Alone and lost in the dark of night
Our hopes and dreams are out of sight
But side-by-side, we'll reach new heights
And find our way by firelight
A Moment in Time
The Dragon Temple was full of apes. They pushed, shoved, squabbled and fought, and the sound of their collective excitement rose to the rooftop in a cacophonous din. Jayce didn't know which way to look. He was just one ape in a sea of many, and the tide pulled him in all directions at once.
Eggs smashed and shattered around him. Some were thrown mercilessly to the floor; others were destroyed in their nests, obliterated by sword, club or even bare fists. Jayce had no space or time to draw his swords. Like the others, he scrambled and grappled to get at the eggs, or to get away from the Guardians, or to make himself useful in any way he could.
Nearby, the Ice Guardian gave a great roar of anguish and a wave of jagged icicles speared through the crowd. Several apes fell like stones. Jayce thanked his lucky stars that hadn't been him. As he watched, the great blue dragon was felled by a hefty blow to the head—one of the commanders had thrown his club—and crumpled to the ground.
Jayce stepped back and very nearly slipped on the remains of an egg. A shiver raced up his spine. It was slimy underfoot. Disgusting. He tried not to think about what he'd stepped in; this whole ordeal was making him feel sick enough as it was.
Everything was a mess. The commander's orders were ringing in his head, but he could hardly do a thing. Smash the eggs. Destroy them all. Except for the purple one. The king wants the purple egg.
The king wants the purple egg.
Jayce hadn't seen any purple eggs. There were red eggs and blue eggs, and green and yellow—there were black eggs and white eggs, brown eggs and vivid electric-blue eggs. But purple? Not even a shard. He hoped someone else had found it and not accidentally shattered it—and if that had happened, well, he pitied whoever had done it.
An ape shoved him and he stumbled sideways but didn't fall. There was no space to fall within this crowd; there was hardly any room to move at all. Too many—there were too many apes in here and Jayce hated it. He wanted out.
A shrieking roar of pain and sorrow ripped through the cacophony of screeching apes. A huge yellow dragon—the Electric Guardian—rose up from beneath a tide of fur and weaponry, his scales sparking with voltage. Horror pierced Jayce to the core. Instinctively, he dived to the ground.
Electricity exploded and arced above him, and apes screamed as they were caught in the blast. The smell of burnt fur filled Jayce's nostrils as a body hit the floor nearby. He hardly noticed. His heart was pounding; he felt sick.
Now at ground level, he saw for the first time the result of the carnage—of what he and his fellow apes were doing. The broken shells of countless eggs were scattered across the floor, crushed underfoot, submerged in a mess of blood and who knew what else. And there were corpses—tiny lifeless bodies, thrown from their protective shells too soon. Jayce could hardly breathe.
They were not lumps of half-formed flesh as he'd expected. They were little dragons, fully formed, with tiny wings and stubby horns—all of them dead. He tore his eyes away and scrambled to his feet.
The Electric Guardian was down now—Jayce couldn't see him through the sea of apes anymore—but the great dragon had done his damage. Many apes had been felled and the rest were more frenzied than ever. Jayce's head was spinning; his stomach was churning. As he was shoved and jostled, he struggled to get a grip on himself.
Smash the eggs, a voice was hissing in his head. That's why you're here!
He hadn't smashed a single one yet. He hadn't even got his hands on one! If his commander knew, he'd never hear the end of it. Jayce clenched his fists. This was his first and most important mission as a soldier of Gaul's Army; he had to make it count.
There were a few eggs left in the nests close-by. Jayce pushed another ape out of the way and grabbed for one—a pretty ruby-red egg, smooth and warm to the touch. He clutched it to his chest and, for a split second, thought he felt it move—thought he felt life inside it, warm and pulsing. His heart stopped.
He raised the egg above his head.
Smash it. Kill it.
Dragons are the enemy.
His hands trembled. And then another ape collided with him, Jayce's foot skidded on the slimy floor, and down he went. The world tipped sideways and he hit the ground on his back, knocking the breath from his lungs. The egg slipped out of his hands and fear exploded in him.
"No!" he gasped, scrambling to grab for it. But all he managed to do was send the egg spiralling further from his hand and, as he reached helplessly for it, another ape struck it with the side of his foot.
The egg rolled and skidded away, and Jayce lost sight of it through the forest of stampeding legs. It was gone. He'd failed. He went limp.
Then someone stepped on his tail, sending a shock of pain through his spine, and Jayce shot up with a yelp. What was he doing, lying on the floor? He'd just get trampled to death. There were still more eggs—he still had a chance—
"Enough!" roared a guttural voice that reverberated alarmingly inside the temple.
At once, everyone stopped. Apes paused mid-frenzy, some still clutching eggs, others frozen with their weapons raised over their heads. Enormous clanking footsteps were thumping towards the centre of the room, echoing in the silence. Jayce froze where he was, heart racing, and slowly turned his head.
King Gaul had entered the room. He was a formidable sight—more than twice the height of the ape soldiers like Jayce, even towering over the hulking commanders. His dark-purple and silver armour glinted in the firelight, and a great helmet crowned his head, its enormous horns longer than Jayce was tall. And that was to say nothing of the colossal scimitars he wore on his back. Jayce felt the ripples of fear and respect pulsing through the crowd as Gaul stopped in their midst. He, too, had never seen the king of apes so close.
It was as though they were in the presence of a god. Jayce gulped.
Gaul turned a slow circle in the middle of the room, his eyes narrowing, and growled, "Where is the purple egg?"
Nobody moved. Nobody spoke. A few apes glanced at each other, but that was all. Gaul's lip twitched.
"Where is the purple egg?!" he demanded, his voice booming, and several apes jumped.
Jayce shivered. Someone must have found it, surely. If they'd smashed it... He shuddered to think.
One of the commanders stepped forward and saluted. How he wasn't trembling, Jayce didn't know. "We've searched the temple, my lord Gaul, but we've found no sign of a purple egg. I fear it's not here."
"Of course it's here!" Gaul snarled, his dark eyes glinting with menace. "I ordered you to get me that purple egg, Commander. Where is it?"
The commander's shoulders shook for a brief moment. "I don't know, my lord. Perhaps one of the soldiers saw it?" He turned, clutching his club. "Apes! Whoever has seen the purple egg, step forward!"
No one did. They all looked at each other, as if they thought their neighbour might be the one. Jayce did too, searching for guilty faces—for someone who seemed like they might have just realised their own doom. But there was no one like that. Everyone looked as perplexed as him.
"No one?" said the commander.
Gaul gave a guttural snarl. "Useless, the lot of you! How many eggs are left?"
"A...a few, my lord."
Gaul stomped forward, his armour clanking, and the crowd parted to let him through. Jayce watched with rising fear as the king of apes stalked along the line of straw-filled nests, looking for whole eggs. His dark eyes swept over shattered remains and finally settled on one—a black egg, sleek and shiny, still intact.
He reached for it, held it up to his face, and then turned to the crowd.
"Destroy the rest," Gaul ordered. "I want none left alive. And as for the Guardians..."
He half turned his head towards the felled dragons, but they never heard the rest of his words.
An anguished howl rent the air—a roar unlike any Jayce had ever heard—and for a third time he spun around in alarm. Another dragon had just swept into the room—a towering fiery-orange dragon whose amber eyes were alight with fury. The Fire Guardian. Where had he come from?
Where had he been?
There was no further time for wondering. The Fire Guardian hardly stopped to take it all in—the sea of apes, the shattered eggs, the felled Guardians on the floor. His furious eyes went straight to Gaul, and with a scream of rage he flew across the room, fire leaping from his cavernous jaws. Apes screeched and scrambled out of the way. Gaul moved like lightning, clutching the black egg in one hand and unsheathing one enormous scimitar with the other.
There was a flash of fire, a thundering roar, and king and Guardian collided. Jayce saw no more than that. The tide of apes hurrying to get away dragged him along with it, and he stumbled to stay on his feet. They ran, frenzied, and the last few remaining eggs were shattered in their wake—one smashed on the ground by Jayce's foot, almost tripping him. Behind them, the roar of flames and fury and the shriek of metal spoke of a furious battle that he would never get to see. He could feel the heat on his back.
They had to get out. Their job was done. It was over.
Clutching the neck of his own tunic, gasping for breath, Jayce fled with the others out of the temple, away from the destruction and into the night.
Smoke rose into a sky tinged by dawn's first light. It rose from the temple, damaged and broken, and drifted higher even than the canopy of the mushroom trees. Jayce could still smell it. He looked over his shoulder as they marched away, but the tragic building was almost lost to view beyond the trees and the swamp.
It really was over, now.
Gaul had ordered them to leave, to make their way back to the Well of Souls, now that all was done. The sight of him was still burned into Jayce's mind—of the black dragon egg clutched in his hand and the blood streaming down his face. Gaul had won the battle against the Fire Guardian, but not without cost.
Had he killed the Guardian, though?
Jayce wasn't sure. Gaul hadn't said anything about the fate of the Guardians. Maybe he'd even left them alive, but Jayce couldn't fathom why.
He didn't wonder about that for long. He felt numb. His heart was still racing, his hands were clammy, but he felt nothing. It was over. His very first mission as a soldier of the Army was a success and he'd survived it.
So why did he feel so hollow?
All he could think about was what he'd seen in the temple—the tiny dragons, bloodied and lifeless, all around him. It was an image he couldn't shake from his mind. It was sickening. This was not the triumphant victory he'd been expecting—it didn't match at all the excitement and trepidation he'd felt before the raid.
It felt almost like...like he wished it hadn't happened.
Jayce shook himself. That was a terrible thought—a traitorous thought. He would have none of that. Imagine if the commander could read minds? He'd be a dead ape.
Shivering, he unsheathed one of his swords and fished a cleaning cloth out of his satchel. That would give him something else to focus on. Something other than that awful image of dead hatchlings, of the pain and sorrow in the screams of the Guardians...
Jayce gritted his teeth and polished the metal furiously. It didn't really need cleaning; he hadn't even used it. But at least it kept the blade shiny and bright, just like King Gaul's own scimitars. That was why he'd chosen these weapons, not that he'd admit it to anyone—they were just like Gaul's swords, only in miniature. They made him feel important.
Sighing, he slowed his polishing. It wouldn't do to cut his own hand off.
"Hey! Jayce! There you are, you slacker!"
Jayce looked up. Another ape had come back to find him. In all his thinking and reminiscing, he'd fallen quite behind the rest of the squadron, who were following Commander Ratux towards the boats. It was Raden who'd come looking for him—Raden Duskjackal, his friend and bunkmate at the Well of Souls. He'd probably wanted to make sure Jayce wasn't one of the apes killed in the struggle.
Vaguely, Jayce wondered about the apes who had died. He wondered if he knew any of them. He hoped not. At least Raden was still alive—and unharmed, from the looks of it.
"I was starting to think we left you in pieces back at the temple," Raden said, grinning. His fur was a very dark brown, unlike Jayce's reddish ochre—and he was taller, too, but not by much. On his hip, he wore a crude axe and club.
"I'm still kicking," Jayce said, rolling his eyes. He didn't feel much like exchanging banter.
"Very slowly, from the looks of it." Raden smirked. "You're way behind. C'mon, before old Cursestrike puts us on washing-up duty for the rest of the month."
Jayce struggled not to grin. Only Raden had the audacity to call their commander 'old Cursestrike.' He'd be lashed for sure if Commander Ratux only heard such disrespect.
"Alright, I'm coming," Jayce said, glancing back down at his sword. "Just give me a sec."
"You're going to polish that out of existence if you're not careful," said Raden. He snorted. "Well, I'm not waiting around for the commander to yell at us. Catch up when you're done being a slacker or I'll drag you along myself."
As Raden took off back towards the bulk of the squadron, Jayce frowned at the blade of his scimitar. Had that mark always been there? He rubbed the cloth over it, but it didn't shift. Stupid thing.
Huffing, Jayce shifted the sword to get a better grip—and froze. For a split second, he'd seen something in the reflection of the blade—something quite apart from the greens and browns of the surrounding swamp. Something bright red and glistening.
It was gone now, though. Jayce frowned and tilted the sword again—and there! He'd caught it again, there in the reflection of his polished blade: something ruby-red amongst the bushes. It looked almost like...a gem?
Jayce's heartbeat quickened. Maybe it was one of those crystals—the ones the dragons liked so much. What were they called? Ghost gems? Whatever they were, they were magical. And he'd never even held one before.
Holding his breath, Jayce turned slowly, keeping one eye on the blade. If it was a gem—maybe he'd keep it for himself! Imagine the look on Raden's face when he showed him...
The sword shifted, the reflection changed, and the glistening red speck was lost. Jayce huffed and shoved it back into its sheath. He could take it from here. Turning to the bushes along the path, he edged closer to peer through the moss and muck. Swamps were gross.
But that red thing—that crystal—had to be here somewhere. He was sure of it. It was right around...
"Ah-hah!" Jayce whispered, sweeping a clump of leaves out of the way. Something red and shiny glistened in the mud, dazzling him.
Heart in his throat, hardly daring to believe his luck, Jayce reached for it. The gem was warm to the touch and surprisingly heavy. It fact, it was a lot bigger than he'd first thought, as he realised when he pulled it out of the mud with a squelch. Muck and grime fell away from it, and Jayce stepped back with a strangled gasp, almost dropping it.
It was a perfectly round oval, almost as big as his head. Faint fiery patterns glistened on its ruby-red surface, which was as smooth and delicately textured as polished dragon-scale armour. It was beautiful. It was dazzling.
It was horrifying.
Jayce gulped. His hands shook. This wasn't a gem. This was... But no, it couldn't be! What would one of those be doing out here, lost in the swamp, away from the temple? It didn't make sense.
Jayce looked towards the rest of his squadron, but they were so far ahead he could hardly see them anymore. Raden hadn't come back for him yet, either. No one was watching.
Heart pounding, Jayce turned his head the other way—back towards the temple. He couldn't see it anymore, but he knew that it sat at the top of that great slope, in the middle of those towering mushroom trees. A thin plume of smoke was still rising into the air.
Could this...this thing really have come from there?
Maybe it had been knocked out of the temple, in all the commotion...
Maybe it had rolled down that slope and ended up here, trapped in the mud and bushes, just waiting for him to find it…
Maybe it really was...
Jayce inhaled slowly. The glistening red object filled his vision, hot and heavy in his hands. It was just like a gem, all shimmering, smooth and bright, and warm with magic. But this was something else—something much worse.
This was a dragon egg.
Hello and welcome to Firelight! This is a story about friendship and adventure, about the Dragon Realms as they were before Spyro defeated the Terror of the Skies and changed the tide of war, and about a little dragoness lost in a big world. I hope you enjoy the journey!