This week’s Flash Fiction challenge over at Terribleminds is to write the second part of a four-part story started by someone else. I picked “Sorceress of Flame” by Toni J, whose site you should definitely check out.
— Part 1, by Toni J —
The magic in dragonflame lingered long after any heat had died away. Lady Sera knelt down and pressed her hand to the ground. The charred earth sent a shockwave through her body. Broken wagons and barrels littered the ground beneath the black skeletons of trees. This place had been a popular trade route not a week ago. Now, it was a grave.
Olvar stood a few paces behind. He picked up a skull, and dusted off the ashes.
“Poor souls. Is this the work of the monster we seek?”
It couldn’t be. Her father was drawing a pact between dragons and men. It would be signed by month’s end. Why would a dragon risk destroying that peace? But, the forest had all the evidence of a dragon attack. She rubbed her arm as she stood up.
“I admit, it feels like the scars of dragonflame. When the villagers described what had been terrorizing them, I didn’t believe it.”
“Dragons are ruthless, uncontrollable beasts. It’s only natural they would stoop to this depravity.”
Lady Sera clenched her jaw at the insult. She’d known many dragons; even the most ruthless could never be called mere beasts.
“I… come. Let us find Juniper. Perhaps we can catch this creature before any others get hurt.”
Olvar spoke a blessing over the skull and placed it back on the ground. They followed the trail of destruction north and west, toward the mountains. A dragon would be impossible to track once it reached the peaks. Lady Sera gripped her staff tight as they approached the shredded carcass of a goat.
“Something isn’t right.”
Olvar sniffed the air.
“Agreed. The meat’s soured, but still smoking.”
“Over here. Another berry bush, burnt to a crisp. The evidence is too evenly spread to be random.”
“A trap, then. Very good!”
He rushed forward, pulling his longsword from its sheath. Lady Sera reached out to stop him.
“Wait! Juniper hasn’t caught up yet. Olvar!”
It was too late. The paladin let out a battle cry as he disappeared into the darkening woods. Lady Sera wreathed her hands in fire as she rushed after him. The magical flame lit the forest around her. She followed the sound of Olvar crashing through the underbrush.
She heard a falcon’s shriek overhead; Juniper’s hunting bird meant the ranger would be near. Soon after, a bellowing wail pierced the air. Lady Sera’s heart sank. It was a dragon after all. Massive wingbeats sent gusts of wind through the trees. When she reached the open cliff, she saw Juniper firing two arrows into the dragon’s right wing. The creature flapped once, twice, zigzagging over the foothills.
Olvar heaved and wiped the sweat from his brow. Bronze blood tipped the paladin’s blade.
“We were close. Next time, the monster won’t be so lucky.”
Lady Sera shook the magic flames from her hands.
“He won’t get far with those injuries. We should rest a while.”
Olvar wiped the dragonblood from his blade and saved it in a vial.
“When you said you were hunting, Junie, I thought you meant boar.”
“Never fear. Hera and I caught four rabbits. Build the fire and you can have two of them.”
Olvar piled the wood and set out bedrolls. Lady Sera struck the flint and bent low to blow on the sparks. They only caused a little smoke. She checked to make sure nobody was watching, and spat into the tinder. The fire sprang up instantly. She sat back to find Juniper shaking her head.
“Don’t waste your mana on our fires. You’re going to run out of replenishment potions.”
Lady Sera laughed, perhaps a little too loudly.
“I’ve never been good with the flint. Magic’s expensive, but it’s easier!”
During their meal, they discussed the scene of the dragon attack, and the creature responsible. Lady Sera had a host of questions, very few she could ask aloud.
“Did you see the dragon, Junie?”
The ranger shifted in her seat.
“It was dark. Must have been a male, though. A real brute.”
Olvar grunted as he tore off a chunk of leg.
“What do looks matter? Tomorrow the beast will die, and we will collect a kingly reward!”
Lady Sera’s appetite waned as she considered the possible dragons in this land. None that she could name deserved death. An interloper, perhaps? Her father would want to know of it. If she could identify him or her, she could alert the dragon leaders. They would lose their bounty, but what was gold compared to peace?
Later that evening, she waited for her companions to sleep. Olvar’s snoring kept the mountain wolves at bay. Juniper’s breaths grew deeper and more peaceful. Once she was certain they wouldn’t follow her, Lady Sera snuck off in the direction of the wounded dragon.
Dragonblood made a pungent trail through the foothills. Each drop reeked like a smelting factory. Where it touched stone, the surface became metallic. Lady Sera’s nostrils flared as she took in the scent. Mixed in with the blood, there was something… else. She followed that new, strange aspect straight into a bramble patch.
She hardened her arm from the thorns while she reached inside. The source of the mystery smell was an arrow. By flamelight, she noticed thin layer of poison coated the barb. She wrapped the arrow in fabric and tied it to her belt.
A low roar rumbled up ahead. Lady Sera took off toward the sound of the dragon. She found the wounded creature a mile later. It thrashed in the underbrush, dragging one wing along the ground. She cautiously approached, staying outside the range of a lashing tail or snapping jaw.
“Great One, I am Lady Sera of the Flame. Please, speak with me.”
The dragon wheeled on her. His golden eyes were clouded over. She held up her fire-wrapped hand to see him better. He staggered toward her; his slick, black scales reflected the orange light. Lady Sera’s eyes widened.
— Part 2 —
For a moment, the grove was covered in an aura of utter silence. Dragon and sorceress stared at one another. Lady Sera’s breath caught in her throat. Her father’s countenance was aggressive, almost feral; had he been so gravely wounded that he was blinded by his pain and his rage? Even at their most calm, dragons were dangerous creatures. Wounded and slighted, they were far more likely to strike rather than talk.
After a hearbeat that felt far too long for its own good, the golden eyes of the dragon cleared slightly. Vertical pupils blacker than obsidian narrowed within molten gold irises. Then, after a moment, she heard what was both a relief and a concern.
Daughter. You are the last presence I expected in this wood.
Lady Sera bit her lip at the sound of her father’s heart-song. In their natural forms, dragons did not have the proper structure in face and throat to make the sounds required for most mortal languages. Instead, when a dragon wished to converse with a mortal (and was uninterested in taking mortal form themselves), they focused their wills into a projection of their part in the song all dragons shared. It sounded like a chorus in Sera’s mind, low and harmonious, dangerous and soothing all at once, the words emerging from the song after a moment of clear, beautiful music.
The concern was that the voice of Vorathrax, her father, sounded somewhat strained. She approached, eyes on the dark ichor that stained his scales.
“Father, you’re wounded!”
Yes. The dragon turned his head to regard the gash in his shoulder. An envenomed arrowhead, slipping past my scales. An expert shot from a practiced archer. One of your companions?
Lady Sera winced. “Yes. Juniper, the ranger.”
Vorathrax chuffed, smoke billowing from his nostrils in brief, singular puffs. Better her than that oaf of a warrior you slum with.
“The wound is deep. You could die.”
I have endured far worse, and you know it.
Even as she heard his words, she watched him settle his four feet into the earth, then turn in a circle three times, reminding Lady Sera of a housecat. As he did, the song she could hear grew in pitch and depth, and she felt a sympathetic chord struck within her own being. Draconic magic was not like the arcana studied by mortals; dragonsong was a fundamental part of creation. As he rested, curling up on the ground, Sera approached. The dragon opened one of his eyes to study her, then closed it again. She slid into the center of the circle created by his body. Her father’s breath rumbled deep beneath the scales of his chest.
“Did you attack that caravan?”
No. Of course not. That was Skarathrax.
Sera nodded. Skarathrax was her half-brother, a young and impetuous dragon. “What set him off this time?”
Farouk and I were teaching him some of our history. He was struggling to pay attention. I chided him. He flew off in anger.
“What were you discussing?”
Some of our interactions with mortal-kind. Farouk and I were sharing stories regarding the songs that change form, for a time.
“Like how you met my mother.”
Just so. The music paused, and Vorathrax huffed again. It was perhaps not the best subject upon which to educate him at this point. He needs to shed soon. He is always cranky before a shed.
She nodded, resting her head on her father’s chest.
Serathrax. The feel of her own name, full and in the music of her father’s blood, made her shiver. You should come home.
“I can’t. The mortals have to be taught that you’re not all dangerous. And you’re far from savage animals.”
And you come into the wild hunting us as part of this education?
“It’s my hope that one day we’d find a dragon who would be willing to share their heart-song with someone other than myself.”
Your optimism has always heartened me. She felt a rumble in his chest; it was a sound of contentment and comfort. But you know, daughter, that those of us willing to mingle with mortalkind are few. And when we do, we prefer to do it in a form more familiar to lesser beings.
She nodded. “I know. But I still have hope.”
For a time, neither of them said anything. Then, her father’s heart-song, more melancholy and soft, drifted into her mind.
How is your mother?
Sera swallowed. “She’s ill. Nothing threatening, yet, but she’s rather miserable. I had to leave her to investigate the attacks.”
Vorathrax rumbled. I should come to her.
“You should stay with her.”
You know such an arrangement is impossible for me.
Anger flared within the sorceress. “You are one of the mightiest of all dragons. There is nothing that is impossible for you.”
I have power, this is true. But as one of the eldest wyrms, I also have responsibilities. Few of us yet live to believe in coexisting with the world, rather than conquering it. Without my guidance, hatchlings like your half-brother are doomed; perhaps not to death, but to lonely and completely destructive lives. I will not abandon them. Not even for you, my daughter.
Sera wanted to protest loudly, to argue, but a tingle at the edge of her senses pushed the discussion aside. Vorathrax felt it, as well, and his head raised even as he uncurled to stand. Lady Sera got to her feet, calling forth flame to her hand. By the flickering light of her arcane fire, she saw two familiar forms emerging from the underbrush, and her heart dropped into her stomach.
“Good work, Lady Sera!” Olvar crowed, the blade of his sword gleaming in firelight. “You found the beast!”
Juniper’s eyes narrowed, settling on the arrow tucked in Sera’s belt. “Something is not right about this.”
Lady Sera held up her flaming hand. A familiar itch tugged at her forehead, and down her spine. Not now, not now… “Olvar… wait.”
Instead, Olvar charged.