Welcome back to Part 3 of Dragon Bait. If you missed Burning: Dragon Bait (Part 1) or Dragonflame: Dragon Bait (Part 2), make sure you check them out first!
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Varik lost her somewhere in the raging inferno of the monastery. An opportune group of unfortunate priests, their bodies still smoldering, provided cover. Varik dropped to his face in the grass and lay motionless, holding his breath. Light footsteps pattered past. When the dragon flew over in pursuit, Varik bolted in the opposite direction.
Outside the burning building, the cold night air prickled his skin. Varik clutched the tattered remains of his cloak about himself, and switched the heavy satchel from one shoulder to the other as he trudged up the steep mountain path. A patch of stars blinked out briefly as a great shadow flew past.
Nothing but darkness met his gaze as he chewed on a thumbnail. He couldn’t spot the dragon. Reflexively, he checked if his presence was still cloaked. The thief would search for him. The dragon would search for her. Fear gnawed at him, even as he gnawed on the nail. The tang of blood touched his tongue, and he snatched the ruined nail from his teeth.
Two days to Athelstone, and the protection of the Sirens and Furies. Thumb halfway to his mouth, he balled the hand into a fist, and forced it to his side.
When did everything go wrong? His job was to find, secure or retrieve rare and unusual items for the Sirens and Furies of Athelstone, and he did it well. This should have been just another job.
Keeping the box out of Ishafal hands might assuage some of his guilt; some, but not all. If he’d been in Athelstone, maybe he could have stopped the theft, and all this would never have happened. Instead, his sister and her two daughters were dead, and why? Because he couldn’t stop treasure-hunting.
The sun broke over the horizon as he found the cave. Eyelids heavy, he crawled into the blessed darkness. Water trickled somewhere in the gloom. The discordantly merry sound made him aware of his parched throat, and the satchel fell from his shoulder. It thudded when it struck the stone floor. A tiny spring bubbled near the rear wall, and he dropped to his knees, thrusting his cupped hands into the trickle of water.
Thirst quenched, Varik settled back on his heels, guilt and exhaustion warring against each other. Damned Ishafal, stealing what wasn’t theirs, playing with forces they couldn’t control. For that matter, damned demons, and their damned war. Damned dragons. Why him? Why couldn’t the dragons choose someone else to follow around, and why were they able to sense him and no one else? The Ishafal and Ridwan were the sole source of human magic, but he’d not inherited even a shred from his damned demon father. Was this his legacy from his demon blood, to be forever haunted by dragons? A poor cousin to the wizard’s power some halfblood men inherited.
The anger fizzled and died beneath bone deep weariness. With one hand, he scrubbed at his eyes. Dare he sleep?
I don’t have a choice.
He dragged the satchel back near the spring. Opening the drawstrings revealed a rectangular iron box, heavier than it appeared. Heavy as lead. He scanned its surface for signs of damage, and relaxed when he found none. As ordered by his Fury, he made no attempt to lift the lid.
Varik didn’t need the warning. A whole village a day’s ride from Athelstone had been wiped out. Contaminated water, his Fury said, from whatever lay hidden within the box. Accident or intentional; it didn’t matter. The villagers died. Vomiting, bleeding from open sores, from the nose and ears, fever and seizures. They died slow, but they died all the same. Not even magic saved them.
His sister lived in that village. His sister, and her two daughters, aged eight and five.
He clenched his jaw against the tears.
Varik carefully tucked the box back into the satchel and then lay down, offering a prayer up to any god that might be listening.
Please, don’t let the dragon find me.
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Follow the link to read Ishafal: Dragon Bait (Part 4)!
**AUTHOR’S NOTE: This fiction piece is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge and has not been to an editor.**
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