A Dragon's Path to Ascension

It’s still Tuesday somewhere isn’t it? Here are the first pages of the new short story. Still working on the blurb… The working title of the story was “An Honest Bet”, but as is obvious from the cover to the side, I went with something else instead…

The full story should be available this week. Enjoy!

The Fourth Era

The attack on Uutta Toivoa is now legend, passed down for generations.

Happiness Denied

“Please forgive me, I’ll try to make this quick,” Tharia whispered, raising the sickle in her right hand. Her other hand was wrapped around a bunch of branches hanging down from the old weeping willow in front of her. For a brief moment she listened for a response—and to anyone else, the faint hum of the leaves and the deep, crackling sounds coming from the tree’s trunk would have just been the usual sounds of the forest. But to Tharia, it was the mental nod from the tree for her to go ahead. The sickle sliced through the plant with ease.

She tied the branch pieces with a small string and strapped it to her back. Ready to move on, Tharia picked up her over-sized and already overflowing shoulder bag from the ground. She only had a few more herbs to forage before she had everything she needed.

She left the giant tree behind and ventured back into a denser part of the forest. Rays of midday sunlight fell through the foliage high above, making it easy for her to look for the right plants to harvest. After an hour, only cloud berries remained on her list.

Tharia stood up, stretched her back, and turned her pale face towards the sun. She closed her emerald-green eyes and enjoyed the soothing warmth for a minute while listening to the gentle rustle of leaves and bird songs. The day was so pleasant—she hadn’t felt this happy and relaxed for a long while. Her thoughts wandered back to the place she was born and to the days she had spent basking in the sun for hours while pretending to work in the orchard.

She snapped back to reality at that memory. It was quite unusual for her to think back to those times. She shrugged and took out an apple from the pocket of her large, hooded cloak. It must have been the sunny day and the smell of spring that got to her. She took a bite and started walking toward her current home.

Tharia reached out mentally to Dru, her dragonling, and giggled as leaves brushed against its scales, causing her to vicariously feel a sensation akin to a tickle. The small lizard was following her, flying high up in the tree tops. She withdrew her presence from the creature, letting its animal side take over. An occasional mental nudge was enough to keep Dru out of sight in case she stumbled across a villager wondering around the forest. Hidden amongst the foliage, the dragonling could easily pass for a large bird.

After half an hour, Tharia reached the spot where the cloud berry bushes grew. She had purposefully made this the last item on her list as they happened to thrive not far from her house. The shrubs were heavy with fruit and easy to pick. The sticky red and orange juice trickled between her fingers and down the skin of her hands. Despite the easy pickings, Tharia somehow managed to snag her sleeve on the thorns while reaching deeper into the bush. The tear quickly grew, exposing her white scaled arm underneath. She swore under her breath.

Tharia couldn’t risk anyone seeing her scaly flesh. For the last two years, the locals knew her as an odd hermit living in the forest—a druid they would reluctantly come to looking for help when desperate enough. The few lies she couldn’t avoid had made her tongue bleed more times than she had wished. No, she definitely did not want to be recognized as the young Toivoan dragon she actually was. That would bring unwanted attention.

As far as Tharia was concerned, she was happy with this peaceful life. Mostly self-sufficient and living off the forest, she only occasionally needed to venture into the village to barter for the few items she couldn’t procure herself. She hid Dru constantly and never left the house with more than her face and hands exposed. She even wore an expensive wig crafted from the finest human hair to cover her bald head. An uncomfortable accessory despite its hefty price tag.

Tharia packed up what she had managed to gather and rushed to her small hut tucked away in a forest clearing about an hour from the nearby village. She pulled her cloak over her arm in case she met someone on the way, and she sent Dru ahead to wait in its usual spot overlooking the house. The dragonling always waited until nightfall before coming inside. It kept an eye out for strangers from the tree tops. Even though visitors were rare, Tharia preferred to stay cautious.

Once inside, she dropped her bag on the simple wooden table, right next to a small pot that had violets growing in it. That was the one childhood reminder she allowed herself to keep. The fragrance brought memories of her mother and of the good times with her sisters before she was sent away to train and study with other Verdure children when she was nine. But that was all in the past, and something she so far had managed to successfully leave behind. The one thing that she refused to forget was the promise she made with her siblings to never hurt each other.

* * *

Tharia stirred the soup, before giving it a quick taste. She sensed Dru’s hunger rising, matching her own feelings. She calmed her dragonling, filling the lizard’s body with her mind’s presence. She would let it hunt for some rodents once the sun went down.

She reached up to grab some herbs from the jungle of items hanging above the hearth. Careful not to knock down the string with thin slices of dry meat, she pinched a few bay leaves and some powdered pepper. It would not be long before both of them had their supper, she thought, adding the extra ingredients to her soup and covering the pot with a lid.

She sat at the table and placed a small box on the wooden surface. From it she took out a needle and thread. Relaxed, she pulled up the sleeve of the sweater she had put on after coming home and gently began mending the tear in the shirt underneath. Patience was her best weapon. After a few decades, with practice, her power and skills would raise enough that she wouldn’t have to hide any more. Just like aunt Floresta, whom her mother often spoke about when Tharia had mentioned her lack of interest in Ascending.

“After a certain point you become too strong,” she used to say. ”The young ones won’t challenge you and dealing with hunters stops being a problem. The Council even lets you communicate with your family again.”

Tharia’s mom had shown her some of the letters. Floresta had also pretended to be a druid and it was over fifty years before she decided to come out. After that, she took the town nearby, as well as a hefty plot of woodlands, under her wing. If Tharia could just stay hidden, time wasn’t an issue for her kind.

She finished mending her shirt but couldn’t quiet her mind, so she figured some house work might help. Tharia got up from the chair, walked over to the cupboard, opened it, and took out a simple, ceramic plate. She was about to carry it to the table when, startled, she dropped it. The pottery hit the floor and shattered into pieces, but she didn’t care. With two quick moves she pulled up the loose sleeves half covering her hands. She had to make sure she wasn’t imagining things in the dim light.

But her worst fears were confirmed—faint emerald-colored runes appeared on the skin of her hands one at a time. They pulsed in a slow rhythm, appearing and disappearing in different places. This meant only one thing—another Toivoan was near.

Tharia panicked. Unsure what to do, she grabbed a knife and threw her cloak over her arm. Looking through Dru’s eyes she could see the coast was clear, so she dashed from the house toward the nearest group of trees.

Out of sight at the bottom of a large pine, she struggled with her sweater. For a brief moment, as she tried to take it off, it got a stuck over her head. The shirt underneath had a wide opening in the back, that exposed plenty of scale-covered flesh, and the thick, bulging scar that ran along her spine. She scrunched the sweater into a wooly ball and, twisting her arm backwards, she pushed the sweater against her back. The scar split open and her hand, holding the clothing, went inside. Tharia’s skin tingled as she felt her arm move through Azure that filled the space within. She gently moved aside a few gem stones, careful not to push them beyond her reach, and dropped the sweater. She didn’t want to leave it behind in case someone tried to track her.

She called down her dragonling.

“Bond,” she mentally commanded Dru.

The small lizard landed on her shoulder and spread its body along her back. The scar burst open, swallowing the dragonling into the pouch hidden within. The creature’s tail hung outside, as the opening sealed up around its body. Tharia felt the warmth of the returning dragon essence and swung the tail that was now part of her body from side to side. The scar formed a cross shape over her shoulder blades, stretching to the sides and allowing the wings to spread. The dragonling turned its head sideways and disappeared underneath the scar tissue. Only a single eye remained visible, staring into the distance. She stretched the wings and blinked with the lizard eye. Bonding always made her feel so complete.

She swiftly half flew, half climbed to the top of one of the large trees overlooking the hut and clearing. Leaves and small branches hit her face and arms, but she just wanted to get as high as possible, fast. Once seated between the branches she wrapped herself tightly with the cloak to hide the continuously brightening glow coming from the runes. She whispered to the tree, pleading for it to help obscure her from view. In response, several large branches adjusted their position around her.

(…)

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