Dire Beginning

beginnings

© Sue Vincent

The afternoon sunlight, which had been shining dimly through the mist and overhanging trees, flickered and threatened to extinguish, as if a giant was blowing out a candle.

“They came! They heard me and they came!” In spite of their dire circumstances, trapped between an army of demons on one side and a strangely alien Shay accompanied by the resurrected Sakhr on the other, little Zooey was jumping up and down with excitement. Coming in from high above and crossing the sun was an unprecedented legion of vultures. It was impossible to tell the birds apart as the vast flock began its dive toward the demonic forces, but the girl knew that Gyffus was at the lead. She took the single feather he had left behind, held it up and waved.

The rest of them looked up and then back again at the wounded golden dragon and her companion, Dani’s shadowy reflection, who seemed no worse for wear after having been impaled on the dragonrider’s sword.

“Sakhr! I killed you!” Dani’s right hand ached as she tightly gripped Witherbrand’s hilt. The blade felt heavy, threatening to pull her arm downward, lowering her guard.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Descent

feather

© Sue Vincent

The little girl had picked up the carrion bird’s feather, the only remains of her connection to the griffon vulture who had delivered the dire news of the Great Gray God, and tucked it in her pocket. For a few short minutes when their minds met, she had seen through his eyes, had seen the world from six miles up, flown through clouds and smoke, and witnessed the falling of a god to a vast army of demons. Zooey was only five years old, but in the space of a few weeks, she had seen so much of life and death.

“The Quag Lands.”

Dani stopped them at the edge of some unseen boundary. It was mid-morning and they had been walking through a grassy marsh since just after dawn. For the past hour of their journey, the grasses had become darker and the tree branches more twisted. The air was humid and thick with the smell of the dying, not that there weren’t living birds and animals here, but somehow that life didn’t belong solely in their bodies.

“It’s what I saw.” Jake was standing next to the dragonrider. She knew the way into this stinking pit because it was the one area of the Exile she had always been taught to avoid. The seven-year-old also knew by the dubious virtue of his dreams, both waking and sleeping.

“It gets darker ahead. She’s in there, Dani. Shay’s almost dead.”

They all turned as Paris shrieked. She had walked off to the edge of the trail and was gazing into a shallow pool when she saw it. Taylor was the first to reach her.

Continue reading

Conflagration

conflagration

© Sue Vincent

After Dani attached the leather leg band containing the message to her brother Aidan, Zooey whispered into the crow’s ear and released him into the air. The ebony bird took wing and flew up and northward, disappearing into the midnight blue sky.

Sapplehenning finally poked his head above Zooey’s shirt collar. He had refused to come out while the crow was around, knowing of the bird’s taste for mice.

“Yeah, but why a crow and not a homing pigeon?” Even with the grim task facing them, Taylor still could tease his youngest sister a little.

“Because crows are really smart, unlike you smartypants.” Zooey stuck her tongue out at the nine-year-old just like in the old days before they came to this Exile, and before the demons had tried to kill her. “Besides, homing pigeons don’t work the way you think they do.”

“You’re sure the bird knows where Vovin is?” It had never occurred to Dani to send a message home before, but that’s because she thought Shay was watching over them. Now they were alone, and if there was any hope of saving the dragon, it was with them.

Continue reading

The Dragon’s Library

library

Image found at “Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie.” No image credit listed.

It was a dream come true. Somehow, along with all of the children, a library had been brought from her world into the dragon city in the trees. Nine-year-old Paris walked inside with a solemnness usually reserved for a holy place, like the synagogue her parents took her to in Prague when she was six.

The library had merged with the forest. Trees were growing inside and bursting through the ceiling, and grasses were taking over the floorboards. She wondered where and when it came from. The globe in the corner didn’t look modern, but most of the books she could see seemed recent.

Then she realized only some of them were in English, and about only half were written in any human language.

Continue reading

Decision

turrents

© Sue Vincent

“No, I don’t want you to try to heal it. I want the imp weak and helpless.”

It had been several days since Dani and Paris found the tiny demon unconscious in a nearby wooded avenue. Thanks to Paris’s book and Dani’s tutoring, Mandy’s knowledge of how to use the local tree bark, roots, and other parts of medicinal plants was steadily growing, and the children felt well enough to resume their journey very soon.

“He’s hardly regained consciousness since you brought him back to camp. What if he dies?”

“Then it dies. It’s a demon. It, and thousands of others just like it, tried to kill us, and they did kill four dragons, or have you forgotten that?” The dragon rider was furious, not so much at Mandy, but at the loss of her four friends, as well as the horrible revelation that Shay had been taken by the demon horde. It added to the plague of the visions and dreams where she saw herself murdering the other teenager and her brothers and sisters.

“I’m just trying to help.” Mandy might have been afraid of Dani if she’d faced her anger when their relationship was new, but now she understood that the dragonrider was in pain, tormented by guilt at what she saw as her failures.

Continue reading

Massacre

avenue

© Sue Vincent

“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.”

Continue reading

The Fallen

fallen

© Sue Vincent

Jake saw Dani standing in a gorge between two cliffs holding Witherbrand in her hand. Her blade was covered with blood and she was surrounded by bodies.

“Dani, what happened?”

The seven-year-old looked around but couldn’t see his brother or sisters, that is, until he looked closer at the dead people on the ground.

“Dani?”

She turned and stared at him, but her eyes were so different. Pale, blue orbs gazed at him with malevolence, and she grinned like a predator who had just spied fresh meat.

“What are you doing?”

She wasn’t in a hurry. The teenager strolled almost casually in his direction. Her armor wasn’t what he had given her after his dream. It was red and black, like the demon’s armor, like Sahkr’s.

Continue reading

The Forest

spiral staircase

© Sue Vincent

The Beginning of the Saga of the Davidson Children

Five children abruptly found themselves at night in a dark forest being drenched during a thunderstorm. “Mandy! What happened? Where’s Mom and Dad?” Thirteen-year-old Amanda Davidson felt panic rise her chest. Where were her brothers and sisters? What happened to their parents? How did they get here?

“I don’t know Paris. Stick with Taylor. Can you see Jake and Zooey?”

“Zooey’s here with me, Mandy.” Paris was holding her younger sister’s hand.

“Jake’s right next to me.” Taylor pulled his brother closer to him.

Mandy was trembling from the cold and terror at suddenly being alone with her brothers and sisters and lost in the dark.

“Everyone stay close to me. Paris, get right behind me. Jake and Zooey, get behind Paris. Taylor, you get behind Zooey and make sure everyone sticks together.”

Continue reading

Valley of Blood

splash

© Sue Vincent

Taylor watched the light from the campfire flicker reflected in his opponent’s all too confident eyes, as he picked himself up from off the ground again and raised his bokken. She was already in position, barely winded, while he was almost totally out of breath. He knew his brother and sisters were watching, but he couldn’t afford to take his eyes of his adversary. They practiced with wooden bokken because they were non-lethal, and for the most part, produced only bruises and welts, but it was still a hard fight, harder than he thought it would be.

Dani was six years older than Taylor, was bigger, stronger, and had a longer reach. Eventually, he’d grow taller, but that would take years, and right now, she had every advantage over him, including that of experience.

“You’re getting better, Taylor,” she taunted him. “I think you’ll make a fine swordsman someday.”

“What do you mean someday?” Suddenly, he raised his bokken over his head and charged.

She just laughed and dodged his clumsy attack, but that was really his trap. Taylor wanted Dani to think there was no way to beat her, but if he couldn’t defeat her with strength and skill, he’d settle for tricking her. Quickly, he swung his stick in an arc low over the ground, and hit her hard in both shins. Dani nearly lost her balance, which gave him a chance to score a blow. Even then, she managed to elude his bokken, but not by much.

The sound of two pieces of wood repeatedly striking each other filled the air, and every time Dani stopped to brag about how he’d never be able to stop her, he’d pull out another surprise.

Continue reading

Duel at Orholt

waiting

© Sue Vincent

There was the clatter of two pieces of wood rapidly striking each other, occasionally punctuated by a boy’s voice crying, “Ow!”

It was after another day of hiking, another day in the wilderness, climbing steadily up from the seashore into low hills, heading back toward the Dark Hills which were in fact mountains.

It was after another meal cooked by campfire, and young bellies now accustomed to wild game were satisfied (except for little Zooey who insisted on only fruits and vegetables similar to what a mouse or rabbit might consume). A nearby stream provided fresh water to slake thirst and for much needed, if chilly, bathing.

By the light of the fire and the stars, the Davidson children sat watching the two combatants earnestly plying their trade, or trying anyway.

Continue reading