Heir of Dragons
As soon as the scent of smoke drifted through the air, Sedrix knew something was horribly wrong.
It wasn’t the familiar smell of firewood or the aroma of drying herbs — it was the nauseatingly sweet, putrid smell of charred flesh. His stomach lurched, nausea churning in his gut as the air thickened with the smell. He stood from his place by the riverbed, searching the sky. It was a particularly cloudy day, but the sun still fought for dominance amongst the sea of grey.
Despite the unease building in the pit of his stomach, Sedrix found himself continuing on his path over partially submerged, slippery rocks. Don’t fall prey to your own curiosities, his mother often scolded him. She claimed that was why so many children had gone missing as of late. But eight-year-old Sedrix was far more brilliant than the other children, at least, that is what he chose to believe.
He tiptoed over the roots of the great oak trees, trying to avoid the crunch of leaves beneath his feet. The ground was hard from the first breaths of winter. Though, it could hardly ever be considered not winter. The relentless snowfall and frozen dew was a common weather pattern throughout the entire year.
The forest creaked and groaned against the wind of an approaching storm, and Sedrix knew his mother would be expecting him home soon. Still, he followed the disturbing scent.
Screams broke through the sounds of nature, shattering the peace and sending a flock of birds scattering from the canopy. He wasn’t sure following the sounds of screams was the best idea for a boy his size, but, he thought, neither was following the scent of burning bodies. Of course, curiosity won against rationality, as it often did. But trailing in its wake was a small tendril of fear. The screams had come from the direction of his city.
The grey, stone wall surrounding the perimeter of Fynnir had been built to keep wolves from stealing their livestock and rodents from their crops — but it could do nothing to protect them from the skies.
Breathing through his mouth to avoid the stench, Sedrix pulled himself onto one of the limbs of a tree. It was close enough to the wall that if he scooted across one of the thicker branches near the top, he could drop over to the other side.
The city remained silent and, for a moment, Sedrix thought he had imagined the screams. A trick of the wind, perhaps, or the screeching of a bird flying overhead. Then his eyes were drawn to the odd shapes of the clouds, like something had cut them in half and the edges dissipating, he knew that it was real. Splotches of the cerulean sky broke through the clouds and he had to squint his eyes against the sun. Sedrix stared and stared waiting, waiting, waiting.
Until he saw it.
A streak of black that moved so quickly, he almost missed it entirely. It wove in and out of the clouds — and then it dove. Sedrix hurtled off the wall and ran for his little cottage on the outskirts of the city, where his mother was probably baking maple bread and his father had just gotten home from work, leaving his mud-caked boots by the front door.
People roamed the streets, unaware of the approaching threat. The next few moments seemed to happen in slow motion.
“Dragons,” he heard himself scream, but his voice seemed distant, muffled, like it was underwater. At first, people looked at him, unable to process the word in time, because as soon as realization settled into their expressions, the flames erupted.
Sedrix threw himself to the ground, covering his head as best he could and tucking his legs beneath him. The dragon swept its fire across the city, before arching back up into the sky. Sedrix stared at the scene surrounding him. Lifeless bodies lay burning, burning, burning. When he glanced down, his shirt hung in tatters but no burns marred his skin .
Sedrix reached for the pendant that hung around his neck, a gift his father had given him a few seasons ago, making sure the fire hadn’t melted the fine metal. He rubbed his thumb over the smooth garnet at its center, but it remained cool to the touch. Recovering, he raced down the dirt roads, past the flurry of survivors, and up the stone walkway to his home.
The roof had caught fire, charring the brown shingles to a pitch black. Still, he ran toward it.
“Mama! Papa!” He yelled, bursting through the front door. He stumbled into the kitchen but found it empty. Flames licked at his bare ankles and he stared at them for a moment, hypnotized by the flicking colors and strange warmth against his skin. It wasn’t an uncomfortable warmth, as he would have thought, but reassuring. His thoughts came crashing down with a burning rafter. He tried to yell again, tried to speak, but the smoke in the cottage thickened, infiltrating his throat.
Outside, an ear-piercing screech split the air. Sedrix clutched his ears as the sound tore through his skull. His knees gave way beneath him. The dragon was returning. It took several pounding heartbeats for the ringing in his ears to subside and he was able to pull himself from the floor. Still, his vision doubled.
Scrambling for the door, desperate for air, Sedrix half ran, half fell into the front yard — only to see the entire city now enveloped in flames. Fynnir was small for a city, and was mostly forgotten by the others in Rizelle. Still, it was hard to imagine it being consumed so quickly.
People ran, their screams drowned out by another roar as three full-sized dragons broke through the clouds and dove, their wings held tightly to their bodies.
Green flames entwined with gold erupted from one of the creature’s slender jaw, aiming directly for a group of fleeing civilians. Sedrix couldn’t watch as the fire engulfed them all. Moments later, it let out a loud, caterwauling screech. It sounded much like a mourning cry, Sedrix thought. And when he followed its line of flight, he saw why.
A little blue dragon lay lifeless on the dusty, cracked roads. Black blood seeped from spots where arrows had pierced its soft underbelly. Its two leathery wings lay in tatters.
Sedrix squeezed his eyes shut, just for a moment. For the briefest second, he let himself feel the swell of grief that tightened his chest, for his people, for the dragon. Just as briefly, he let fear wrap itself around his lungs.
And then he ran.
His family had planned for a day like this. All he needed to do was reach the birchwood forest to the east of the city. There, his family would be waiting for him. They would be there, he thought, repeating it over and over in his mind.
Attacks weren’t uncommon but never were they this aggressive. Dragons preferred to hunt alone, picking off stragglers as they wandered too far from the city walls. There were often reports of disappearances, but he’s never seen so many dragons, never expected them to burn an entire city to ash.
High above, circling the perimeter of the wall, was another dragon covered in maroon scales. Its lithe and slender frame gliding through the sky. Despite the destruction, Sedrix couldn’t help but admire its beauty as well.
He ran blindly, following the flow of people trying to make their way towards the city’s gates. He tried to fight his way through, to find another way over the wall, but the current was too strong and they dragged him along. The world was spinning, or maybe it was just his mind — either way, his body threatened to tilt and tumble to the dusty ground, ready to be trampled by the stampede of people. But the crowd was so dense, he was supported by the weight of bodies pressed against him as they kept running, running, running.
Casting one final, unsteady glance over his shoulder, he watched his family’s home collapse.
“Move, boy!” Snapped an older man as he shoved Sedrix out of the way. There was nowhere to go. They were being corralled like cattle. One of the dragons threatened the crowd from behind, spewing warning flames if anyone strayed too far from the group. Now, it seemed, they were being toyed with.
The flow of bodies came to an abrupt halt.
People anxiously shouldered each other, trying to see what had caused them to stop.
Sedrix’s mother had often reminded him that he was small for his age, but now he was grateful for his size as it allowed him to easily weave his way through the packed sea of bodies. The gates towered over the crowd, but crouching in front of the arching iron doors was a dragon, as still as the dead. Its bronze scales shifted against the fiery shadows, appearing a molten gold. No one dared move. Sedrix hardly dared to breathe.
Instinctively, he clutched the pendant, running his thumb over its sharp edges. The smooth gold chain and garnet gem had become a comforting weight against his neck.
The crowd was silent. Some moved their mouths in silent prayer and others shuddered as they held in their cries. This dragon was significantly smaller than the others, no bigger than a horse with a line of vicious-looking horns down its spine. But Sedrix was no stranger to the lore and history of dragons. He knew, with utter certainty, that this was their queen.
From the time his father taught him to read, he studied the age of dragon riders. In secret, of course, because those times have long since been forgotten. Now, as war waged, it was bred into humanity to hate dragons, and it was all because of an ambitious young man.
Matis Waldemar was the first dragon hunter to appear in the Kingdom of Rizelle, and soon, others followed. They led hunting parties, returning home with scales, teeth, claws, and even the skulls of smaller dragons. It was all to impress the king, all to rise in station. The hunters became a symbol of strength to the people. The king hosted galas and festivals in their honor. Colosseums became more prevalent as the demand for duels grew.
Statues were built in Matis’s honor. Children were named after him. He went from dragon hunter to dragon tamer in his time serving the king, able to break the will of any beast and learning to control them.
Everyone loved him. Sedrix loved him, at least, he wanted to. But by the time Sedrix had been born, the ideology of hating dragons was so ingrained in the minds of the people that anything else was deemed radical. Sedrix, however, had tried to chisel away at these beliefs and remember what others had chosen to forget.
Eventually, Matis stopped his work and moved his family to the quiet city of Fynnir to raise his son. A majority of the dragons had fled the mainland and the sport of dragon hunting dwindled. Only in recent years did the dragons begin their attacks again, and it would seem that they had at last found the infamous Dragon Hunter.
The bronze dragon’s eyes landed on Sedrix, as his chest rose and fell in rapid gasps. He glanced downward, bowing his head slightly and feeling his legs begin to tremble. A low, warning growl rumbled deep within its throat, and Sedrix lowered slowly to his knees. Others seemed to notice and followed suit.
Most of the crowd had fallen to their knees, save for one man, statued at the front– from pride or fear, Sedrix wasn’t sure. He struggled to resist the woman frantically tugging at his clothes, until he wrenched his arm away too quickly, causing him to sprawl forward in the dust. The dragon’s body grew taut at this sudden motion It raised her haunches. It’s sides expanded as it drew in a deep breath.
“Run!” Sedrix screamed, lurching to his feet. People shoved and pulled and trampled each other as they tried to get away from the dragon, but they were too slow. The dragon’s tail swung, sending a cluster of scales scattering through the air, and fire erupted from its jaw.
One by one, each scale exploded, blasting fire into the crowd with remarkable force. The impact sent Sedrix flying into one of the crumbling stone buildings. He stared out into the carnage before him, at the charred bodies.
Their deaths were the last thing he saw before he lost consciousness.
Twenty Years Later
Sedrix often found himself with two problems. The first was tolerating his colleague, who, more times than not, deserved to be punched in the face. But he had to admit, his right hook wasn’t very impressive and a broken thumb would only lead to more problems. Physical brutality wasn’t exactly his forte. The second problem was the fact that he was a twenty-eight-year-old man incapable of growing facial hair. While the second problem was more of a vanity thing, he caught himself sulking about it at least three times a day.
Unfortunately, there was no ridding himself of either of these problems. The Infernal Alliance, a guild Sedrix found himself joining over a decade ago, assigned partners based on complementary skills, and for some reason, they found that Dovybas was the only one who made up for the abilities he lacked, and vice versa. Sedrix assumed that it was because he got all his previous guildmates killed.
“I don’t want to alarm you,” Dovybas drawled lazily as he took a sip from his flask. “And don’t look, but those men have been staring at us for quite some time now, and I don’t believe it’s because I’m dashingly handsome.”
Of course, Sedrix looked, because no one who had ever been told not to look ever listened.
The air in the tavern was disorienting as smoke clouded the space, but through the curling wisps, Sedrix could make out a table in the far corner which was far quieter and far more still than all the others. Three men, heads hung closely together, murmured to each other while stealing glances at Sedrix and his companion.
“Shit,” he breathed, finishing off the last dregs of his ale.
“I said not to look. Now you’ve drawn attention to us.”
“Dovybas, you lumbering oaf, their attention was already on us!” Sedrix snapped, daring another look in their direction.
“Yeah, well, you’re the ‘strategic diplomat’, go make friends,” Dovybas said. Sedrix had no intention of ‘making friends’ with these men. They were the type to have already gut you before your first sentence was finished.
“These wanted posters are getting rather inconvenient,” Sedrix said, unfolding a wrinkled piece of paper. “Their accuracy is improving, too.” He stared at the mirrored image of himself, the mussed brown hair he kept tied in a knot, the round cheeks of his baby face, even the pendant was included around his neck in impressive detail.
He then glanced between Dovybas and the poster. Where Sedrix was soft features and a slender frame, Dovybas was all broad shoulders and hard edges and the poster got them all well enough. A scar ran through the tail of his eyebrow, from an accident Sedrix had asked about many times but never received an answer. Any inquiry about Dovybas’s past was often followed by a dismissive grunt. That grunt was about the only thing missing from the poster to make it truly lifelike though; the artist had done a really impressive job.
“Are you insane? Put that away!” Dovybas snatched the paper from his hand and shoved it in his vest. “Besides, that looks nothing like me. I’m far more good looking.” Sedrix rolled his eyes. He watched the barmaid carry a tray of mugs to a table near the group of men, using it as an excuse to steal another glance in at them.
“We should go –” But Dovybas had already done what he did best, and slipped into the shadows, silent and unnoticed. Sometimes, Sedrix thought Dovybas could disappear entirely. Other times, he figured he was just blind as a bat.
“That disloyal bastard,” he said under his breath as he pushed to his feet.
From the corner of his eye, Sedrix caught the movement of the other men standing as he did and beginning their discrete approach.
Sedrix shoved his way through the throng of people, far less graciously than Dovybas presumably had done. He left a trail of angry grumbling and a few choice words behind him, but the entrance was in sight now, so he continued to walk confidently towards it. The moment he pushed past it, Sedrix broke into a run.
There were a series of shouts coming from the tavern and when Sedrix glanced back, he saw the men emerge from the entrance. It only took a moment for them to spot him. The traffic of bodies frantically dove out of the way as Sedrix barreled through people, muttering half-hearted apologies as he went.
Ducking into an alley, Sedrix watched for his assailants. The men craned their necks over the crowd and peered in merchants’ tents before giving up and heading down a road a little farther up from Sedrix’s hiding spot.
Sedrix, however, didn’t slow as he jogged down the narrow alley. He wanted to put as much distance between him and those men as possible and hopefully find Dovybas before running into them again. Weapons and fighting were Dovybas’s specialty, not his. Growing up, Sedrix talked his way out of quarrels until he could slip away. He was good at going around unnoticed, but ever since Dovybas became his partner, with his long legs, broad shoulders, and constant brooding, few eyes were ever off them. He only wished he possessed Dovybas’s power of disappearing when it was most inconvenient for Sedrix.
He glanced over his shoulder, checking for any pursuers but finding none.
It wasn’t until he collided with something solid that he remembered to return his focus to what was in front of him.
A fist connected with his gut and Sedrix fell, seeing nothing but knees while he gasped and sputtered. The blow was so jarring he could only watch helplessly as another fist angled towards his face… His sluggish mind didn’t register the command to move, move, move.
He expected it, anticipated it, but that didn’t soften the dirt as he crumpled like a sack of potatoes onto the road. There was dirt everywhere: it was on his face, in his mouth, mixed in with his blood. An agonizing roar rang in his ears, echoing against the walls of his skull.
It took him far longer than he’d ever admit to recover. He was holding onto consciousness valiantly.
“Evening, fellas,” Sedrix wheezed, trying to regain some composure. Sweat formed on the back of his neck and his brow. Blood dripped down his chin. His fingers twitched to touch the pendant at his neck, but the restraints held him in place.
“I think there might be some kind of misunderstanding,” Sedrix laughed nervously. Words, he needed to search for words that would get him out of this. But his mind was moving in slow motion as the world around him went too fast, too fast, too fast.
His head snapped back, the force of another blow splitting the skin on his lip. A tall, lanky man with a patchy beard and sand-colored hair had struck his jaw.
“Search him,” the man, who very much resembled a mushroom, ordered. His mop of brown hair stuck out on either side of his head. He had rosy cheeks and a big nose. Definitely a mushroom. Through a haze of pain and blurring vision, Sedrix’s addled mind managed to recognize that these men were the same from the tavern.
Two men pat down his clothing, the lanky one and a broad-shouldered blond, while Mushroom stood and watched.
The thin one, who Sedrix mentally affixed with the title of Prince Charming for his delightful brown toothed smile and uneven blond mop of hair, removed a dagger hidden in Sedrix’s boot, one strapped to his hip, and another sheathed behind his back.
“Look, if there was something you needed I would’ve just helped you. I know there’s a bounty on my head, but I can double the prize money. We can forget this ever happened,” Sedrix protested, his senses beginning to recover.
It wasn’t until the lanky man tugged at the chain around Sedrix’s neck did the ice-cold of panic set in. He lifted the little red gem up for Mushroom to inspect.
“Sir, is this it?”
Before he had a chance to answer, something whizzed past all their heads, striking Mushroom square in the eye. It cluttered to the ground as the mushroom man gasped in pain; a simple pebble. A few more pebbles ricocheted around them and soon the three men were on the ground, completely unconscious.
“They’ll recover soon. Might wanna get goin’,” a voice, at a much higher pitch than Sedrix expected, spoke.
Is that a child? Sedrix thought.
From the corner of his eye, he saw a small figure drop gracefully from the roof and walk over to the sprawling men. She slipped a vial from her pocket, uncorked it, and let a drop of the amber liquid slip into each of their mouths.
Sedrix wiped the dust from his eyes to make sure he was seeing this clearly. She removed her hood and sure enough, a little girl with unruly ginger hair stood a few feet away, toeing at one of the unconscious men. Her corkscrew curls cast out in every direction. Her bony little body was swallowed in tattered brown trousers and an ill-fitting cotton shirt. And… she wasn’t wearing any shoes.
“You’re welcome,” she said, a bit irritated by Sedrix’s staring. A wooden sling-shot stuck out from one of her pockets, the other sagged with the weight of her ammunition.
“What did you just give them?”
“Just something to keep them asleep long enough for us to get out of here.” She shrugged.
Sedrix climbed to his feet, his wrists still clasped behind his back and beginning to chafe. He bent awkwardly to pick up one of the daggers with a bejeweled hilt, smiled, and struggled to sheath it on his belt.
“That’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen.”
Sedrix jumped, not realizing the girl was still watching him.
“I mean, like, really, what’s the point of all those sparkly gems on top. Do you hope to blind your opponents with its shimmer? Totally impractical.”
Sedrix frowned, looking back at the dagger. Sure, it wasn’t easily concealed… But it was surely valuable.
“Ooooh, I get it,” the girl concluded abruptly. “You think it’s pretty.”
“No,” he said, gritting his teeth. “It could fetch a decent price in the market, though.”
“But you weren’t planning on selling it, were you?” Sedrix’s face was caught between a smirk and a frown. Who did this kid think she was?
“Perhaps not right away.” He settled with rolling his eyes, unable to hold back a smile. “I appreciate your help, kid, but I best be going now,” he said, wrists still restrained behind his back. He needed to locate his traitorous colleague and get back to the capital before the guildmaster sent him to the gallows for being late.
Dovybas and Sedrix had been sent to Bizben to receive sensitive information from one of the guild’s clients. Dovybas had meant to carry one half of the message and Sedrix had the other. However, it would seem that the two were rudely interrupted before their client could arrive at the tavern. Sedrix couldn’t wait to tell the guildmaster.
“Wait, wait. You owe me. I saved your life.”
“No, I would’ve gotten out of there if you hadn’t interrupted.”
“Interrupted? You were outmatched and shackled! Not to mention, they were about to gut you and run off with your pretty necklace.” Sedrix half choked, half laughed.
“Despite what it may have looked like, I was in perfect control of the situation.”
“Doesn’t matter. I saved you before you could save yourself. Which means you owe me a life debt.” Sedrix halted at the words life debt and released an aggravated sigh. She knew exactly what a guild’s code entailed, and she used it to her advantage.
“What do you want?”
“I need help finding my family,” she said, dragging her foot through the dusty road, suddenly unable to meet his eye.
“And what makes you think I’ll be able to help?”
The girl shrugged.
Sedrix needed to find Dovybas, who also conveniently carried the majority of their money. Despite the years of working together, Sedrix always gifted him with a little too much trust. He made a mental note to not do that again.
That’s what he needed to do, not involve himself with a child leading him on a wild goose chase. But the words life debt rang through his mind like bells, echoing over and over.
He sighed. “Can you get these shackles off me?”
“I thought you didn’t need my help.”
In that moment, Sedrix wanted to throttle her, but she wordlessly snagged the keyring from Mushroom’s belt and unlocked the shackles. Sedrix led her down several different alleyways, distancing themselves from the no-doubt encroaching guards as night descended further upon the city.
“Where are you from?” He asked, after a long stretch of silence.
“I don’t remember.”
“When was the last time you saw your family?”
She shrugged again.
“Kid, you have to give me something to work with here.”
“My name is Midyra, not kid,” she snapped. “A couple of years ago, I woke up on a beach with no memory of where I came from or who I was beyond my name. Since then, all I’ve seen are flashes, not of my past, but of where I needed to go.” There was a long, heavy pause. “During my last vision, I saw your face.”
Sedrix looked her over. She couldn’t be more than eleven, and to have survived this long completely on her own was impressive. She reminded him of what he’d been like in the aftermath of Fynnir as he searched and searched for his family. Those days turned into weeks, months, years, until he lost all hope of finding them. A little ember flickered in the pit of his stomach, a new drive to reunite this girl with her family. To give back to her what he had lost forever.
“What beach did you wake up on? Do you remember the region?”
Midyra didn’t answer for a long few heartbeats. Sedrix counted them, because somehow, deep down, he already knew the answer.
“Fynnir,” she said at last.
Midyra had fallen asleep with her head propped against Sedrix’s arm as they sat at a rickety old table in an equally rickety old pub. It was different from the one Sedrix had been in earlier with Dovybas. This one was nearly empty, save for the handful of soldiers sitting at the bar. He watched the sun dip below the horizon through a cloudy, yellow window. Once the moon had risen to its peak, Sedrix nudged Midyra awake.
“Time to go,” he whispered.
“Where?” She wiped the sleep from her eyes, her curls mussed and plastered to her freckled face.
“There are tunnels under this pub,” he said. “The tunnels will lead us to the grasslands just outside Vizar. Once we get to Vizar, It’s just a day’s sail to the coast of Fynnir.”
Sedrix wrapped the cheese and dried meat he had bought when they first arrived and stuffed it in his pack. Years ago, the passageway had been built in case of another dragon attack, a precaution so that a destruction such as Fynnir could never happen again. Now, refugees often used it to get between the cities without notice. The King was beginning to lose his mind, and with it the loyalty of his people. Many were trying to slip away to the outer cities away from the capital.
To any onlookers, the pair of them looked to be just that — a father and daughter running to a new life. The tunnels were how Sedrix and Dovybas got in and out of Bizben without notice, and one of the entrances lay just beneath the pub.
Little, loose stones littered the ground and Midyra proudly took it upon herself to kick each one, sending them skittering into the darkness. The lantern Sedrix carried only cast a small orb of light around them; he could see his feet and little else. He did his best to keep a tight grip on his nerves, but anxiety squeezed at his chest.
Stalactites protruded from the high ceilings. Sedrix wondered, not for the first time, how likely it was for one of them to break off and run him through. He had a feeling that if Midyra didn’t stop kicking pebbles, he’d be hoping for that very thing.
Moisture clung to every surface, making the air feel heavy and cold. An involuntary shiver ran up Sedrix’s spine. Dovybas had been at his side the first time he’d ever ventured into the tunnels and it had been hard for Sedrix to imagine being bested by anything they could have encountered in the darkness. Having his partner with him then had eased his fears and part of him wished Dovybas was with him now.
The only sounds that met his straining ears were their own echoing footsteps. Midyra’s bravery always caught him by surprise. She walked confidently through the darkness, with no sense of what they were heading towards. Sedrix wasn’t sure if it was impressive or ignorant.
From somewhere ahead, the sound of tumbling stones gave him pause. He looked at Midyra to see if she was guilty of kicking them, but the shock on her face mirrored his own. They halted.
Sedrix pulled Midyra against him, covering the lantern light as best he could. He squeezed his eyes shut, not even daring to breathe, and listened. The sound of footsteps broke the unsettling silence. They were slow, calculated. Whoever was there wanted to impose fear.
Sedrix slipped the bejeweled dagger from his belt, clutching it in trembling hands. Think, think, think Sedrix urged his useless mind. But fear was a paralyzing thing. Every muscle in his body refused to move, to work, including his brain. The footsteps halted. Sedrix couldn’t tell if this phantom was right in front of them or one hundred feet away. Sounds echoed strangely in this place.
“Who’s the runt,” the voice of Dovybas broke through the blood roaring in Sedrix’s ears. A rush of emotions fought for precedence, a flow of relief and shock, yet anger reigned dominant. Sedrix drew back his fist and slammed it into Dovybas’s nose — or at least aimed for his nose. With the darkness, Sedrix wasn’t entirely sure what part of Dovy’s face he hit.
“You treacherous, untrustworthy bastard,” Sedrix whispered harshly. “How bout a little warning next time.” Sedrix shook out his hand. His thumb was pulsing with pain, though he didn’t think it was broken. Despite the ache in his hand, he must admit that it felt good.
“Hellfire, was that really necessary,” Dovybas cursed. His voice sounded nasally and Sedrix lifted the lantern to see his head tilted back, his hand pinching his nose. A single drop of blood leaked down his upper lip.
“You don’t sneak up on people in a creepy, dark tunnel without announcing yourself!”
Midyra’s shoulders shook with silent laughter. Sedrix had decided a long time ago that teaching Dovybas rights and wrongs were a complete waste of his energy, so he let out an exasperated sigh and handed Dovybas a handkerchief from his pocket.
“This is Midyra,” Sedrix said before explaining to his partner how they came to be traveling together. He winced at the way it sounded out loud.
“Whoever sent you the vision to travel with this fool surely wanted to inflict suffering on you,” was all Dovybas said. Sedrix let out another sigh.
“Why?” Midyra stared up at him, a laugh caught in her eyes.
“Haven’t you noticed? I’m surprised you haven’t noticed. He has the personality of wet cabbage. You’d probably die from boredom before you got anything useful out of him. Lucky for you, I’ve decided to help.”
Few things ever shocked Sedrix about Dovybas, but him offering to help Midyra was one of them. Dovybas did little without gaining anything in return.
“Why would you want to help,” Sedrix said through narrowed eyes. Dovybas clutched his chest in mock offense.
“Sometimes, Sedrix, your words truly wound me.”
Sedrix threw his arms in the air before continuing onward through the dark tunnel. Though he feigned irritation at Dovybas’s appearance, and while he’d never admit it out loud, Sedrix was thankful for the man’s presence and his anxieties were somewhat eased by the addition to their group.
The rest of the walk lasted several hours, though Sedrix hardly said a word. Midyra and Dovybas chatted joyously in his stead. It came as a shock to Sedrix that his large, intimidating partner was this good with children. The man was known for his dark humor and violent tendencies, but neither were present as he explained to Midyra the art of horseback riding. Of the special bond required between man and beast and how thrilling it could be to put one’s trust in an animal that powerful. Sedrix couldn’t help but imagine that type of bond between man and dragon.
Finally, they emerged in a field of grass that reached just past Sedrix’s hip. He had to block out the sun with his hand as his eyes adjusted to the brightness. The orange and pink hues of sunrise painted the sky and a steady cloud of mist covered the grassland. The tall, sandstone buildings of Vizar were just barely visible.
Just a few more miles, Sedrix reminded himself grudgingly, then they could rest. They’d need to wait until the cover of night if they were lucky enough to steal a ship.
So he trudged forward, a little nuisance gripping the hem of his shirt and a brooding man watching over them.
Sedrix glanced down at Midyra, her eyes lidded with exhaustion. Her feet stumbled over each other as she used Sedrix for balance. There was no way she would agree to stop if she believed it was because of her.
“Let’s take a few moments to rest,” he said. “I can barely put one foot in front of the other.” Midyra shot him a grateful look.
Dovybas dove headfirst onto the ground, rolling to his back and placing his arms behind his head. Midyra curled up beside him, letting her eyes flutter shut. The warmth of the sun felt good on Sedrix’s skin after being stuck in those damp tunnels for so many hours. Truthfully, he wasn’t sure how much time had passed in the darkness. An exhaustion that he didn’t realize he harbored weighed down his shoulders and he laid down beside them.
“Rest a bit,” Dovybas suggested. “I’ll keep watch.” Sedrix hesitated a moment, not sure if he could trust his colleague, but his tiredness outweighed his worry, and he found himself drifting off into a light sleep.
By the time they reached the crowded streets of Vizar, the sun had passed its peak. It was a vibrant city, full of outrageous fashion, exotic goods, and eccentric people. He clutched Midyra’s little hand as he practically dragged, but when he looked back to scold her, he saw her eyes as round as saucers taking in the scene around them. So he slowed his pace, just a bit. He caught Dovy watching him with a knowing smirk plastered on his face that Sedrix did his best to ignore.
“Look at this!” Midyra tugged out Sedrix’s grip and found herself standing in front of a booth. The table was spread with an assortment of little gems or all colors, twinkling in the sunlight. “Can we get one?” Midyra turned an amethyst between her fingers, admiring the way it sparkled.
“Excellent choice, my dear,” the vendor said, a portly old woman. “This crystal is said to encourage spiritual wisdom and purify your soul.”
“Spiritual wisdom,” Dovybas said, clapping Sedrix on the back. “That sounds like it’s exactly what you need, or at least the wisdom part.”
“No,” Sedrix gritted out, ushering her away from the persistent vendor. “Weren’t you just teasing me two days ago for my dagger? You don’t need any pretty rocks.”
“They’re not rocks, they’re crystals,” Midyra said, toying a pocket on her trousers, still weighed heavily with sling-shot ammunition.
Sedrix sighed as the pout formed on her lips.
“Go to one of the merchants in town and buy us enough food for a couple of day’s travel. Who knows where your visions will lead us next, and there certainly won’t be anything in Fynnir for us to eat,” Sedrix said, plopping a couple of silver coins in her palms. “Meet us at the docks,” he pointed in the direction of the sea. She smiled mischievously at him, and before he could emphasize the importance of food, she scurried off into the crowd. Sedrix rolled his eyes and caught Dovybas staring at him again.
“What?” Sedrix snapped.
“You care about the little runt, don’t you?” He said teasingly, nudging Sedrix’s shoulder.
“I’m repaying a debt. That’s all this is. Now, let’s go find us a ship.” Sedrix marched away, not giving Dovybas the chance to protest.
The docks harbored boats of all sizes. Galleons, brigs, sloops, sailboats, and fishing rigs. Sedrix set his sight on a small sloop with a single sail and small cabin. It would be a good size for two slightly-experienced sailors and a little nuisance.
Now that they had a boat, or rather were about to have a boat, all there was left to do was wait until the docks cleared out completely and then they could sail off under the cover of night.
Midyra didn’t return for a suspicious amount of time. Duskhad greeted them coolly by the time she strode up to them, a small bundle rolled up in her jacket. Sedrix was so irritated with being left to worry, he didn’t even bother to check and see what she purchased. His mistake.
Not wanting to waste anymore time and wait for the sun to fully set, Sedrix hoisted her over the railings of the sloop and began undoing the riggings as Dovybas lifted the anchor.
“Shit,” Dovy cursed. Sedrix was about to scold Dovybas for his language when an arrow whizzed past, piercing the mast that was inches from his face.
“Shit,” Sedrix said, as a series of shouts came from the dock. “There’s a patrol. Dovybas, get that damned anchor up!”
“You know, I was thinking I’d much rather sit here and get pierced through with arrows. Maybe even hand myself over to the sea sirens,” Dovybas breathed as he struggled with the capstan. The axel refused to rotate.
“Oh for saints sake,” Sedrix said, dropping the ropes and lunging for one of the levers. With tremendous effort, the capstan groaned and began to rotate as the two of them pushed. Another arrow shot past, then another. Dovybas gasped as one clipped him in the shoulder, but he didn’t stop until the anchor was secured in place.
Sedrix frantically scanned the ship for Midyra, who was huddled behind some empty crates. A bit of relief filled his chest.
He returned to the mainmast, hoisting the sail down. The boat lurched forward and Dovybas was at the helm in an instant, steering them away from the docs.
Arrows flew, piercing the wood of the starboard side, but they were gaining distance. The angry shouts from the edge of the dock grew into faraway echoes. Finally, Sedrix collapsed on the deck, heaving in lungfuls of air.
Once they were a safe distance from the coast, and still no one pursued them, Midyra crouched beside Sedrix and unbundled her haul. A pile of sweets lay partially squished on top of her jacket. Sticky rolls, sweet bread, honey custards, and sugared apples. Midyra smiled as Sedrix pinched the bridge of his nose. Dovybas was silently laughing behind her.
“Oh!” She said, fishing in her pocket. She pulled out a little wad of rags and unwrapped it, displaying it shamelessly. Sedrix could make out a clump of goat cheese sprinkled with bits of rocks.
“A feast for kings!” Dovybas exclaimed, wrapping a piece of cloth around the wound on his arm. It was just a flesh wound, but Sedrix still couldn’t help but be concerned.
At that moment, he was glad he saved a little bit of the dried meat from Bizben.
Sedrix had always enjoyed sailing. He loved the feel of the wind in his hair, it tugging at his clothes. He loved the smell and feel of the sea’s mist on his face. Hours passed by in seconds on the waves and before he knew it the familiar coast of Fynnir appeared on their starboard side.
“There!” Midyra yelled from the bow of the ship, waving her arms wildly and pointing towards a small rocky beach. They anchored the sloop as close as they dared and unhooked the little dinghy attached to the stern.
Sedrix’s movements were stiff as Fynnir grew closer. Even from the shore, he could make out the giant grey, brick wall now covered with vines and torn apart by roots. Nature had reclaimed the ruins like he always knew they would. A sharp pang of homesickness struck him as the rocky beach drew nearer and he remembered his little cottage at the edge of town, the tree he would climb to get over the walls. He quickly turned his back on the shore, hoping the others wouldn’t notice his damp eyes.
, Sedrix refused to focus on the remnants of his village, forcing his eyes not to wander towards the ruins. Instead, he watched as Midyra tossed pebbles into the water and picked through the sand for shells.
“What are you doing?”
She jumped, dropping a small shell the color of a storm-heavy sky.
“I can’t control the visions, they come and go, usually unprovoked. All I can do is wait.”
Sedrix ran a hand over his jaw and took a seat on one of the larger rocks. Water lapped at his boots and he watched the rippling waves as Midyra tossed another pebble in the water.
“I recognize this beach,” she said suddenly, almost too quiet for Sedrix to hear. “It’s where I woke up. I thought maybe if I came back here, some of my memories would, too.”
At that, it struck Sedrix once more how Midyra looked very small, very frail, and he reminded himself that she was just a little girl, despite her bravery.
“When I was a child,” Sedrix said after a long pause, “I would watch the other children play and swim on this shore. My father didn’t want me to play with them. He said a boy of my status should be working towards an apprenticeship or to the academy where they trained soldiers.”
“But you didn’t want that?”
“No,” he said. “I didn’t want to be part of a war I didn’t believe in.”
“The war with the dragons?” The war had ended long before Midyra was born, all traces of dragons disappeared a few years after. Now, they’d be nothing more than a bedtime story were it not for the scars of the war.
“And I didn’t want to craft weapons, or create potions, or do anything that would aid in the war. So I would escape and run off to the shore, watching the other children play and imaging that could be me.”
“Can I tell you something? Even if you think I’m crazy,” she began.
“I already think you’re crazy.”
She glared at him.
“I think we need to sail that way,” she said, pointing west of the direction they had come.
“Do you remember something?”
“No,” Midyra shook her head. “It’s more like a… feeling?”
She cringed at the word, knowing full well how foolish she sounded. But they had traveled this whole way because of a vision of his face, so he wasn’t about to stop following her now. Although…
“Shadowfenn Isle is in that direction.” When she furrowed her brows, he added, “It’s where the dragons primarily reside. At least, they used to.”
A flicker of emotion passed across Midyra’s face, one that looked a lot like fear, though he couldn’t be sure.
“I wouldn’t ask you to take me there unless I was sure that’s where I needed to go,” she said.
“If your family still lives, they wouldn’t be there. I just want you to be prepared for what you might find.”
Midyra stared at him with a leveled gaze, one that looked far too old, far too knowing, for her tiny body. Everything about her resembled a young child except for her eyes, which suddenly seemed ancient and weary.
Finally, Sedrix heaved a heavy sigh and stood up. “Alright, kid, let’s go get back on the boat.”
“It’s Midyra,” she said, but this time, there was an excited trill to her voice.
The sail toward Shadowfenn Isle was a short one. In a few hours, the row of islands dotted the horizon and it was beginning to get difficult for Sedrix to ignore the fear that tightened his chest. He stood at the wheel, clutching it until his knuckles turned white as Dovybas taught Midyra to play cards on the deck below.
He checked his bearings once, twice, and finally a third time, just to be sure, then walked down the steps to the main deck and took a seat beside Midyra.
“So, you’re from Fynnir?” She asked between mouthfuls of sweet bread. The thought of eating right now was nauseating.. “How did you end up in a place like Bizben.”
“It’s a long story,” he said. Midyra gestured out across the open waters, as if to say we have time. Sedrix stole a glance at Dovybas, who pretended not to be listening as he polished his flask. In the years that they had known each other, neither knew much about the other’s past.
“The day after Fynnir fell, I woke beneath a pile of rubble and ash. Nothing remained. As far as I knew, I was the only survivor.” Sedrix took a steadying pause. He remembered waiting at the old birch tree outside the city for three days, praying to whatever saints were listening. “I drifted from place to place through the years. I was fifteen when I joined the guild, and after I completed my training Dovybas become my… colleague. Bizben was just one of the jobs we’d taken.”
Sedrix realized that perhaps his story wasn’t as long as he thought it was, and that he’d just become accustomed to telling people it was to avoid talking about it.
At some point, Dovybas had stopped polishing his flask, listening as intently as Midyra.
All these years and Sedrix has never told a single person who his father was. He took his mother’s maiden name in order to hide from his past. After the dragons attacked Fynnir, a lot of people blamed his father for waging this war between humans and dragons. And staring at the faces of these two very different people with very different pasts, he wanted nothing more than to unload all his demons. He never knew what friendship was, not truly, but he wondered if it felt something like this.
“For as long as I could remember, flames could not burn me,” Sedrix continued, standing to grab a lantern and then returning to their side. He let his arm hover just above the flame, before letting it curl around his skin. “I can feel its warmth. I’ve seen the damage it can do, but it has never been able to burn my skin.”
All eyes were on his arm, the reflection of the flame dancing in their eyes. Just to be sure, Dovybas reached down and grabbed Sedrix’s arm where the flame wrapped around it.
“Saints dammit,” Dovybas let out a string of colorful curses, clutching his hand. Sedrix covered Midyra’s ears.
“What?! Did you think the fire was fake? You deserved that one, idiot,” Sedrix scolded.
“You have powers,” Midyra squeaked, beaming at him with big, green eyes. They were the type of eyes that could make you feel so much more than you were, because through those eyes, you were the most incredible thing in the world.
Sedrix had never believed in magic, never associated his immunity to fire as something magical, but he supposed it was something of the sort. It had saved his life that day when he couldn’t have possibly saved himself. Since then, he had ignored it. He pushed it away to the depths of his mind and never dug it up again. Perhaps it was the guilt of surviving when others didn’t. Perhaps it was not understanding why him. Dragons were said to be the children of flame and he was the child of the man who sought to kill them all.
“Do you hate the dragons, too?” Midyra’s voice startled him out of his thoughts.
Sedrix thought for a moment before he said, “My father was Matis Waldemar. Being his son sort of meant hating dragons.” Sedrix waited to see if any of them needed clarification of who his father was, letting out a shaky sigh. Though, of course, they didn’t. Everyone knew of his father, they just didn’t realize he was his father.
“But no. As a child, I was fascinated by them. Everyone in Fynnir viewed dragons as game to be hunted and a sport to be fought. But I was always intrigued by their intelligence and our history with them.”
“The dragon riders,” Midyra said in a dreamy whisper.
“After Fynnir was attacked, there wasn’t a single night I slept where I didn’t dream of the way they tore apart my village in only a handful of hours. We were never prepared to take on a weyr of dragons. I want to see them as I did as a child. But I feel like that memory became tarnished with that of the attack, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to go back to the way I thought of them.”
They were all silent for several long moments until a mighty yawn erupted from Midyra.
“We should all get some rest. I can’t imagine tomorrow will be easy,” Dovybas said, tossing Midyra over his shoulder. She let out a startled squeal as he spun them around. Then, set her gently on the ground and ushered her in the direction of the cabin.
“I’ll take the first watch.” Dovybas clapped Sedrix on the back of the shoulder and shoved him in the direction of the cabin where Midyra had already disappeared within. “I’ll wake you when I’m tired.”
“Thanks,” Sedrix said, rubbing his shoulder.
“Hey.” Sedrix glanced back at him. “I’m sorry about your father, that he died and all that.”
“I’m not so sure that I am,” Sedrix shrugged, but he gave Dovybas a half-hearted smile.
“I know the feeling,” Dovybas said. “Of not being sure you’re upset your father is dead.”
Sedrix let the words roll through his mind. He turned over the small piece of his past that Dovybas offered him, and tucked it away. Sedrix watched as he walked to the bow of the ship and leaned against the railing, before turning around and disappearing into the cabin himself.
Hours later, the rumbling growl of thunder woke Sedrix from a fitful sleep. A storm had emerged, pelting rain and rapid winds in every direction. Dovybas clutched the wheel, desperately trying to keep it straight. His knuckles whitened with the effort.
“Dovybas,” he yelled over the roaring wind as he gripped the wheel so Dovybas could let go. “Raise the sails! This wind is going to tear down the mast!” Sedrix could barely make out Dovybas’s form inching its way along the railing towards the riggings. The wind tugged posessively at the sails as Dovybas hauled them up and secured them to the hook. Their movement slowed significantly but now they were left to drift with the relentless waves, vulnerable.
Sedrix had sailed a number of times before. He wasn’t scared of the ocean, but in this moment he couldn’t suppress his rising fear.
A low growl reverberated through the clouds and Sedrix froze. He stared at the blackened sky, waiting for the next wave of lightning. Another rumble of thunder echoed through the sky. There was no lightning. There’s no thunder without lightning, Sedrix thought, panic tightening his lungs. But then, a bolt of lightning illuminated the sky and he caught a flash of movement in the clouds, the silhouette of wings.
“Dragons!” Sedrix hollered, racing down the deck to where Dovybas threw buckets of water back into the ocean. Midyra emerged from the cabin, rain pelting against her skin. “Get back inside!” Sedrix tried to call to her, but his voice was drowned out by another thunderous boom.
Midyra took a couple steps forward, despite Sedrix frantically flailing his arms. Her eyes seemed distant, unfocused as she looked up at the sky. She walked to the edge of the ship, clutching the railing, and reached out with one of her hands.
Sedrix was by her side in seconds, trying to tug her back inside, but she held firm. Another roar broke through the sounds of the storm, shaking the very planks beneath them. A spiderweb of lightning lit up the sky, and in doing so, a dragon appeared — far closer than Sedrix expected.
He stumbled back, landing on the deck.
Dovybas stared from the opposite side of the ship as a second, smaller dragon appeared on the bow, dipping the sloop with its weight. All Sedrix could do was watch as Midyra approached it. Fear paralyzed him.
The tip of the dragon’s tail twitched back and forth as it watched her approach with narrowed eyes. Finally, Sedrix regained his composure. He flung himself in front of Midyra and shoved her back.
“Come on!” He yelled, swinging his arms to either side. “Am I who you want?” Part of him always wondered if they knew who his father was, if they could see it in his face. See the guilt, and fear, and anguish. Part of him knew that they did.
The dragon screeched, ready to breathe its deadly flame.
Do it, Sedrix willed. I do not burn.
But the boat would burn, Midyra and Dovybas would burn.
Before the dragon could strike, a shrill cry came from behind him.
“Leave. Him. Alone.” Midyra had recovered from her trance.
The dragon recoiled, cocking its head to the side and sliding onto the main deck. It was the size of a large horse, and the planks beneath it protested from the weight. Sedrix backed up, until he bumped into Midyra’s little frame.
“You need to get back inside,” Sedrix said, though he was sure it was pointless now.
“Trust me,” she whispered over the storm. Sedrix wasn’t sure what she had seen during her vision, but he wasn’t about to let her approach the dragon. She peeled herself away from him regardless and stepped dauntlessly through the driving rain toward the dragon. Its scales were a midnight blue and its tail was covered in wicked looking spikes at the end. Horns protruded from the beast’s temple, just above its icy blue eyes.Smoke curled from its nostrils.
“Midyra,” Sedrix called, though he couldn’t even hear his own voice. He doubted she heard him over the rain, the waves, the lightning, but he could’ve sworn he saw her hesitate, just for a moment.
“Are you insane?” A voice hissed in his ear. Dovybas had appeared by his side, holding a short sword.
“If you go up against a dragon with that thing, you won’t win, just… trust her,” was all Sedrix said. He trusted her, trusted her, trusted her. Sedrix kept reminding himself over and over, trying to keep his feet from lunging forward and scooping Midyra back.
But she had already reached it.
With an outstretched palm, she stood a mere foot from the dragon’s jaw. The creature’s wary eyes narrowed, hackles raised.
“Remember me.” Her voice echoed through the storm, somehow amplified. “Please.”
Sedrix stood, mouth gaping. The dragon roared, baring its teeth. “See me.” Those two words no longer sounded as if they came from a little girl, but the voice of a woman, a command. Midyra turned back to Sedrix.
“It was you all along, Sedrix,” she said. Her voice carried from every direction. “Your father wasn’t just killing us. No, he did something far worse. He found a way to take our souls, to trap us in a human form.”
Midyra approached Sedrix, her hand coming to rest on his chest, just over the pendant.
“The dragons did not attack Fynnir to avenge their kin, they attacked because your father stole the queen’s daughter.”
It took Sedrix a moment to realize what she was saying, to realize who, what, exactly was standing before him. The dragons hadn’t been looking for his father all along, they were looking for their heir.
“And you’re saying this pendant was where your soul has been trapped this entire time? He gave this to me over twenty years ago.” Sedrix howled into the storm
“At the dawn of each new year, I woke up on the same beach with no memories and no direction besides the image of your face burned into the back of my eyelids. Each year I searched, until I finally found you.”
Midyra took Sedrix’s hands.
“You are not your father, Sedrix Redding. You are so much more.” Sedrix swore he could see fire behind her eyes as she spoke those last words.
Tears threatened to slip from his eyes. He unclasped the pendant and placed it with unsteady hands in hers. Midyra returned to the little blue dragon. She touched its maw and it nuzzled her arm, the closest thing he’d ever seen to affection from such a creature.
Sedrix felt confused and vulnerable standing on the open deck, a dragon perched a few feet away. It watched him , studying the way he moved and breathed, seeming to anticipate a hostile response. But all Sedrix could do was stare. His limbs were frozen in place, and he saw, once again, the crumbling buildings and charred bodies in Fynnir. But then he pictured his father, all the things he’d done to these beasts and those who followed after him. He wasn’t sure when he’d begun to shake, but tremors raked up his hands and his knees threatened to buckle.
“Are there more out there?” Sedrix asked.
A silent tear slipped down Midyra’s cheek before she said, “More than you could ever know.”
“Midyra,” Sedrix began. He wanted to say more, but I’m sorry didn’t seem like enough. There were no words that seemed like enough.
She smiled softly, knowingly.
The pendant in her hand glowed then, like a living thing. She pressed it against her chest and closed her eyes. It melted into her skin.
The scales appeared first — beautiful orange and bronze scales — very much like her hair. Then her body began to morph and bend and break. She blossomed into her dragon form, her emerald green eyes tilted much like a cat’s. They stared into him, and Sedrix no longer saw the same hate and violence he believed all dragons must have possessed after Fynnir. He saw understanding and compassion — gratitude.
You are not your father, Sedrix Redding.
No, he wasn’t.
You’ve reunited me with my family.
Sedrix bowed his head and kneeled against the wooden planks. Dovybas appeared at his side and did the same, though trembling far more. It wasn’t until he felt the wind from the beat of her wings did he dare look up. He saw her and the second dragon flying into the sky, weaving in and out of clouds as if they were dancing. Other dragons joined.
Sedrix watched until they were nothing but specks in the distance.
Wind tugged at Sedrix’s hair, his clothes, as he sailed The Mid Yra across the eastern waters, towards the many lands that awaited him — its orange sails catching in the wind. From somewhere below, he could hear Dovybas humming to himself.
At the hull, the head of a dragon was carved, fierce and cunning, a symbol of all they fight for — who they fight for.
He hovered his hand over the flame of the ship’s lantern, feeling the tightness of his skin as it heated. He watched it turn red and begin to blister before he pulled his hand away. The immunity was gone. He often needed to remind himself of that.
Although the world was a long way from reestablishing peace between dragons and man, it was the start of a new age. A better age. The dragons could remain at the Shadowfenn Isles, hidden and safe, until the day came when the violence of man was eased.
In the meantime, Sedrix and his small crew searched for other signs of dragons trapped in their human form. He hunted for their souls and fought to reunite them. It wasn’t easy, but if he looked hard enough, the signs were there.
Sometimes, through the clouds, he would catch a glimpse of a beautiful bronze dragon soaring through the sky.
“Where to, Cap?” Dovybas appeared at his side, as silently as always.
“To find more children of the flame,” Sedrix answered. When his father had last said that very line, it was before a hunt. This, too, was a hunt, but a very different kind of hunt that which his father would have led.
“Too cheesy.” Dovybas complained, but he thumped Sedrix on the shoulder and gave him a big grin.
Sedrix smiled and looked out to the sea. He could only hope that one day he’d live to see the age of dragons and riders come again.