket, which she discovered to be filled with bars of soap. She also noted that there was a ledge much higher up on a wall, but the gold plating on it, along with a more elegant container, told her that whatever was on that shelf was for the queen only. As she looked closer at it she discovered an inscription which confirmed her suspicion. She then turned her attention to the bath itself. It was fairly large, but since it was a communal bath its size was necessary. It also sloped down towards the center, where the water would have easily covered Pyrrha's head it she tried to stand there. This was not concern to her though; one of the few things she had learned at the orphanage was how to swim.
As Pyrrha entered the pool she gave a squeal of joy. The sensation of being surrounded by warm water was completely new to her, and she found that she enjoyed it immensely. Pyrrha was initially content to just stand in the water, letting the warm water clean her off. After a minutes of that she became bored, and decided to swim in the water. She felt herself tire much quicker than normally though, so she had to cut herself short. As she came back towards the edge of the pool she grabbed a bar of soap and started to clean herself with it. A few moments after she finished Aqua came in and, after observing the expression on Pyrrha's face, commented simply with "I take it you found the bath very enjoyable." To this, Pyrrha simply grinned.
"Unfortunately, you need to get out now."
Pyrrha's grin reversed itself. However, as she entered that changing room she found that her old clothes had disappeared, and had been replaced by a towel and a simple but elegant white dress and gown. Pyrrha gave another squeal of joy and, after toweling herself dry, got dressed. She thanked Aqua profusely and tried to get a good look at herself. Unforatunately, there was no mirror to be found, but Aqua assured her that she looked beautiful, once she had stopped laughing. Aqua then took her back to her cell, but after she closed the door Pyrrha realized that she still had one question she needed answered.
"Aqua, why were people so shocked when it was announced that I would be sentenced at a private meeting with the king and queen?"
Aqua's body stiffened and when she next looked at Pyrrha her eyes were heavy with sadness, as she explained, "Pyrrha, the people were shocked because the sentence of a private meeting with the king and queen normally means that the person is going to be killed."
"WHAT!?" Pyrrha shouted, rushing the cell door in a desperate attempt at freedom.
"I mean, there has been a case where the person wasn't killed, but that was a young boy who just needed a good scare to get him to behave!"
Pyrrha was shocked. She was going to die. She asked Aqua for more information, hoping that there was some reason for her to possibly live, but Aqua's information did little to lighten her mood.
"Normally, the person they meet in private is someone who would ordinarily be executed in public, but for one reason or another the king and queen decide to spare that person the shame of being publicly executed and instead quickly kill them in private. The person is normally insane or emotionally unbalanced, but they have been known to spare those with a sad backstory the pain of a public execution as well."
Pyrrha was getting hopeful at these words, as she most certainly would not be executed normally and thus did not fall in the same group as those who Aqua had mentioned; however, her next words crushed her hopes like a waterfall.
"There is another group though, people whose crime would not normally end in their death. However, when they mean with the king and queen their fate is the same as the fate of everyone else."
With nothing else to say, Aqua walked away, leaving Pyrrha alone with her fears once more.