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Common men cannot fathom to the power of dragon. Even the lesser beasts—subordinate to their primordial line—are terrifying to behold. Massive creatures as they are, however, it is less their physical form that one need concern themselves with, and more the magics they wield at will. It is the commonly held belief of the educated that, even as hatchlings, dragons lack any need for the arduous training of the mankind’s mages and the occasional of the elven races who show a potential for the art. Rather, they are born knowing, born understanding their race’s instinctive talent for drawing upon the leylines of the world, and the subsequent destruction they can reek is mostly myth for a very simple reason: one does not tend to witness it and survive.
More frightening still, however, is that one trembles to consider what sort of creature the Mother above would allow into being to balance such a presence…
– In the Dragon’s Den, author unknown,
Ryn knew only vaguely that he was falling.
It was a secondary concern, inconsequential compared to the pain, fury, and ferocity of the fight he had more directly on hand. In his great talons the drey thrashed, almost small despite its five-foot broad chest and some nine feet of height, but for all their difference in size the creature was a match for him.
Viciously-clawed hands tore at his scales, and each time a hoofed foot caught Ryn in the chest it was
like being struck across the ribs by a battering ram. The thing’s leathery wings whipped about his face and eyes, obscuring his already-limited vision, and the broken juts of its uneven fangs shone bloody in its elk’s head. Ryn’s neck throbbed, a searing agony boiling through his shoulder and back from where his opponent had just ripped a mouthful of flesh from the place just below the curve of his jaw. He was paralyzed by the pain, and through the haze of it he realized that this was why he was falling, this was why he was hurtling down, down into the dark to be swallowed by the abyss beneath the earth.
Ryn roared as he felt something long and thin, like the blade of a sword, tear into his side. The drey had taken further advantage of his moment of incapacitation to sink the cruel barb of its jointed tail as deep as it would go.
Still, with this new shock came clarity, and so it was with a blink or two of his white-gold eyes that
Ryn’s spirit returned to the battle with a vengeance.
With a slashing of one front leg, Ryn struck the thing across the side of the head. Any other creature would have been decapitated by such a blow, but the drey’s doubtlessly-imbued bones held firm, and only an antler snapped off to spin away into the whirling black. With a screech it returned the treatment in kind, tearing and slashing at him. They fell and tumbled and sank deeper, deeper into the dark, faster and faster until the air screamed all around them. Blood and scales and fur were cut and ripped away, each of the pair taking it in turn to roar or scream in alternating pain and victory. First Ryn had the upper hand, then the drey, then Ryn again, this cycle repeating as endlessly as the emptiness that was engulfing them. Nothing existed to each but the other, as well as the firm, clear knowledge that one sole victor would have a prayer of walking away from this exchange alive.
When the moment of advantage came, therefore, Ryn didn’t hesitate.
Sacrificing a front shoulder to a series of long, clawed gashes, he managed to wrap a hand about the drey’s abdomen. It keened again, writhing under the pressure of his talons piercing its gut, pounding at his forearm with enough force to break the trunk of a small tree. Ignoring the hammering ache of each blow, Ryn managed instead to get his other front hand around its chest, finally pinning it
somewhat steadily before him. Together they continued to tumble endlessly through the air, but finding itself before his great head, the drey changed tactics, scrabbling and slashing at his face instead of his arms, trying and failing to get at his eyes.
With a thought, the magics in Ryn’s blood flared to life, heat building in his throat and chest, and
the blackness all around them fled when his mouth began to glow white with the building of ivory fire.
Unfortunately, the drey were as intelligent as they were savage.
Forgoing its attempt to slash at him, the pinned beast instead reached down with both hands and took him by the bottom jaw. With a strength that belied its slighter frame, the thing wrenched Ryn’s entire head up and away with a piercing scream. Unable to hold back the fire already roiling between
his fangs, Ryn was forced to release the magic through teeth clamped shut by the restraining angle. The flames sprayed out in a tumbling fan around them, spilling by and across the pair of them in their plummet. It seared even Ryn’s own hide, splashing across his black scales painfully and scorching the more delicate membranes of his wings. It was not for nothing, however, that he had been gifted with primordial blood. The power in his veins repelled the broiling heat, refused it with the absolute firmness of a mountain unmoving in the lashing of a winter storm. The pain pulsed, then ebbed, fading as the fires ran their course, streaming off him like water over oiled cloth.
The drey was less fortunate.
Despite saving itself the greater calamity of taking the dragonfire full in the chest, the spilling of the magic was not so kind to its form, made more widely of fur and skin. It screeched and thrashed,
letting go of Ryn’s jaw in favor of scrabbling at its own hide, trying to bat and claw away the flickering white of the clinging magic. It managed it, barely, but not before half its face had all but melted away and its broad wings became nothing more than useless sheets, tattered with holes that smoldered and widened with the stink of burning skin.
Ryn took his chance, then.
He’d not had great opportunity to fly in the last seven of his eight centuries, and so it was with some difficulty that he struggled to get his bearings. Through the pain he did his best to focus, the confusion of his swirling direction not helped by the spinning tumble into the abyss. Ryn’s mind battled with gravity as the pair of them twisted, trying to capture which way was up. He failed again and again, and in his grasp the drey’s attention had turned back to him, and Ryn saw the thing’s cruel tail swing around and stiffen in preparation again.
Forgoing his hope for better timing, Ryn flared his wings wide with a snap of catching air.
Luck—or perhaps the deity Declan and his forefathers called “the Mother”—must have been on his side this day, because it turned out he’d been in the middle of spinning right-side-up when the broad membranes caught. His wings jolted and strained in the upward rush, like catching the winds of a gale, and Ryn gave an unbidden grunt when the corded muscles of his back were wrenched by the jarring impact of cutting his momentum with a twisting jerk. The movement, though, slung the drey off of him as its own impetus continued to pull it down. With a keening scream that echoed in the ocean of emptiness it plummeted away, and Ryn could only listen to it fall, hearing for a long few seconds the flapping sound of its ruined wings fighting uselessly to keep it afloat.
Then even that faded into the black, and Ryn was left alone, suspended in limbo.
At once he sagged, the pain of the hard-won fight pulling at him, dragging him down. The slow beat of his wings stuttered, and he dipped a dozen feet before he caught himself. Though he couldn’t see it, he could feel blood streaming along his chest and legs, spilling particularly nastily from one back foot, below where the drey’s tail had punched into his side. His neck, too, ached dreadfully, acutely so when he lifted his head to blink up into the black.
There, far, far above him, a distant, single point of light marked the cavern from which he’d fallen.
Hold on, Ryn said to no one in particular, pushing his wings to beat a little harder. Once. Twice.
On the third he started to gain momentum, and soon he was ascending with gathering speed.
About the Authors
Photo Content from Bryce O’Connor & Luke Chmilenko
Luke Chmilenko was born in 1987 and spent the majority of his life growing up within Mississauga, Ontario. He now lives in Burlington, Ontario with his wife, daughter, and two cats. He currently works as a full time author looking to deliver the latest entries in his various series.