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The Children of the Sky: Summer Swarm

By Hudson All Rights Reserved ©

Adventure / Fantasy


Jotun is a young dragon living along the fringe of the Waste. Together, with his father and sister, he leads a nomadic life, fighting hunger and the elements through the long, harsh seasons of Qinara, dragonkind's new homeland. But all is not well for the dragons of Qinara. Every summer large, vicious Six-Legs, known collectively as the Swarm, advance out of the eastern Waste, stripping the land of life and driving out the beasts of the land and sky. When the Swarm comes early one spring, Jotun and his kin are forced to flee, eventually making their way to Clan Jor, the largest clan of dragons in Qinara and the last bastion against the Swarm's encroachment. While becoming a clan warrior has always been Jotun's dream, others are not so pleased at their presence. As summer progresses and the Swarm grows in number, Jotun begins to fear the worst - that even Clan Jor, in all its strength, cannot stand before the wrath of the Six-Legs. As he delves deeper into his family's past, secrets emerge that test Jotun's will. And when a nightmarish monster from his father's past reappears, Jotun is left wondering if a little giant like him can truly stand before the might of the Summer Swarm...

The Little Giant

Jotun awoke.

A single brown eye, with slit black pupil, glanced rapidly to and fro for danger. Seeing none, the dragon blinked slowly, sighing heavily through flared nostrils. He lifted his head, scenting the pre-dawn air. Nothing, only dry grass and dust blowing on the wind. A hard, forked tongue slicked between sharp canines. The night had been uneventful.

Feeling cold, Jotun pushed quietly to his claws and stretched, arching his back and spreading his wings, feeling the taut muscles unravel. He shook himself, his scales clattering in the silence, before pushing out of his scrape into the clearing.

They’d sheltered in a small copse of trees last night, as bitter winter gusts blew down from the north. Having lost the scent of a pronghorn herd, they wandered until the sun descended in the west and their wings became numb from hours of gliding on chilly winds. The copse had been a godsend—thick enough to protect them from the wind, but too small for any real threats to hide in. After beating through the brush and flushing out any unwanted squatters, father had deemed the place acceptable. They’d built a bonfire and settled for another cold night on the plains.

He stepped over to the remnants of the bonfire, his claws crackling as they sunk into the frost-laden grass. He sniffed the coals, nudged a blackened branch that disintegrated on contact. Seemed like his sister had let the fire go out again. Or father, perhaps thinking they’d be safer without it attracting attention. He was always going on about safety.

Jotun cast around for the large, moss green dragon. The scrape father had scratched out, atop a rocky bluff that commanded a view of the area, was empty, the clearing void of his deep snores. Likely gone off on a scouting run, trying to find more prey for them all. Across from him, Jotun spotted a ball of red scales tucked next to a fallen log, chest rising and falling in a slow rhythm. Neska had insisted on taking the midnight watch again; it wouldn’t be wise for him to wake his sister now.

Feeling restless, Jotun brushed past his sister and headed out of the trees, folding his wings close to avoid snagging them on brambles and trunks. Ducking his head, he came out on the eastern end of the stand. Plains of short, yellow grass rolled away in all directions, curving over hills, broken by the occasional pine or stunted elm. The wind had mostly died overnight, and now only a soft breeze wavered through the lonely grass stalks. Lifting his snout skyward, Jotun saw scattered clouds high above, stringy and thin, like tendons on a rotten corpse. He sniffed—there would be a storm coming soon. Rain maybe, or snow if they were unlucky. Ahead of him, the sun peaked above the western horizon, a tiny ember growing in size with every passing moment.

Jotun closed his eyes as the sun’s warmth fell on his scales. A voice, low and even, echoed in the back of his mind.

Dragons are the warlords of the sky, Jotun. It is our birthright, bestowed on us by our forefather, Great Nidhogg. We honor him by ruling the sky and all that lies beneath it. We are his chosen—champions of his fire, crusaders of his light.

A smile tugged at the corners of his muzzle. Though he called himself a warrior, father would always be a storyteller to Jotun.

The air warmed, and Jotun eventually shook out his wings, stretching them to their full length, inspecting the pale, leathery membrane pulled tight against the bones of his wings. Small, green scales overlapped the dorsal side of each wing, glinting like tiny emeralds under the sunlight. Jotun dipped his head and licked the larger scales along his chest, cleaning them with his coarse tongue until they shone. He was glad to have finally grown in his adult scales. At nearly eight years old, he should have had his full set already, but like all things about him they grew in slower than the those of other dragons. He was always the runt, the scrawny little dragonet, smaller and weaker than everyone else. The “little giant”, or so his mother had once called him, hoping for a proud, strapping warrior of a son.

He grimaced, steeling his resolve. Little or not, he could still prove himself worthy as a dragon.

Shaking out his limbs one last time, Jotun pounced forward, folding his wings in tight as he built to a sprint. Wind whistled past his head as he arrowed his body, claws flinging up mud as he pounded along the turf. Eyes narrowed, jaws open in a pant, he flung his wings open and heaved up, pushing at the air. His wingbeats flattened the grass as he flapped, before his claws finally left earth and he soared, angling upward into the sky. The world fell away as Jotun banked, circling around to gain altitude, to find a thermal he could rise up on. His wings shuddered as the air passed over them; Jotun kept them stiff, and continued circling.

He rose with the sun, wings spread, tail out for balance and steering, the leaf-thin scales along its length flared to catch air. Sunlight glinted off short, ivory horns curving from the back of his neck. A call of joy built in Jotun’s chest at the exhilaration of flight—he suppressed it, for it wouldn’t serve him now to frighten off potential prey.

Let’s see what this morning has to offer me, he thought, scanning the plains for movement.

He flew with a hunter’s pace, circling the copse in ever widening circles, covering everything below him, missing nothing. Neska’s advice came back to him, to see without seeing, to move his eyes slowly over the terrain. Watch for movement, for discolorations against the foliage. The hoofed earth creatures were adept at avoiding detection, at least to the hasty hunter.

The sun climbed higher as he ranged farther and farther from the copse. Jotun made note of the landmarks in the vicinity, which he hadn’t been able to see last night. They’d flown in from the north, heading south for warmer grounds as they did every winter. This area was familiar, dotted with numerous juts of rock and small grottos between the vast plains of grass. They’d wintered here before, and he was glad to be in familiar lands.

Movement, to his right—a doe, with a fawn trailing behind her. They moved slowly, relaxed, unaware of his presence. Jotun cocked his head. The giant deer weren’t known to travel alone. This pair must have fallen behind the herd they’d been chasing last night.

Good enough.

He snapped his haws shut, the slick, black membranes sliding over his eyes, clearing them of dust and debris. He flicked his tongue out, scenting the air. He licked his jowls, and his stomach rumbled in anticipation.

He checked the area around the deer—they were heading toward a tree-lined grotto, where pursuing them would be difficult with his larger size and cumbersome wings. He needed to strike soon, before they could move under the cover of the vegetation.

His stomach growled again. Jotun narrowed his eyes. Suddenly he spotted something else moving through the grass. Flashes of silver and black, tan and brown. A bushy tail here, a whiskered muzzle there. Silent paws padding low through the stalks.

He wasn’t the only predator out this morning.

Eager to act, Jotun flapped his wings once, twice to gain altitude. His sister’s advice whispered in his ears again. Keeping his shadow far from both predators and prey, he banked away for a count of five, then steered back around, making sure to keep the sun at his back. He eyed the two deer. The doe was a more ambitious target, but would provide more meat. The fawn would be faster and more nimble, but would put up less of a fight. It would also leave them hungry afterwards.

Jotun chose the doe.

He angled up, hung for a moment’s breath, before tucking his claws into his chest and folding his wings. The world pitched around him, the horizon vanishing as the earth filled his vision. The wind picked up, shrieking past his ears as he picked up speed, the currents rattling his body and fluttering his wings. He kept them slightly ajar, enough to keep him on course, head aimed at his oblivious prey below. His tail shifted, balancing him, the third point on the triangle formed with the tips of his wings.

He haws slammed shut. The world shrunk to only the deer before him.

The deer started, their heads shooting up out of the grass. They bolted, heading for the cover of the trees. Out of the corner of his eye Jotun spotted figures chasing after the deer. He didn’t know if he’d been the one to spook the deer, but it didn’t matter. The doe bounded for safety, its long legs eating up the distance as its fawn trailed behind, stumbling along on unstable legs. It sprang left, right, left again, startling Jotun with every change of direction.

The ground rose up blindingly fast, the wind howled past his ears. The doe grew large in his vision—every puff of air, every spot along its dappled flank, every hoof pounding the dust, filled his vision. Prey. So close. Right there. Almost…

Barely a span from the deer Jotun threw his wings open and flared his tail, muscles and bones straining to keep his massive weight from plowing into the earth. Roaring, Jotun extended his claws and slammed into the doe. The deer wailed in shock and collapsed, sending Jotun into a tumble, head over tail, earth over sky. He clung on tight, refusing to release his prey as their momentum brought them to a stop at the lip of the grotto.

His ears rang as the world finally came to a halt. The doe bucked in his grasp, crying mindlessly, desperate to flee the grasp of its captor. Jotun leapt on the doe before it could break out of his claws and clamped his jaws around its throat.

You're mine!

His jaws sank in deep. The doe’s cries rose to a wild shriek, before cutting off completely.

Reveling in his catch, Jotun panted, breath misting in the air, as the doe’s blood dripped from his teeth. Tempted as he was to simply tear into the animal, Jotun kept his hunger in check. He’d be sharing this with father and Neska. They would all eat well this morning.

It was then that Jotun heard growling.

His head snapped up as half a dozen shapes fanned out to surround him. A growl built in his own throat, and he mantled over his catch, gaze rapt on his assailants. Six of them, of fairly large size. They slowed as they approached, ears laid flat, muzzles pulled back to reveal the tips of sharp canines. The one in front was the largest, its pale eyes drilling into Jotun’s.

Dire wolves. A catch this good would never come easily, not out here on the fringe of the Waste.

They advanced on him in a semicircle. Jotun snarled, showing dozens of razor teeth. The wolves balked momentarily, but didn’t retreat. They answered his snarl with snarls of their own, barking and growling in their garbled earth language.

The thrill of the hunt still coursed through Jotun’s veins. Six to one wasn’t good, but this was the first large prey he’d caught without the help of his father and sister. It was more than just food—it was proof of his strength, of his value as a young adult. They’d have to go through him if they wanted it so badly.

Jotun perched his tongue on the edge of his lower teeth, curled and ready to strike. He waited, a viper coiled to spring, as the wolves edged closer and closer.

Just as he breathed in, the wolf in front halted, head up and ears perked. Eyes wide, nose quivering, the wolf suddenly yipped, turned tail and ran. The others quickly followed suit, scampering away, whining and yowling as they went, their hunger forgotten in their mad dash away from danger.

Jotun couldn’t help the grin that spread across his muzzle, pulling back his jowls to show his teeth. He roared a victory call to the chill morning air. He was ferocious, to have sent an entire pack of wolves running like that.

“How’s that for a little giant?” He called to no one in particular.

Then he heard a loud hiss from behind.
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