There is one choice that I made years ago that still sticks with me, haunting me as the memory of it never makes me proud. No, it was not choice that dictated my future and altered the reality around me like the choice I made five months ago to come to Iduna, but it was a choice of character. It was back freshman year of high school, when that was the time to determine your status in the school before it all went downhill. All I knew going into that realm of climbing the social ladder was that I wanted to make my mother proud, to perhaps get more attention from her. I had known the girls that everyone wanted to be, and in realizing what I had to do, I dressed myself up, put on a mask, and waltzed my way right into their selective circle. Within that circle of false friendship, I found my popularity, my character, and my place at the top of the food chain. However, I never found the attention of my mother. Even though I acted out of character and went with it because I thought I could get what I wanted, things never went my way. Perhaps that could serve as a lesson to my current state right now, the liquid running down my throat that tastes of coal and dirt and my fate accepted as I have once again acted out of character to get what I hope. Unlike joining the ranks of the popular, I have agreed to do things for Dregh even though months ago she told me I would be used as her personal gods assassin. I told her then that I would never murder someone, yet here I am, not even fully human anymore, all because I killed someone.
Dregh watches as I finish off the bottle of the crimson substance she said would help me contain the soul of the dragon in me from ripping my existence to shreds. “What is that even made from? It tastes disgusting,” I remark, handing back over the bottle to the goddess who watches me with an exciting expression across her face.
Placing the bottle into a satchel beside her dragon, Dregh looks me over once more, cocking her head to the side as she slightly parts her lips. “Just an old brew of dragon scales, a witch’s eye, Pegasus hair, and some of my own blood. You have just had one of the rarest potions in existence.”
So, she gave me the potion and now I must await my tasks. I know she will not have me go after a god just yet, for we both know I do not have that power. “What do you want me to do?”
A smile spreads across that face, one that makes me fear the tasks she has for me to complete. “Smart move to isolate yourself to the rim of Iduna, Candice,” she starts, going right off topic like I expected. “Hiding from Kyril I expect seeing that Heka is your father and Kyril knows that little secret now. I am shocked he let you leave with no fight, but that son of mine does not understand the stupidity of that werewolf belief in mates.” She is avoiding my question, rather shifting the conversation towards the son she had for personal entertainment. “My first child was better than him, but her death in a pathetic battle makes him believe he can easily shadow her.”
“Why are you placing the topic on Kyril?” I ask, crossing my arms as the dragon’s long and slender neck stretches up to the sky, the sun hidden behind the dark clouds as I want to know exactly what I owe Dregh now.
Holding out her hand, Dregh strokes the dragon’s side, hand running over the scales as her touch causes the scales to glow gold. The goddess and her creation, something terrifying knowing the creature she crafted is a massive beast and the goddess herself is feared by many. “Kyril is a young king, Candice, plus being the child of a goddess, he becomes cocky. Like all foolish and young kings, Kyril will one day find himself wanting to battle the gods.”
“Which you want, Dregh. You are wanting the gods to fall, that is what you told me months ago. Why come to me if Kyril can do the dirty work for you?”
“My son will not do what I want, rather he will do the opposite,” Dregh explains, “besides, he does not have the power that you do. He has the power to injure a god…but you, Candice, you could do things that make the heavens and all of hell cower at your feet.”
I scoff. “You keep saying these things over and over, but I find them so hard to believe.”
The dragon roars, teeth like swords on display as he faces me, the trees swaying and the earth rumbling beneath my feet. The bridge it is perched on begins to crumble, a few stones falling into the dry river as I take a step back. Dregh’s lips are pressed together in a firm line as her eyes are locked on my chest, right where my heart would be displayed if I wasn’t dressed like a nun. “No one is born or gifted with a power that they can fully use all at once, Candice, for it takes time and training to fully use your powers.”
“Let me guess, you are going to train me?” I ask, my tone mocking as I roll my eyes. To think months ago I would have bowed my head in respect to this goddess in fear of my termination in life, but now, because I know she needs me for something, I can always push my limits with Dregh.
“Sweet little Candice, I have no time or patience for that kind of task, but the tasks you have just agreed to do for me to live another day or two, they will be your training.”
My skin pales as I know what that means. I means I will be unleashing my power with no idea about what I am doing, and one mistake could mean death. No one will be there to tell me the proper way to do something and instead I will be making those choices. “And when I finish all of these tasks?” I ask, my voice soft as I fear what she will say.
“You will be on the battlefield.”
Dregh is off soon after, parting me a quick goodbye as she hands me a small leather-bound journal. Made from a black leather, the journal feels light, about fifty pages, and the pages are old and crinkled. Opening the journal to the first page, I see the first task already written down, followed by three more as I read them each carefully. As I flip to the next few pages, I see a table of contents for the rest of the journal, from documentation of different creatures to potions I will need to make to even the names of weapons forgers and assassin guilds, I am impressed with the contents of this journal. But even with the pages and pages of sketches of dangerous creatures to recipes for even explosives, my mind is still focused on the first task at hand. It is always that the first task is the easiest and the last one is the most difficult. If anything, the first task already seems hard. Looking to the left of the page, a hand-drawn sketch of Iduna is display, but it is not like any map, for this one has a small blue mark of where I am. Redirecting my attention back to the task, I see that I must travel over the mountain range and into a village called Avyn. The village on the map has a symbol made of black ink, one of some ruin. Flipping to the end of the journal, I see an index of the symbols. This symbol means it is a village of both werewolves and sorcerers. The task? Break into the governor’s house and take an enchanted Zweihänder the night a feast is being thrown. I have five days to complete this task or I will not be given another elixir from Dregh to help keep the dragon soul within me from ripping me apart. But what is a Zweihänder? It is German, I know that from my mother having the babysitter teaching me the language back as a child. Two handler is what it means, but what the object is I still need to find out. If I have five days to get the item and it looks like a three-day journal to Avyn, then I should be leaving by nightfall.
What will my father think? I know he will not let me leave if I should tell him. He knows Dregh is here, he knows that the creature soaring up was a dragon and that Dregh had finally come for me. Perhaps he will be in favor though, seeing that these tasks will help me unleash the power within me. It is not me using the power within me that scares me but the fact that I cannot control the small amount of it yet.
I head back for the village where the villagers have calmed down after seeing the dragon fly off, the goddess with her creature as they posed no danger anymore. The birds are back in the trees, soaring high above the ground as I hear their little hearts beat fast. As I reach the boarder of the village, my father and an elder are the first to greet me. The elder looks frightened, perhaps wondering if the goddess cursed the village and I was the item carrying the curse, but my father, the worry he shows in his eyes are false. “Did she want anything from us?” The elder asks, cautious to let me back to where his people are surrounding him, watching me like some wild beast that has crossed their lands.
“She wanted nothing from any of you, that is the truth,” I state, head held high as I see a small gathering of children watching me with wide eyes as they are grouped close together, their mothers close by.
“And what did the goddess want from you?” Heka asks, taking a small step forward as he steps into my personal space.
“An ally.” It is not a lie, for the pawn in a game of chess is the ally for the queen they serve. No doubt Dregh is the queen in this game of chess, for she is the most powerful player. My only question is who the most powerful player on the opposing side and what role I have in this. Dregh must pick her players wisely and I know Kyril is not her choice for any of them even though she had Kyril as a strong player for her entertainment.
Just as my father opens his mouth to ask another question, I push past him, heading for the small home the people here gifted us with. Having known Heka for years now, these people have always had a small house set aside for my father’s visits as he agrees with their views on the gods being unnecessary for the survival of Iduna. Father says times are changing in Iduna and no longer do many pay their respects to the gods. Many believe the time of the gods has passed and the time of man is to replace them. Sure, man is not the appropriate term for the supernatural here, but they are as weak as man when it comes to the gods. However, times are changing here in Iduna, adapting to a new age of belief as I have just so happened to be here at the same time. Could this be a reason for why Dregh wants me and my father too? Due to the changing mindset of these people, perhaps Dregh and my father think that I will be seen as an ally and will be supported when I am to slay the gods.
One of the elders of the village gifted this house to my father for whenever he was to pass by, making sure to have a luxurious feel to it as it is a bit more spacious than most homes here. With dark brick walls, light wood floors, wide windows from here to there, and four rooms, it is more than enough. Father prefers the room he made into his study-or what once was a common living area-and tends to shut out the world in here. Books both old and new line the walls as a single chair is in the center with a small table beside it where ink has stained the wooden table. It is like his own mad scientist lab, but filled with books for potions, maps, history, and much more. It is almost like the journal Dregh gave me, filled with details of Iduna and potion recipes that I know my father would just love to get his hands on.
Quickly, I lock the door behind me that leads to my room, the candle instantly producing a flame as father said all the light sources here and laced with magic. Setting the journal down, I head for a small bag, thinking of what to take with me. I take the first thing that comes to mind, the dagger that Duke Gravon gave me months ago. In the total mess of when Heka tried to kill Kyril, I repossessed the blade, taking it far with me. Dregh said I will be obtaining this item from the governor’s house of Avyn when a feast it being thrown. I have no clothes that would allow me slip past the guards and allow me into this man’s house. Not only am I wondering what to wear, but I am not up for playing dress-up and placing myself in some outrageous costume. With what I have, I grab the first outfit that stands out to me as optional. A black dress that covers my chest all the way to my neck, long sleeves, falls to the floor, and looks simple, I know what to pass as already. With another handful of objects like some gold and silver coins, extra laces for my boots, makeup a sorceress gave me to cover the dragon scales on my wrists, and simple food, I close the small traveling bag. Now the question that remains is do I take a horse or go on foot.
“Candice, what is going on in there?” Father’s voice demands from the other side of the door, knocking on the wooden door, wanting to be let in. Quickly, I take Dregh’s journal and shove it into my bag, afraid of the door suddenly opening and him seeing it. “What is going on with you?”
“I have something to do,” I inform, heading for the door as I pull myself together to try and seem calm. “You may not be a fan of that, but Dregh promised me a solution to my journey back home.” Opening the door, I let my father in, his eyes instantly locked on the bag I have fully packed. “You may not understand why I wish to return home because you never came home, but my mother needs me back and I need that life back as well.”
“There is a dragon living inside of you, Candice!”
I shake my head, laughing to myself as I do so. “Do you think I do not know that fact already, Heka?” I ask, furrowing my eyebrows together. “Dregh has promised me to keep the dragon’s soul from tearing me apart and allow me a voyage home to the world I call home.”
Father, rather than staying quite and formulating a response carefully, goes against my expectations as he quickly refutes my statement. “Dregh is a goddess, Candice, which means she lies to get her ways. Hell, she may have offered you a false reality and will kill you when you finish your job for her.” I keep my mouth shut as I know he has more to say. “Someone who wants you to kill gods, they know when you are done that you will come for them next. She will take you out before you can lay a hand on her.”
“You do not get a say in my decisions, Heka, for you have not earned that right yet, nor will you I bet.”
“I am your father! Our family sticks together, we are loyal to one another, respect one another, and do not just throw them aside like old news,” he snaps, slamming the door behind him as we are stuck in my room, the atmosphere tense now.
My blood boils, my vision blurring as the only thing my eyes can focus on is the outline of my father. A darkness wraps around my heart, squeezing it tight, the scales upon my hands spreading down to my knuckles as my father sees my appearance darkening. “You do not have the right to claim anything about the loyalty of family members.” I try and calm myself down by making my hands into fists, to keep them from unleashing any source of power. “You left your wife and your only child behind, never returning. You have no idea the stress that put mom under, how she shut out the world as she tried and find anyway to get you back. You never once came home to say hi or offered your family any form of love. Mom made me believe you were some amazing man, but now that I actually know you, I would be ashamed to call you my father.”
“Candice, you are not leaving.”
“And you are not my father,” I snap, lips pressed in a thin line as I feel magic running through my veins.
“No, I may not act like it, but by flesh and blood I am, so you are not going to throw yourself into Dregh’s traps just yet.”
I scoff. “I know why you keep me around, Heka, and it is not because I am your daughter, but because you wish to use me just as Dregh does, to help you cause. Now, if you would so kindly move, I will be on my way.”
Heka is furious, about to lock the door as he plans on locking me in this room. However, he has no idea some of the powers I have been keeping from him. Fast and in the blink of an eye, I am at the door, slamming it behind me as I shove him out of the way. With my hand on the shut door, I spread my fingers wide and push on the door gently as magic flows out of my hands, running down the door like water, the glowing blue magic coating the door with a strength to keep it shut. Heka yells at me from the other side, telling me I will have to come back, and when I do, I will not escape him again.
Leaving the house, I head for the stables where father keeps his horse. Eyes are locked on me, watching the strange female carry a bag as her father can be heard yelling for me, for someone to stop me. But he knows they will not aid him, for they are afraid of what I could do to them. Grabbing the reins of my father’s horse, the brown horse bows his head at me, calm as I mount the horse and secure my bag behind the saddle. With a swift kick, I hold the reins tight as I am off, wind blowing through my hair.
As I pass the gates of the village, my father storms out of the house, shouting spells as the gates close, his magic too late to keep me locked in as I leave before the gates can close. The forest floor is all that awaits me now, spread far and wide as I recall the direction I must aim now as I have a task to complete. If there is one thing I can agree with my father on, it is that Dregh knows that training me to kill gods means I could easily turn on her. She will come for me when all is said and done, but that means I will have to be ready for her, to fight the goddess of fire and scales, and in the end, it is either her or I that will be left standing on the battlefield. We both have something to lose if we die, for Dregh it is her thirst for power that will never be achieved and for me it’s the fact that I will never get to return home to see my mother once more.
Night soon wraps its arms around the world as the darkness training the sky, the stars faint tonight as I have made camp for the night. A small fire is beside me as my horse is tied to a tree, my fingers spread wide as I consume the warmth of the fire. I did not make the fire because I was cold, but because of what I have learned happens to the flicker of the flame when my hands go near it. The red flame dances around, taking the form of a female, the size of the figure tiny compared to the rest of the fire as I curl my pointer finger, twisting my hand back towards myself as the flame begins to dance, the figure twirling around as I reach out my left hand, bringing forth another figure from the fire, but this time, as a male figure appears in the flame, my hand shakes to keep the female figure still there. It is hard for me to do this with both hands, for I have been practicing this for a couple of months now, the fire figures still small. Taking in a deep breath, I concentrate on my shaking hand, only, as it becomes steady, the female is consumed by the rest of the fire, gone as I hold my hand steady, hoping she will come back, and as I try and focus, what happens next only frightens me.
One second the fire is controlled and just contained in a small space, and the next, the next thing I know my horse is terrified as my skin runs pale. The fire combusts almost, like a bomb, exploding as it becomes a massive flame, a flame that takes the shape of a dragon that looks at me like I am its prey. I stumble back, trying to regain my balance as the dragon, the flame twice my size, comes for me, wings spreading out as I hold out my shaky hands, hoping I can somehow contain the flame. It lunges for me, my hands scorched by its fiery face, my hands burning as I pull them back, pain shooting through my body. As my horse tries to free itself from the knot I have tied, I push my hands back out, concentrating as one second the dragon is lunging for me again, and the next, it is back to merely a small fire like before.
I have no words for what has just happened, but if I know anything, it is that my use of fire is much more powerful than I had thought and that I am only getting more powerful.
Looking to my hands, the burnt skin has begun to repair itself, the scales spreading further down my palms as I watch my skin once more become less like flesh and more dragon.