The further adventures of a girl and her dragon.
|The throne room was silent as death. The creaking of the rope and her breathing the only sounds as Kieran Nightshade descended from the rafters. Thin shafts of moonlight streaming in through the floor-to-ceiling stained glass windows were the only illumination, making the floor seem further away than it was. Well, not the only illumination, Kieran thought, spying her objective in the glass case next to the throne on the far side of the room.
Her hands sweaty, she lost her grip and slid several feet a little faster than she liked before stopping herself. Swaying like a pendulum, she halted her descent, waiting until her breathing slowed a little closer to normal before continuing to drop.
How do you get yourself into these situations, Nightshade? Just can't leave well enough alone, can you? Well, this time you can blame it on Mohng and that bleeding heart of his. His idea, and you're the one sneaking into the castle. He better get here on time, or his heart really will be bleeding.
She finished chiding herself and slid the last few feet to the floor, eyes darting to the doorway, waiting for the squeal of hinges and the expected rush of guards. When all remained quiet, she turned her attention to the throne and, more importantly, the case beside it. As quietly as her booted feet would allow, she padded her way across the floor to the dais and up the steps.
The blue glow of the object in the case grew more intense as she drew near, and she hoped that the increase would not draw any attention.
This is crazy. This is sooo crazy. You're not a professional thief. Hell, you're not even an amateur thief! Every time you head to Delva Shien to do some fishing you get sidetracked. And this track is waaayy to the side.
Ascending the dais, Kieran was grateful for the plush carpet that ran up the steps to the foot of the throne, masking the sound of her footsteps, which she was sure would otherwise be echoing loudly in the massive room. Reaching the top step, she paused, and her breath caught in her throat.
The object was glowing bright enough now that one could easily read by it. About twice the size of her fist, the orb floated with no visible means of suspension in the center of the case. Kieran thought she heard the faintest hint of music, some sort of otherworldly tune, emitting from within, and the light seemed to flicker with the rhythm. The display captivated her, halting her advance for a long moment.
A sound, the slightest creak, brought Kieran out of her reverie. Heart pounding, she shook her head, and the music seemed to cease, though the light from the orb continued to strobe in time to the inaudible beat. She looked around for the source of the sound that had brought her back to the present, shielding her eyes against the glow that prevented her from seeing into the shadows.
They were on her too quickly for her to react. Two guards, armed with muskets, burst from hidden alcoves disguised by floor-to-ceiling tapestries on either side of the throne. One leveled his weapon at Kieran's head, while the other checked her for weapons, removing the lone knife from her boot. "Queen Londara doesn't like intruders," the guard said, waving the blade in her face.
Kieran affected an air of astonishment. "Intruder? Why, whatever do you mean? I'm not intruding. I was on my way to Delva Shien to do some fishing. Must've taken a wrong turn."
She rolled her eyes at her explanation. Wrong turn? Cripes, Nightshade, you don't even believe your own excuse. It's the dungeon for sure if Mohng doesn't get here right quick.
Each guard grabbing her by an arm, they signaled to a third that had appeared from another alcove. Light from the corridor spilled into the room as the sentry opened the massive main door, silhouetting a shadowy figure waiting outside.
The figure was obscured by shapeless black robes, but as it drew closer Kieran could see it was a woman. Even in the muted moonlight, the woman's beauty was enchanting. Alabaster skin and hair the color of gold-framed a face with the most piercing dark eyes Kieran had ever seen. They were too dark. The kind of dark that one found in the deepest recesses of the land. The kind of dark that could squelch even the brightest flame.
Only evil could have so dark a quality, and it made Kieran shiver.
Londara regarded her with a polite smile, looking her over like cattle at market, and that made Kieran shiver again. "So young," she observed, as she reached up, gently grasping Kieran's chin between long, slender fingers. Kieran got the distinct mental image of a spider observing its next meal. The dark eyes darted to one of the sentries. "They get younger all the time, don't they?"
Don't like the sound of that, and I'm not even sure what she means. The guard's chuckle only served to reinforce her dread.
The queen turned away and stepped over to the glass case, running her fingers across the top. "You weren't interested in this, were you, little one?" She turned, giving Kieran a look that made her feel as though her gaze was piercing through her soul. "You do know that it's wrong to take things that don't belong to you, don't you?"
"A lesson someone should have taught you," Kieran said, a sudden feeling of empowerment washing over her. "I came from the village your people stole this from. I've been hired with getting it back."
Londara threw her head back, laughing. "You? They must have been truly desperate."
Now Kieran shot her a piercing look. "I have big friends."
Another laugh. "Not so big as mine, I think." Opening the case, she reached in and pulled the orb out, cradling it in both hands. "This belongs to my master. When he arrives he will claim it from me, and we will then rule this land together."
Lancets of energy were spiking from the orb in Kieran's direction, and she jerked back as each successive jolt drew nearer. She struggled against the guards, but their grip was too strong. The queen watched her reactions and laughed again. "You see? It is attracted to your life force. The younger the quarry, the stronger the pull. My master and I will use it to replenish ourselves and we will be unstoppable."
A smile crept across her face, full of dark malevolence, dropping the temperature in the chamber several degrees. "No child in this realm will be safe."
Kieran choked back the wave of nausea that threatened to overtake her. "You are a sick, twisted creature."
The smile faded, dark eyes piercing into Kieran's soul. "And you, my dear, are the first of many to give your young life for our cause."
She cupped the orb tighter and one of the tendrils of energy lanced further and touched Kieran's chest. The effect was immediate. Kieran felt her body temperature plummet, and her eyes began to grow heavy. Her legs began to buckle at the knees and she would have dropped to the floor had the guards not been holding her under the arms.
The tendril withdrew back into the orb, which had turned a cold white, and the light began to spread through the queen's hands and up her arms, disappearing up the sleeves of her robes. She gasped as she was overtaken by the effect, her head thrown back and her breathing quickening. As the life pulse faded, her eyes fluttered open and Kieran could see that they were completely black now, not just her pupils. The serpentine smile returned. "You are delicious, my dear."
Feel so weak. Kieran fought the clouds that were filling her mind. Mohng's a no-show. If I don't try something now, I'm finished.
She took a deep breath, willing her body to pull up whatever reserves of strength it had left. The sight of another tendril arcing its way towards her gave her the adrenaline rush she needed.
She smashed the heel of her boot down onto the bridge of the foot of the guard to her left, and the sound of bone crunching just before the guard screamed gave her a measure of satisfaction. Releasing her arm, he fell to the floor as he cradled his wounded foot.
With the second guard still clutching her arm, Kieran twisted and levered herself to one side, lifting him off of his feet. The movement sent him flying over her shoulder, crashing down atop the first guard. His musket, which had been thrown from his grasp, fell neatly into Kieran's grasp.
Rather than drawing back at Kieran's sudden escape, Londara charged. Fingers like talons raked the air as she slashed at Kieran's face. Dodging, Kieran swung the butt of the musket up and around, catching the queen in the jaw with a loud crack that wrenched her head to the side, staggering her.
Righting the musket, Kieran fired a wild shot at the guard by the doorway, causing him to dive for cover. She bounded down the steps of the dais, racing for the door, hoping she could make it through before the sentry recovered.
Another tendril of energy lanced by over her head and the door slammed shut just as she reached it. Spinning on her heel, she saw the queen stalking down the steps after her, the orb glowing a fierce blood red now as it fed off of her anger. It loosed another bolt at her. She was dodged, but the move caused her to lose her footing and she tumbled to the cold stone floor.
Londara stood a short distance away, backlit by the moonlight through the stained glass so that she appeared as a silhouette. The crimson glow of the orb turned her facial features into a spectral mask. Those dark eyes seethed with fury.
The doorway guard had recovered and dragged Kieran back to her feet, shoving a flintlock pistol under her chin. He held her at bay as the queen drew in closer. The other two sentries were staggering to their feet, murder in their eyes as they looked in her direction.
"I was prepared to let you die quickly, little thief," Londara's words slurred from the blow to her chin. Kieran noted that a thin trickle of blood was flowing from her nose and side of her mouth. "Now you die, slow and painful. Your shriveled body will be put on display for all to see. A reminder to those who would so foolishly oppose me."
She raised the orb. It crackled with all the dark energy she willed into it through her hatred. A pair of crimson tendrils began to snake forth.
At that moment, a shadow loomed through the stained glass, blotting out the moonlight. Seconds later, the windows shattered inward. In surprise, the guard released Kieran. The queen turned, robes flowing like wings as she spun to face this new threat.
Mohng had arrived.
The dragon bellowed; a roar so great that whatever glass was left in the panes was shaken loose. His outspread wings stretched from one wall of the chamber to the other. The floor shook as he settled his great mass to the ground.
The queen, though shocked, reacted immediately, and thrust the orb out before her with a scream of her own. Lightning arced out towards the dragon, ricocheting harmlessly off the armor plating of his scales. She loosed another volley with the same ineffectiveness.
Rearing his head back, Mohng struck at the queen like a cobra. In a heartbeat, she had disappeared within his toothy maw.
The four remaining humans in the room stood still as statues, waiting to see what happened next. The dragon had frozen as well, a decidedly sick look on its face. Its cheeks bulged in spots where the queen, not yet ingested, was fighting to be released.
Kieran found her voice. "Eat her!"
The dragon looked panicked, shaking its head as it drew back. The copper-colored scales around his cheeks and eyes were turning a pale green. From the way its throat was convulsing, Kieran could see it was retching. If he's going to be sick, I'll kill him.
Lightning began to trickle out around the folds of Mohng's mouth even as the dragon began to gag more violently, and Kieran knew she had to spur her companion on before the queen could bring the full power of the orb to bear on his insides. "Mohng, do something! Now!"
His head reared back, and Kieran thought she heard a muted rumble from somewhere deep within. Whipping his head toward the shattered windows, he belched. Engulfed in flame, the queen flew from his mouth and out the window. Her screams carried as she crashed into the valley hundreds of feet below.
The sentry beside her dropped his pistol as he turned and fled. His compatriots took one look at the still retching beast and followed in his footsteps. Kieran picked up the weapon and waved it in the dragon's direction.
"What the hell was that? Big, tough dragon nearly pukes in the middle of his dramatic entrance because he can't even handle the thought of eating someone? And your timing could have been a little better too, you know!"
If Mohng heard the tirade, he was not inclined to show it. Rather, the dragon was spitting small globs of phlegm on the floor, then scraping his tongue across the stone floor. Kieran thought he still looked a little green around the scales. "You know my allergies keep me from ingesting man-flesh."
"This was different. She was a woman."
The dragon shook his head violently from one side to the other, then stuck its tongue in her direction. "Wook aah mah dohngue. Doos ih loohg swahllen do ooh?"
Kieran rolled her eyes, slapping his tongue away, making it recoil back into his mouth. "You're pathetic. You know, your brother would have manned-up and just swallowed that crackpot whole."
Mohng looked insulted, and his voice showed his disdain as well. "Toadstool? He's not exactly the most reliable chap to bring along on an adventure such as this."
"And you are? Arrive any later and I would already be a corpse!"
"You forgot to give the signal."
"I'm sorry. I was a little busy fighting for my life!" Kieran paused, approaching the window where Mohng had spit the queen out, peering into the valley below. "And on top of it all, we've lost the orb as well."
"You mean this?" Mohng was moving his tongue around inside his mouth in a way that made Kieran think he had started retching again, but a moment later it popped from between his teeth, the orb held out on its forked end. It had returned to its original pale blue, and Kieran thought she could hear the faint music again.
Hesitant after what she had seen this thing do, she reached out and plucked it from him. It was surprisingly cool to the touch, glowing just a shade warmer as it fed, gently this time, off of her life's energies. "I don't know what to do with this thing. I know we said we would return it to the village, but after experiencing even just a little of what this thing can do, I don't want to see it fall into the wrong hands again. And all her talk about her master was really creeping me out."
Mohng lowered his head to examine it more closely. "We could bring it before the council of elder dragons. They would be able to protect it."
Kieran canted her head. "Your people have a council?"
"Yes. Of elders."
Kieran rolled her eyes again. Mohng could be so obtuse sometimes. "Probably the best choice, I guess. Your people aren't power-hungry like mine are. If anyone can keep it away from this master of hers, it's the dragons."
Dropping the orb into the pouch slung at her side, she grabbed the scales of Mohng's shoulders and began climbing onto his back. "I guess we're off to see your elders."
Mohng looked back over his shoulder at her, a hopeful gleam in his feline eyes. "And then maybe to Delva Shien for some fishing?"
"You said that the last time, before you got us into this fracas."
"I got us into this? You volunteered me, remember?
"I volunteered you to retrieve the orb, not get captured by the queen."
"That's it! No fishing!"
"Mohng. . ."
Thanks for reading! You can read further adventures of Kieran and Mohng in my short story collection Other Worlds: A Collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy available through Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00L0R7D1G