Where There Be Dragons - - - - Complete and Edited Story
Posted June 13th, 2018 by Graystorm
June 13th, 2018
Where There Be Dragons
Political Map :
Rain pattered against the leafy fronds of the palm trees. The summer monsoon brought warm rain in cascades, flooding the lowlands, washing creatures out of their dens, and attempting to drowning an orphan shifter. The little she-wolf found herself alone in the world just minutes after her birth, which had been a difficult one. Her mother passed away from loss of blood which she was unable to tolerate due to malnourishment. The little she-wolf would die soon too. The hollow where she was born was quickly filling with water, and even if she managed to escape that certain death, she would need someone to look after and feed her. Something that her mother would have done. So within an hour after her birth, it seemed very likely that the she-wolf would not make it to see the next day. The cleft where she was born would soon become her watery grave. Death lurked near by, hiding behind the fading trees and smokey air.
~ * ~ * ~
The blood rain came down sticky and warm as I ran between the long fronds of moor grass and ghostly milkweed. My silvery white coat was soaked by crimson rivers running down my spine and flank, making me shiver. Breathing became difficult the longer I ran. The downpour of blood was endless and visibility was low, blood coated my panting tongue and stuck to my throat. Cresting a hill, I caught a glimpse of what looked to be a cave in the rocky crag that formed the next bluff. Eager to get out of the dreadful rain, I trotted down the hill towards it, hoping that it would be empty, a place for me to outwait the rains before continuing on to find Antigua.
The rocky ground drew blood from my calloused paw pads. Nose to the ground, I sniffed around the maw of the cave that rose several feet above my head. It leached darkness out into the red and sepia toned sky. From what I could distinguish, any scents around the entrance were stale, but it was hard to tell with the overwhelmingly sharp tang of blood that had leached into my very soul. Despite the cave appearing to be a good place to wait out the storm, a bubble of hesitance formed in my stomach. Something about the cave felt off, wrong and ancient, like it shouldn’t be disturbed.
After a half minute’s more of hesitation, I was desperate to have shelter from the sticky blood, and I tried to brush off my reluctance. There is probably a seer or sprite nearby, I tried to reason with myself. It would be a simple explanation to the churning in my stomach. With a huff that earned me a mouthful of tepid blood, I stalked into the cave.
The iron tang of blood faded away the deeper I traveled into the musty cave. It took an uncomfortably long time for my eyes to adjust to the dim lighting, and even then I could only make out the vague shapes of rocks. After walking for some time, I could detect a soft glow of light in front of me. The ceiling continued to slope downward until it was only inches above my head. Millions of pounds of rocks blocked me from the sky, and the thought made my heart flutter and breathing turn shallow. I was just about to turn back and wait at the mouth of the cave when the squeezing stones that brushed my side disappeared. The roof of the tunnel soared upwards as the floor dropped off in crags that ended 20 feet below me. The first thing that caught my eye was the cavern’s domed roof. Embedded in the stone were crystals that shown like a thousand stars. They sparkled with an unknown light, illuminating the cave with a soft glow. The stone became a sky in my eyes. One that held infinite possibilities and depths and glowed brighter than any horizon that I had ever seen. Stone turned to star and rock into cloud.
And laughter pealed throughout the chamber.
Blood dripped off me in a soft pat pat-pat rhythm as my heart leapt to my throat and hackels rose, a growl ripping from the back of my throat.
I wasn’t alone.
My thoughts flickered back to the mouth of the cave and the relative safety that the blood rain would bring me. But I couldn’t bring myself to leave the starry cave, it called to me in a way that I couldn’t quite understand. The marrow of my bones drew me to pick my way down the cliff face, towards the laughter. Loose stones crumbled around my paws, they dropped to the bottom of the cliff with loud echoing plops, sounding like they were landing in water. There would be no sneaking up on this creature.
The starry roof illuminated the ground features enough so that I could study the floor. A crystal blue lake spread across the bottom of the cave, and I couldn’t make out the end of the cavern. There didn’t appear to be anyway around the water.
I reached the base of the cliff, the glowing water inches from me. Never in my death had I seen water this blue. This clean. Carlomand’s atmosphere was simply too toxic. My tongue darted out of my mouth, lapping at the water. Clean. It was oh so clean. My heart thrummed at the taste.
“Tastes good, doesn’t it?”
A hoarse cackling voice echoed form deep in the cave. My hackles rose, and I bared my teeth.
“Oh, darling. Put those fangs away, they don’t suit you.”
My heart thumped a wild beat, panic flared in my throat. I was trapped. It would take too long to climb back up and that would expose my back.
“Come now, I can’t talk to a wolf, so you’ll have to shift, my dear.”
My ears swiveled back and forth, and legs trembled with a fear that I tried so desperately to suppress. My Fae form was weaker than my wolf form, its muscles were hardly developed. Besides, I prefered four legs to two.
But if he wanted to talk.
Searing pain tore through my body as my bones, muscles, and nerves snapped, melted, and shifted inside of my body. When the shift was complete, it was all I could do to keep from pitching forward into the water. Dropping to my knees, I struggled to keep my balance. Blood coated my body, dried in some places, but still wet where it was thickest. The cold air nipped at my bare skin, gooseflesh dotted my flesh.
Raising my head, the world was hard to make out. Everything was dark, almost impossible to see, but the colours had multiplied by a trifold. The lake gleamed with new facets of blue and the stars made rainbows on the walls.
A chuckle made me snap my head down, eyes straining for the source.
“Now come and find me.”
I glanced down at my bare feet, at the pale hair that hung lank down past my waist, and I slipped into the water.
It was warm and silky, not like any of the inky bodies of water on the surface. I gasped, head dipping underwater. My toes just barely scraped the pebbley bottom. I pushed up desperately, sucking in air. It took me a moment to work my limbs in a way that kept me afloat. Blood seeped off of my flailing limbs, surrounding me in a red cloud of death.
I swam for what felt like miles, breathing coming out in ragged gasps as my numbed limbs struggled to keep my head above the water line. My vision blurred until I could only make out thing a few feet in front of me, I became certain that the voice had lead me to my death. It lured me out into the open water only to kill me. Just as I was about to give up and let the crystal blue become my second death bed, my bare feet scraped on a sharp rock. That rock was followed by another, then another, until I was standing on rocky ground. My legs shook, unstable bearing the weight of my body.
“Come on, She-Wolf, you’ve come so far, don’t stop now. I’ve been looking forward to talking with you.”
I jumped at the voice, it sounded like it was right over my shoulder. Whirling around, I discovered that there was nothing. Just blackness and water.
Another chuckle followed, egging me on. So on shaky legs I propeled myself forward. The water grew shallow the farther I went until it only laps around my ankles. Water shined off my naked body and the cold air chilled me to the bone. Gravel pooled upward in front of me, cresting well above my head. A hulking shape lurked at the top. I snarled, a strange sound coming from my human lungs. It was hoarse and weak.
“So small, so young. Yet you have enough fire in your soul to end up in Calormand. Only the dead with unfinished business end up here.” The shadow started it’s slow descent down the rock pile. On two legs, he seemed to ghost over the rocks, for they were undisturbed by his stride. I backed up farther into the water, reluctant to come face to face with the beast.
“Shh, little one. I don’t bite.” His old voice crooned, begging me to stay.
“Who are you?”
“Ah, and so the little wolf finds her voice. I knew you would seek me out eventually.”
“When a newborn Shifter has enough fight in her that she slips out of Death’s grasp when it had her by the throat, people are bound to talk. You were the first child to walk the cursed hills of Calormand. I knew you wouldn’t be content to remain here.”
I swallowed. Everything that he had said about me was true. When Death had reared its ugly head, smelling of carrion and fear, I fought like hell. I slipped out of his rancid hands and fell here, and ever since I forced myself to stand on my weak newborn limbs, I had been searching for a way out. However, Calormand had a magic hold on its inhabitants. I had spent countless moons here, but I hadn’t aged a day since my birth, and still hadn’t been able to find an end to this wretched landscape.
“Well, what can you do for me?” I raised my chin, defiant despite the churning fear in my stomach.
A rumbled laughter erupted softly. He reached the bottom on the slope, remaining still as I studied him thoroughly from top to bottom. He had a sharp face and delicately pointed ears, hinting at Fae heritage, but his hair was a matted brown, looking like it hadn’t been washed within the last century. His frail body was covered in a patchwork of pelts, some were fur covered, but others looked to be human and Fae skin.
“I’m surprised you don’t recognize me.”
He grinned with feral delight, revealing a row of pointed teeth like little daggers, showing his identity.
“You’re a Seer” I breathed. Never had I met one before, I only heard about them in passing, knowing only that they were powerful entities that could see into the future.
“Hmph,” the Seer looked down at me with scorn. “I am not just a Seer. Antigua is my name. I was the most powerful Seer when I was alive, and death has only heightened my abilities.”
My heart stuttered, unsure if I had heard him right. It couldn’t be that after all this time I had found the ancient being that had the key to my freedom.
“You were the first undead on Calormand,” I breathed.
Antigua dipped his head, eyes roving over my bare body in a way that made my skin crawl. He looked at me like he could see my very soul. Maybe he could, it was said that the Antigua’s power was endless. That he could see when the Gods created the world and when the Gods would destroy it.
“How do I get out?” My voice came out barely a whisper, I almost didn’t dare to hope that there could be a way out. I couldn’t let myself get my hopes up. I would probably never see real stars, or watch gulls soar over a roiling ocean teeming with the wildest creatures. I would never be able to run barefoot over the pine beds in a forest, darting along with deer and rabbits. I wouldn’t be able to find where I was brought into the wretched and beautiful world, where my mother’s body decayed into the forest floor. And most of all, I wouldn’t be able to travel off the known map, to go where there be dragons. Discover the undiscovered. Breathe in air that no faerie or man had before.
I couldn’t get my hopes up, for I would only be disappointed when I found that I couldn’t escape.
“So forward. I like it. Life is too short to waste, or, should I say, death.”
I leveled a stare at Antigua, wanting a straight answer.
“A life for a life, that is the way that Death and Life operate,” Antigua began. “Only creatures who die with unfinished business come here, the rest are granted with a peaceful black eternity. Us, we wanted more from Life. We were cheated from what we thought we deserved. There had never been a child on Calormand, much less a newborn. You were the first. Children, they don’t think Life owes them anything, they don’t know any better. But you were different. You wanted more. So here you are, wanting more.
The first child in Calormand, and you would become the first creature to leave. It has never been done before. Even talented High Fae haven’t found a way.”
“But no one’s had the help of a Seer.” I tried to project my voice, put strength into my wavering words.
Antigua dipped his head in acknowledgement. Turning around, he faced the mountain of loose rocks.
“Come with me.”
Antigua started back up the hill, twisted feet hovering just above the stones. My ascent was less graceful. Pebbles spilled around my clumsy Fae feet, causing me to slip and slide backwards. The evidence of my struggle was told through the loud echoes of falling stone. Blood rushed to my neck and cheeks. My legs shook by the time that we reached the top, and what I saw took my breath away.
An almost perfect circle, a film of water stood vertically in front of me. Shining in the water’s surface, it was like a window into another world. A clear picture, disrupted only by the occasional ripple, palm trees with leaves a vibrant green. They swayed in a wind, tall grasses brushing against their trunks softly. And just past the tree, past the sand pale as snow, a turquoise ocean stretched on and on. Whitecaps rose and fell. Sea touching the sky. A sky that promised adventure and freedom and clean air, unlimited opportunities. It promised a future worth killing for.
“Pretty, isn’t it?” Antigua’s voice broke my stare. I glanced at him. He looked just as entranced with the image as I was. An untold longing was hidden in the depths of his milky white eyes.
“The Gods thought it fit to curse me with everything that I couldn’t have. The key to escape. A view of the world. But I can never leave. This is it. Forever.”
I glanced at his forlorn face, wrinkles etched permanently on the Seer’s aging skin, and I thought that I saw tears prick under the corner of his eyes. I wondered if we had more in common than I first thought. We both wanted what we couldn’t have.
“Then help me,” I said desperately. “Please.”
Antigua looked down at me, and maybe he saw the desperation in my eyes, maybe he had already made up his mind the moment I entered the cave, but it didn’t matter because he nodded his head and I could already taste the salt in the air.
“I will help you, She-Wolf. You were too young. Life will take you back, but you need to slip past Death, or barter with him.” Antigua’s face was drawn.
“How do you barter with Death?” My voice quavered, both with excitement and fear.
“Provide him with another life of equal value and he will let you go.”
“So you kill? That’s it?”
“No, She-Wolf, that’s not it, Life will only take back the worthy, murdering doesn’t put you in a good light. Life will either judge that the action was warranted and grant you back your life, or she will turn you away, cast your soul to the Intbetween.”
I growled in impatience and desperation. “So what? Are you telling me that there is no certain way out? You filled me up with hope and now you crush it?”
Antigua looked at me. “You might make it. You’re so so young, Life might be forgiving. It’s the only chance you have.”
My heart stuttered an unnatural beat, desperation made me reckless.
“So how do I find a living shifter? I’ve never seen anything alive in Calormand before.”
Antigua looked pained, like he was handing me the key to eternal damnation. And maybe he was, but not much could be worse than Calormand.
“This portal will bring you to the edge of Calormand. There’s a chance that you might be able to find a living soul trying to cross the border. They’re Idiots, don’t know what’s good for them. But She-Wolf,” Antigua looked at me imploringly. “Be careful, you cannot push around Life like you did with Death.”
I nodded my head slightly and breathed, “Thank you,” Then I turned to the portal, the sea sparkled with possibilities that I might soon discover. And so, with hope in my heart for the first time in a long time, I stepped forward into the portal that would either save me or kill me once and for all.
Toxic air mixed with a crisp breeze. Death and Life at a crossroads, neither one able to overtake the other. I crouched in the grass, tongue lolling out, desperately trying to cool off in the hot and muggy heat. A moon had passed since Antigua had sent me through the portal. I had landed right inside the border that I spent so long trying to find. Less than an hour ago I had scented a musk on the wind. The creature that carried the scent grew closer. I could heard grass rustle in the distance, growing closer. My heart thrummed in my chest. This could be the moment that I had been waiting for. I could taste freedom on the tip of my tongue.
A ferret nosed its’ way through the underbrush, brown coat sparkled with sunshine and Life. My breath hitched in my throat. This was the moment that I had been waiting for. The ferret moved with caution, head high, sniffing the air frequently. This didn’t bother me though, for I was down wind and hidden behind a stiff clump of moor grass. I shifted my weight to my haunches, ready to pounce. The ferret just needed to move a couple steps forward.
I lept in an explosion of fur and teeth.
The ferret screamed.
My teeth wrapped around its neck, crushing bone like a twig.
It trembled in my jaw, chest raising in one final breath before falling still.
Nausea roiled over me in a wave.
Blood seeped on my tongue and down my throat.
The world blurred in front of me before turning black.
Balls of white light swam hazy circles in my vision. Nothing made sense. The floating orbs started to clear, revealing a fuzzy scene playing out in front of me. A male Fae, stood in front of a female. She had one hand in his, the other one hoisted a child to her hip. Another little Fae sat whaling on the ground. The grown female had tears running down her cheeks, making track marks through the dirt on her face. Her brown eyes, dulled with pain, flickered over what must have been her mate. She drunk in the sight of him like she might never see him again. He twirled a lock of her long golden hair around his finger. He had scars covering his broad hands, dirt under his fingernails. The female choked back a sob, releasing his hand to clutch the dirty blonde hair at the nape of his neck.
“Shhh, Esposa. Everything will be alright. The General will send me back, just as soon as everything has settled on the Calormand border.” He caressed her face, pressing a kiss to her forehead.
“But what if Death remembers your scent? Marido, he’s almost caught you before. Stay. Help me raise our children.” A fresh wave of tears glistened in her eyes.
Marido bent down so her was at eye level with the young Fae who had since grabbed on to his leg. The little Fae’s face was red and puffy, it made his bright blue eyes stand out starkly.
“Hush now, Joven. Papa will be home soon. Esposa, I am doing this for our children. They deserve to grow up without having to fear an invasion from the Dead.”
Esposa stifled another sob. Mardio brought Joven close to his chest, cradling the young one. He murmured into Joven’s ear, trying his best to reassure the crying child. After several long minutes Joven finally quieted. Mardio set down the child, and Wwith a grunt, he rose. He gazed fiercely into Esposa’s eyes, like he could convey all of his love for her in that one look. He ducked in and gave the child propped on her hip a swift kiss.
“Goodbye, Paloma,” Mardio whispered into her chick fuzz hair.
With one final heartbreaking kiss, Marido turned from Esposa, walking a few paces before his form shrunk and shifted. All that remained after the transformation was a little ferret, one that looked uncannily similar to the one I had just killed.
Or did I?
Time didn’t make sense.
My head swirled like the scene in front of me.
Everything shifted and spun until I was suddenly crouched behind the moor grass again. A ferret sniffing the air with caution walked meer paces away from me. A ferret who was Fae. A Fae that had a family to protect. A mate and two children who all expected him to come home safely.
Yes, he had a family, but my dream was too vivid to ignore. The fire in my stomach couldn’t be put out. It made me a heartless wench, but at this moment I didn’t care. Marido could take my place in Hell.
The ferret screamed.
My teeth wrapped around its neck, crushing bone like a twig.
It trembled in my jaw, chest raising in one final breath before falling still.
The world went black.
You’re a brave little She-Wolf, aren’t you. Brave, brash, insolent. I provided the dead who wanted more with a home. I gave them life after death. Was that not enough for you? I gave you consciousness and you still mean to barter your dead soul?
I want my life back more than anything. What you have given us isn’t Life, it’s Hell. I would murder a thousand more like Marido if it meant freedom.
I doubt that Life will be keen on that idea, but you have given me a soul, and I am a God of his word. A soul for a soul. You may go. But I can’t guarantee that Life will accept you, and trust me when I say that belonging to neither Life of Death is a Hell a million times worse than Calormand.
That’s a risk I’m willing to take.
Oh, baby She-Wolf. You were one of my favorites. So much desire in your heart. You would have done great things had Death not snatched you while my back was turned. So you want life again. Why should I give a murderer a second chance, hmm?
I was stolen, robbed from. Life was my chance to see and hear, touch, and feel the world. Death took that chance from me, throwing me into the pits of Hell.
You threw yourself there.
Better Hell than nothing. Please, give me back my life. I beg you. Give me a chance to travel the seas and forests. Let me go off the maps into the wild blue yonder. Let me discover the unknown. Please. This flame inside of me will never die, so you either give me back life, or I’ll unleash my fury on the Inbetween.
You have the guts to command me? You are at my mercy. Besides, what could a mortal like you do in the Inbetween?
Hmm, you were the first in a millennia that fascinated me. I planned on watching grow up, it would be a shame to throw that away again when here you sit, right in front of me. You have one more shot, She-Wolf. And remember, Life doesn’t give second chances often.
Thank you. I hope we won’t met again for a very long while.
Rain pattered against the leafy fronds of the palm trees. The summer monsoon brought warm rain in cascades, flooding the lowlands, washing creatures out of their dens, and attempting to drowning an orphan shifter. The little she-wolf found herself alone in the world just minutes after her birth, which had been a difficult one. Her mother passed away from loss of blood which she was unable to tolerate due to malnourishment. The little she-wolf would die soon too. The hollow where she was born was quickly filling with water, and even if she managed to escape that certain death, she would need someone to look after and feed her. Something that her mother would have done.
Death hovered over her shoulder, eager to snatch another soul, but before the she-wolf could sigh her last breath, a mountain cat jumped down from a tree. Water splashed as he padded forward, nosing the wolf. He gave her coat a rough lick, causing a mewling squeak to come out of her. This struck a chord in the puma’s heart. In one swift motion, the puma shifted into his Fae form. Dipping down, he picked up the waterlogged pup, cradling her against his chest. Murmuring soft words into her fur, the puma vanished into the trees.
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