Authors: Sophie Duncan
This publication is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organisations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or the publisher.
Penny Dreadfuls 21 – Writer for Hire
Customised short stories: when you feel the need for something special.
An imprint of Wittegen Press
Copyright 2011 Sophie Duncan
Cover art by Tasha D-Drake
This publication was created for a Charity Drive at http://www.pennydreadfuls21.com and hence may be redistributed so long as all rights, website and author information remains intact. It may not, under any circumstances be resold in full or in part or used for gain of any kind. All rights remain with the author and publisher.
Thank you to Tasha for all your help.
Commissioned by Chaeni Lok
Bonds of Fire
Drekken drew in a deep lungful of air, gagged and then coughed violently as his mouth filled with dust. His first instinct was to push himself away from the ground, but his muscles strained and he only managed to move his head to the side as weight pinned him to the earth. Momentary panic sliced down Drekken's spine as he remembered the wall collapsing down on top of him, but he stifled it quickly with well-practised discipline and forced himself to still. He took in several more, smaller, but calming breaths and assessed his situation like any good officer.
Rubble was pressing down all over his body, but he could feel his gliders still spread out above him from his hasty landing and their leathery surface was protecting much of his body from direct contact. He tested the implants' response by flicking his shoulder blades and they shifted, although his right shoulder complained, so he guessed he was in one piece, more or less. However, the rubble above him groaned and shifted, pressing his legs down even more, and so he halted his movements.
Heart hammering in his chest, Drekken waited for the shifting to stop, breathing shallowly to minimise his intake of the acrid dust that filled the little space around his head. He didn't like enclosed spaces, he needed the feel of the wind on his skin as he flew high above the trees on Miri's back, and he thought of his dragon as the waiting went on. He had no idea what had happened to her: the battle had been thick and bad, four squadrons of dragons at close quarters with an overwhelming number of strike jets. They had been the more manoeuvrable, natural wings being much more agile than metal skeletons, but the Feras had been developing new weapons that could tear off a dragon's wing and avoiding one such attack had forced Drekken to bail from Miri's saddle. His gliders had saved him from crashing to earth, but then the wall had come down and he had not been able to return to his friend.
However, there was no time to dwell. Miri was alive, otherwise he would have known, so working himself free was the most important concern. Pushing Miri's fate to the back of his mind, Drekken focused on his current predicament. Apart from his shoulder, there was no more overt pain, so Drekken wriggled carefully, aware of the precarious pile of concrete above him, until he had his hands close by the sides of his body. Then, knowing he probably only had one chance, he focused his energy and, with one more breath, pushed up with his arms and legs and flexed his gliders. It felt like his wings were being ripped off his back as broken wall weighed them down and his shoulder screamed at the strain, but Drekken growled out his pain and forced himself upwards.
The weight above him tumbled away and the relief of freedom washed through Drekken's shuddering body. His limbs were trembling too much for him to make it off his knees, so he came to a halt still waist-deep in rubble and blinking away the dust in his eyes. He scanned his immediate area, training kicking in even though he couldn't see clearly, and he only relaxed when he caught no sign of movement. It was quiet now, no sounds of magic or dragon-fire exploding overhead, just the eerie silence of a town destroyed by fighting and Drekken sagged, using his left arm to stop himself collapsing completely. As he moved, it proved the last straw for his helmet and the armour fell off his head, landing in two pieces in front of him, magic arcing wildly out of the circuitry within its layers.
"Dammit," Drekken swore as his only means of communication died.
That was it, he was on his own in some godforsaken mountain village in the most disputed territory of the war: his day could not get any worse.
Drekken wasn't sure how long he had been out, but two minutes on his feet in the streets of the small town told him the residents had abandoned their homes. The place had been pretty badly bombarded and the Feras always sent in ground troops with any battle as well. They'd done a thorough job of making sure the villagers could not fight back. Once neat, white buildings in the old style were lying broken across the streets and he'd found two smashed communications' crystals already. Still, many years in Army Draco meant Drekken was too well-trained to assume he was alone, so he moved quietly and quickly, keeping close to cover and on the alert for any hostiles.
He heard them before he saw them.
The sound of pleading was never pleasant. He'd had enemies offer it to him and he'd been witness to his own people begging for their lives, both of which left a bad taste in his mouth, so, when he heard a young voice entreating another with, "Please, no, please, no, he's hurt," he sped up his pace and headed towards its owner. The sound of a Feras laser sliced through his hearing and there was a horrified scream before Drekken rounded a corner and was faced with a scene that made his blood boil. A youth was collapsed over the neck of an old dragon whose eyes were closed, his bright blue tunic covered in the blood of his companion. Another young man was standing, arms stretched out in surrender to the black-armoured hulk of a Feras warrior, whose weapon was still trained on the dragon.
Drekken reacted instantly, he planted his feet, raised his arm and let his magic rise. He felt his dragon-bond flare and a fireball swept down over the scales on his forearm and out from his palm straight at his enemy. The soldier didn't stand a chance as neat dragon-fire hit him and exploded into a thousand tongues of angry flame. Drekken forced his fire in between the plates of thick armour that hid the man from head to foot and he felt the burn start. His enemy dropped the laser and as soon as he heard the soldier cry out, Drekken released the flames to their own devices. They flared, the man convulsed and then what Drekken knew to be an empty hunk of armour collapsed to the ground.
The two youths watched their attacker fall, horror on their faces, but Drekken ignored them for now. His prime concern was the dragon, whose rasping breaths filled the silence that followed the fireball, and he ran to the creature's side. There was a large gash in the dragon's flank from which dark blood was still flowing, but the more concerning injury was a scorch mark on the failing creature's chest. That was damage done by a laser, nothing else could more than superficially hurt a dragon, and Drekken knew without closer inspection that it was bad. Quickly, he leant up against the side of the huge old beast and listened for the slow heartbeat he was expecting. When he heard a rushing sound with it, he stood back and glanced sadly at the youth kneeling at the dragon's neck.
"No," said with anguish told Drekken he had been understood and then he watched as a blond head was lowered to rest against green-blue scales.
The other youth ran over and joined his companion and both were crying. At that, large, yellow eyes opened and, with some effort, the dragon raised his head. Drekken bowed, offering the respect owed such a great old bird, but he remained silent on the periphery as the dying creature turned to his young ones.
'Yakov, Malachi,' the dragon spoke haltingly, but Drekken could hear his thoughts as well and knew the effort the projection had to be taking, so he placed his hand on the creature's hide and opened his mind.
He felt a mental sigh for his assistance and the ancient lizard's influence slid into him as he offered his magic and his strength to support the dragon's thought-speaking.
"Master Besthan, you can't die," one of the youths mourned.
'My time has come, Young Ones,' Besthan soothed. 'I place the hatchlings into your charge now.'
"We aren't fully trained, yet," the other boy objected, his voice small and scared.
The dragon snorted a hot breath over all three humans and replied, 'You are two of the best empaths I have ever trained and Drekken will help you.'
Suddenly Drekken found himself the centre of attention for all three strangers. Through his contact with the dragon, he could feel the need in Besthan and he could see the fear in the youths as they looked to him to reply. When Besthan looked over Drekken's shoulder, Drekken felt the urge to follow the look. Then, with a strength of will Drekken could feel, the dragon lifted his great wing that had been lying apparently limp over the ground. The sound of whimpering reached Drekken's ears before he saw them, five small bodies huddled together in the crook of Besthan's wing, noses buried in each other and eyes tight closed. He'd never seen so many hatchlings before, they were not a common sight at an army camp, and he had no idea what the knot of emotions was that suddenly sunk into his stomach. However, he could not abandon civilians in a battle zone, especially not children, and he knew his life had just become a whole lot harder.
Drekken stood at the side of the small courtyard in which he had found his new charges and watched as they all mourned. Besthan had passed almost as soon as the children had been retrieved from his protection and Drekken had withdrawn to keep watch as they paid their respects. He could not allow them long, since the Feras warrior would not have been alone, but a few minutes had been begged of him.
The two youths had their arms around each other and around the small gaggle of hatchlings of different ages and races. Despite the mountains around the valley being old dragon country, Drekken was surprised by the hatchlings' diversity. There was one Blue, stocky and already growing his wide, flat crest, clearly the oldest of the babies. He was gently nuzzling two pale Sandys, as their long, spiny tails flicked in fear and they hid their narrow heads against their human carers. The Sandys were flanking an iridescent River Dragon hatchling, who was whimpering quietly and looking up at Besthan's body. A little female Hawkhead, although standing with her companions, was looking under Malachi's arm at Drekken, her yellow eyes regarding him with suspicion. He gazed evenly back for a moment, reviewing the intelligence he saw there and then inclined his head to her.
His move was received with a frown: it appeared more would be needed to convince the young lizard that he was friendly. Yet, his senses on alert, Drekken was distracted from his silent exchange by a sound coming from the house behind him. The crunching of rock on rock was not enough to be a human footfall, but the Feras had remote units to do their scouting for them and Drekken ducked into the doorway quickly to find the device before it transmitted anything back to base. He paused on entry, letting his eyes adjust to the shadow and cursing the fact his helmet and therefore his scanner were in pieces. It was movement that caught his eye, a shift on the surface of a pile of stones in a box in the corner and, quickly, Drekken crossed to it, arm out ready to fry any hostile find. However, there was no glint of metal in the box and, as the stones crunched again, falling towards the edges of the box, Drekken sank to his knees and took a closer look.
The container was full of small pieces of volcanic rock that, once he was nearer, Drekken could feel giving off heat. The surface moved once more, some stones bouncing over the side of the box, and, this time, Drekken saw something pale appear up through the centre of the dark brown pile. When that something moved on its own, Drekken realised he was looking at a tiny, struggling snout. His reaction was instantaneous, he reached to help and began rapidly clearing stones away from his discovery. His big hands made short work of the light pebbles, and soon he was looking down at the delicate, miniature crest of a baby Grey Wing, broken shell still clinging to her egg-horn. Drekken's heart went out to the small creature as he saw his own dragon reflected back at him and it was pure instinct that meant he scooped the baby out of her nest and cradled her against his chest. He could feel her life, as tiny as her body, and her magic reached out to him, but, as her head fell against him, Drekken felt the baby struggling.
Drekken knew very little about young dragons, but he did know this one needed help, and so he stood quickly and hurried outside.