Wyld FLASH June 25th 2021
“Mammoth,” I said, tapping the hunk of bone with my cane.
“Dragon, ma’am! From a most reputable source.”
I turned my stern gaze on the merchant. Everyone knew of my obsession, my willingness to part with good money in its pursuit, but how I tired of being taken for a fool.
“Immerse it in oil of vitriol for an hour, perhaps two, and it might gain the porosity and lightness of a beast capable of taking to the skies.”
His pencil-neck flushed angry red as I went on: “Or it might crumble apart, as most true dragon bones have by now. Always a bit of a risk, that particular gambit.”
It was only after I’d stowed the bundle of oddities I’d purchased for a pittance, to be traded at the next fly-bitten town, that I recalled I’d neglected to warn him not to inhale the acid fumes. I didn’t bother returning to his dingy emporium of curiosities to remedy my mistake; a lesson taught is rarely as valuable as one experienced.
As I retied the straps, my horse standing patiently in the shade, a scrawny man, beard white with age, detached himself from the alleyway.
“Beggin’ yer pardon, m’lady,” he said. “But I slew a firedrake, once.”
“Did you indeed?” I said, doubtful. Despite his rags there was something of the ex-soldier about him, a glint of honesty rare out on the fringes of the kingdom.
He nodded towards the drowsy tavern. “Name’s Connor. Would happ’ly share my tale, if ye were to buy a small drink to wet parched lips?”
I’d already considered waiting out the noon, seeking stories such as his, but now I was gripped by a hope I hardly dared entertain. I tossed him a coin, enough to get royally drunk. “Let’s skip the prologue, shall we? Where?”
His grimy thumb skirted the silver silhouette of a forgotten king. “For one of these, in gold, I could show ye?”
“I thought you promised it would be intact?”
Connor stared horrified at the shape on the canyon floor, picked out by the setting sun. Little more than a few raised heaps, their edges softened by wind and infrequent rains. “It is… was?”
“No teeth.” I pointed to where the skull had lain.
“Ah…” he glanced away, staring into the baleful sun. “Some of us took ’em.”
“And how many of you died, on the journey back?”
“Seven.” The word was barely a whisper. “All but me.”
Then that was why he’d joined the army shortly after, returning to the scene of the tragedy only decades later. Why this site had lain undisturbed.
I caught Connor watching as I slipped on a pair of thick gauntlets.
“Strigoi hide,” I confided, drily. “Incredibly rare. Incredibly expensive.”
I paced to the middle of the cruciform body, glancing to the thin crack of sky above, catching the twinkle of the first star in the deepening blue. This was no lair for a flying serpent. “Broken wing?” I guessed.
The old soldier nodded, head hung low, I hoped in shame. Crippled, in agony, probably starving… It explained why seven miners and one callow youth were able to kill a queen of the skies. But it was their inexperience I was counting on, that might have overlooked what I had been after for half my life.
“What ye searchin’ for?” Connor asked, but I waved him aside, too preoccupied to explain. The irony: as toxic as dragon’s teeth might be for humans, human touch caused ruinous damage to those parts of a dragon that would otherwise last long after death. The teeth Connor’s elders had carried were surely disintegrating even as they killed those who had stolen them.
I traced the weathered remains deep into the canyon, to where the thinning mound ended. Began digging through the sandy earth, heart pounding, throat dry, still daring to believe.
“Bring lanterns! And my bags!” I yelled. “But don’t open them!”
Thrice I dug through the powder, certain each time, finding nothing but bedrock. Night creatures heckled my efforts from the darkness, as light and hope faded. So very long I had looked, traversing every town and hamlet of this benighted kingdom, chasing ghosts. A fool’s errand, a wasted life, whatever the promise I had made.
Then something hard; something pointed, half-felt through the thick leather of my gloves. I howled my delight as I held the intact shard aloft, sand cascading from it. Barely a foot long, a spiral tapering to a needle point.
“What’s that?” Connor asked, picking up on my excitement.
“The tip of a dragon’s tail,” I crowed. “And you have earned your reward.”
A tip harder than steel. But only if it had never been touched by human hand. Little wonder the dragons died out, the last clutches of eggs gathering dust in museums and private collections as no more than curios.
I rushed to my saddle bags, still wearing the gloves, unearthed the precious object hidden in the blankets. I had been told, by the ancient one who set me on my path, that it was well nigh indestructible, the fatal flaw having been finally breed out. Indestructible and, as it turned out, impregnable. I had ruined a dozen good daggers, both in frustration and in desperation.
“Is that…?” Connor boggled.
“A dragon’s egg, yes.”
I turned it over until I found where three faint veins twisted beneath the pearlescent surface, meeting in the egg’s only imperfection, a tiny chink in the hard shell.
I screwed the tail into it, pressing harduntil it would go no further, until I heard it creak.
“Fire!” I called out. “We’ll need a fire!”
As Connor knelt by the kindling, I twisted the head of my cane and silently withdrew the thin blade, waiting impatiently until at last I saw flames.
The first of the new dragons would emerge hungry, as well as cold.
Author Bio: Liam Hogan is an award winning short story writer, with stories in Best of British Science Fiction 2016 & 2019, and Best of British Fantasy 2018 (NewCon Press). He’s been published by Analog, Daily Science Fiction, and Flame Tree Press, among others. He helps host Liars’ League London, volunteers at the creative writing charity Ministry of Stories, and lives and avoids work in London. More details at happyendingnotguaranteed.blogspot.co.uk
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