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Chains of Earth

By Cheryl Dyson

Romance / Adventure

Chapter One

When we walk to the edge of all the light we have

and take the step into the darkness of the unknown,

we must believe that one of two things will happen.

There will be something solid for us to stand on

or we will be taught to fly.

-Patrick Overton

Draco was cold. Cold and damned uncomfortable. A shiver coursed through his body, jolting him to awareness of things other than cold and discomfort, although those were still present. Both sensations intensified when he opened his eyes.

What the hell? He sat bolt upright and then had to shut his eyes until vertigo and the urge to vomit subsided. He swallowed hard against the taste of bile. Drugged, then. Or hit with a Cruciatus while he was down.

He opened his eyes more carefully to examine his surroundings. Merlin, it was cold. And nearly dark. His gaze tracked over the inky stone that surrounded him on all sides, and followed the repeating pattern up and up to the only spot of brightness—a patch of lead-coloured sky far above.

"I'm at the bottom of a pit?" he asked aloud, as if hoping his voice would dispel the illusion. His breath fogged the air and he wrapped his arms around himself without bothering to climb to his feet. Apparently the culprits responsible for bringing him here did not particularly care if he froze to death. He knew without checking that his wand would be gone. He checked anyway; it was.

Draco got to his feet. As he did so, his robes brushed against something. The clink of glass on stone drew his attention. Two vials lay at his feet, along with a scrap of paper. He bent and picked them up. The writing was unfamiliar, and very hard to read in the gloom.

Malfoy—you have been judged and found wanting. Others may forgive your crimes, but we do not. It is well known that you never kill directly, preferring to let others do that for you. Therefore, we will follow your example and even offer mercy, of a sort. We have left you two potions. The one with the black cap contains a strong poison. If you wish to atone for your crimes, you will drink it. We cannot promise you a painless death, but it will be quick, and your miserable existence will come to a swift end.

If you are weak and choose to live, you may drink of the vial with the white cap. In so doing you will live, but at the cost of your humanity and your precious pureblood status. You will become less than human, a creature reviled and feared, barely more than an animal. You might even have the means to escape your prison. Choose wisely.

Draco stared at the vials in horror. Both were death sentences, as far as he was concerned. The first would kill him painfully, but quickly. Draco nearly threw it to the stone floor. He had no intention of killing himself. He looked blankly at the other vial. Less than human. Reviled and feared. What the hell was it? Vampire blood?

Draco tucked the vials into a pocket of his robes. He experienced a moment of panic when they nearly slipped out of his numbing fingers in the process. He steadied his nerves as they dropped into a pocket. Even horrible options were better than none at all.

He clapped his hands under his arms and stomped his booted feet. A few snowflakes drifted down from the opening. Shit, that was just what he needed, even more cold. He marched in place again and felt pain shoot through his toes at the jolt of circulation. He walked the circuit of his small prison and looked for any possible escape. There was none. He realized he was in no mere pit, but a well, which explained the stone. He supposed he was lucky not to be standing in water.

The walls were smooth stone with mortared gaps too small for even fingertips to grasp. The exit was so high overhead that he would have been hard-pressed to escape even with a rope. Without his wand, he was helpless. And freezing.

Draco sat down and huddled against the wall, trying to warm himself as much as possible. The circle of light above grew steadily darker and the snowflakes increased in number. He wished heartily for the warm cloak, hat, and gloves he had been wearing when he was taken, but he supposed the items would only prolong his suffering.

He was unsure how long he held out. He tried running in place and waving his arms, but the exercise only warmed him for moments and left him colder than ever when the icy air whistled into his lungs. He shouted with rage for a long time, vowing revenge on his kidnappers and cursing them with every vile fate imaginable. He half-hoped his shouts would draw attention from above, but no face appeared to view his torment.

He finally slumped against the wall in defeat. Lethargy closed in on him like a shroud and he knew it was induced by the cold. Soon he would want nothing more than to lie down and succumb to it. He refused to allow that. No Malfoy would lie down and die willingly. Even suicide would be a better option.

Draco dug in his pocket for the vials. He held them carefully, as he could no longer feel his fingertips. He looked at the glass containers in sardonic amusement. He was lucky they had chosen monochromatic caps. Colours would have been impossible to discern in the thick darkness that surrounded him. As it was, it took several minutes of blinking at them through ice-encrusted lashes to determine the faint paleness of one cap that distinguished it from the other.

Inhuman or dead. It was a harder choice than Draco would have imagined, especially with the cold crushing down on him and promising to draw him into peaceful oblivion. In the end, it was the promise of revenge that decided him. Inhuman was still alive, and alive meant vengeance.

It was nearly a moot choice. His frozen fingers could not pry the cork cap from the vial. He tugged at it and half-sobbed in desperation before finally thinking to use his teeth. Even then, he had to try repeatedly as the vial kept slipping through his hands. Finally, the stubborn cap loosened and popped off. Draco's teeth chattered so badly he wondered how he would drink it. He forced himself to relax and held the vial in both hands, tipping his head back and dumping the contents into his mouth.

It took all of his willpower to swallow and keep the potion down. The taste was beyond vile and the texture was thick, oily, and evoked images of vomit or coagulated blood.

When the contents hit his stomach, Draco forgot inconsequential things like taste and texture. He screamed aloud as pain exploded through him, starting in his gut and roaring through every nerve ending. The agony went on and on until he felt certain his unknown assailants had lied and both vials had been filled with the worst poison imaginable.

And then the pain changed. It did not diminish, oh no, but altered in intensity. Where Draco had previously been cold, he now felt dipped in flame. He tried to look at his hands, certain they were on fire, or melting, but more than the surrounding darkness blinded him. The pain seemed to centre in his back, over his shoulder blades. He felt his flesh literally ripping apart and he screamed again. It was too much, and Draco gratefully succumbed to blackness.


His first awareness was that he was not cold. His second was that he was still bloody uncomfortable, in spite of that. Draco opened his eyes to dim light and blank stone. He sat up gingerly and noted with relief that he was at least partially human. He could see his hands and they looked perfectly normal. He did a quick mental check and thought he felt okay. There was a heaviness pressing on his shoulders, but everything seemed to be intact. He stood up carefully and nearly overbalanced; he caught himself against the wall, still cataloguing. He remained in the fucking well, which was no surprise. His feet were normal. Legs were normal. Draco gripped his crotch. That was normal, thank Merlin.

Draco heaved a sigh of relief and noted the huge cloud of fog left by his breath. The floor was dusted with a thick layer of snow, but Draco was not cold. He flexed his fingers and found no stiffness, no chill, and no hint of frost damage.

What the hell am I, then? Vampire, after all? Werewolf? Either would be unpleasant, but not unbearable.

And then Draco flexed muscles he had not previously owned and caught a glimpse of feathers over his shoulder. He spun quickly, thinking himself no longer alone, but he lost his balance again. He fell to the floor and landed on something that gave him a most abnormal twinge of pain. Draco fell on his own wing.

He stared at the edge of it protruding from beneath his leg and gripped the feathers in disbelief. Feathers. He reached over his shoulder and a sickening sensation caused his stomach to lurch.

Wings.

He had wings.

The sheer unreality of it caught him by surprise and he laughed crazily. Wings. I am a winged Malfoy. The thought destroyed his brief flash of amusement. He was a Malfoy no more. He was not even human. He was a freak. Draco's knees nearly buckled at the thought and his wings flexed instinctively to maintain his balance. The movement dislodged the remains of his robes—they had obviously been shredded when his wings had emerged. Draco tore off the material and nearly threw it aside before recalling the last vial. He retrieved it and placed it in a pocket of his trousers, thinking he might yet need it. As an afterthought, he picked up the empty vial, capped it, and kept it as well.

He looked at the circle of light above. It was still lead-coloured and a few random snowflakes drifted down. Those could no longer hurt him, at least. He was not cold in the slightest.

Draco flexed his wings and set about learning how to fly.


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