Happy Saturday! Today we have two stories for your reading pleasure.
This week’s prompt was: A story involving a dragon.
Cheryl Mahoney shares a prequel story featuring a character from her upcoming fantasy series.
Xevrix screamed into the stillness. The sound echoed off the tall trees and the high mountain crags, and a flock of birds in the distance took alarmed flight with shrill cries, their dark shapes disappearing into the murky night sky.
Otherwise, it accomplished nothing at all.
She glowered at the nearest thing in her path, an enormous oak that had probably been rooted in place for a century. She drew back one hand and launched a fireball straight into the heart of the tree. It kindled, crackled and in moments was a blazing torch.
It was so satisfying that she would have set another, a third, a dozen on fire—but she could feel her breath catching, her legs quivering, and knew that her reserves of magic were too low for this kind of indulgence. She wasn’t so blind with rage that it could make her stupid.
She let herself flop down to sit on the ground in front of her flaming oak instead, probably getting dirt on her skirt, and reveled in the fire’s heat and glow, watched the flames lick up from one branch to another.
Xevrix was going to burn Krowyn for stranding her here. Slowly. She might make it last for days. If he thought he could steal all the work they had done together, dump her in the wilderness using part of their findings in a kind of added insult—he would regret it. She would ensure he regretted it, soon and for every moment that remained of his miserable, severely shortened life.
But first she had to get off of this damn mountain.
She leaned back on her hands in the light of the flaming oak and considered her options. Flying was impossible—she definitely didn’t have the reserves for that. That meant a transportation spell was even more out of reach. She was without any magical implement, including something useful like, say, a flying carpet. She was trapped, very neatly and effectively.
Krowyn had planned well. He had known she was working too hard these past few weeks, draining herself night and day in their experiments, trying to reach deeper into the mysteries of magic than anyone had gone before. She had believed he was working equally hard, but by some devious trick he had fooled her, or he never could have succeeded in this backstabbing trick. To strike at her the very night of their breakthrough, when she was giddy with success and exhausted from getting there. To ambush her with a portion of the very ritual she had worked so hard to discover…
She was going to burn his life. And then him. And she was going to savor every moment of it.
She sat up straighter and extended her arms in front of her, studying the runes inked on her forearms even though she knew each of them intimately. They could augment her power, lend greater strength to her magical efforts, but she lacked enough raw energy right now to weave many spells. And most were of little use anyway. Runes for burning, for manipulation, for illusion, for discovery…for summoning.
She studied the last, the curling lines on her left wrist, and considered. There had to be creatures in this infernal forest. Perhaps she could summon a ride. It was not an enormous spell—she should have enough reserves to cast it, and to control whatever came to her call. Barely. Not enough to use a discovery spell first, to check on what might come. But hopefully enough to deal with whatever came, when it did.
It was that or walk.
She pressed one fingertip to her summoning rune and began the chant. Her eyes slid closed as her focus turned inward. This was much more complex than throwing fire around, and she had to concentrate to draw up the power needed, just enough and no more, to send it out like a thrown net into the world.
Her body shuddered as she felt the net catch on something. Something powerful. Something huge.
Her eyes flew open and she twisted around to face the direction of the creature she had snared. She moved too fast, felt a rush of dizziness in the aftermath of the spellcasting, and had to breathe deeply to steady herself. It was torture to be this weak! At full reserves, she could have burned this entire forest and laughed while doing it. And now she had to horde every bit of energy, fight for every spell.
She pushed herself up to her feet as the sound of distant crashing reached her. Something was coming. She spread her feet apart, bracing herself to meet it.
She could feel the creature fighting her, resisting, trying to exert its own will. But even in her weakened state, her will was stronger. She narrowed her eyes, mentally yanked on the magic net, and dragged her captured creature to her.
Her eyes went wide again as the creature came at last into sight between the trees, struggled the last stretch into the clearing. “Oh brimstone,” she breathed.
It was a dragon. She had summoned a scarlet dragon.
A young one, true, but an adolescent that was at least twenty feet long, with a shoulder taller than she stood, and crazed yellow eyes bigger than her head.
She might not have made this choice, if she had cast the discovery spell and known just what choice she was making. Dragons were much harder to control than almost anything else she might have summoned.
But they were better mounts too. She quite liked the idea of flying back to Krowyn on dragonback.
The dragon was huddled in on itself, wings tightly pressed to its back, head jerking and shaking as it tried to fight the spell that had brought it to this spot. The summoning spell still held it in thrall, but that wouldn’t last long. If she was going to take some kind of longer control, it had to be done now.
She paced up to the dragon, gave a twist to the summoning spell to force its head down, chin resting on the ground. Its eyes were level with her face, and it stared at her with a mingling of terror and confusion. She reached out to press her palm against its snout and it shivered, a faint whimper escaping.
“Hush,” Xevrix said absently, and closed her eyes to concentrate. She reached deep inside, drew up every trace of magical energy she still had left, and shoved it all into an enslavement spell.
She knew at once she had gone too far. She opened her eyes, glimpsed the dragon’s face just before the world swam, sparked and went black. She felt her knees buckle but never felt herself hit the ground.
When she awoke, it was daylight. Her energy was still appallingly low, but not dangerously so anymore. She sat up, saw first the blackened, burned out oak tree, still except for a few wisps of smoke.
She turned her head and saw the dragon. It was still huddled together, possibly pulled even tighter in on itself, staring at her.
That it hadn’t eaten her or run away was proof enough that her enslavement spell had worked. And besides, she could feel it, feel the dragon like a nebulous extension of herself, not herself but still within her control. The spell wouldn’t last forever without renewal, but it should last long enough. If not long enough for her to accomplish her plans, still long enough for her magical reserves to rebuild so she could cast the spell again.
She rose to her feet and approached her new creature. “Stop cowering,” she ordered. “Stand up and show me your wingspan.” It would give her some idea of how easily it could carry her, how fast they might travel.
The red dragon lurched to its feet, slowly unfurled two wide wings from its back.
She cursed the dragon, she cursed Krowyn, and she cursed herself for not stopping to think, to check, to make sure of her plan before she drained her magic to carry it off.
The dragon had three great bloody furrows across one wing. It wasn’t flying anywhere.
She should have thought. This explained why an adolescent dragon was out here alone. The others had abandoned it, left it to its fate rather than let an injured member endanger the entire hoard.
And now she had to wait for her magic to regenerate before she could try anything else.
“I suppose you’re not a total loss,” Xevrix said to the dragon at last, and slapped its forearm. “Lift me up.”
It obliged, and she settled into place on its back, just behind the shoulders. “Start walking,” she directed, and it slowly shambled its way through the trees.
This was much slower than flying. But it was progress, and it was better than trudging through the woods herself.
If the dragon survived its injury long enough for her magic to rebuild, she could probably heal it. She’d try work out a way, at least. She had a rune to help her heal herself, but healing someone else was quite different magic, and she’d never seen much point in learning that.
“You know,” she remarked to the dragon as they stumped through the trees, “you’d be worth a fortune if I could get you back to the University. Teeth, scales, blood, eyes—there’s hardly any of you that isn’t valuable.”
It was a comforting thought. Even if the dragon died, if she marked the spot somehow she could come back for it later and make a very nice profit out of this debacle.
But she hoped it would survive. Revenge was much more appealing than any mere money, and she could have no better steed than a dragon, if she was going to make Krowyn burn.
Karen Blakely offers a story introducing a character from one of the later novels planned for her new series coming in 2020.
Devlin ducked as the sword came around in a killing arc. If he’d been human, he would have died.
An arrow struck against his thick scales and landed harmlessly at his feet. Perhaps appearing to these people in this form had been a mistake.
He flapped his wings and rose over the heads of those working so hard to destroy him. He’d only intended to demonstrate what a strong ally he could be, not to terrify them. And they were terrified. He could taste their fear on the air, like the sweet intoxicating rush of blood and plunder. This side of his nature enjoyed that flavor, perhaps a bit too much, and he took only a moment to savor it before thrusting it deep. Where it wouldn’t continue to grow into something he couldn’t control.
He was one of the Ancient Order of the Drakon. He would never allow that side of his nature to be out of his control.
To prove that, he reared his head back and pulled the heat in his belly up, letting it build, then spit a stream of fire just past their loose circle. He sucked in another breath and chuckled as they all flinched away from him. This time, he made sure there was no flame. “I could have burned you all where you stand,” he said. That was only a slight exaggeration. “I missed on purpose.”
A woman, with a long thick braid of blond hair that reached past her waist, holding a wickedly sharp axe in her hands, stepped forward. Her voice was slightly breathless, but that was the only indication of the fierce battle she’d been waging against him.
He felt a gleam of interest.
“I am sworn to destroy evil in all its forms,” she said, voice implacable. “Even at the cost of my own life, if that’s what it takes.”
His interest died like a spark thrust under a downpour. “You don’t even know me. Instead you determine my nature based upon appearance alone. You have no right to declare that I am evil.” He felt a twinge of doubt at those words, remembering that flash of pleasure he’d felt at their fear. But his nature wasn’t evil. He’d volunteered to come here to help fight the true evil in this world.
There were some who hadn’t wanted him to come; the Drakon had long been in this world, but after their long and acrimonious history with humans, only a few chose to voluntarily reveal themselves. And even then, only in times of critical need.
And that was why he was here. Many of his kind had finally recognized the growing evil escaping from the portal these people were attempting to guard. The situation had, indeed, become critical.
He snorted out a breath, careful to hold back his fire, and started to settle back on the earth. The woman with the long blond braid merely regarded him with dark, distrustful eyes, but the elf next to her flung up his long bow and let another arrow fly.
This one stung a bit, and Devlin reached the end of his patience.
He had the elf pinned beneath one foot, his face mere inches from the other, before any of them could react. “I volunteered,” he growled, allowing his frustration to make his dragon voice harsher than normal. Hopefully they would be able to understand it. “I came here,” he bit out, “to help you fight the monsters.”
“Why should we believe you,” the woman challenged.
He glanced at her and couldn’t believe he’d felt that momentary twinge of interest. She was arrogant and condescending and exceedingly overconfident. At any other time he’d have enjoyed taking her confidence down a notch, but he had a job to do. “Because,” he grated, “dragons can not lie.” Then he gathered the life spark that flowed through him, pulling it down into something smaller. Something cooler. Something that stood on just two legs.
Something not dragon.
He shook his long black hair out of his eyes and added, “And I’m no monster.”
“Dragon shifter,” the elf said, eyes wide. “I thought they were a myth.”
“Obviously not,” Devlin said and grinned. Then he held out his hand to the fallen elf and helped him to his feet. “And we prefer the term Drakon.”