I’ve gotten things back on track with the monthly flash prompts, so here’s June on time and ready to go. Funny story about this flash piece. It was supposed to be May’s entry with the main character named Emeralda (Emerald) instead of Alexandra (Alexandrite). Since I didn’t have it queued up, I thought I’d skipped writing it, wrote a new one, then found this one when I saved the one I posted for May. *sigh* I swear I’ll do better. Maybe.
For now, enjoy June’s dragons!
June – A Vengeance of Dragons
Xandra checked on each of her fellow prisoners before sliding down the cold stone wall of her cell. The sisters, Avril and Marta, huddled in one corner, their faces streaked with tears and gazes watchful. They were the youngest but not the weakest. Not by far. Jules hovered over her bondmate’s supine form and dabbed at the blood on the broad woman’s battered face. They’d all agreed to this plan, but the slavers’ unholy glee at inflicting Garnet’s wounds had changed things. She and her own bondmate would have to remind the others to keep to the plan or this would never end.
Looking through the bars, she met Aralik’s gaze. Blue fire licked in his reptilian eyes. A sign he walked the razor’s edge of fury.
“How is she?” His mental voice held the biting frost of a harsh winter. It was a voice without mercy, without pity. Things died in such temperatures. Humans died.
“Not as bad as she looks,” she replied in kind. “They’re all surface cuts that’ll heal in the next few minutes. Her unconsciousness and Jules’ worry are a show for our audience.” Their fury, on the other hand, was all too real. And they did have an audience. The slavers had a pet wizard who’d placed a watch stone on the cell’s ceiling. “They’ve lived around humans far longer than the rest of us. They know what they’re doing. Any injuries in your group?”
“Rijen is in a similar state as Garnet, and like her, it’s all minor.”
“Then we wait.”
“Yes.” Aralik’s mental voice was a sinister purr of sound which made her shiver. Not from fear. No. That hint of coiled danger, of stalking menace was what had drawn her so many centuries ago. He reserved that tone for only two things: murder and sex. Tonight, it was both. It made her eager to be done with these slavers and drag him back to their lair.
“Stop flirting,” she scolded softly.
Hiding her smile, because a terrified “human” woman wouldn’t smile in such circumstances, Xandra leaned against the wall and closed her eyes. She wouldn’t use her magic tonight, but holding this form taxed her strength more than she liked. Much as it pained her to be so constricted, she needed to squeeze in a few hours of training each week until it was effortless. Her lips quirked. Perhaps she’d convince Aralik to shift as well. His human form was surprisingly attractive.
“…in luck. We grabbed a new bunch just last night. Haven’t had a chance to check ’em for diseases or rid ’em of unwanted brats.” Jules sucked in a breath, her human form flickering before she got her rage under control. The older woman was part of the wing working as midwives and brood mothers. They held the woman’s choice as sacrosanct. For these humans to take away that choice was a crime which demanded only one sentence. Death. “Had to teach a few some manners, but the others fell into line soon enough. What d’you wanna see first?”
“The women,” said a silken voice. “I’m in need of a new playmate.”
The slaver rasped out a husky laugh. “Break another one so soon?”
“Her mind was weak.”
Xandra’s formed flickered as she fought to control her emotions. Their tones held no more care for the lives they ruined than if they discussed tossing out a frayed dishrag. She felt her mate’s fury along their mental pathway and knew their plans would evaporate the moment the key turned in the lock.
No matter. She was good at adapting.
The door swung open revealing the slaver who’d “ambushed” them during their picnic along the river. “Any one of you bitches move ’n I’ll gut you.” He stepped aside.
The buyer stepped in and scanned the cell. He was shorter than the average adult human male, just over 1.5 meters tall, and reed-thin. He wore no facial hair and kept his deep brown hair pulled back in a queue. His eyes were dark, his expression bored, and his clothing expensive. And he was oddly familiar.
“Carlisle Bainbridge of Coldwater.” Aralik’s voice growled into her mind.
All the pieces clicked into place. Coldwater sat on the very edge of Xandra’s and Aralik’s territory, a human-only village which wore its xenophobia with pride. Only humans could purchase land. Only humans could run shops and pubs. And only humans could trade within their borders.
The village sat in a pocket of unclaimed territory between her domain and Rijen’s. With none of her kind overseeing the humans, they couldn’t force the issue. But as she couldn’t order them to pull their heads out of their asses, they couldn’t command merchants to trade with them. As her lands grew and prospered, most traders altered their routes around Coldwater. Instead of becoming a vital market hub with all the revenue that entailed, Coldwater became an afterthought.
This was why the slavers targeted her territory and only her territory. Carlisle Bainbridge had vowed to reap his vengeance from her and her mate and used her people as pawns in his game. No more.
She touched each of her sisters’ minds, felt Aralik do the same for his brothers. “We are in the dungeons beneath Castle Coldwater, ten pathetic meters below the castle floor. I want Bainbridge and the slaver alive, the dungeons searched, and the castle razed to the ground. Let this serve as a warning to others who dare harm those beneath our care.”
“The townsfolk?” Garnet’s soft growl.
“If they attack, they die.”
Magic lay heavy in the air, the suppressed might of nearly a dozen adult dragons. The guards outside the cell shifted their feet. The slave leader mopped sweat from his brow. But inside, Carlisle Bainbridge had fixed an avaricious eye on Marta. The dragon’s human form had been carefully crafted to appeal to such a man—young, scared, and terribly naïve. At only 125 years old, she’d still had plenty of time to practice this act. It was flawless, and Bainbridge fell for it like all the others.
“Girl!” He pointed at Marta then at a spot in front of him.
Marta whimpered and cowered behind her sister while a gentle hum drifted from the men’s cell. Aralik’s song. Carlisle barked his order again. The humming song quieted until the two guards took a step closer in order to hear it better. Marta sobbed and inched closer, closer. Each step mirrored by the guards outside. When she reached Carlisle, the guards were pressed against the cell’s bars. When she bowed her head to the human leader, the guards unlocked the cell’s door. And when she knelt in supposed submission, the guards drew their blades and stabbed each other in the heart.
For a heartbeat, nothing happened. Carlisle smiled down at his chosen prey with cruel satisfaction, and the slave leader rubbed his hands together as if he was already counting his coins. Then the bodies hit the floor with a clang of their swords on the cell’s bars, and chaos reigned.
The battle was woefully underwhelming. Xandra managed to eat a single slaver during the combat, not nearly enough to satisfy her furious hunger. Bainbridge’s personal guard consisted of skilled warriors, but the castle was poorly defended. The human village could have stormed the castle and overtaken it with minor casualties.
She landed in the center of Coldwater village, Carlisle’s broken body in her claws, and Aralik landed beside her holding the slave leader. The remaining wing of dragons circled the town like hungry vultures searching for a meal. No one would be allowed to leave until she was satisfied. Until they knew the consequences for going into a dragon’s territory and harming those beneath her protection.
“Humans!” Xandra bellowed the words vocally and mentally. “To me. Now.”
Doors opened and the townspeople crept their way toward the city center. Some had faces wet with tears, others wore scowls. Among the fear and the fury were a few bright spots of relief, of gratitude, of welcome. So, not everyone supported Bainbridge’s hateful rhetoric. They’d do well in her territory.
“That’s all of them, Alexandra,” Garnet said into her mind ten minutes later.
“Thank you. Did you wish to return to your lair?” she asked in the same manner.
“We’ll stay. I want to see that bastard die.”
Xandra turned toward the crowd let the sunrise ignite her color-shifting scales into a kaleidoscope of greens and reds. On her left, Aralik’s deep blue scales shone with brilliant turquoise fire. Several of the humans fell to their knees. She didn’t blame them. Her mate was a beautiful dragon.
“Coldwater was outside my territory,” she began. “For this reason alone, I left you to govern yourselves as you saw fit. Instead of forming a prosperous and welcoming community, you built a bastion of hate where slavers felt welcome to practice their despicable trade. No more. Coldwater and all other unclaimed land south of the Hallowswift River now belongs to me. You don’t get to prey on my people without consequences.”
Angry murmurs grew into furious shouts. The mob had turned, their numbers giving them a false sense of safety. They thought she wouldn’t punish them all? They were wrong. The only things holding back her ire were the children. They remained innocent in all this. At her signal, June flew over, snatched the most vocal malcontent from the crowd, and made a show of pulling him apart piece by piece and eating him. Tattered strips of bloody clothing drifted into the suddenly silent crowd.
“Anyone else?” she asked.
A tall woman with a jagged scar across her cheek pushed through the villagers. Her clothes were torn, dirty, and bore the signs of repeated repairs. Her dark brown hair hung to her waist, as matted and dirty as her clothing. She held the hand of a young boy. A brother, perhaps.
“I have a request, Mistress Alexandra.” Her voice was at odds with her appearance. Refined and smooth as the finest wine but with a bite of spice. An intriguing mystery. Xandra nodded for her to continue. “I want him,” she pointed toward Bainbridge, “to suffer. I want to hear him scream and beg and know it’ll be ignored. I want to watch his blood stain the floor drop by drop, a slow countdown to his own death. One he can watch but cannot stop. I want his limbs hacked off with dull blades. Then I want him healed so it can happen again and again and again. Do this, and I’ll pledge my life to you forever.”
Xandra passed Bainbridge to her mate and motioned for the pair to come closer. The woman’s pupils dilated, and a sheen of sweat formed on her brow, but she stepped forward. Xandra lowered her head until they were as close to eye-to-eye as a dragon can be with a human.
“What did he do to you?” she rumbled.
“Dixon can’t hear,” the woman replied and brushed her hand over the boy’s hair. “The healers tried to help him, but as it wasn’t an injury—he was born this way—there was nothing they could do. Bainbridge declared him cursed and therefore a threat to the purity of Coldwater. He’s not cursed or a threat, mistress. I swear it. Bainbridge…” She let her voice trail off.
“…attempted to kill the boy, and you stepped in.” Xandra raised a claw and lightly touched the scar on the woman’s face. To the human’s credit, she didn’t flinch though the color drained from her cheeks.
“Yes, mistress,” she whispered. “We’ve been in hiding ever since. He’s just a boy.” The last was a whispered plea.
“It will be done. Do you have ties to this place?” The woman shook her head. “Very well. When this business is done, you will both come with me. A child can’t thrive in a village which would turn away from him.”
“So soft-hearted you are, Alexandratrixian.” Aralik’s approving voice growled into her mind.
“It’s how I captured the finest dragon for my very own,” she said along their mental path born of their mating. His rumbly laughter caused more than a few humans to cringe in fear, certain he would eat them.
“I’ll install a new mayor once this fool,” she reclaimed Bainbridge from her mate and raised him for the crowd to see, “has breathed his last. We will be watching and listening. Turn on us, and you’ll join him in the square. Consort with slavers, and you’ll join him in the square. We will not be merciful.”
They killed the slaver first. He lasted a mere eighteen hours, and his death drew more than one gasping moan from the crowd. When he shuddered through his final breath, Aralik placed his head on a spike in Coldwater’s town center for all to see. They’d remove it in a week if the carrion birds hadn’t stripped it clean.
Bainbridge was another matter. Xandra took her time with him. A few cuts here, some minor broken bones there. They kept him conscious while she ripped off his fingers, toes, and genitals. She made him watch as she ate the flesh with great relish. Those who couldn’t avoid the village square paled at the butchery, some vomited, but they all understood. This was a reminder that humans weren’t the apex predator here. They never had been.
While Xandra and Aralik cheerfully carved up Carlisle Bainbridge, the rest of the flight searched for their missing people. Some were found. Others lost forever. None were as they’d once been. It would be a long road for the tormented survivors, but with her healers and the humans under her care, they’d do their best to grant them some measure of peace. She could never undo what they’d suffered, but she could promise she’d never allow such evil to stalk her territory again.
It would have to be enough.
copyright 2023, Elaina Roberts