Chapter 33: Bonus Prequel Series Part 1
I couldn’t see my father’s dragon anymore. My eyes searched wildly but the only thing I could see was gray rock.
I clutched at the sides of my head when the wolves’ howls grew even louder. Their shrill voices pierced my ears and shattered my remaining strength.
I fell down onto the rocky ledge, my fingers scratching against the coarse stone. Every single one of my muscles throbbed and ached; all I wanted to do was sleep for eternity.
Zari take a deep breath, Mitalonys growled.
What? Why―I gasped. Pain tore through my mind and I fully collapsed. My face hit stone. The metallic tang of blood filled my mouth and I spat as dirt covered my tongue.
My body contorted and my mind warped. My hands curled into clawed feet, spikes burst from my spine, and my ribcage cracked and grew.
Wait Mita my leg! I shrieked, my eyes watering at the searing pain that stopped my breath dead in my throat.
You do not need your leg to fly. You do not need your leg to live, he replied shortly.
I squeezed my eyes shut, gritting my teeth and pressing my forehead against the rough stone. My mind was completely overwhelmed by the seemingly endless waves of pain.
The shift took what felt like hours. By the time I could breathe properly again, the sun was disappearing behind the mountains.
Mitalonys forced me to my feet, favoring my twisted and broken back leg.
Where are we going? I asked.
Far, he growled.
I shook my head and leapt off the ledge. The wind quickly caught my wings and my breath.
I’d forgotten what it felt like to fly.
My head snapped up at the sharp sound of a whistle. Nearly a dozen silhouetted figures stood atop the cliff, their howls echoing in my mind once again.
Mita we need to―
I screamed at the icy pain ripping through the base of my wing. It took only a moment for my limbs to go completely still with the freezing torment that could only be cold iron.
The shrubs at the bottom of the canyon were suddenly visible but I couldn’t move. The wind screeched around me and the ground moved closer with each passing second.
Then everything started to spin as the poison paralyzed the rest of my body. It wasn’t a numbing paralysis though, it was absolutely excruciating and I swore there were thousands of tiny needles stabbing every nerve in my body.
The pain grew until my heart throbbed with agony and I didn’t even have the strength to cry out.
My eyes fluttered shut as my heart started to slow. I heard my dragon growl my name but he was even weaker than I was. There was nothing he could do. The howling wolves had gotten to him too.
The sight that greeted my eyes was unfamiliar. But the strange figure at my feet had me much more concerned.
I quickly tried to sit up but stabbing pain shot through my limbs and forced me back onto the hard surface with a sharp gasp.
“No don’t get up! Just stay still! I’m not going to hurt you I promise!”
His face was blurry, but even as I blinked and my eyes adjusted, it remained soft. My heart was beating furiously but his warm gaze was calming.
He grinned. “There we go, just take a deep breath and try to relax okay?”
I opened my mouth to speak but my throat was so dry I could scarcely swallow.
“Here,” he murmured, disappearing from view for a moment.
Something solid pressed against my lips and I greedily drank the liquid. I only managed a few sips before coughing violently, my eyes watering at the burning sensation on my tongue.
“What is that?” I choked out, my nose wrinkling.
“It’s juice from a plant that grows out here, it’s a bit of an acquired taste but it’ll help keep you hydrated,” he said with an amused smile.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“My name is Kellan, I’m a witch.”
My eyes widened. “I thought all the witches lived in the clans?”
His smile faltered. “The clans fell apart about a year ago.”
I gaped. “What?”
“Most of the witches are scattered around these canyons or traveled beyond dragon territory,” he told me.
“My gods,” I breathed. “What happened?”
“The wolves showed up,” he said with a shrug. He turned away and started messing with various jars and cloth bundles.
I glanced around the cave, my eyebrows furrowing as my gaze wandered over the painted walls and crudely built furniture.
I tried to readjust my position but my entire body immediately erupted with a burning pain.
Kellan rushed over, panic on his face. “No no you can’t move!” he exclaimed. “You fell a long way down and you need to wait for your body to recover.”
I blinked a few times. “What?”
He paused, backing away slightly. “Don’t you remember? The other dragon was shot down with an arrow and then that night you were shot down with a spear. You fell down the cliffside and shifted back by the time I found your body. Somehow you were still alive though so I brought you here.”
My headache worsened as I tried to remember but it eventually came back in hazy broken pieces.
“I remember,” I mumbled, my chest aching at the thought of my father’s body, still lying there at the bottom of the canyon.
He nodded. “I will be right back, I need to get a few more supplies but please don’t get up. I understand you’re probably anxious and scared but if you get up then I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to keep you alive for much longer,” he said with a breathy laugh.
“Okay,” I agreed.
He offered me a small smile before pulling a hooded cloak over his head and stepping out the mouth of the cave.
I frowned a little when I noticed it was dark. And raining.
My gaze moved down to my body. There was a heavy animal skin draped over me, surrounding me in a comforting warmth.
I swore loudly and held my breath as I painfully pulled the blanket off. My mouth fell open in horror.
My leg was still broken though the bone wasn’t sticking out anymore. The skin around it was torn and bloodied and my nose wrinkled at the foul smell coming from the pus-filled gash.
The pads of my hands and feet throbbed and stung. They were almost entirely bare of skin and swollen with small rocks buried in the tender flesh.
The rest of my body was in a similar state. Every centimeter of my skin was scraped and bloodied and covered in dirt and shards of gray rock.
It hurt to breathe and the massive black bruises on my chest made me guess that I had a few broken ribs. My lip was busted and my nose felt broken too.
Then there was my shoulder. It was a wonder my arm was still attached. There was a gaping hole that sent pulses of agonizing pain through my entire body.
“I thought I told you not to move?” A voice asked.
I glanced up at the boy who I quickly realized wasn’t much older than myself. His smile was kind and hopeful like before but his brown eyes were full of pain.
I looked back down at my wounded body. “I’m sorry, I needed to see,” I croaked out.
He shook the water from his hair and took off his cloak, laying it out to dry near the small fire in the corner. “Well I managed to find the last few ingredients I needed so I can fix up your hands and feet, and your face too,” he said, dropping a cloth bundle onto the ground beside me.
“Is there any way you can fix my shoulder or my leg?”
He sighed. “I’m afraid I don’t know how to mend a broken bone. And I did everything I could with your shoulder. Cold iron is tricky and I don’t know much about it. But if you and your dragon are injured then you’re going to heal like a human, that much I do know,” he murmured.
I nodded slowly, swallowing the thick lump in my throat. “Thank you for helping me.”
He shrugged, pulling the animal skin back over me before moving to mix herbs and various other ingredients from his bundle in a small wooden bowl. “It’s the least I could do considering it’s the witches from my clan that are helping the wolves―I mean not by choice but still, without them the wolves never would have been able to make cold iron weapons like that.”
“If they didn’t have those weapons then there’s no way they ever would have been able to kill the dragons,” I muttered.
He nodded absentmindedly. “I didn’t realize exactly how deadly they were until I saw you―or your dragon anyway. If a single arrow can take down a massive dragon that easily then I wouldn’t be surprised if the wolves completely wiped out your race in the next few years.”
Tears ran down my burning cheeks as I realized how true his words were. An arrow took my father’s life and a spear almost took mine. Mitalonys hadn’t spoken a word but I could feel his pain, hundreds of times worse than mine.
“This is going to hurt,” Kellan warned.
He took my hands in his and put a gray-green paste on my palms. I hissed and tried to yank them away but he held my wrists tight. “That wasn’t the painful part,” he mumbled and his grip on my hands tightened further.
I took a deep breath when he closed his eyes and started muttering something foreign. My jaw fell open at the sudden searing pain that streaked through my palms. If it weren’t for his iron grip I would have ripped my hands away and probably punched him.
The burning started to fade and I sighed heavily as he washed off the paste with a small cup of warm water. The skin was completely healed. Scarred and red but no longer torn or bleeding.
He smiled a little. “Ready to do your face?”
“Nope no get it away,” I growled.
“What! Why? She’s not gonna hurt you,” he scoffed.
My gaze flicked back down to the snake slithering onto my blanket. My skin was crawling and it took all of my self control not to run screaming from the cave.
“Kellan why do you have a snake?” I asked.
“Because she’s my dæmon. Now why are you afraid of snakes?”
My breathing rate increased sharply when the snake started to slither onto my chest. “Because they’re dangerous and creepy as hell.”
“You’re a dragon for fuck’s sake,” he muttered in exasperation.
“That doesn’t mean I like snakes!” I growled. “Please get this thing off me!”
“It’s a she,” he murmured.
“I don’t care get it off!”
He sighed with a roll of his eyes. “Janessa leave her be.”
The snake’s tongue flicked out and its icy blue eyes flashed. Then it turned away and slid off me.
I breathed a sigh of relief when it moved to Kellan on the other side of the cave. It had to be at least two meters long but it somehow coiled itself into loops so that it rested in a circle that could easily fit in my lap.
“So tell me why you don’t like snakes? Did one bite you when you were young or something?” he asked, stroking the top of his dæmon’s head with a gentle hand. It was like he had forgotten how much damage a creature that size could actually do.
“A snake bit a friend of mine and she lost her hand to the poison,” I said, eyeing the serpent warily.
“Ah, well you should remember that a dæmon is different. She obeys me. She won’t hurt you unless I wish it.”
“Well I will make sure to stay on your good side then,” I murmured.
He smiled. “Look at that, I made a dragon scared,” he chuckled to himself.
I scowled, shaking my head a little. “Whatever,” I growled.
His smile widened but he said nothing more as he turned back to the two rabbits on the ground beside him. I watched as he expertly skinned and gutted them, feeding the entrails to his snake.
“Are you good at hunting?” I asked.
“Absolutely not,” he snorted. “But Janessa is amazing at it. She brings me a couple of rodents and birds everyday and on occasion manages to take down something bigger.”
“What do you do with the skins?” I asked with a pointed look at the pile of furs against the wall.
He followed my gaze then shrugged. “Depends on what I need. I usually make blankets out of the big creatures and bags with the smaller ones.”
I watched as he used a blade to cut the rabbit meat into bite-sized pieces and put them in a small pot with a few plants I didn’t recognize. He set the pot directly onto the fire, making me frown when I realized his hands were bare.
“Aren’t you going to burn yourself?”
He shrugged again. “If I burn myself I can fix it in a few seconds. It’s one of the healing spells I do know.”
I nodded absentmindedly, my eyes wandering around the cave. It was quite large, plenty of room to stand and walk around. It wasn’t a bad place to call home.
“Why do you live in a cave?”
“Why do you ask so many questions?” He replied with a half smile.
“That’s what I do when I’m trapped,” I muttered.
He sighed. “Fair enough. Caves are safe. There’s only one way in or out in most of them so an ambush is practically impossible. They’re warm and protect you from weather and wildlife. A lot of the time they have fresh water from underground springs too,” he explained.
“Really?” I asked.
He nodded and motioned toward the wall opposite the mouth of the cave. I didn’t see anything at first but as I looked closer I noticed water bubbling up from cracks in the stone floor. It ran downwards in a tiny stream before collecting in a small pool.
“My father never liked caves,” I said.
“The red dragon? That was your father?”
“Yeah,” I mumbled, swallowing the thick lump in my throat.
“Wait you’re the princess?” He asked in disbelief.
There was a firm pressure behind my eyes; it grew painful as I tried to keep the tears at bay. I nodded, staring down at my lap. “My father thought it would be best if we left and hid in the mountains. He said we were rabbits in a cage if we stayed in the Circle. He thought we’d have a better chance against the hunters if we left.”
“If he didn’t like caves then where did you sleep?”
“In the trees. We didn’t sleep much though―or at least he didn’t. My father would carry me while I slept,” I told him.
His face was somber as he offered me a hesitant smile. “You have my condolences princess―though I suppose it would be more appropriate to call you queen now."
“Please don’t call me that,” I whispered, my voice breaking.
“May I ask why not?”
“Because the dragons are going to be gone soon, and I don’t want to be the queen of ashes.”