Dear friends, readers and accidental visitors,
You know you’ve been a bad blogger when you can scroll down the first page and still see a post from last year. Oops. My excuse: grad school. My apology gift: a novella-length story. It’s a fairytale retelling (it should be obvious fairly quickly which one), and decidedly not Christmas-related. But I have the entire thing written and no plans for it other than having it take up hard drive space. There’s a Prologue + 10 installments, and I will not leave you hanging because again, its already completed.
I hope it adds some warmth and fun to your holiday season!
Beneath the Dragon Skies: Prologue
The yawning, rounded boulders rose above the cavern, sheltering its black entrance like stone wings. Demarion swung his left leg up the steep incline and thrust himself onto the last foothold. His breath came short and heavy. He leaned against a rock fissure and looked down at the impossible path snaking through the Adamaris Mountain.
The endless spiral of gray stones stared back at him, almost mocking with its winding and sudden cliffs. He shut his eyes against the vertigo and tried not to think of the return journey.
Turning to the cavern, Demarion caught a flicker of light. A fire burned at the end of the dark passageway. He stepped inside guardedly, his hand wandering to the hilt of his sword.
A familiar face withdrew from the shadows, her eyes vibrant behind the flames.
“Dear Demarion!” she exclaimed. Something false in her voice belied her smile. “So many seasons have passed without a visit from you. I was beginning to think you had forgotten me.”
He studied the woman before him and felt a quiet ache. Her familiar face recalled happier times, but he also discerned the acrimony that tinged the rim of her gaze.
“No, Sela,” he sighed, “I do not forget so swiftly. But your home is not easy to visit.”
Sela laughed and rose to her feet. He followed her as she drifted towards the mouth of the cave. The first hint of sunrise crept up the eastern skies in rich rose-gold shades.
“But the view is spectacular.”
“It comes with a cost,” he returned dryly. “You are steps away from a straight plunge into oblivion.”
She whirled to face him, her silver shawl billowing behind her. “There does not seem to be a place for me elsewhere in the Adamaris.” Her tone hardened. “I did not even merit an invitation to your latest celebration.”
An icy wind swept through him and a tingle of fear raced down his spine. He and Sela were friends once, in better and brighter days. Her seclusion was not entirely her choice; cruel circumstances drove her to seek refuge when the Phoenix clan fell into civil conflict, scattering most of their people across the mountain. Many died, for the Adamaris was an unforgiving place to those alone and without resources.
But her years in isolation made her volatile, and Demarion guessed the bitterness of her fate gnawed at her. He might have pitied her, but he knew she would despise it.
“I thought it unfair to ask a man to brave your heights for the sake of a festivity.”
“You could have come yourself.”
“Why do you think I’m here?” Demarion watched her carefully. “But it seems you have heard the news already.”
“I have my ways of finding out.” She slipped her shawl down her left shoulder slightly, and a dark red phoenix tattoo peered out. Her mouth curved into a half-smile. “My heartiest compliments to you and the mother. How is dear Ziva?”
Demarion felt his ire rise. “Do not pretend to care for her,” he snapped.
“Oh, Demarion. You think so little of me now.”
Her disdainful tone drove out his lingering fear, replacing it with hot anger. He bit his lip and tried to contain his temper, but her serene and insincere expression looked foreign. Whether it was the ravages of time or the cruelty of circumstance, he could find no trace of the high-spirited girl from his youth.
“It is not what I think of you, but what you are,” he murmured. “I have a clan, and a wife with child, depending upon me. Yet I risked this terrible climb for the sake of our old friendship. Have you no kindness or warmth left?”
She took a threatening step towards him. “You speak of kindness?” she hissed. “You speak of prizing an old friendship? You have distanced yourself for your own political gain. The Phoenixes are hated by all the clans.”
“I offered you a place among my people,” he rumbled.
“Years ago. But now you are Chief of the Dragons. How could you be seen as a friend to me?”
Her mockery cut like a knife through his fury. Demarion felt a still, strange sadness grow inside him.
“You do not know me, Sela,” he said quietly, this time without resentment. “I must go.”
He strode to the edge of the cave, about to begin his rocky descent, when she called out after him.
“Since you did make this dreadful trek to see me, I should return a favor.” She paused. “For the sake of our old friendship.”
Demarion felt his gut coil painfully. “No.”
Sela appeared beside him, her dark eyes haunting. “I merely wish to warn you. A famine is fast approaching the Adamaris. The greenery will die, food will be scarce—you can imagine the rest.”
He looked hard at her. “Why should I believe you?”
“You know I have the gift of foresight. Now, would you like to know how to end the famine?”
Demarion made no reply.
“Make peace with the Sparrow clan. The land cries out from the battle and bloodshed, with Dragon fighting Sparrow for control of the Adamaris.” Sela met his gaze. “How could you not tire from this ceaseless strife, Demarion?”
He felt the wrath surge inside him again as realization set in. “Peace will end the famine? Do not take me for a fool, Sela. This is not foresight. This is a curse!”
“A curse? You flatter me, to think I have the power to curse an entire mountain.” Her voice rang insincere.
“I know you are no stranger to curses.”
“No, I am not,” she mused, a distant expression overtaking her.
Demarion gave her a dark glare as he turned to leave, but she reached out and grasped the collar of his cloak. Immediately, his hand seized his sword and partially unsheathed it, the sound of metal ringing clear into the morning air.
She glanced down at the weapon and shook her head. “You distrust me so.” He loosened his grip, narrowing his eyes at her. “I was not finished. Given this formal breaking of our friendship, I ought to leave you with a parting gift.” Her tone remained calm but sounded eerily hollow.
“Sela, do not do this,” he raised his voice.
Caught in a trance-like state, she ignored him. “I will give you a sign to mark the start of the famine. When it is about to commence, your child will prick herself on the thorns of a Rosa Rubiginosa—your favorite flower, I remember—and fall into a deathly state, drifting in dreams until her mortal flesh fails.”
“No! Sela, you cannot!” Demarion’s anger transformed into horror.
“Oh, but dear Demarion,” she said, “I already have.”
“Undo this black spell!”
“I’m afraid I’m unable to. Perhaps another Phoenix could help you, but it seems you’re hard-pressed to find them in the mountain these days.” Sela looked at him coldly, releasing her hold on his cloak. “Give my greetings to Ziva.”
She vanished into the shadow of her home and Demarion fell against the stony ground, white-faced and trembling.