War and Despair

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Chapter 7

Red Rage lay curled on the stone floor of her cave, eyes tightly shut, trying to hold on to the memories and feelings of being human. But all she could see was her family burning alive. Maybe it was better being a dragon, at least she was strong enough to protect others now. Not that there was anyone left that she cared enough about to protect.

Suddenly Red Rage felt cold. She opened her eyes, and instead of scarlet scales, she saw pale flesh. She screamed and jumped to her feet, and nearly lost her balance. She looked down at herself and saw that she was dressed in grey rags. But she had to see before she would believe.

She walked unsteadily to a puddle of water near the cave and looked at herself. Her heart sank. She was much paler and slimmer than she’d ever been before. Instead of her comfortable average face she had a lovely face with delicate, finely shaped features, and deep green eyes. And instead of her short brown hair, she had a mass of hair that was a shade more orange than her scales, and where her horns had been, she had two slender braids that met at the back of her head. She would never truly be human again. But she could where a human shape. And she would kill the witch that had cursed her into being a dragon in that shape.

Suddenly Red Rage lost control of the shape and morphed back into a dragon. After testing that she could still take her human shape, she turned back into a dragon and flew in the direction of the witch’s cottage. The witch had cast a warding spell against dragons, not humans. All Red Rage would need to do was turn human and slip into the witch’s house…and kill her.

Red Rage shut the witch’s door behind her and stood in the shadows to wait. She doubted it would be long before the witch came back. All it had taken to lure the hag out was a boulder dropped through the trees. Once the witch figured out that it had only been a boulder, she would be back.

The door creaked open, and the old hag stepped in. Red Rage stepped out of the shadows. The witch screamed.

“Hello.” Red Rage hissed.

“Well don’t you look different than from the last time you were here!” The witch cackled, calming down visibly. “Little Maggie. Are you still such a fool that you would come to me for help?”

“I’m here to kill you.” Red Rage said quietly. “It is time that you answer for your crimes.”

“I feel rather insulted.” The witch said. “It’s the weak, naïve little girl that comes to punish me after all these years. What happened to that glorious beast that I always thought would be my death? Instead, the fool gets to me first.”

“The dragons took my home and my family, you took my humanity, the only thing I had left.” Red Rage whispered, seizing the witch by the throat. She squeezed. The witch made a gurgling noise. “The look on you face as I drive the life out of you is the only thing I had left to look forward to. And now I’ve seen it.”

The witch’s eyes went blank and Red Rage smiled. She threw the lifeless body on the floor and walked to the door. But a sharp cry froze her in her tracks.

Red Rage turned around and followed the wailing noise. The sound led her into a tiny room at the back of the house, to a cradle in the corner.

Inside the cradle lay an infant. A girl, from the scent. But the infant wasn’t a normal child. To strips of marigold colored scales looped around her ears and down her neck. Blood leaked out from around the scales.

“What did she do to you?” Red Rage whispered to the baby, cradling her to her chest. “She stole you away from your family, didn’t she? She stole you away and changed you to something different, something that will never belong anywhere.”

The baby quieted and looked up at her with her solemn blue eyes. Red Rage felt soft fingers curl around her thumb, and for the first time in years, she felt as if something had loosened inside her. Like the walls holding back her human emotions had fallen. She found tears falling from her eyes.

“I’m so sorry, little one.” She said, a sob wrenching free of her throat. “She ruined your life before it even really began. But she’s dead, so I’ve given you a chance. I lived for six years just so I could see her dead on the floor. But maybe you’ll be the next thing that I’ll live for. You need me to survive.”

Red Rage tore a strip of cloth off her rags and dabbed the blood off the child’s face. But she was unsure how to keep it from happening again. Red Rage found a stack of papers near the cradle. She began to read the first one.

Blood often swells from the scales. The Geomancer would probably know how to stop it. But she’s not an option, as she would likely force us to stop further experimentation.

Red Rage had heard of the Geomancer before, an enchanter or enchantress who was a master of earth magic. The Geomancer might be able to do something. She had looked for the Geomancer before but had been unable to find her. She guessed that the Geomancer’s dwelling had been enchanted to keep creatures like dragons away. She would have to go in human form. It would take longer, but it was better than not finding the Geomancer at all.

Red Rage used the blankets in the cradle to create a makeshift sling for the baby and walked out into the darkening woods. The baby was fast asleep after the first hour of walking, but Red Rage was full of a sort of excitement for the journey ahead.

At about midnight Red Rage became aware that there was something walking beside her.

“Hello?” she called tentatively.

“Hello.” A guttural voice answered her.

“Do you want some light?” Red Rage asked.

“Ah. No. No light. I am far too grotesque for you to look at.” The voice croaked.

“Who are you?” She asked softly.

“Me? I am not sure anymore. But we are similar, you, me and the child. We are all something that the witches got their filthy talons on and ruined. I need their death. And I need hearts to survive.”

Red Rage held the baby to herself more tightly, worried for their safety. "Hearts?" She asked worriedly.

The creature laughed bitterly. “Not either of you. Things that the witches created won’t sustain me. Only things that came naturally will sustain me. All hearts contain magic, magic that I need to survive. You and the child are completely safe from me. You feel my bitterness, and the child will someday, too. We are like family. And family don’t hurt each other.”

“Thank you.” She whispered reaching out and touching his arm. He stiffened under her touch but didn’t pull away. His skin was rough, like tree bark and cool to the touch.

“Protect the child.” The creature rasped. “You are the only thing she’ll ever have. Name her, care for her.”

“I will.” Red Rage whispered.

“We must part ways soon. This part of the forest is unfriendly to me. But one last thing, Red Rage. Long has your anger been your curse, it even became part of your name. But today that changed. You don’t have to keep calling yourself that name, you should choose a new one.” He said creakily.

“Like what?” Red Rage asked.

“Anything you like. We shall speak of this the next time we meet.” The creature said, striding off into the trees.

“Wait!” Red Rage called after him. “What is your name?” There was no answer. It wasn’t until the creature was long gone that Red Rage realized that she had never told him her name. So how had he known?

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