where there’s smoke

The demon rose from her shadow and plucked the arrow from the air moments before it would have hit her outermost magical shields.  The shaft broke in two as the massive hand in the darkness crushed the missile in its grip.  Then feathers and stone sharpened head followed the split shaft into oblivion as the demon swallowed the weapon into its depths.  While the sorceress had sensed the projectile coming towards her, and had no doubts that her own spells would have protected her from harm, she was still fascinated to finally get to see her guardian in action.

Pulling her gaze away from the demon, she followed the flight of the arrow to see if she could locate her attacker.  The celebrations were still swinging wildly around her and when no immediate threat showed itself she began to suppose it could have been an accident, a celebratory firing into the sky that went errant.  She didn’t actually think that was the case, but it had already been a strange day and wouldn’t discount any theories until she was certain what had happened.  She also wanted to make certain it had been a deliberate attack before she alerted the dragon to it, but sensing its presence in her mind she turned back to see the beast staring at her.

Its snout rose in a sneer and its voice filled her head, “Go find out if it was deliberate.”

She nodded in deference to the dragon’s request and went to find where the arrow had been fired from.  The demon, pulling free from her shadow again, stalked in front of her, sniffing the air to pinpoint the projectile’s path.

The King, noticing the sudden reversal of the dragon’s mood, while shying away from the tremendous amount of heat pouring off the beast’s scales, stammered, “Is everything alright?”

“I doubt it,” the dragon growled, digging its claws into the stone floor and tearing boulder sized chunks free with ease.

A small tendril of smoke escaped the beast’s maw and rose to collect in the domed ceiling of the grand hall.  The dragon had fit through their modified opening after it used its magic to shrink to a quarter of its normal size, which it had done only after circling the King’s castle four times so he, and all his citizens, could see its true form.  And, much as the sorceress had predicted, the King had fumbled over his words of greeting and deference until the dragon had shrunk to a more manageable size for his tiny brain to comprehend.  Even after the festivities had kicked off without a hitch, the King had continued to tremble and cower next to the might beast.  It had pleased the dragon greatly.

The whole day, up until it had felt the arrow’s vibrations cutting through the air as the projectile approached the witch, had pleased the dragon.  It had enjoyed stretching its wings for the flight down from its cave.  It had enjoyed feeling the fear wash over the citizens of the kingdom as it roared overhead.  It had relished the scents of the various dishes that had been cooked and served just for it and the glint of the sunlight casting rainbows around the jeweled offerings.  But then someone had fired an arrow at the witch…

The beast had sensed the witches hope that it had been an accident, but it knew better.  There had been too much velocity, and too much accuracy in the shot for it to have been anything but a direct attack.  The dragon knew what she would find, knew the archer’s death would be quick, if not painless, and knew how much he would enjoy razing this kingdom to ash in his wrath.  The fire swirling within the beast began to ratchet up to an inferno.

a conversation with a dragon

“Are they ready for me?”

The dragon’s voice woke her from her deep slumber, but it no longer scared the sorceress as it would have before they struck their arrangement.  Rolling from her side to her back, and pulling the covers tighter around her to keep out the cold of the evening, she responded without opening her eyes, “As ready as anyone can be.  They have gathered two trunks full of jeweled items and rare coins, and they have been cooking non-stop for days to have enough food for the ceremony they hope to hold in your honor.  They have even knocked down one of the walls of their grand hall so you can easily enter and take a prominent position for the festivities.  Though, they seem to have greatly underestimated your size because I do not think you will fit.”

She could hear the laughter in its voice as it responded, “Nor do I think I’d like being crowded into such a place while surrounded by so many mortals. “  The laughter quickly faded into anger as the dragon continued, “And I am not there to be a spectacle for them all to gawk at.  I am there for their respect and I will have it when my shadow darkens their castle walls and my roar rings in their ears.”

“Once they see you and witness your strength, power, and majesty, I can’t imagine any of them will be brave enough to dine with you in the grand hall, anyway.  The King might, simply from a sense of obligation to his position, but he will tremble before you and stumble over his words.”

“You don’t need to flatter me anymore, witch, you have proved your worth.  You have shown me your kindred spirit.  I have seen the fire burning your soul.”

“It wasn’t an attempt at flattery, dragon.  I met with the King and he was cowering before me.  Standing before you, if he can manage it, will be the greatest feat of his life.”

“We will see tomorrow when I make my appearance…” the beast paused and the sorceress opened her eyes as she sensed the request before it entered her mind.  “I would like you to join me this time.  Future kingdoms I will likely fly to and receive my homage on my own, but, for this first one, to finalize our alliance, I would like you at my side.”

“Of course,” she immediately answered, though the words were followed by the curiosity of the request and the pondering that perhaps the dragon had a weakness after all.

a new trick or four

Triumph followed triumph and the sorceress quickly conquered each of the remaining ancient spells the dragon had shared with her.  After summoning the demon guardian and binding it with her shadow, she learned a spell that allowed her to enhance and sustain her senses, so she could see further, hear more, and feel the world shifting.  It was simple, but the implications were far ranging.  When under the influence of the magic it would be harder for would-be attackers to sneak up on her and being more in-tune with the natural movement around her would allow her to focus more completely on her magic and create more powerful spells, more impactful spells.

Once she had mastered the enhancement incantation, she studied a curse that allowed her to see through the eyes of a targeted individual without them knowing.  She wasn’t immediately sure how she would use that, but with a few minor modifications to the wording of the spell she realized she could also use the jinx to force someone else to see the world through her eyes, and she saw many benefits to that from educational purposes to torture.  She could help a future apprentice see how to properly perform a difficult ritual, or she could make someone watch as she dismantled their lives.

With those two new spells mastered, the sorceress took a moment to spy on the king she had warned of the dragon’s coming.  She could see, through his eyes, that plans were well underway to provide a welcome arrival for the beast, and her enhanced sight and hearing didn’t detect anything going on nearby in hiding.  All activity seemed to be focused on preparing a sumptuous feast and gathering hordes of treasures to offer in homage.

Satisfied she went to her chambers to rest and after another night of restorative and peaceful sleep, she rose and finished learning the final two spells.  One gave her the power of flight, which while mostly useless given her power to walk the hidden pathways of magic on command, was still exhilarating to try out and sail through the moonlit sky above her castle, the edge of her robes snapping in the wind, her hair streaming behind her.  The final spell was an enchantment that allowed the sorceress to bend the weather to her will.

If she needed darkness during the day she could summon clouds to block out the sun.  If she needed light in the darkness, but didn’t want to create a fire or use other spells to create artificial light that might give away her location, she could ensure the sky was cloudless.  She could summon rain and lightning.  She could stop and start squalls of wind.  However, there were limitations because the magic worked in connection with the surrounding environment and depending on what she needed, she would have to give more of herself at times and ran the risk of draining her energy.  Still, the implications of her newfound powers intrigued and excited her greatly.

the first warning

Lavish purple and orange tapestries draped from the corners of the room and matched the richly appointed cape and sash of the ruler.  Knights in full dress armor, with matching sashes, stood at the ready on either side of the throne.  The King’s seat had been inlaid with exquisite care in the design of the ruling family’s coat of arms from finely worked gold and silver.  The light streaming from the high windows, adorned with stained-glass and nestled below the domed ceiling, glimmered against the precious metals.

The sorceress took in the scene with a glance and immediately understood it was all for show, it was all to promote the idea of wealth.  The King held his position because he had the resources to maintain power and control.  With a knowing smile, hidden beneath the cowl of her flowing robes, she stepped through the portal she had created to stand directly in front of the throne.

With a quick word in the language of magic the King’s guards fell asleep and crumbled to the ground.  An intact of breathe behind her, followed by a hush from the gossiping audience of the rulers court, was all she allowed before turning her considerable powers on the remainder of the room with a swirl of her right arm.  The king, though his instincts were still good despite his age, was unable to clear his scabbard before she had stopped his movements and pushed him back into his thrown with a flick of her left wrist.

“What is the meaning of this?”  He stammered, the rage at her audacity covering his fear of her sudden arrival and obvious skill in her craft.  “Who are you?  What do you want?”

“You have a legend in your kingdom, do you not,” the sorceress stalled, her head rolling to the right side as she gazed upon the king, “of a great dragon that lives in the hills and steals wicked children from their beds?”

His face flushed as he attempted to stand and strained uselessly against the spell that held him to his throne.  Gasping for air, his eyes burning with hatred, the king halted his attempts to break free and allowed his body to settle back into the elaborate chair.  “Who are you?”  He repeated his question.

“Who I am does not matter.  I’m just a messenger.  I’m just a harbinger of what is to come.  I will leave in a few moments and it is likely you will never see me again, unless you do not heed my advice, and trust me when I say, you do not want to see me again.”  She hissed her words at him and enjoyed watching him shrink further into the throne as the magical pressure applied to his chest increased.  “Do you have that legend, or not?”

“We do.  We do have that legend, yes.  It has been around for so long no one alive remembers how it started.  The origins of the story are no longer passed through the generations along with it.  What does…”

The sorceress cut him off, “The dragon is real, and it has sent me to tell you that it is tired of being only a legend.  It will be visiting you shortly and you must pay it the proper homage or face the consequences.  Bow before it, lavish it with gifts and promises of more to come, and it will let you keep your kingdom.  Fail to impress upon it that you will be loyal to it and the beast will tear your kingdom out from under you.”

She stepped back into her portal but let her final words carry through to the king before disappearing entirely, “And take any wrong steps before it arrives and I will know and I will return.  Your death at my hands will be much slower than it would be at the claws or fangs of the dragon.”

Her final view, before closing the portal, showed the King’s face had gone ashen.  Her words, and her delivery, had made him understand the message.  She had done her part and was free to return to her studies until the dragon called upon her again.

the time has come

She woke to the warm kiss of the sun on her cheek and fluttered open her eyes to see that a new day had begun while she was finally getting the restorative sleep her body and mind needed.  She could feel its presence without looking, but she turned her eyes away from the lighted window to search the shadows for the demon anyway.  It was in the far corner of the room, as far from the window as it could be, and only visible as a slightly darker shadow among the remaining traces of dawn’s gloom.

Stretching luxuriously, feeling better than she had since the night she had found herself betrayed by her former apprentice, the sorceress took a minute to relish the energy that coursed through her and the crispness of her rejuvenated mind.  Then the call of further power gently coaxed her from her bed and back into her study.

Standing over her desk, she shuffled the top parchment to the bottom and glanced at the words written on the page that now resided in the primary position.  She half expected the dragon’s laugh to return and the spell to elude her, but she had already passed that test and the spell again dripped easily from her lips as she quickly spoke it aloud.

After the final incantation, her eyes lifted from the page to the demon, who had followed her from her chambers to the study to take position in the corner again, and she watched as it strode forward to bond with her own shadow, cast by the morning light streaming through the window behind her, and stretching across the floor.  It shimmered for a moment as it passed through the sunlight and moved to hide within her shadow and she felt a cool chill as it took its place.

Experimentally she contorted her arms and swayed her body and watched appreciatively as the demon seamlessly followed her erratic movements.  Her new guardian could now follow her wherever she went.  It would be her first line of defense and a secret attacking option should she ever find herself in a dire situation again.  Its power and immortality rivaled those of the dragon as it could not be killed through normal means and could only be parted from her upon her death, at which time it would be sent back to its normal plane, and that was something it did not want to ever happen so it would do everything it could to protect her.

The sorceress smiled as she gazed into the depths of her shadow, and that smile remained even as the dragon’s voice returned to her, “You have done well, witch.  You continue to surprise me, but now that you have begun to conquer the magic I have given you, it is time for you to begin upholding your end of our arrangement, too.  I’m ready to leave my cave.  I’m ready for the world to know true fear again.  Spread the word of my coming.”