Oh, How the Mighty Fall!
(A story that takes place before Dragon Rider’s Gift)
Cold air rasped against Kraz’s wings like blades flaying his skin. There was no help for it. He had no idea what had interrupted his pleasant century-long sleep, but boredom dictated his path over the mountains of Ichorae on his way to the western shores. Now awakened, he craved a view of the brilliant blue Belizian waters and a warm mountaintop on which to sun.
But that would have to wait.
The sleet and gusting winds around the tallest peak of Devil’s Fork were the least of his problems. He swiveled his head and drifted low enough to skim the icy crest for better access.
There. Faint cries, more like mewls, fluttered on the wind and vanished.
Catching the next cross current, he angled for another pass and scanned the sheer cliffs for a landing place. Several fissures would provide a grip for his claws, but he needed passage inside, not to hang like a frozen bat on the surface.
Somewhere deep in this snow crusted mass of rock were infant dragons. Alone and cold, if the mewls he’d heard rang true. Only death or serious injury would tear a female from her brood. Neither option boded well for the young.
In the land of Fyrhall they would be safe. For their kingdom revered and honored his kind. But Ichorae’s inhabitants claimed murder and thievery as their moral compass. There weren’t the worst. The Piceus Alfar, the darkest of eleven clans and more evil than red or white Alfar clans, thrived on magic wrung from beasts with his magical legacy. He wasn’t about to allow fragile younglings to fall into their clutches.
Wings tucked against his body, Kraz bulleted toward the crack along the northern face. At the last second, his wings billowed, halting his descent. Ice covered the rock, but one hearty gust of fire from his belly provided a firm grip for his claws.
Cries echoed again.
Determined, he tore at the fissure and blasted a stream of fire into the opening. Flinging chunks of rock behind him, he widened the opening. Surprisingly, the entrance to the mountain gave way with ease. Seconds later, he’d clear enough debris to stalk toward the gleaming light at the mountain’s core. Built from years of volcanic eruption and seismic changes, Ichorae resembled a porcupine landscape of mountains and wasteland. But blessed lava ran beneath its crust, the heat now a balm to Kraz’s scales and hide. He knew ice dragons existed, but they were few. He, for one, would never leave the molten rivers that had sustained most of his kind for a cold, foreboding climate.
At the tunnel’s end, he swept a glance from his overlook to the lava lake below and the plateau of rock rising from its center. Toward the far edge of the rock island sat a large wooden crate. It wobbled and the soft mewling began again.
He narrowed his eyes and searched the confines of the cave. Inhaling deeply into the first two chambers of his lungs, he paused. Nothing. He couldn’t discount that someone was here, but no foreign scent alerted him. No obvious hindrance lay between him and the younglings.
Not that danger would stop him. Neither did the steep angle to the island or the cave’s tight circumference. Hundreds of years had taught him a thing or three. He could reach the crate, remove the younglings, and be on Fyrhall’s sun-toasted shores before sundown. He’d see the infants well fed and then wait for the king’s dragon riders to arrive to take them to the infant stables.
Dragons were scarce, with eggs were unheard of these days. His prominent pass over the nearest town would alert the king’s dragon guard. Then, his job finished, he would settle back for a well-deserved nap.
His first sweep over the lake revealed nothing. The second allowed him to bask in the lava’s heat. Then his neck spines rose as an uncomfortable twinge shivered through his body. His spines prickled as a clear view of the crate continued to elude him. A shield?
He dove for a direct pass. Rumbles echoed above from the tunnel he’d entered as his claws swept though the top of the crate.
Damn. An illusion.
Pumping his wings, he spun hoping to gain moment and lift from the hot air currents. More rock shifted and groaned, within the cavern this time. Hot sharp pain wrapped around his forearms. More clutched his feet. A final shot of painful injustice circled his neck. He thrashed as the chains previously hidden by elven magic halted his escape and brought him crashing to the rock island.
“No.” His roar shock the ground beneath him as his fire slid along the island’s surface, skated over the lava, and crawled up the cave wall. All to no avail.
Now the crouched figure at the edge of the tunnel shimmered into view. A bald green head with large, pointed, hairy ears set atop a rumpled black cloak. The stench, previously camouflaged, earmarked a quarter-blood descendent of the Piceus.
Kraz roared again. Not because it would make a difference, but if he burst the eardrums of the little weasel above he’d at least gain some satisfaction.
The man, if he even ranked as part human, cupped one hand over an ear and shook his finger at Kraz. “No one will doubt my magic now.”
“Come down here you poor excuse for a troll. You will not leave me here.”
“Bellow all you wish. I can’t understand your dragonspeak anyway. You’ll remain for eternity or until I choose to sell you to the highest bidder.” He rubbed his thick, meaty hands together with glee. “The queen will finally grant me a place at her side.”
Kraz turned away at the cackle more grating than claws on flagstone, refusing any response before such a lesser being. At least he knew for certain the Piceus queen wouldn’t allow that little runt within spitting distance of her. Jailer of a dragon or not.
As the smell dissipated, he thrashed against again at his chains, but his strength was useless. The bolts of the chain in the wall, held firm. The lava surrounding his spit-of-hell remained too far away to melt the links. And now the mystical shackles burned him with not only pain, but also a healthy dose of humiliation.
A pop and spray of lava was all that broke the silence.
How, with my cunning, did I fall for this? Ah yes, the younglings.
The crate, an apparition now reduced to a jinn bottle. A vessel for the image and sounds that had lured him. A youngling had suffered, but given the ageless features of the fluted ceramic, it could have been days or centuries since the abuse was recorded.
With a irate sweep of his tail, the bottled flew into the lava. He curled around with a snort and closed his eyes. First, he would chew on his rage followed by—a short nap wouldn’t hurt.
Then he’d find some way out of this prison.
Copyright 2012 KH LeMoyne
Dragon Rider’s Gift is an adult fantasy romance, the first in the dragon rider trilogy and a Portals of Destiny Tale.