Welcome back to Part 4 of Dragon Bait. If you missed Burning: Dragon Bait (Part 1), Dragonflame: Dragon Bait (Part 2), or Guilt: Dragon Bait (Part 3), make sure you check them out first!
The soft sound of a foot scraping on stone woke him. Too many years treasure-hunting on behalf of Athelstone had honed his sense of hearing. His hand closed on his sword, and he climbed to his feet, automatically cloaking his presence from dragons. He jammed the satchel hard into a crevice he found in the cavern wall. A shadow appeared at the cave mouth.
Framed against the light of midday, the black, feathered wings rose stark above her shoulders.
Varik’s hand tightened on the leather-wrapped hilt. Useless.
The Ishafal stepped inside, laughing. The waterfall sound of her amusement mesmerised him. Raven-black hair framed a face set with deep, dark eyes, and her flawless skin showed the tell-tale pearlescent sheen every Ishafal and Siren possessed. Blue and violet robes trailed across the stone.
Varik’s mouth fell open. His hand released the blade, and the weapon clanged to the rocky floor. Focus, fool. He tried to gather wits scattered by the unearthly beauty approaching him.
‘So, thief, cornered like the rat you are.’
But he wasn’t; the magic in her voice beckoned, seducing and tempting, and no man could resist. Varik stepped towards her, unable to control his expression of adulation. He shook his head. Fight her!
Varik’s step faltered, and he wiped the stupid grin away with effort, forcing words from a constricted throat. ‘Thief? You’re the thief.’
The Ishafal’s marvelous face darkened with anger for the barest moment before a charming smile curved her luscious lips, smoothing the anger away. ‘You stole from me what is rightfully mine.’
Lassitude stole over him again. The corners of his mouth began to turn up in a beatific smile. Before the magic claimed him completely, he forced words through clenched teeth. ‘You stole it from Athelstone.’
‘It was mine first, before the Fall.’
Her words possessed a hypnotic rhythm, and Varik smiled, happiness and contentment suffusing him. Somewhere inside his head a voice protested she wasn’t alive at the time of the Fall, more than three thousand years ago. Nevertheless, he nodded, head bobbing loose on his neck. ‘If you say so.’
Inside, he railed at his compliance, and rattled the bars of the cage she wove with her magic voice, to no effect. Tension drained from the Ishafal’s frame. She turned her back on him to rake the cavern with her gaze. Despite himself, he didn’t move, the foolish grin still plastered on his face.
‘Where is it?’ The Ishafal turned back and walked across to stand before him.
Varik screamed at himself from the prison of his own head. His mouth started to open. Somehow, he made himself bite his tongue, mangling the words before they emerged. A metallic taste filled his mouth.
Blood. Blood and weeping sores. He latched on to the taste of it, the look of it, feeding his guilt at his failure, his anger at the Ishafal. His body tensed against the magic, and a fixed, defiant grin writhed onto his lips. Painful image after painful image, he forced himself to remember the last days of Mesalina and his nieces; the terrible, prolonged agony of their dying.
The compulsion of the Ishafal’s voice eased. He imagined his fingers wrapped about her throat, crushing the fragile bones. His grin widened, lips drawing away from his teeth in a wild snarl.
‘I take it back.’ He forced the words out despite her. ‘I don’t believe you. It’s not yours. You weren’t alive during the Fall.’
The Ishafal hissed, and her wings spread wide in a rustle of feathers. The allure dropped away. ‘You question me? You, a mongrel son of a demon? An agent of Athelstone?’
Varik ignored the insults. He knew her magic to be dangerous in other ways than just the glamour of her voice. The hidden box remained his advantage. Once she had the box, she’d kill him.
Varik sidled along the wall towards the entrance. The light in the cavern dimmed momentarily as something outside blocked the sun and moved on. A shadow skimmed across the ledge, but the Ishafal didn’t turn. An idea took root in a flash. The dagger was gone, crumbled to ash, but here was something better. The only thing as old as Ishafal and demon was a dragon’s hatred for Ishafal. Might he lure her outside? If she trapped him in the cave, he was dead. If he lured her out… he still might be dead. Reckless, to play with a power as wild and mighty as a thunderstorm. He’d pay that price if she went with him.
He shrugged. ‘What else am I going to do to pass the time? Besides, it’s pretty easu to question a claim that is so obviously a load of -‘
The Ishafal shrieked. ‘You dare? You ignorant demon bastard! The box contains cesium, which we used before the Fall for things you can’t even conceive in that tiny, egocentric brain of yours! Technology beyond anything your pathetic human race can even dream.’
She seemed to recall herself, and settled her wings behind her. A charming smile lit her face. Not the full force of her glamour, but an attempt to soothe him.
Cesium? It must be what lay inside the box. What was technology? ‘You can say whatever you like about what’s in the box, what you say it does. It proves nothing.’ Varik stumbled over the unfamiliar word, and shuffled closer to the cave entrance. If he told her where to find the satchel, it might buy him enough time to slip outside. A gamble, by any measure. ‘And I don’t care anyway.’
The Ishafal hissed again, and her ebony wings snapped wide in ire. He jumped back, colliding with the rock wall hard enough to smart. She stalked deeper into the cavern, farther away from the entrance.
‘Don’t care? I was there when humanity crawled bleeding and raw from the toxic wasteland the fallen world became. Humanity would have died in the Fall, had we not saved some of them, changed some of them, so they might tolerate the poisons in the atmosphere until the world healed itself. We created you, and -‘
‘You know what I care about?’ He didn’t care that he interrupted her, ignored the way her eyes widened in fury. ‘You killed my sister and her daughters.’
I killed them. Failed them.
The Ishafal’s eyes widened and she lunged at him, almost tripping on her trailing robes. A shrill screech issued from her throat as she spread her wings for balance.
Varik’s back already pressed hard against the wall. ‘It’s over there!’
The winged woman spun, following the direction of his pointing finger.
‘Dragon’s blood!’ Now he was committed to his half-formed, foolhardy plan.
An orb of magic lit her way as the Ishafal darted toward the back of the cavern. Varik didn’t wait for her to find the box. He dropped the protections hiding him from the dragon, and bolted for the cave mouth. From behind, the Ishafal shouted in triumph.
**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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