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Mercy: Dragon Bait (Part 6) – Free Fantasy Story




Welcome back to Part 6 of Dragon Bait. If you missed any of Burning: Dragon Bait (Part 1), Dragonflame: Dragon Bait (Part 2), Guilt: Dragon Bait (Part 3), Ishafal: Dragon Bait (Part 4), Joust: Dragon Bait (Part 5) make sure you check them out first!

* * *

Varik stripped off his shirt, and wrapped it around the box. Although still warm through the cloth, it made the heat bearable.

A shadow fell over him as he adjusted the wrappings. His hands stilled, and he lifted his eyes.

The dragon clung to the cliff face, head down. Its tail coiled upwards out of sight, and into the rocks. Deep red scales covered the head. When the wings lifted for balance, the undersides shone a burnished gold, deepening to red at the edges. Baleful black eyes nailed him to the path.

The metal burned Varik’s hands through the fabric, and he took a step backwards, juggling the box. His foot kicked a stone, and it clattered over the edge. Varik froze. What now? If anyone had ever met a dragon face to face before, they’d not lived to tell the tale.

The dragon cocked its head. Why can I sense you in my mind, little man? 

Varik put a hand to his ears, mouth falling open. The deep voice rang inside his head, as clear as a struck bell. ‘You’re telepathic?’ And clearly intelligent, though he held his tongue on that point.

The dragon gave a horrific parody of a grin, revealing huge fangs Varik preferred not to have seen. A clawed foot, sizable enough to crush a human head, shifted its hold on the cliff face. Obviously.

‘Uh, yeah.’ A smile oozed onto Varik’s face. He switched the box to the other hand to ease the growing heat. 

You’re not Ishafal. What are you, little man? The dragon’s grin, horrific though it was, turned into a frown that was worse. I can feel the shape of your mind. You are… sad. And… guilty? 

If anything, the frowned deepened, and Varik almost stepped back again, but there was nothing but open air behind him. 

Are you guilty, little man? A dangerous stillness gripped the dragon. Its tongue flickered out, like a snake tasting the air. I don’t like guilty men. 

‘Of allowing my sister and nieces to die, yes.’ He made the admission boldly, not knowing the right answer, and so opting for the truth. What did it matter if the dragon decided to eat him anyway? ‘I was too busy hunting down treasure.’

The dragon cocked its head, but reading that scaly face was an impossibility. Treasure is important, though perhaps not so important as to abandon one’s kin. 

‘I agree.’

The dragon’s head slithered closer, the nostrils flaring. It nosed the cloth-wrapped box in his hands, apparently uncaring of, or insensitive to the heat. What is this? 

‘Treasure.’ Varik couldn’t keep the bitterness from his voice. ‘And one that killed my family.’

The dragon’s head reared back, the pupils of its eyes dilating and its wings flaring. The gust of disturbed air blew Varik’s hair about his face. 

Cesium! That is not treasure, no treasure any man wants. No wonder your family died if you were taking that rubbish home to them. 

Varik stiffened, and blinked away tears. ‘I didn’t! The Ishafal did that, after it stole this from Athelstone. I am taking it back, for safekeeping.

The dragon hesitated, half-folding its wings. For safekeeping? I do smell Siren and Fury magic… 

‘For safekeeping.’ 

Foolish man. You are no treasure hunter. What you do is a sacrifice for others. It is tragic that your family died while you fulfilled this great duty, but the blame is not on your shoulders. 

‘What? It is. I wasn’t there to save them, to-’ To what, to stop an Ishafal? Did I have a dragon in my  pocket then, too? 

The dragon prodded him with its nose, and Varik clutched at a horn to keep his balance. Realising what he’d done, he let go again, but the dragon turned its head, lifting him away from the precipice. He fell back to the rocky path.  

You are not to blame. I will not eat you. Which is fortunate, as you look rather stringy. 

Varik laughed, hysteria edging the grim mirth. A deep rumbling came from the dragon. A growl? No, the dragon laughed as well, scaly lips peeling back from great teeth. Varik laughed harder, until the hysteria turned into actual amusement. A dragon – a dragon– had actually absolved him of guilt, and then made a joke about eating him!

The dragon lowered its head, extending one leg. I will carry you to Athelstone, though. This returning the cesium to its guardians is noble indeed. I would be pleased to ensure you suffer no further interruptions. 

Varik looked at the inviting leg, his stomach in knots. Could he really trust the creature not to make a snack of him? He swallowed hard. Then again, it was more than clear that the dragon would have cooked him up for a treat if it hadn’t liked his intentions for the cesium.

Staring up into night-black eyes, Varik sketched a deep bow. ‘I would be honoured.’

Grief still nestled in the back of his mind, a fragile egg waiting to crack open, but the guilt, like the need for revenge, had been laid to rest. Hitching the hot box uncomfortably in the crook of his arm, Varik reached up and began to climb. 

* * *
**AUTHOR’S NOTE: This fiction piece is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge and has not been to an editor.**

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might like to join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or sign-up to my newsletter. Check out my March Newsletter if you missed it. 

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Joust: Dragon Bait (Part 5) – Free Fantasy Story

 Welcome back to Part 5 of Dragon Bait. If you missed Burning: Dragon Bait (Part 1), Dragonflame: Dragon Bait (Part 2), Guilt: Dragon Bait (Part 3), or Ishafal: Dragon Bait (Part 4), make sure you check them out first!

* * * 

Bursting from the entrance, Varik squinted in the brilliant sunlight, and veered down the mountain path. Please, please, let it work… 

He clung hard to the cliff face. Glancing back over his shoulder, he eased his way down the path. His heart pounded in his ears. The Ishafal dashed onto the ledge, with the box clutched too easily beneath her arm. Where was the dragon?


The winged woman swung around as she spotted him, one hand lifting. Varik ducked behind a stone outcrop. A boiling mass of fiery magic seared past his ear, and the skin of his cheek and neck burned with the sudden heat.

I need that dragon! 

A rush of wind announced its arrival. The dragon bellowed, the sound reverberating off the mountain. A shower of small stones rained down on Varik, and he shielded his face with his arms. The Ishafal squealed, her beautiful voice shrill with fear. 

More magic boiled upwards, clouds of blue and violet flames spewing blindly into the air. Varik half scrambled and half slid down the cliff path, dislodging pebbles and debris in his haste.

The dragon banked to avoid the Ishafal’s magical attack, swinging wide out above the valley below, and sweeping back up the path. Varik dropped to his belly as the huge creature flew over. The wind from the dragon’s wings tugged at his clothes. Dragonflame heated the air, scorching Varik’s throat as he sucked in a breath. Smoke, thick and choking, followed.  

Varik coughed, and rolled. The dragon disappeared over the mountain and its flame left the cliff path scorched and blackened, an image of blasted desolation and stark beauty. Melted stone and sand cooled into glass. A charred and smoldering pile of rags fluttered in the breeze by the cave entrance. The smoke stirred, and began to dissipate.

His heart still thudded in his chest. A deep breath seared his lungs with hot air, and he scrambled to his feet, heading up the path. His legs shook. The stone burned through the soles of his boots. As he approached, the smoking pile cracked open, spilling a few hot embers onto the ground. They died in an instant. Shreds of charred violet and blue cloth fluttered amongst bone fragments and featureless lumps of grey ash.

Only a cold kind of satisfaction filled him at the sight and, hard on its heels, a hollow disappointment. Mesalina and the girls still rotted in the earth. The fire of his hatred flickered, and went out, leaving only the damning guilt.  

Where was the box?Tiny worms of fear wriggled in his gut. If the box was destroyed, if this cesium was no longer contained… He was still dead. 

Varik whirled, eyes searching the barren stone of the mountain path.The iron box lay a few yards away, thrown clear by the concussive forces of the brief battle. The metal glowed red and cooled to iron grey. Apart from a thin film of greasy ash, it appeared undamaged.


Varik breathed out a huge sigh, shaking his head. He’d expected the contents to survive, but not the box. Dragonflame could consume a simple metal box. Of course, only a fool expected a box created by Sirens and Furies to be simple.

With one finger, he tentatively touched the metal surface and jerked it back. He sucked the sting away. Too hot to hold, and would be for a while. Varik stared out off the edge of the path. No sign of the dragon, but he dare not assume he was safe. He needed somewhere to hide. Though he’d cloaked himself from the dragon automatically, he was highly visible on the cliff path.

* * *



**AUTHOR’S NOTE: This fiction piece is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge and has not been to an editor.**

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might like to join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or sign-up to my newsletter. Check out my March Newsletter if you missed it.

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I is for Ishafal: Dragon Bait (Part 4) – Free Fantasy Story

Ishafal

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.’

The power in her voice stirred him, and a foolish smile spread across his face. Stop thinking with your dick.

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.**

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might like to join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or sign-up to my newsletter. Check out my March Newsletter if you missed it.

Don’t forget to share the love and spread the word on Twitter, Facebook or StumbleUpon (or other social networking site of your choice) if you know other people who might also enjoy this.

Thanks for stopping by and visiting with us!



Guilt: Dragon Bait (Part 3) – Free Fantasy Story




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!

* * *

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.


Except it had never 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.


* * *


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.**

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might like to join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or sign-up to my newsletter. Check out my March Newsletter if you missed it.

Don’t forget to share the love and spread the word on Twitter, Facebook or StumbleUpon (or other social networking site of your choice) if you know other people who might also enjoy this.

Thanks for stopping by and visiting with us!

Dragonflame: Dragon Bait (Part 2) – Free Fantasy Fiction



Welcome back for Part 2 of free short story Dragon Bait – an A to Z Challenge post. If you missed it, catch up on Burning: Dragon Bait (Part 1) first!


* * *

Who stabbed him? The thought hit him hard. Perhaps the priest injured himself fleeing the fire. Or, perhaps not… Varik’s eyes scoured the night as he hurried on, skipping over every possible hiding spot, double and triple checking.

A dragon was akin to a force of nature; though it might not have directly attacked people to reach an Ishafal, dragonflame burned fiercely and would destroy anyone who didn’t flee the spreading inferno fast enough.

By contrast, an Ishafal was cold and calculating, and the stabbed priest reminded him they were in some ways more dangerous than a dragon. The empty sheath seemed heavy on his hip, a reminder of his vulnerability. He passed the badly burned corpse of a second priest, but saw no one alive among the spreading flames.

Varik’s fingers ran over fluted stone as he felt his way along a shadowed colonnade and down a wide stairway. The raging dragonfire cast his shadow into a hellish parody before him.

A thin line of fire ran down the balustrade. Deceptively beautiful, the flames devoured everything they touched. Dragonfire would creep into each nook and cranny in the monastery until the last stone burned to nothing.

Varik snatched his hand away. Even the slightest contact, the smallest spark, spelled death. The spreading waterfall of flames spilled fresh light into the garden. Within moments, a sheet of red fire engulfed the wall, dancing in eerie silence. The stone melted in its shroud. The monastery’s inhabitants wailed in the distance. The dragon remained quiet. Choking ash smothered the usual heady scent of blooms. 

A shadow stirred in the red light below, hunched over as it darted across the garden. Varik froze. A tall, lithe woman emerged from the trees, sweeping through the darkness. The shape of her back appeared distorted and deformed. Night blurred the details, but Varik recognized the figure. He held his breath; let it out slow.

Only one wall remained free of flame, and he hugged the stone surface as he eased back up the stairs, his foot feeling out each riser. He dared not take his eyes from the spectre below. Rage boiled his blood, even as fear froze his marrow. He dropped one hand to the dagger; to the empty sheath. His mouth dried, and he ran his tongue around, moistening it. For a moment, he experienced the satisfaction of envisioning the knife slicing across the woman’s neck.

But dragonfire had consumed the knife. The vision faded, leaving only the memory of the still bodies of two little girls, limbs covered in open, running sores, and hollow guilt in the pit of his stomach. Throat choked with old grief, he found the top step. If he’d been there, instead of off who knew where chasing thrills, maybe it wouldn’t be that way.

A shadow fell across him, and Varik glanced up. The huge bulk of the dragon swept overhead, wings beating down, and a gust of wind buffeted Varik away from the flames and into a wall. He clung to it hard, willing himself to become just another shadow in the night.

It didn’t see me; it didn’t see me. 

The last gust cooled the sweat on his face. No reason the dragon should see him; he wasn’t its prey. But if he slipped once, allowed his protections to fall, then the dragon would sense him. Like last night, when he slept, and curiosity must have brought the dragon searching. Instead of the source of the siren song in its head, instead of Varik, the dragon found the Ishafal on his trail.

 The dragon trumpeted. Varik started, banging his head against the wall. He ignored the flash of pain in his skull. The woman bolted from cover. A fresh sea of fire spilled hot and boiling across the greenery, and trees exploded into pillars of flame. The Ishafal veered towards the stairs.

Varik ran.


* * *

Follow the link to read Guilt: Dragon Bait (Part 3).

**AUTHOR’S NOTE: This fiction piece is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge and has not been to an editor.**

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might like to join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or sign-up to my newsletter. Check out my March Newsletter if you missed it. 
Don’t forget to share the love and spread the word on Twitter, Facebook or StumbleUpon (or other social networking site of your choice) if you know other people who might also enjoy this. 
Thanks for stopping by and visiting with us!