Never a Dragon: Dragon's Daughter Book 1
Make change from inside the system? Is it really possible? Suppressing your powers and doing work for others seems more like slavery than alliance.
Somewhere north of Kugaaruk, Nunavut. Canada.
It was no mystery why the dragons had ceded the land below Hester Diamantine to the dwarves. This was a barren, icy place, especially in January. What few trees grew there were all windswept, scraggly pines that looked like they’d rather be incinerated by dragon flame than grow another year in the cold.
Every single body of water—and there were many of them on this peninsula that looked like it would prefer to be dragged into the frigid ocean—was frozen solid with ice. They had left the town of Kugaaruk behind them an hour before. The dwarves there hadn’t wanted to tell Cesar Tormentus where they were hiding the rogue mages, but they had told him all the same.
“I have something,” Rubonus said. He was the youngest of the three dragons on this mission to capture a group of renegade mages, although he was still far older than the last member of their group, a mage by the name of Lara Cooper who was bonded to Hester. He made up for his lack of experience with enthusiasm and had not hesitated to show the dwarves that even though their skin was impervious to dragon flame, their homes and businesses were not.
“If it’s another fucking fish shack, I don’t want to hear about it,” Tormentus said.
They had already leveled three fishing shacks, only to find—what else?—people fishing inside.
“I appreciate that, sir,” Lara said to Tormentus.
“It’s not your job to approve, Mage Cooper.” He said the word “mage” like it was a slur. To him, it was. “It’s your job to obey the dragon you are bonded too.”
“What do you see, Rubonus?” Hester asked. She knew Lara could use her magic to keep herself warm while she rode on her back, but there were limits to her powers, especially since she wore a dampening cuff on her wrist that rendered them more impotent than they might have been. The dragon didn’t want to flatten any more fishing shacks, but she didn’t want to be out there until Lara froze to death either. She liked the little mage.
“I hate to bust your horns, Tormentus, but it is another fishing shack.”
“I’m waiting for the part where you tell me why I should care,” their leader snarled.
“This one doesn’t have any lights on,” he replied. In his eagerness, he made Hester think of a fox hunting a vole. Honestly, that was an apt comparison. The idea of a modern mage killing a dragon was about as preposterous as the idea of a vole killing a fox. To be sure, both happened.
A fox might choke on a vole or get rabies from one, and groups of mages had been known to get lucky and hurt dragons—but not with even odds and not during a retrieval. Tormentus called this a hunt, but that was not what it was. This was a mage retrieval, plain and simple. Hester was his lieutenant, and part of that meant reminding him of such discrepancies.
“Then how do we know there are people there at all?” Their leader did not sound amused.
“I can sense magic signatures,” Lara whispered to Hester. She relayed the information to Tormentus. It usually went better that way.
“How many?” he asked Cooper. He knew full well that it took a mage to sniff out a mage, exactly like it took a dragon to sniff out a dragon.
“Uh…they’re trying to suppress their powers so I can’t sense them but—”
“Tell me how fucking many of these traitorous mages there are,” he growled.
“I sensed five, sir, but it’s now only four,” Lara responded and tried to keep her voice strong over the wind.
“That has to be them, sir.” Rubonus flapped his wings and flew a little lower to point his nose at a fishing shack in the middle of the lake.
“Rubonus, grab a tree trunk and try to drop it on the building. You need to practice your accuracy and even if you miss, it’ll shatter the ice and drown the cowards.”
“Sir, if I may,” Hester interjected before Rubonus swooped to retrieve his missile. She didn’t wait for Tormentus to respond because she didn’t want to wait until spring. “We haven’t made contact with these mages since they left the United States and entered dwarf land. Protocol states that we need to give them a chance to explain themselves and take a cuff.”
“They made their choice when they ran,” he said.
“If they weren’t running from the duties of their American citizenship, they wouldn’t be suppressing their powers,” Rubonus pointed out as casually as if he commented that it was cold out rather than trying to deny a group of citizens their right to cooperation.
“Still, sir, if Cooper and I can get them to wear the cuffs, that would be four more mages for our department. Reports show that two of them are at least third-level mages. As a commander, you get a commission based on their placement—correct, sir?”
“It’s hardly commission but yes, you’ve made your point, Diamantine. You have five minutes to see if you and the mage can get them to put the cuffs on. After that, we burn that shack and melt the ice beneath their feet.”
She nodded, ignored the fact that he insisted on using her formal dragon name, and flew out over the lake. Experience was a powerful reminder that Tormentus was already counting time. She spread her wings to slow her flight to a gentle glide as she approached the structure. It was tiny and made of rickety boards and a corrugated tin roof. A few fishing poles leaned up against the outside of it. But Lara was right. There were people inside.
Hester could smell smoke from a hastily extinguished fire. She pumped her wings twice and blew snow drifts away from the fishing shack and out across the frozen lake. Beneath the snow was the crystalline blue sheen of the ice. It reflected the moon above them as if both the sky and the lake watched what would transpire there that day.
Seconds before she landed, Lara leapt from her back with a magic-augmented gust of wind to slow her fall. Before the dragon touched down on the ice, she shifted into her human form. Her momentum was such that when her feet landed, cracks spread from her impact. Still, the ice seemed solid enough. She took a few steps forward and the surface didn’t crack further.
“We know you’re in there,” Hester called into the night. In response, the clouds, heavy and gray, moved in to block the moon.
“We don’t mean you any harm. We merely need you to come home to your country and serve your fellow people. You all have gifts. We want to help you use them.”
She received no response except from the clouds, which began to drop big fat flakes of snow on the scene. Hester stood in silence for a moment. The falling snow swallowed all sound. She could hear nothing from inside the shed and nothing from outside except the sound of wind moving over the wings of the two dragons who circled overhead.
“One of them stopped suppressing their magic,” Lara whispered through the snow.
“That was a stupid thing to do,” she muttered, knowing the mages inside couldn’t hear her. She stepped forward and knocked on the brittle, wooden door. Even if she didn’t have a well of dragon strength to call on, she had a feeling she could have knocked the door off its hinges if she wished to do so.
She was about to do exactly that when a light blazed inside the dilapidated building. Orange light glowed around the poorly framed door and the wood exploded outward in the wake of a massive fireball. Hester, no stranger to fighting fire, raised her arms to block her face, but the heat and pressure of the blast were too much. She was hurled from her feet, thrown back, and cracked the ice with her shoulder, but thankfully didn’t fall through.
One of her hands screamed in pain when she tried to push to her feet. The fireball had done far more damage than she had expected. Her dragon healing powers seemed to have trouble mending the wound.
“And you! You’re a fucking traitor to your people!” the mage who had thrown the fireball yelled at Lara. Hester knew it was the same mage because his hands were wreathed in flame. This was most likely the leader of the little squad they were tracking. The reports had been wrong. He was more advanced than third-level. The flames on his hands danced and made his sweat-streaked brow glisten and his eyes look even crazier than they would have in the hidden moonlight of the growing snowstorm.
“Mages who don’t work with the dragons are killed!” Lara shouted and used a spinning disk of air to deflect a blast of fire, then another. “Help me change the system from the inside.”
“Says the slave. You’re worse than a slave. You’re a slave who hunts men brave enough to be free.” The other mage launched a blast of fire and she flinched and allowed the attack through her disc of air to knock her off her feet.
“You don’t deserve her pity,” Hester said, done with playing nice and ready to take this mage by force for what he had done to Lara.
She readied herself for a retaliatory attack but never had the chance.
Tormentus and Rubonus swooped in from opposite sides and completed a damn near perfect ring of fire maneuver. Each dragon exhaled narrow blasts of flame at the ice surrounding the fisherman’s shack. The ice—as thick as it was—was no match for dragon fire, and by the time the two dragons completed their loop, the surface beneath Hester’s feet was no longer solid but an ice float.
“I’d rather die free than live as a slave!” the mage shouted at the two dragons and hurled balls of fire into the night that they dodged easily.
“And what about your allies? Do they wish to die on their feet or live for decades?” Hester shouted at the man and tried to draw his attention.
“She’s trying to use her aura powers on you, Jason. Don’t fall for it!” A female mage emerged from the shack and rocked on the now tilting and shifting piece of ice. The snow whipped behind her and revealed her magical ability to control the wind.
“Lara,” Hester said.
“On it.” The mage grunted. She pushed to her feet in time to throw a blast of wind at the newcomer. She was far more practiced and funneled her gust into a tight cylinder that drilled toward her opponent’s chest, but the raw power of the unbound mage exceeded what power she had available to her while she wore the magical dampening bracelet. The rookie mage and the magic master’s powers collided, created a swirling dervish of snow and sleet that zig-zagged between the two dueling women, and threw sleet and frigid lake water everywhere else.
The dragon had no doubt that if Lara were unbound, she would have been able to defeat the mage easily but of course, no mage could go about unbound. That was why these had tried to escape.
“You have no right to your power!” the fire mage yelled at Hester. “You’re not a predator but a parasite.” Another blast of fire followed and she dodged it. He could heat his attacks hot enough to burn a dragon, which was no easy task. Her right hand still hadn’t healed and it didn’t feel like it would.
But he was only human and she was a dragon who had trained for centuries in combat. She moved forward and stepped around his assaults with practiced ease. It took the mage a great deal of effort to throw the superheated fireballs, so every one of them was easy to anticipate—or easy for someone with dragon reflexes anyway.
She settled into a rhythm—step, step, dodge, step, step, step, crouch. Step. Step back. In moments, she had covered the distance between them. She thrust her left hand into his chest and the mage catapulted away. Her intention had been for him to collide with the shack, but she had misjudged. Instead, he tumbled across the snow-covered surface of the lake.
Hester glanced briefly at the shed. Why hadn’t the other two mages come out? It was surely obvious by now that the two who currently fought wouldn’t win. What were they waiting for?”
A scream jerked her head away from the shed, her opponent, and back to Lara. She turned in time to see a great wave of water rise from the lake and pound into her to sweep her feet out from under her.
It seemed the mage she had been fighting could control more than a single element. This was unusual in a rogue mage but not unheard of. While the woman’s control of water might be rudimentary, it was still a threat, especially with the cold.
But it was fire that proved to be the decisive element in this battle. The mage Jason blasted Lara with flame. At first, the dragon thought he had missed but the ice melted and cracked beneath her and in seconds, her mage fell into the icy water.
“Lara!” Hester screamed and scrambled after her. She had to get her out. The mages could wait. Humans were squishy little things. If Lara got too cold, she would die. Her rescue took priority for now. She reached her and extended a hand but was too late. The water had already iced over.
The dragon straightened and turned toward the mage with the wind powers. Had she frozen the surface of the water to kill Lara? But no…she now ran back toward the fisherman’s shack and pointed at the sky—or more specifically, the dark shapes of two approaching dragons—and screamed.
Then, Hester understood. In the doorway of the shed stood a third mage, an old man. He had refrozen the lake and killed Lara.
“Murderer!” she shouted and ran toward him as the two dragons swooped overhead.
They flew in a tight formation so when they exhaled flames, it was as if a single inferno engulfed the rickety structure.
Surprisingly, it didn’t burn.
In the flames, Hester saw the fourth mage silhouetted, a young man who wrapped the entire hovel in some kind of shielding energy. His power was stronger than anything she had ever seen in a mage. To stop Tormentus was a feat in itself, but to stop him and Rubonus was beyond comprehension.
It was almost a pity that he didn’t fully understand the power of the dragons he now faced. The flames didn’t burn the shed but they did melt the ice all around it. In one moment, three mages stood in their shed and tried to defend it. In a split-second, they were on a tiny island of ice made top-heavy by the shed on it. It tipped into the frozen lake and spilled the three defenders into the water.
The old man had the wherewithal to attempt to freeze the water so he could climb out, but Tormentus’s third strike came much sooner than his second had. He incinerated the old man and the shed in one blast.
The only mage left was Jason, the fire mage who had turned a simple retrieval into a goddamn slaughter.
His attention wasn’t on Hester, though. It was on the pine tree falling from the sky directly toward him.
She knew that many mages could use their powers to move objects but Jason didn’t seem to be one of them. Rather than redirect the falling tree, he blasted it with fire. All he achieved was to transform it into a burning trunk that impaled him and thrust him into the frigid lake to end the fight.
Hester wasted no time. She doubled back to where Lara had fallen under the ice. “Lara! Lara, dammit, you’re better than this!” she screamed at the icy surface. This far from the dragon’s twin inferno, the lake was still frozen from the old man’s magic as if it had never been broken at all. “Lara!” she shouted.
“That mage complained about the cold of the wind. She’s as good as dead,” Tormentus boomed from the sky.
“She could have made a pocket of air to breathe. She might still be alive.”
“It’s doubtful,” the leader grunted. “We’re heading south. Mission accomplished.”
“Mission accomplished!” Rubonus echoed.
“I can’t leave her down there,” she shouted at the two dragons. She had lost control of her aura and knew they could both taste her grief for the dead mage—no, dying. She could still be saved. The young woman had to be saved.
In return, Tormentus let Hester feel his aura plainly. Disdain was what he felt, disdain for her and achievement for the mission. He counted it a success even though Lara was dead.
“The plane in Kugaaruk will leave at dawn. If you miss it, you’ll have to fly to Boston,” The leader didn’t even bother to slow as he banked in a wide circle to return from whence they came. “While you’re at it, make sure there are no other survivors.”
“I’m sorry about your mage!” Rubonus said. “She was a cute one. If they give me a good one, you can have first choice if you want it, yeah?”
With that almost insulting response to her grief, they were gone.
Hester turned to the lake and tried not to let despair over Lara’s death overwhelm her. It was incredibly hard to not blast a hole in the ice and try to dive for the mage’s body, but she was no swimmer. Some dragons were but she wasn’t one of them. If she broke the ice, she wouldn’t be able to peer through it. Instead, she searched for her friend’s body—that was what Lara was, a friend. She didn’t think of the woman as her mage but she did think of her as her friend.
And she had let her die.
Alright I'm hooked! This is exactly the dragon adventure story I didn't know I was looking for! How did such powerful creatures find themselves in a place that stifles their abilities. Come back in a few days to read the second Snippet, and in the mean time pre-order Never a Dragon: Dragon's Daughter Book 1 on Kindle Unlimited. Drop Date is November 15th.