Burn, p.1Penelope Fletcher
Dragon Souls, Volume 2
by Penelope Fletcher
Published by Penelope Fletcher, 2014.
This is a work of fiction. Similarities to real people, places, or events are entirely coincidental.
First edition. January 18, 2014.
Copyright © 2014 Penelope Fletcher.
Written by Penelope Fletcher.
Table of Contents
“I cannot let you do this. Koen will kill me.”
“I’m going to kill you if you don’t help me. I need you to do up my laces, I can’t afford for my cuirass to fall off. I’d be too exposed.”
“You cannot go out there.”
“Why not? It was always dangerous. I just have to be more careful.”
“You will not last five minutes without–”
“If anything can hit me so easily, I have no business being out there. You taught me that.”
Marina slid her helm onto her head. The light steel covered the entire back of her head, narrowing to a blunted point at the nape of her neck, but the front was a heart shape around her face, covering her brow, nose, and part of her cheeks. A high crest of black hair ran down the centre of the burnished metal, and trailed down to the small of her back.
Shield in hand, he faced Daniil like the warrior she was. “You told me I had the potential to be one of the most gifted Chosen you’ve ever seen. Was that a lie?”
“Then help me or get the fuck out of my way.”
“You will die.”
“Daniil, I’ve always been prepared I might not make it through this. I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t willing to risk everything. I’ve always known you believed I didn’t realise the seriousness of my decision to enter Aver, but I did. I understood you, but you never really understood me. I’ve made up my mind. I am doing this. That’s all there is to it.”
Grunting his disapproval, Daniil tugged on her shield to make sure she held it secure. He wasn’t satisfied with her cuirass, so he unlaced it, and began retying it.
On the first yank, Marina felt her body straighten and the air forced from her lungs. She wiggled left to right to make sure she could move. She breathed in and out deeply.
“Stay nimble on your feet,” Daniil instructed. “Do not freeze. Let the fear take hold and you are dead. Do you understand? Keep moving. The leather will protect you in near misses, but it will not deflect a direct blow.” He finished tightening the laces. “What can no beast do unless you want it to?”
“Good.” He leaned closer so his face hovered beside hers. “Why are you here?” She turned to him in confusion, but he knocked the side of her helm. “Stay focused. Answer me. Why do you stand here?”
“To be with Koen Raad.”
“What are you?”
“A Dragon mate,” she replied fiercely.
“What is Koen?”
“A Dragon. King of Dragons.”
“Anastasia is stronger than you. She is faster and has infallible battle instinct. She has trained for this moment since she was born, and she wants to be Empress more than the air she breathes. She has already completed this quest. Why do you think you have a chance at beating her?”
Marina scowled, narrowed her eyes. “Because I’m not here for the throne. It’s a responsibility I will shoulder to keep my prize.”
“Marina, why do you stand here?”
“For Koen. Yes, Anastasia has me beat in every skill in every way, but that doesn’t matter right now. There is one thing I have that she doesn’t, and will never have, the love of Koen Raad. She will not be the one to take him from me. Koen was born a King with a creature of power inside him. He was born to lead. The woman who owns his heart cannot be weak. She must be fierce. She must defeat all others, and stand tall in the face of danger. She must be willing to lay down her life for his safety. She must love him, and honour him until her last breath. She must cherish him, and give him strong sons and daughters to carry his name. I am that woman. I’m not the greatest swordswomen ever. I am not exceptionally smart, or witty, or charming. I have no great beauty. What I have is a deep and abiding love for my Dragon. Nobody will ever love anybody as much as I do him. Ever. I will never fail him.”
Marina snapped her mouth shut, knowing she had already said too much because everyone had gone silent, and was staring at her like she was insane. Flushing, she ducked her head and kept telling herself she could win, psyching herself up.
Her heart raced as she heard the chains moving, pulling the gate up.
Wolves howled, the sound long and low, causing chills to ripple up and down her spine.
Was it her or did they sound hungry?
Large shadows ghosted past the gate.
“Daniil,” she said in an odd voice. “How large are the wolves exactly?”
“Larger than the ones you have on Earth.”
Marina struggled to control the fear. She held onto her composure with her fingernails, but she held it.
“Whatever is out there,” she said quietly. “I will defeat it.”
The horn blared, and the crowd screamed in excitement. The very walls trembled.
Daniil placed a cool palm on her shoulder. “Do not fail him,” he whispered.
Slamming her visor down, she blinked in disbelief when the portcullis was raised fully. Was this real? Taking a deep breath, rolling her shoulders, Marina thought of Koen Raad, and ran out into blood and chaos.
Wolves. Yellow-eyed, fanged wolves double Marina’s size snapped at her heels, lunged from each direction she swerved.
Forced inside a crack bisecting the arena rampart, her legs turned to water. Back to the wall, she sank to the ground. She leaned the heavy shield against her knees and set her spear over the top. It jutted out to impale anything that might squeeze in to get at her.
They laughed. The people of the Dragon Lands – an Empire she once hoped to rule in the dimension she made her home – laughed at her.
Clutching her chest, she begged her heart to slow. It pounded against her breastbone until she worried she’d look down and see blood. The dull pain it caused was distracting. Her ragged, shallow breathing reflected the suffering of her body.
Squeezing her eyes shut, Marina lowered her head.
Breathe. If you fall to pieces, it’s over. Get up.
Scrubbing her damp face, Marina listened.
Pack animals paced outside. Growling, t
Disregarding thoughts of her bloody end should they sink their teeth into her, Marina shoved through the mind-numbing panic and dredged up her training.
Endless lessons and advice Daniil spent weeks hammering down her overconfident throat flooded her mind.
She peeked over her shield to see out the crevice.
Wild eyes blinked back at her – hungry eyes.
Marina shrank back, gasped when an inner presence, an otherness stirred. It woke with a ferocious growl. A surge of fury at being so helpless had her hands curling into fists, and her mind racing for a solution to her entrapment.
She was a hunter not the hunted.
Panting, Marina tried to focus. She shoved the strange feeling into the corner of her awareness and considered her options.
She missed everything when she ran from under the portcullis. Hoarfrost spewed at her and she bolted, suddenly convinced she’d made a stupid mistake thinking she could so this. She had no idea where the wild dragon was – no idea what the terrain looked like.
Find high ground.
She started. That time the voice was louder. A sense of irritation had her skin pulling taught.
Rubbing her temples, she ignored the voice.
Most pressing was how to get out of the tiny hole she had wedged herself into. A plan to run past the wolves and go from there was all she had. Run past the wolves and hope they didn’t bite her head off.
Trembling, she swallowed convulsively.
Marina imagined what Koen Raad’s reaction would be if he watched her frozen body shatter.
He would kill them all.
No one was coming to help her. Staying hidden would mean being declared a loser. The future she planned for was at stake.
The wolves trying to scratch her free moved back.
Lurching onto her feet, shield at her back and spear in hand, Marina shot out of the crevice. Fur brushed her arm. Catching the wolves unaware she made it past them. Stunned it worked she kept running.
Her eyes swept side to side as she took in her surroundings. She made a hard turn. A wolf rushed past missing her by scant inches.
Do not look behind you.
Chills raked down her spine. She ran faster. Terror dropkicked her gut, and she pivoted, this time with purpose.
The ice wolves bore down on her in a cluster of mottled fur sticky with blood. Razor-like teeth as long as her fingers flashed in the failing light.
Marina sprinted to a rocky island and leaped onto the squat cropping of rock. Relying on the strength of her thighs, she took bounding steps until the muscles ached with a deep burn that turned them to jelly when she slowed.
As she climbed, she tried to calm her breathing.
Panic and you are finished.
Reaching the summit, she yelled and spun ready for the attack. All clear. The wolves scrambled to reach her, but had not yet crested the rocky pinnacle.
Marina’s chest heaved. Dry lips curved in grim satisfaction and dark brown eyes narrowed in feral glee. We did it. The otherness uncoiled and stretched lazily, bloated with smugness. She ignored it. After all, she held the high ground, a small victory in itself.
A smaller, nimbler wolf dragged itself over the ledge and lunged.
Primordial survival instinct flared. Her thundering heart slowed. She moved. Jerking to the side her leg slid out to lower her body. She speared the diving wolf through its eye. The collision made her body shudder, but her arm was steady, her form perfect.
Marina’s gaze dropped.
Guilt pieced her heart with thorns.
The wolf was female. It whimpered, legs folding, glowing eyes fading into flat amber orbs.
Prey, the otherness whispered.
Prey was to be devoured not mourned.
Determination renewed Marina’s poise. She yanked the spear from the wolf carcass. Arm raised, she set the neck of the spear onto the smoothed groove on the shield’s outer edge and took up a battle stance.
Panting in great gulps, another wolf appeared.
The larger beast sniffed its fallen pack female, snarled then threw back its furred muzzle in a howl.
Shaking, it coughed, and its dark grey throat bloated.
Marina rolled as hoarfrost spewed from its gaping maw in a glistening arc.
Licking its chops, the wolf launched itself into the air. Tongue lolling and dripping icy saliva it landed on the cracked puddle of ice. The glacial rock shattered into splinters beneath its paws.
Uneasy now, Marina backed away keeping the salivating wolf dead in her sights. Lightning fast, her gaze slid to the side and noted the remaining wolves hadn’t bothered climbing. Her focus snapped back to the present danger stalking her.
Her knees bent and she tensed. Her shield felt heavy, cumbersome, but she was confident, her spear arm steady, and in the right headspace to begin an attack of her own.
A noise reached her ears and she hesitated, eyes rounded in wonder.
Chained to the ground on the other side of the rocks her prize awaited.
The captured dragoness craned her serpentine neck to look up. Its dark purple scales clinked as it quivered.
“I’m coming,” she whispered fiercely.
The wolf inched closer. Teeth snapped. Black claws flexed in anticipation of a meaty kill. The pungent stench wafting from its fur made her eyes water. These weren’t like the beautiful creatures in the human dimension. These beasts evolved to protect themselves from the dragons hunting the land, mutating into a misshapen perversion that frankly sacred the shit out her.
Marina kept up her guard, crouched, spear extended. Their greatest weapon was their frost.
Therefore, I need fire.
The otherness rose.
Energy trilled through her limbs and Marina’s body tensed. Chosen wield magick –Koen Raad told her that. She needed fire, knew the power to summon it was in her blood, but possessed no clue of how to conjure it. Control over the elements had not been part of her eleventh-hour training.
Frowning, shooting a frustrated look at the metal spear tip imagining fire, she felt stupid when nothing happened.
Primal heat ripped through her arm, and the delighting purring of the inner voice filled her ears.
Ripping, burning, slashing, biting.
The spear erupted into a single blue flame the width of the triangular tip.
Excitement at the achievement was fleeting.
She deserved some freaking flames.
The jeering crowed quieted then exploded into a roar of encouragement as she swung the blazing spear.
Marina used the lull in attack to slide off the rocks. The left side of her body was bruised and scraped, but she broke no bones as her soft leather boots hit the ground.
The wolves tracked her. They were intelligent, and had adapted to a better formation to bring her down.
She swayed from side to side, her twists quick and wild to watch them all.
You are not prey, the voice raged.
Sweating under the tension, Marina pretended to focus her attention on the wolf directly in front.
The flanking wolves took the bait. They lunged.
She dropped and rolled.
The wolves slammed into each other, furred bellies stretched as they pranced on powerful hunches, biting and growling, spittle flying.
Adjusting her footing, Marina mirrored her steps with the wolf chomping for her head.
She ducked and jabbed, a single thrust, a deadly extension of her arm.
The spear ripped through the animal’s gullet. Its own momentum pushed the blade deeper until the tip tore through the furry ruff at the back of its head.
Its weight was crushing.
“My god, you stink.”
Icy saliva and hot blood dribbled down the spear onto her arm. It burned – scalded her flesh until tears cleaned tracks down her grubby cheeks. It took all her might to push the dead weight off her body and wriggle free.
She rolled onto all fours then pushed onto her feet, bit her tongue to quell a cry of victory.
The remaining two wolves were locked in a furious struggle. It was best to keep them that way.
Limping to the dragoness, Marina dribbled the icy spit from her weapon onto an iron link. Sliding the spear tip through the narrow loop, a sharp twist of her wrist jarred it in such a way the weakened links chaining the dragoness broke.
Grumbling thanks, the dragoness’ tapered snout nudged between her shoulders. Snuffled the sweaty nape of her neck.
Checking the fighting wolves remained distracted, Marina allowed more of her focus to shift. She ran her good hand over the Dragon’s hide checking for injury.
“You’re not a fire breather, are you? Even so I could use your help.” Marina winced when her frost-burned arm ached. “Will you help me?”
The dragoness blinked violet eyes. She lowered her slender neck in invitation.
Using the hump of a foreleg, Marina climbed and settled onto the dragoness’ nape, clinging to rigid back scales for balance with her bad hand. The almost feverish heat rising from the creature’s body was soothing. It reminded her of riding Daniil, although this mount was smaller and less intimidating.
Rocking back then forward as the dragoness stood, Marina took stock of her situation. Her body ached but was in one piece. Her shield was unbroken and slung across her back. Her helm protected her head. She hefted her bloodied spear higher for examination then blanched at the damage the weapon received during the scuffle. Drips of hoarfrost had frozen the wood and turned the solid rod brittle.
“Don’t shatter.” She fixed her gaze on the remaining threat. “Just hold.”
Feeling the fierce determination of her rescuer, the dragoness reared. Bellowing a throaty roar, smoke plumes gushed from between her fangs.
Blowing smoke was all this breed of wild one could do, but it inspired Marina.
Burn by Penelope Fletcher / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes