It’s time for this year’s Penprints Flash Fiction Dash!
The lovely Rosalie, hostess of the Penprints blog, facilitates the challenge, doling out prompts in the form of pictures or audio. Then, the participants have around three weeks to finish their story.
I participated last year with my story, Till the Wind Changes, and I was excited when sign-ups opened for 2018. One of the things I really enjoy about the Dash is that it’s a personal challenge, versus a competition between authors. There is no winner or rankings involved, just a great round-up of flash fiction offerings from authors in a variety of different genres. And since flash fiction is, by definition, stories 1,000 words or less (mine squeaks in at 994), you can burn through half a dozen before you know it.
Now, without further ado, here’s my prompt and story, Dragonborne. 🙂
by A. K. R. Scott
Draycy tumbled as she landed at the base of the mountain, and the rocky ground tore the flesh from her knee. Ignoring the blood that had already begun to well, she bit her lip as she scrambled back to her feet. There was no time for tears. She had to make it to the barrier, and she only had two small legs to get her there.
She spotted the bright red orb in a clump of strangled weeds and scooped it up. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, giving it a quick inspection. Finding no cracks, she hugged it to her chest, turned her back on the warlock prince’s stronghold, and took off across the plain.
Thick, dead grass shrouded the ground like an army of pikemen, stabbing into her bare feet with each step. Brambles clawed at the bottom of her dress, plucking threads and shredding the hem. Not that she cared – it wasn’t her dress, anyway. She’d snatched it from an accommodating laundry line outside a farmhouse on the other side of the wards.
The egg faded to a dusky pink, which gave her only a little relief. As she ran, Draycy opened her mind, diving beneath the tough shell to the heartbeat at the center, making sure the unborn dragon was all right. He wasn’t old enough to form words yet, but his anger and confusion filled her senses.
Peace and calm. Comfort… tranquility.
Despite her own racing heart, she pushed these thoughts to him, hoping he’d understand. When she glanced at the egg again, it shimmered violet, then finally back to a serene sky blue.
Halfway to the barrier, a small explosion sounded behind her. She didn’t have to look back to know the warlock prince’s army had taken flight. It had been their charge to guard and hatch the egg, and their master would demand no less than their wings for the loss of his ill-gotten plunder.
The warlock prince had slain the little dragon’s mother, raiding her clutch of its only member while she lay breathing her last. If the wyrmling imprinted on him, it would be his to command. Such power would bring him undeniable favor with the Warlock King, putting him well ahead of the other princes. He’d put protections in place, entrusting the incubation to his feathered fighters, and warding the perimeter of his land to prevent any dragons from crossing in or out.
But he hadn’t accounted for Draycy.
Maybe it was her youth, or perhaps he merely underestimated how valuable the egg was to her. Whatever his reasoning, he would soon regret his misdeed.
As the warlock prince’s forces gained, the air around her shuddered.
Pounded, until Draycy gave in to temptation and cast a glance over her shoulder.
A thick, black cloud pressed toward her, serpentine in its movements, dipping, then climbing, folding back on itself before baring down on her once more. The warlock prince’s minions. His murder of crows.
Her heart stuttered for only a moment. Then she turned forward, tightened her grip on the egg, and pumped her tiny arm harder, driving her legs to their limit.
The border was just ahead, marked by a cordon of the warlock prince’s twisted rowan-elder tree crossbreeds, which melded the darkest aspect of each to strengthen his wards. Beyond that lay victory.
An inky blur appeared in her periphery as one of the crows made its move.
Draycy dodged, saving her ear at the cost of a clump of dark hair that dangled from the crow’s grip as it rejoined the rest. She opened her throat and roared, then recoiled, caught off guard by the pathetic mewing that escaped her lips. The egg blanched with terror, flashing bright white against her blue dress.
A breeze swept across the plain, ruffling the tops of the thinner grasses, and filling Draycy’s nostrils with the tangy scent of crow. Another fighter dove toward the egg. She raised her free arm, fighting off the attack. The crow slashed at her, his talons slicing through her sleeve, and the tender skin below, like they were nothing more than soft cheese, while another surprised her from behind, driving his beak into the tender spot between her shoulder blades.
She lurched forward, fumbling the egg between her hands as warmth trickled down her back. Her jaw ached where she gritted her teeth, but she managed to secure the egg under her uninjured arm just as she slammed into the ward.
For a moment, the strange little hairs that covered her body stood erect. Time seemed to slow, and the air tingled, as if she was running though electrified honey.
And just like that, she was through.
The murder followed without hesitation, and Draycy batted away one last bird as she landed on the other side of the crossbred trees. Seeing the failure of their single attacks, the crows pulled back, regrouped, and came at her as one.
But it was too late.
Draycy threw her head back and laughed, a fierce, cackling sound that grew louder and deeper as her neck stretched, and the smooth skin at her throat hardened. Her hands swelled and thickened, and she gripped the egg easily now, cradling it in a gentle cage of razor-sharp claws.
Elation filled her soul as her wounds closed and a pair of wings burst from her back. She beat them hard, catapulting herself into the air, where she turned to meet her pursuers.
The murder scattered, breaking formation as they realized too late their fatal mistake.
Peace and calm. Comfort… tranquility. You’re safe now, little brother.
The spark in her chest sprang to life. She reared back her fearsome head, opened her jaws, and let loose a torrent of fire that blanketed her enemies.
Draycy turned for home, breathing deeply the sweet smell of meat and sulfur as a black cloud of ash and feathers rained down on the earth below.