|A Shard of Sun|
|Summer King |
|Jess E. Owen|
|Five Elements Press (2015)|
Copyright © 2015 by Jess E. Owen
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Five Elements Press
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Whitefish, MT 59937
This is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, or incidents are the product of the author's imagination, and any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental.
Cover art by Jennifer Miller.
Cover typography and interior formatting by TERyvisions.
Edited by Joshua Essoe
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~ 1 ~
HARD CROUCHED AGAINST THE
inner wall of the crystal dragon, digging at an edge where the diamond-hard scales met the ground. He’d already worn two talons dull against the hard earth and volcanic rock. His back ached from his prolonged crouch and he made sure to open and stretch his curved, gray wings and his hind legs often.
He could see, vaguely, beyond the walls—only light and shapes, and he paused to check for movement outside.
The glimmer of ten thousand false stars filled a cavern massive enough for two dozen dragons to fly. The cavern was the hollow center of a mountain peak, which gryfons called the Horn of Midragur.
Shard knew where he sat within the cavern, knew what any other creature would see. Near one edge of the floor rose a pedestal of stone, squat and oval, and on top of the pedestal coiled the crystal form of an enormous, serpentine dragon of the Sunland.
The crystal dragon’s body formed a dome, sealing two creatures inside, one of whom was Shard.
I need a better plan,
he thought, stopping to stare at the meager groove he’d created along the crystal dragon’s body. He’d discovered that it wasn’t connected to the ground, that given time, if he had the strength, he might tunnel underneath and escape the chamber. And he desperately needed to escape. Food was running low and the only water to be had was whatever condensed along the walls of the crystal.
A low, thrumming thunder shuddered the ground under his body and he swiveled, peering again through the crystal. That time he saw warped, winged, dark shapes that loomed beyond. There would be a consequence for escaping, one that he hadn’t yet thought through.
But it was not only for his sake that he needed to escape, no matter the peril beyond.
He startled, scooped loose dirt back into his shallow tunnel, and sat up. “You’re done eating?”
Hikaru bounded forward in rolling leaps, his shining black scales catching the eerie light of the million glow worms far, far above them. When the little dragon had hatched he’d been no larger than an arctic hare. Now he was a third Shard’s size. They would starve if they didn’t escape, or Hikaru would grow so large that Shard feared he would crush them both against the walls. Shard hadn’t yet told him of their danger, and didn’t want him to know of the tunnel.
“I have a new question,” Hikaru announced, and sat.
“All right,” Shard said, happy that the dragonet still didn’t understand their peril, and hoping he wouldn’t ask why they could only eat so much food at a time. Hikaru’s mother had left them a store of dried, smoked fish but now there was only enough for a few more days. Shard had lost track of the time in the unchanging light of the cave, but two things kept him aware. One was their hunger. The other was the wyrms, most of which left at night to hunt, and returned at daybreak. All told, by counting their comings and goings, Shard and Hikaru had been in the chamber just under a fortnight.
Hikaru displayed his small, long wing, growing in shape like a swan’s, the tips of the black feathers gleaming like the translucent edge of volcanic glass. “Why have I different…different…”
“Feathers?” Shard offered.
“Yes.” Large serpent eyes of luminous gold met Shard’s. Hikaru would eventually realize that Shard’s moss-green eagle eyes were different than his own as well. “Why have I different feathers than you? And no feathers on my tail, as you do?”
“Because you’re a dragon,” said Shard quietly, but reassuringly. “And I’m a gryfon.” He tried to stay calm, but the young dragon had grown so swiftly, and was growing still, speaking, learning more quickly than any young creature he’d ever seen. The mother dragon had said as much, that her son would grow faster than Shard could imagine, like a bird, and would need guidance. As he doubled in size so rapidly, it was becoming critical that they find a way out of their sanctuary before it became their grave.
Shard wondered if Amaratsu had thought that far ahead, either. The store of food she’d left, that he hadn’t noticed in the heat of their last confrontation with the dragons, hinted that she’d planned to remain in the mountain for some time.
A dull, far away sound swept a chill down Shard’s back. Hikaru flicked his soft, roe-like ears toward the crystal walls.
“What is that?” he whispered. The long whiskers that sprouted from his snout quivered in the air. He hadn’t been able to hear the outside noises before. Shard imagined how rapidly the dragonet’s senses would improve to levels possibly higher than his own.
“Dragons,” he said, trying to sound matter-of-fact. Hikaru’s soft ears perked fully forward. Shadows swooped around the chamber like enormous ravens. They had tried to break in, with no luck, and the walls muffled their horrible, blood-lusting roars to dull rumbling.
“Dragons like me? Like my mother?” He peered at his own body, then sat up and arched his head back like an egret. He offered his bird-like, five-toed forepaws for Shard’s inspection.
“No,” said Shard, forcing his gaze from the glimmering walls of their haven. Soon Hikaru would fill it to overflowing, but escaping it held just as many problems. “Not like you or your mother at all. Those are dragons of the Winderost. Voiceless, angry. Other creatures call them wyrms. Your mother was from the Sunland at the bottom of the world. A place of snow and light and peace.” He tried to speak as if he’d seen it himself, to assure Hikaru of his noble birth. Truly though, all he knew of the Sunland or of dragons was what Amaratsu had told him in the last hours of her life.
She had begged him to care for her son. Begged him, in the face of attacking wyrms who wished to steal her egg, or worse. Shard didn’t know what they wanted. He’d tried to speak to the wyrms once, tried and failed.
That lingering fear and threat hovered like a storm at the forefront of their quiet time within Amaratsu’s coils.
Perhaps still thinking of his mother, Hikaru walked to the wall of the chamber. He touched it gently, as if afraid to mar the scales, though the wyrms of the Winderost had failed to chip or even scratch it from the outside.
“Mother,” whispered the dragonet, stroking the unfeeling scales. “Earth.” He touched both delicate forefeet to the ground. “Sky…” He tilted his graceful, wedge-shaped head back to peer through the crystal. He wasn’t staring at the false sky that was the roof of the cavern, laced with clusters of glow worms and lichens, but at a far, high hole near the top that Shard had once pointed out to him. A crack near the pinnacle of the Horn of Midragur led to the sky. Shard followed his gaze, his wings aching to fly.