His city is burning. Heat waves beat against his face, and crackling sounds roar in his ears. As if through a fog, he hears people screaming and boards groaning as they crash into the black water below. This can’t be happening.
His father is desperate. Ashes are smeared across his face, mirroring the soot on his own. The older man stares past him with dark eyes that gleam with something that is almost panic. Almost. He pulls on the makeshift bow a little harder, eyes measuring, gauging, trying to find the impossible.
His enemy is approaching. He can’t get the voice out of his head, a hiss seared with malice and edged with cruelty. A voice that haunts nightmares, not a small town by the edge of a turquoise lake. He can hear houses creaking and giving way beneath the weight of his enemy’s massive haunches. Eerie clicking sounds chill his skin from hard claws scraping against timber.
“Is this your son?” the enemy asks.
He’s talking about me. No, please no … Father, do something! But his father can’t do anything, his father who always had a solution, now he’s as helpless as them all—wait, what is that in his eyes? Hope? Has he seen something? But what miracle could he possibly find?
The enemy says something, the words lost in his terror, and he can’t bear the invisible menace a second longer. Though he knows it won’t help, that it’ll only make things worse, he turns.
Eyes blaze into his. Eyes with hearts of fire and rims of ice, the heat of raw fury and the coldness of pure evil. Eyes that are almost as large as his head. The enemy’s scales glitter cruelly in the choking light of a dying town, the color of the lifeblood draining away from his neighbors. And the claws, wrapped around posts that once supported houses as if they are little more than twigs. Claws that are ready to tear him apart and hurl him into the starless sky. And he realizes that the enemy is so close.
Panic knifes into his gut, cold and hard and merciless. He can’t breathe. No, no, no, it can’t end like this …
Then from somewhere a voice of starlight whispers, It doesn’t end this way.
And his father’s voice breaks through the fingers of fear: “You look at me.”
His head moves almost of its own accord, and he’s staring into a different pair of eyes—confident and comforting, blazing with light, light that heals instead of destroys. Light that protects.
His father says it again: “You look at me.”
Somehow he knows that he can. In the face of this devastation, in the face of this fire, in the face of this death—yes, even death—he can choose what to look at. Fear or faith. Suffocation or salvation.
Look at me. Look at Father. Look at the goodness, the truth, the hope. Don’t ever give the enemy the satisfaction of capturing your gaze. He can take your town, your family, even your life, but he can’t take that from you—he can’t take your gaze. Even at the end, you can choose where to fix your eyes, where to fix your heart. Look at me.
So he looks at his father.
And the arrow flies—and tears through the smoky air—and hits the enemy’s heart.
He doesn’t see the enemy stop in sudden agony, doesn’t see the enemy writhe through the air, serpentine sinews slicing through the town before he screams into the sky, doesn’t see his fire fade away against the black clouds. For he’s looking at his father, and what he sees in his father’s face is enough.