Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Dragonbirth (working title)

I wrote the first 500 words or so of this effort a while back after I had a dream about it one day. I'm still working on getting through the content of the dream but since it was my first major creative writing effort of my 1000 words a day I thought I'd share it. It's sitting at 4,500 words right now, so 4000 of them were written today. Enjoy.
And a thousand words, goodnight.


Maric looked up at his brother. Kae had piled his armor and the contents of his backpack in a heap at the base of the cliff that loomed above them. The stone was course, brown and sheer. The tallest pine in the forest behind them didn’t rise halfway up its face. Kae had tied two lengths of rope around his waist and started climbing. He found handholds in what looked to Maric like flat stone. Maric wasn’t convinced this was a good idea. Wherever the secret entrance was to the Wyrmvale was, this was not it. His younger sibling wasn’t the patient type, however. When the road they’d followed ended at the cliff instead of the passage they’d expected, Kae had simply decided to make his own path.
The end of rope smacked Maric in the face, jolting him out of his reverie. “Tie it to your rope!” Kae yelled down. “Mine aren’t going to be long enough.”

Maric sighed and opened his pack to get his rope out. He made a poor knot around the bundle and tied it off. His brother started to pull it up and ten feet up it began to uncoil until it spilled to the ground.

“Maric!” he yelled, annoyed.

Maric sighed again as Kae let the end of his rope back down. He tied it off again, this time end to end and Kae managed to pull the whole length up. The older of the two was standing on an overhang barely worth calling a ledge and managed to tie off Maric’s rope on an outcropping that Maric would have sworn hadn’t existed before his brother found it.

“Wait until I get the second rope placed before you come up!” Kae shouted. Maric would be lucky if he made it up using the rope, he thought. He wasn’t sure how someone as lithe and well-muscled as Maric could be so clumsy. The boy could run all day, but could ruin a pot boiling water and had broken so many swords and snapped so many bow strings that Father had stopped giving him new ones after Gavin the blacksmith had threatened to go on strike. The castle guards joked that he had tripped on a brownie as a child and been cursed. Personally, Kae thought it was because when his brother took his nose out of his books at all he left his brain in them. As far as he was concerned, military books were a useful tool, but not nearly as interesting as fighting or listening to the soldiers at the castle tell war stories. Even dancing was a more enjoyable past time. At least then you could touch any pretty girl you wanted. Not that Kae had any problems with that, being a prince.

Maric, waiting at the bottom, was wishing at this very moment that he were sitting at home in the castle library. The book that had started this whole adventure was lying with a bookmark on a small table next to a huge, cushioned chair that threatened to swallow him whole whenever he sat in it. The chair stood in front of a fireplace large enough for logs the size of a quarter of a tree. It was one of his favorite places anywhere and without a doubt was better than standing at the bottom of a cliff hunting for dragon’s eggs.

“Are you coming?” Kae yelled down. Maric shook his head free of his wistful thoughts of home and grabbed the rope, tying the end around his waist in case he lost his grip. For the umpteenth time, he wished the spells in that old book were real. It would have been so much simpler if he could cast the levitation spell he’d encountered in its pages. He had asked Maltus, his father’s court wizard, but the balding mage had scoffed and called them fairy tales. Besides, he had said, if wizards could cast spells like that, they would be kings and not simple advisors. Not to mention that, if a wizard cast a spell that powerful, it would kill him outright. Everyone knew wizards drew upon the energy produced by their own bodies and thus were limited to whatever endurance they built over time. Maric supposed that was why the man ate and drank more than any of his father’s warriors, yet never seemed to gain an ounce.

Hand by hand, Maric pulled himself up the cliff face, picking up a couple bruises when his foot slipped and he slammed against the rock. The ground was so far down now that it seemed foolish to consider going any direction but up. So up he went.

Kae waited impatiently for his brother. There was more cliff to climb and he couldn’t start up again without the ropes to tie off for Maric. Even if it turned out that Wyrmvale wasn’t on the other side of the cliff, it would be worth it, just to conquer this challenge. A dragon egg or two would be the cream on top of the whole trip however. The minstrels would have to write a song about this adventure. It was the kind of glory princes were meant to achieve.

Maric, on the other hand wasn’t feeling very glorious. His boots seemed to reject purchase on the rock and the muscles in his arms and shoulders were screaming by the time he finally reached the ledge Kae was standing on. Kae helped him up and he saw that it was much wider than he imagined it was from his perspective on the ground. He sat down on the cool stone and panted as he looked out over the incredible view over the forest. “I hate you,” he breathed at his sibling. Brother was too nice a word at this point.

“You won’t hate me when we find a dragon’s egg,” Kae said optimistically. Maric just glared at him.

“If I survive to even look for one. Though I’ll admit, after this cliff, facing a dragon isn’t going to seem like much of a task,” he said, half-seriously.

“Wouldn’t that be incredible?” Kae exclaimed. His brother’s silence was telling.

“Don’t you have a cliff to climb?” Maric asked before his eyes suddenly widened and he grabbed his brother and pulled him down on top of him, almost rolling them both off the ledge. When Kae protested, Maric clamped one hand over his brother’s mouth and pointed with the other. Kae nodded his understanding vigorously and Maric released him as they both huddled against the rock face as a dragon flew overhead.

The dragon was a huge, black shadow against the sky and beat its wings only rarely as it drifted on a current over the forest much like a hawk or eagle. Maric found himself hoping that it didn’t have the same kind of eyesight as a raptor did. The two brothers often went hawking and it always amazed him how the birds could see such tiny prey from so high up. It would be nice if his first encounter with a dragon was not as its dinner. He watched in awe as the dragon’s shadow skimmed over the treetops and off to the northwest. The princes sat quiet and still until it disappeared from sight.
“Did you see that?” Maric hissed.

“No. I was too busy trying to stay on the cliff we spent all this time climbing. Some idiot tried to knock me off it,” Kae said sarcastically.

Maric ignored him. “I guess we’re in the right place.”

“You have that right.”

“Let’s get up there while it’s gone,” Maric urged his brother.

“What if it comes back while I’m climbing?” Kae asked.

“Just go!”

Kae nodded wordlessly and started to climb again. Two stops, two hours, more bruises and one more fifteen minute breathless period spent pressing themselves against the cliff face in an attempt to hide from another, smaller dragon later, they reached the top. The rim sloped down to a shallow caldera that spread out for miles below them. The sun, in spite of the horizon luring it away from its zenith, beat down on the cracked, dry ground of what had clearly once been the mouth of a volcano. Maric scrambled and slid down to the caldera floor, while Kay walked as easily and calmly as if it had been flat, shaking his head at his brother’s clumsiness.

“Now what?” Kae asked as they stood together at the base of the slope, looking out at the Wyrmvale. The valley was filled with rocky outcroppings of all sizes and gently bubbling vats of mud. The air smelled strange and heat rose from the ground as well as the sun.

“I suppose now we keep an eye out for dragons and nests. Hopefully we can find one separate from the other.”

The princes walked cautiously into the valley, weaving around rocks and avoiding the pools of mud. Occasionally they passed piles of bones that once belonged to various animals taken as prey by the dragons, but after half an hour they had yet to see anything that looked like a nest. Kae was getting frustrated and Maric nervous. Maric was beyond certain they were out of their league and had gone from the frying pan into the fire. Kae wanted to grab an egg, any egg and go home. His mind was on parades and songs and some of the younger serving maids at the castle.

Maric was about to give up when they rounded a particularly large pillar of rock and came face to face with a group of eight angry, poorly shaven men in rough leather clothing. They were arguing quietly in front of another, twenty foot cliff that rose above the rest of the caldera. A quarter of a mile along its arch, he could barely make out the entrance of a cave through the steam rising from natural hot springs. The men started and cursed as the two dirty princes came around the corner. Their clothes, which had once been hardy but fine clothes they’d acquired from their friends among the soldiers, were torn and ragged from the climb up the cliff.

One of the men gestured to the others. He was broad in the shoulders, but shorter than the rest, with a sword belted at his side and a buckler lashed to his arm. The men surrounded the boys, their hands on their weapons. The leader glanced around to check that the area remained clear of dragons before coming over.

“Who are you and what are you doing here?” he asked roughly.

“I am Mar. . .” Maric began, but stopped short when Kae surreptitiously stepped on his foot. “Marc,” he continued. “This is my brother, Ken. We’re from Odevar,” he said, naming the capital city, which was true enough. The castle sat on a peninsula that technically separated it from the city, but it was hard to tell where one ended and the other began these days.

“And how did you get here? We left guards at the tunnel and I ain’t thinking there’s another entrance we don’t know about.”

Kae spoke up, “We climbed the cliff.”

The men stared. Their leader thought about that for a moment. “Did you now? Then perhaps you can help us with a little problem we’re having.” He pointed toward the rock face before them. “Up there is the nest of the black dragon. The biggest, nastiest dragon there’s ever been, who we seen mating a month back. We’re thinking there’s an egg up there and none of my boys are brave enough to risk it. I think one of you just volunteered to go get it.”

Maric frowned. “Why would we want to do that?” he asked.

The man cocked his head toward Kae, and two of the other men grabbed him by the arms. Kae shouted and struggled and a third man hit him in the stomach. “Quiet, you idiot! Do you want to get us all killed?” the man hissed angrily.

“Would serve you right!” Kae said, though quieter.

Their leader looked amused. “And that’s why. You get us the egg, and you and your brother can go home. You don’t get the egg, and your brother can go back down the way he came up. Only hope he can learn to fly before he hits the ground.”

All eight of the egg-hunters laughed at this joke. Kae looked less than amused and struggled against his captors again. Maric, stood still, uncertain of what to do. He wasn’t a fighter and even if he had a sword, he wouldn’t be able to do much against eight men, especially if they had Kae captive. He was only good at running and studying. Military tactics and faerie tale spellbooks, whether they lead to dragon’s nests or not, weren’t going to do him any good in this situation.

“I’ll do it,” he said with a resigned sigh.

“But I’m the one who climbed the cliff!” Kae protested. The cliff to the dragon’s nest was not tall, but he was certain Maric would break his neck before he ever made it to the top.

Looking at the faces of the rough men around him, Maric could tell there was no point in trying to talk them into letting Kae do it. It wouldn’t have been right, anyway. Maric was the elder and had to do whatever it took to protect his brother. If that meant climbing a cliff and stealing an egg from the most vicious of dragons, he couldn’t let Kae do it in his stead, even if he had the skills Maric lacked.

“I’ll do it,” he said again, this time with determination. Kae surged forward again, but the men held him tight.

“Marc,” his younger brother began. At least he had the foresight to remember not to call him by name, Maric thought.

“It’s okay, Ken. I’ll be fine.”

“You’re going to get yourself killed.”

The short, stocky man interrupted. “If he gets himself killed, then you can go get the egg. In the meantime, GET GOING,” he cried quietly and forcefully. “It’s not like there ain’t dragons waiting to sniff us out, you know?”

Maric nodded and turned to the cliff. One of the men stopped him and handed him a pack with straps. “For the egg,” he said. Maric took the pack and pulled the straps over his shoulders as he looked at the ridge rising above him. The rock was pock marked with many holes that would make it easy to climb. He breathed a sigh of relief. Slipping the toe of his boot into a good spot, he began to ascend. The rocks were sharp and the going slow. By the time he reached the top his hands were ragged with small cuts and the cuffs off his already filthy clothes stained with blood. He peered over edge as he reached the top, making certain nothing waited to eat him at the top. The nest was empty, so pulled himself up and looked around.

The top of the cliff was hardly what he would normally consider a nest. Piles and piles of cracked and scorched bones littered the ground like sticks in a forest. Maric had to step over some of them, large bones that belonged to some kind of animal he had never encountered. He hadn’t thought there was anything that big that wasn’t a dragon, but its skull was huge and round with strange tusks curling from either side of its jaw. If there was anything he knew at this moment, it was that he did not want to meet whatever was big enough to carry this thing to its nest and make a meal of it.

In the center of the nest was a puddle of the bubbling mud. A single black-shelled egg rose about a foot and a half from the ooze. Maric glanced at the sky to make certain that its parent was not in sight then approached. It was warm to the touch and heavy as he lifted it from the mud and slipped it into the sack. After he had settled it on to his back, he looked around again, double checking for signs of dragons. A tiny shape had appeared on the horizon and Maric started in horror. It was coming back.

Maric ran to the cliff’s edge and clambered over with agonizing slowness. “Dragon!” he shouted. It was all the warning they needed, but it didn’t come soon enough. The ground shook as he scrambled down the rock face and the air reverberated with an angry roar. He instinctively tightened his grip as about halfway down the stone shook again and black talons as long as a man is tall gripped the ridgeline and an immense scaly black head appeared above him, mouth gaping wide enough to swallow a cow whole. It looked straight at Maric and he half-climbed, half jumped the rest of the way down. The egg-hunters and Kae stared at the beast in shock.

“Are you crazy?” Maric yelled at them as he ran toward his brother. “RUN!” he screamed. The men shook their heads clear as the dragon pounced down from the cliff top with only the slightest effort, filling the clearing with his body. It seized the closest man in its jaw and flung the corpse to the side as it came after the egg. Their purpose forgotten, the rest of the men fled, leaving Kae and Maric to their fate. The princes, free of their captors, followed close on their heels.

“This way!” Maric called to his brother, dodging around a boulder and making toward the cave he had seen earlier. Kae followed. A wave of heat blew over them as the dragon belched a vast, seemingly endless volume of fire after the fleeing men. Two of them screamed briefly as they were caught by the flame and incinerated. When the flame stopped, the midnight-scaled behemoth turned his head as if searching. When it saw the brothers, it paused as if to breathe again, then stopped.

“Why isn’t it cooking us?” Kae yelled to Maric as they ran. It seemed like the thing to do, and Kae probably would have done the same were he in the dragon’s. . . shoes.

“It can’t without hurting the egg, I think!”

“Oh, thank the Lady of Luck for small blessings.”

“Yeah, and remind me to have a chat with her about the rest of our luck today.”

“At least we aren’t prime rib like the others back there.”

“Not yet, at least.”


The Lady of Luck, it appeared, wasn’t done with them yet. As they grew closer to the hot springs near the cave, Maric suddenly tripped over something sticking of the rocks and crashed to the ground, skinning his already wounded palms. The egg on his back smashed heavily against his spine. Great, another bruise, he thought. The something moved as Kae came up behind him and suddenly there was a much smaller dragon between them. This one’s scales were reddish-gold, and shone in the fading light of the sun. It’s head was the size of Kae’s well-muscled torso and it hissed at them, unsure of which was a bigger threat.

Kae froze uncomfortably. There was an oversized dragon coming up somewhere behind them and a quite large enough dragon keeping him from running from the first dragon. This wasn’t as easy as fighting men, especially since he was totally unprepared for it. His armor was still at the bottom of the cliff outside Wyrmvale, since he didn’t think he’d have much use for it when it came to dragons. He hadn’t planned on finding out whether or not he was right.

The dragon Maric had tripped over turned on the prone prince as he rolled over and scrabbled backward on his hands and feet until the egg came up against a boulder behind him. It bared its fangs and made to strike him and as it did, Maric’s panic turned to calm. Strange words in a strange language came unbidden to his mind and he heard himself speaking aloud, though he had no idea what the words meant. The air grew heavy around the three of them and the heat more intense, in spite of the setting sun. Sweat poured from Maric’s brow as the air seemed to sink into his bones and then the dragon before him disappeared in a flash of golden light that blinded both princes. From the angry roar of the black dragon and the crash as it collided with one of the many formations of stone in the area, it too had been affected.

As they blinked the spots away, it became clear that the dragon was gone. A naked young girl with long, brilliant red-hold hair about the age of six stood in its place. Kae goggled at the scene. “What did you do?” he asked in a loud, confused voice.

“I have no idea,” Maric said, blinking at the girl as if she might go away with the spots. She blinked back at him. “I didn’t do that.”

“I heard you! I saw you! You did that. You used magic. You turned a dragon into. . . a kid.”

“I didn’t! That’s impossible!”

“Impossible things don’t happen, that did!”

Before the argument could continue, the black dragon roared again and they heard the flap of its wings as it took to the air. “Oh, for the love of the Lady,” Kae swore.

“Let’s get moving,” Maric said.

“What about the girl?”

“Bring her, we can’t leave her here.”

“She’s a dragon!”

“She’s a little girl! Come on, let’s go!” Maric shouted impatiently in Kae’s face.

“Why do I have to carry her?” Kae complained.

“Because I’m carrying the other god-damned baby dragon. MOVE!”

As they ran, Kae swept the child into his arms. She clung to him instinctively, her small arms tight around his neck. Kae noticed in passing that she was strangely warm. It was all he had time to notice as they ran around the edge of a particularly large pool of steaming water. A moment later, a wave of uncomfortably hot but not scalding water washed over them as the black dragon landed in the pool. Maric stopped as Kae ran past. Kae turned to look at his brother and Maric shook his head and waved him on. Kae slowed as if to stop and Maric yelled at him.

“Go! Keep running. Get to safety. I’ll buy you some time and follow!” Maric yelled. Kae thought he said something about get to the cave, but couldn’t hear it clearly over the dragon’s roaring. Maric had the dragon’s egg out in front of him now, keeping the black dragon from attacking or breathing fire. He was backing away slowly, talking to the beast as if that would make a different. Kae kept running, going full speed. He couldn’t see a cave through the steam and falling darkness, so he headed for a copse of trees that he could make out in the distance.

Maric didn’t have time to look back to make certain his brother had made it to safety. He had seen the cave entrance only a few hundred meters from the pool the dragon had landed in and keeping the egg between the two of them, was making his way toward it while never taking his eye off the monstrous creature. The behemoth stared directly at him as it seemed to be considering a way that it might get him without harming its unhatched young. It seemed to be thinking, the idea of which disturbed the young prince greatly. He almost jumped out of his skin when it spoke in the same strange language he had heard when something, he refused to believe he had done it, had turned the other dragon into a little girl.

“You can’t escape, insect. Return my daughter to me and I will kill you quickly.”

“Uh,” Maric said eloquently while he collected his thoughts and rearranged his entire paradigm of the universe for the second time today. “No. I don’t think so.”

“Where will you go? The hunters you came with are dead. They could not escape me either and could not have saved you if they lived.”

“I didn’t come with them, but as I see it, not giving you your egg is keeping me alive. So I think I’ll just keep it.”

“If any harm comes to her, I will rend you. Slowly.”

“If any harm comes to me or my brother, I will break it.”

“Your brother? The one who ran like a coward with the little one. You are a fool, human, thrice over. For coming here, for stealing my egg, and for bringing a child.”

Maric thought it was curious that the dragon thought that the girl had been with them the whole time, but didn’t really have the luxury of time to figure it out just then. He decided to try another direction as he continued slowly working his way back toward the cave. Another 150 meters.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

The dragon rumbled and for a moment Maric thought it was going to risk cooking the egg along with him. The sound continued and the creature’s jaws didn’t part, so it took him a second to realize that the dragon was laughing.

“Do you think I am a fool, human, to give you power over me? Call me your doom, your death, your last vision. Do not think that I, who have lived centuries and killed more of your kind than you have ancestors, will succumb to pathetic wizard’s tricks. I am the free one, the unchained one, the greatest of my kind.”

Maric filed that information away in the back of his mind. Apparently dragon’s names were useful things to know. The cave was only 100 meters away now, and getting closer. The dragon was stalking him, taking one step for every ten he shuffled. Its long neck kept its snout so close to Maric that he could feel the heat of its breath. Maric was surprised at his overall calm, since it was likely the worst situation he had ever been in, or likely to ever be in. 50 meters.

The dragon roared suddenly as it came to an abrupt stop as its nose beat against an invisible force. “NOOOOO,” it screamed, taking a deep breath and bathing the world in bright orange light. Maric blinked as the world turned dark again, surprised to find himself uncooked. In fact, he realized, he hadn’t even felt the heat of the flame. Whatever magic this was, he was ok with it, but not going to test its limits. He turned and ran for the cave.

“They can’t protect you forever, insect,” the dragon threatened cryptically. “I promise you, I will have my daughter. And I will have your corpse like a battered doll between my jaws when that day comes.”

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