“It’s Shay! She’s trapped! We’ve got to save her!”
Seven-year-old Jake woke up panicked and hyperventilating in the shadow of a dragon’s grave.
“Jake. Take it easy. It’s okay.” His sister Mandy had him by the shoulders. His eyes looked glazed, like he was still asleep. She hugged him close to her. “It’s okay. We’re all here with you.”
He started to calm down but was still trembling. “Mandy, you’ve got to believe me. I saw Shay. She’s been captured, I don’t know how long ago. We’ve got to find her. They’ll kill her if we don’t.”
Then he felt a hand on his shoulder. “You said you saw Shay in a dream?” It was Dani, the dragonrider. Her voice was calm, but her own experiences told her that dreams carried great and terrible messages.
The little boy pulled away from his sister and looked back. “Yes. She was in some dark place, a forest or a cave maybe. They had her tied up in chains. She looked awful, all cut up, bruised, and bleeding.”
“You’re sure it wasn’t just a dream.”
“I know the difference between a regular dream and one of these. It’s how you got your armor and shield.”
The sun had already risen, and except for Jake, they’d all eaten something for breakfast. Paris decided to take a walk, but the rest of them were still in camp.
It was unusual for any one of them to sleep past dawn, but when Mandy got up and saw her brother was still in his bed roll, she decided to let him rest. They were all just children, and it looked like exhaustion had finally caught up with her little brother.
“Not sure what you’re talking about. Look at that.” Taylor stopped putting away the archery equipment he’d been practicing with and pointed straight overhead. There was something large sailing directly above them.
“Shay!” Dani smiled. “What a relief. She’s okay.”
“It can’t be. No. It isn’t her. Maybe it’s never been her.” Jake stood up suddenly. “We’ve got to get out of here.”
“What are you talking about?” Mandy tried to hold Jake again but he pulled away.
“I’m telling you it’s not her.”
The golden dragon was slowly gliding closer to the ground, circling the group of children below.
Dani wanted to believe the boy, but she remembered that she promised herself to put her doubts about Shay aside and trust her mentor.
Zooey was the only one sitting down. She had been petting Sapplehenning while holding him on her lap, but at the first sight of the dragon, the little mouse dove into the top of her shirt. “Stop being such a fraidy cat. Shay won’t hurt you.”
The mouse remained inside her top, trembling as badly as Jake had been.
Taylor was about to wave at Shay, but he felt, more than heard, the insistent voice inside of him, the one belonging to the dead soldier and guard of the Mountain Kings. Something wasn’t right.
“They came. We thought it was…”
Those were the last words Icarus spoke to Dani before he died. Something with enough power to kill four dragons was prowling the land. The woodland creatures had watched over them last night, saying whatever it was could be nearby, but not so near as to be a danger.
But that was last night.
Dani almost reached for Witherbrand’s hilt, but the impulse felt foreign in the presence of her closest friend.
“They came. We thought it was…”
They came. More than one of them. We thought it was. Icarus and the others thought it, not they, was someone else.
For something to get close enough to kill four dragons, they must have thought it was a friend. They had left Vovin to search for them; to search for Shay.
“It’s not Shay! Run! She’ll kill us all!” Jake bolted out of the camp.
“I’ll get him.” Taylor started to follow his brother but the voice in his head and the feeling in his bones wouldn’t let him alone. “What if he’s right?”
“I’m here, my children. I’ve come to take you home.” It was the dragon’s voice and she sounded as warm and comforting as ever.
Dani and Mandy were still standing next to each other near the center of the camp. Zooey was on her feet on the other side of the fire. Jake had disappeared into the underbrush, and Taylor was frozen in place. They were all staring at the large dragon as she landed at the edge of the clearing.
“Where are Jake and Paris?” Shay’s voice was melodious but now carried a hint of threat. “I need you all together, my children. I want to keep you safe.”
Jake had screamed that it wasn’t Shay right before he ran off. Taylor was still wearing the archery equipment. “There’s one way to find out.” The nine-year-old felt half-crazy. He was about to shoot a dragon the size of a small school bus with an arrow that was only thirty inches long. It would be like sticking an elephant with a safety pin. But the voice wouldn’t relent. Somehow, it knew the dragon was there to murder them.
The creature made an enormous target as the boy drew back the feathered shaft and let it fly.
He struck the dragon in the center of her chest, and then Shay exploded into a large cloud of soot and smoke.
“We are discovered! Attack!” The voice of legion cried out from the billow of darkness.
“Imps!” Dani recognized one of the traditional foes of the dragons, both from the legends the dragons told, and from the tales Paris nightly read to them from her book.
In place of the mighty dragon was a vast scourge of dark, airborne demons, each the size of a bat. They fluttered and soared around them, clawing and biting at the children’s exposed skin.
Zooey ran back to her sleeping bag and hid inside, and the three older kids tried to fight as best they could. His bow useless against such small beasts, Taylor drew his sword Celeste and started swinging, and Dani followed his example using Witherbrand. Mandy was trying to use her cloak to beat back the pests, but they were getting through, and they were scratching her all over her face and arms.
When struck by the blades, the imps were sliced in two and fell, but there were too many of them. Taylor knew the battle was hopeless, but he had to keep fighting.
Several of the imps merged together to form larger creatures, and Dani saw those had claws that matched the marks on Icarus. Her armor protected her from the first attack, but Mandy behind her was vulnerable and helpless.
Taylor was hit in the side and knocked down. Imps crawled all over his back, pinning him to the dirt while raking his flesh.
They were working their way into Zooey’s sleeping bag.
Mandy was covering herself in her cloak, which was rapidly becoming tatters.
Blood was streaming down Dani’s face and arms as she continued slaying the demons, Witherbrand spattering their bodies and bile across the landscape.
Then there was another sound besides the twittering and cackling of the imps. It was the call of birds of prey from above.
The convocation of eagles had approached from the east and descended upon the imp cloud. Several flew directly for Zooey’s sleeping bag and tore the attacking imps apart with beak and talon. Others protected Taylor, Mandy, and Dani, driving the demons back. Nearly half of the scourge that had formed the dragon were now dead, but even though the eagles continued to slay them, the creatures battled on.
Storm clouds had rapidly darkened the sky, and the sound of thunder made the ground shake, and then split open.
It was the dragon’s grave, and like the legendary phoenix, the specter of Icarus rose from the dead.
“You surprised us before, but this time, we are prepared, plus you have already been sorely pressed upon. As the silver dragon attacked, he was joined by three other apparitions from the gloomy veil above. With their companion, Daedalus, Minos, and Theseus wrought grim vengeance on their enemies, finishing what the eagles had started.
In moments, the murderous shrieking faded and then was gone.
Still gripping Witherbrand, Dani was on her knees huddled over Mandy. Their eagle guardians had left them to feast on the demonic remains. Four of the avians remained standing over Zooey as she hesitantly peeked her face out of her bag. She was only lightly wounded, unlike the others, but no less terrified.
Taylor managed to roll to his side in order to witness the carnage. The convocation was hurriedly consuming their former attackers, even to lapping up their vile blood.
Icarus, or what he had become, alighted next to Dani, while the three other dragons circled overhead.
“Oh, darling, wish that it were so, but to the place where goes a dragon’s soul after death, we must return. We are honored to serve you one more time before answering the final call to paradise.”
“How did you come back? No dragon has ever risen from death before.”
“The answer isn’t with us, Dani. You’ll have to seek it elsewhere.”
“Shay. You thought you saw Shay.”
“Yes. It was the imps. They caught us by surprise, and by the time we knew what they were, it was too late.”
“Where is she?”
“We never found her. I fear the worst.”
“No. Jake said she was alive. We have to rescue her.”
“I wish we could help.”
“You saved us, you and the eagles.”
“I’m sorry, love. We have to leave now.”
Dani looked up and saw the images of the other three dragons were fading. They were fog vanishing in the light of the rising sun. Icarus took flight and joined them.
Mandy gripped Dani’s left arm and tried to pull herself up so she could sit.
“Rest for a while. You’ve been badly cut.”
The thirteen-year-old tried to smile. “Have you looked in the mirror lately?” They were both smeared with their own blood, which was oozing from a dozen wounds.
“Zooey!” Mandy struggled to stand but fell back down.
“Wait. I’ll see to her.” Dani got to her unsteady feet and sheathed her sword. Then she saw two pair of eagles were still protecting the smallest Davidson. “You called them.”
“Uh huh.” Zooey looked like she was in shock. The normally talkative five-year-old was silent and still. Of Sapplehenning, there was no sign except for a telltale lump in the child’s shirt.
Dani looked in the opposite direction to see Taylor now sitting up as well. “How are you?”
“My back feels like someone drove a lawn mower over it.”
Then they heard another voice coming from the far side of camp. “Help me. He won’t wake up.”
“Paris.” Taylor struggled to his knees, and Dani got to his side in time to hoist him to his feet. The back of the boy’s jacket and shirt were in shreds, as was much of the skin on his back. Only the timely attack of the eagles and then the dragons saved them all from much worse.
Taylor’s twin was just coming out of the brush, striving to pull Jake with her. Dani tried to ignore her own painful wounds as she walked over to help. She couldn’t pick Jake up, but the two girls pulled the unconscious boy back toward the camp’s center, all evidence of the demons now gone thanks to the raptors.
Mandy had made her way to Zooey and had her arms around her. The four eagles had moved off a few yards but did not depart. Finally, all six of them were gathered together again.
“Wake up, Jake.” Dani shook him not expecting a response, and then had to jump back as he suddenly sat up. “The dragons! Are they here?”
The boy looked at Dani as if surprised to see her. “I dreamt of dragons, silver dragons. They came to save you.”
Dani kissed the top of the child’s head. “They did. They saved us all, as did Zooey’s eagles.” Dani turned toward Mandy and Zooey. They both had the same faraway look in their eyes.
“What happened, Paris?” Taylor sat beside his sister.
“I was walking, comparing pictures and notes in my book to the plants around me.” They noticed her backpack was open at the top, and the elven tome was resting inside. “Then Jake ran toward me screaming about Shay trying to kill us. I heard a horrible noise.” She put her hands over her ears, and her face twisted as she started to cry.
“It’s okay, Sis. We’re safe now.” Taylor put his arms around her.
“I know. I mean, I think I do.” She paused to wipe her face. “I’m okay.”
Taylor let her go but sat close.
“Then Jake fell to the ground. I was so scared. He wouldn’t wake up, but he was tossing and turning like he was having a nightmare. All I could do was hold onto him. Then everything got quiet. No one came after us, so I tried to drag him back to camp.”
“It was Zooey and Jake who saved us.” Dani turned back to the kindergartener who seemed like she was coming out of a trance. She was holding tightly onto her older sister and speaking softly.
“Zooey?” Paris hadn’t been close enough to see the eagles, but then she noticed the quartet sitting on a rock near Icarus’s grave, which was closed again. “Jake said he dreamed of dragons.”
“Icarus and his friends came back.”
“What was it? What happened?”
“We thought it was Shay, but it was a group of imps, demons that had come together to form an illusion. That’s how they killed the four dragons and how they almost got us.”
“What do we do now?”
“We’re not breaking camp. We’re in no shape to go on.”
“What about the healing plants? Did you see any nearby?” Mandy had been learning about the local horticulture, and knew Paris’s book contained a guide for using medicinal roots and herbs.
“I think so. I’m sorry. I’m just so scared right now.”
“Can you show me what plants you found? We’re going to need to treat our wounds.”
“I think so.” Paris took her backpack off and then pulled the book out. She showed the pages she had been looking at to Dani and the dragonrider smiled. “Yes, I think these will help. You and Jake aren’t hurt. Do you think you can find where these plants are again?”
“What if those things come back?”
“I’ll go with you. Jake, you should stay here.” Then she pulled him close. “I know you’ve been through a lot. You brought them back. They were dead, and you brought them back.”
“I only dreamed about them, Dani. I didn’t know what was going to happen.”
“Stay here. Paris and I will be back in a little bit.”
Jake nodded and edged closer to Mandy.
“I should come, too.” Taylor started to stand.
“No, you should stay here just in case.” She knew he was in no better shape than she was, but someone had to stay behind.
“Yeah. Okay.” He got up anyway and retrieved the bow and arrows he had dropped a lifetime ago.
The teen picked up her backpack and hoisted it on her shoulder, then made sure Witherbrand was secure in its scabbard. “Let’s go, Paris.”
The little girl put her book back and then donned her pack. “This way.” She led Dani out of the clearing in the direction from which she’d come.
The trees were more plentiful here, but there seemed to be a natural path or avenue between them. The teen could see the marks made in the dirt and the leaves where the younger girl had dragged her brother.
The scorching cuts and scratches delivered to her by the imps now seemed more like a general ache all over her body which made her feel slow and weak. If there were another attack now, she doubted she could do much to defend Paris.
“They’re over here.”
Dani recognized the different varieties of trees and shrubs around her, and especially those that could be used to treat injuries and infections. Some of the leaves could be made into a tea that would hasten their recovery physically and emotionally.
After the proper roots, bark, and leaves had been secured in Dani’s pack, they turned to go back to camp. Then a slight movement attracted the older girl’s attention. “Stay here.”
She slowly approached a dark splotch on the ground. It moved again. She thought it was a small bat, but then realized it was an injured imp.
“Demon.” Dani started to draw her sword and then stopped. She heard Paris approach from behind. Eyes still on the creature now at her feet, she murmured, “I thought I told you to wait back there.”
“Is that one of them?”
“Yes. It managed to escape, but seems badly injured.”
“What are you going to do? Kill it?”
“No.” She released Witherbrand’s hilt and put down her pack. Retrieving a smaller sack from inside, she opened it. “I believe we have a prisoner.”
I wrote this for the Thursday photo prompt: Avenue #writephoto challenge hosted at Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo. Every Thursday, Sue posts one of her original photos, and anyone who wants to participate, can use it as the prompt for crafting a poem, short story, or some other creative work.
I’ve been using these challenges to write the first draft of my fantasy novel at the rate of one chapter per week. So far, they’ve been a tremendous help.
I feel guilty about putting the kids in so much danger this chapter, but the world they live in right now is dangerous, and the demons aren’t fooling around. The plot to have the imps fool them by adopting the guise of Shay has been revealed, but just how long have the imps been impersonating her? While the immediate threat is ended, three of them are wounded, and all of the children are traumatized. The children now have a demon for a prisoner. Will it tell them where to find Shay?
The Table of Contents so far is: