This episode is number 25 in my ongoing web serial, updated weekly as a part of #fridayflash. If you are new to The UCF Stories, you can read from the beginning here.
The last of the prisoners only just cleared the tunnel mouth when the outer wall of the fairy castle shuddered and, with a great sigh, began to slip, falling in a single piece right along its length like the icing from a cake. There was a good deal of sphincter twitching as the Pixies and Goblins raced to outpace the falling masonry. When the wall reached the base of the cliff on which the fairy fortress was built and started to break up, stones the size of cows rained down around the slowest of the group, throwing up a hail of dirt clods as they landed and miraculously missing the last in line by mere inches.
'Close run thing, eh?' shouted Salkeld above the rumble of falling granite.
'Yes,' wheezed Swazzle as he half carried, half pulled Rushalka along. Either she's getting heavier, Swazzle thought, or I need to take more exercise.
The little wyrm capered and gambolled, scampering in rings around the group, gently herding them in the direction of the forest and safety. Suddenly it stopped dead, raised its head, ears cocked and stared into the night sky. Swazzle glanced in the direction the wyrm was looking, his insides turning to ice water as he spied, silhouetted against the moon, a huge flying wyrm bearing down on them.
'Run!' bellowed Swazzle kicking forwards. The company sprinted for the border, Swazzle knowing with a certain dread they would never make it. Behind them, wyrms burrowed and crawled over the ruins of the fairy fortress, winged ones swooping and wheeling above the shattered castle, breathing deadly fire over anything that moved.
The little wyrm dashed towards its flying cousin, wings beating furiously until finally it managed to claw its way slowly into the air, making a beeline for the incoming beast. Its flight seemed ponderous to begin with, the little wyrm rising uncertainly into the night sky, though after a few moments a new confidence seemed to sweep over the little creature and it streaked forward, a small red dart aimed directly towards the head of the larger beast.
Some of the prisoners stopped to watch, and even Swazzle found himself involuntarily slowing down, eyes fixed on the unfolding drama above him while still trying to keep the group moving. He watched transfixed as the distance between the two wyrms decreased rapidly, then his mouth fell open as the larger beast sent a jet of flame right at the smaller one, sending it tumbling over and over in mid air as flames washed over it.
As the fiery breath died away, the little wyrm righted itself and flew at the larger beast again, smoke trailing from its singed tail. Swazzle accepted the inevitable and stopped dead to gawp at the unfolding drama above him. Salkeld ran straight into him and went sprawling just as the little wyrm reached the larger beast, executed a neat wing-down turn above its snout and sank its fangs into the tip of the larger beast's nose.
Bellowing in rage, the larger wyrm abandoned its attack run, wheeling away and climbing over the fairy fortress, the little wyrm clamped firmly between its nostrils. In that instant Swazzle recovered his composure and amid much shoving and cursing got the prisoners moving again, not stopping again until they were through the forest and in sight of the portal. With the last of them through the portal, Swazzle took one last look around before stepping through himself, wondering idly what had become of the little wyrm.
Swazzle had just begun to erase the chalk outline when something caught him full in the chest, knocking the wind out of him as it threw him a few yards up Hangman's Passage. A faint singed smell accompanied the missile, which came to rest tangled in his clothes. Swazzle strained to get air into his protesting lungs as the missile struggled and wriggled, then proceeded to wash his face affectionately with its serpentine tongue.
'Urgh! Argh! Gerroff!' spluttered Swazzle, batting at the little wyrm in a vain attempt to calm it down. The creature was now sitting on his chest, bouncing happily up and down on his bruised ribs. One of its ears was badly burned and there was a nasty gash across its snout, but the little wyrm seemed in raptures to see Swazzle again.
Eventually, Swazzle managed to struggle out from under the creature and clamber shakily to his feet. Struggling over to the wall, he completed removing all signs of the portal, the little wyrm twisting through his legs the whole time. The task completed, Swazzle turned and set off up Hangman's Passage in the direction of Goddess Rising, a sad whimper bringing him up short after only a few paces.
'Come on then,' Swazzle called resignedly over his shoulder, rewarded with the sound of claws clicking on the cobbles and together, Pixie and wyrm strode away up Gallows Close.
This week also marks the release of the eighth episode in The Great Chocolate Conspiracy multi-part story. You can find episode 8 over at Danielle La Paglia's Flash Fiction blog here. Don't forget to follow the #GtChocCo hashtag on Twitter for more updates on this project. For more information, and to read from the beginning, please go here.