The great penmonkey overlord has decreed that there will be a 4-part, collaborative short story challenge. Next week, someone else might pick up where this one leaves off. And I’ll continue other peoples’ stories. So, here we go!
– – – Sorceress of Flame – – –
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.