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Friday Flash – The Bittersweet Song of Dragons – Friday Flash Fiction

Over multiple generations the story had been told and told again.

Like the best epic tales, the ones that resonate throughout the centuries and take root within your mind, it would begin in the same way. There would be shuffles and yawns, a loud fart followed by explosive laughter, furtive fumbles at the back of the audience, maybe the prelude to the spawning of a bastard son who might, just might, turn out to be a hero in a few years.

Some would moan that they’d heard it all before and it was too far back in the past to be of any interest. But what else were they meant to do? They’d had the feast, or whatever could be scavenged in those bleak times, so now they gathered for entertainment before they sloped back to their cold homes and the hard work that accompanied their early mornings.

How far back in the past had it supposedly taken place – generations, decades, millennia, aeons? Who knew or cared anymore? It was a good story, one that perhaps palled on repetition, as they all huddled in the cold drinking hall, nudging and pushing to get closer to the fire, those red flames that often meant the difference between life and death.

Why did every story they heard revolve around fire and heat? Had the winter really lasted that long and would they see the sun again in their own lifetimes? Despite all this, they stopped speaking and a stillness settled upon them as the Bard intoned the first sentence.

‘Do you remember the day that the sun died?’

How many times had they heard this? They knew how the story would turn out, what would happen, could even predict when the Bard took his next breath. And that mattered nothing to them as once again they were drawn into the dark fiery world that his words conjured in their eager minds.

He looked to them like a warlock might appear in a dream, his hair and beard long and blueish silver, a halo framing his weather punched face, the eyes a sparkling orange blue that caught the flickering of the fire.

The Bard wore a robe of mud stained cream cotton embellished with a red sash. His voice was deep and resonant, at times slightly sibilant. His face was stern and unyielding, heavily lined as if his tears had formed runnels in his cheeks. This befitted one who had been a mighty warrior in his youth and he treated the words of the story with reverence, as if he was reciting something hallowed and holy.

And so he began.

There was something about the way he recited the words that made them come to life in the minds eye of the audience, so that they could imagine being there as a group, seeing, hearing, feeling and smelling everything that had happened in that half historic, half mythic time. Was it his skill at telling the story or were they were remembering something that had happened so long in the past?

The warmest day of the year. The whole of the citadel went out to celebrate the August tide, men, women, children, those of high and low birth. The food and drink, the burning heat of summers that had long passed into legend since the thousand year winter had fallen upon the land.

The day the sky darkened.

The point at which a dragon grows and sheds its scales is when it is most dangerous, especially if it is searching for a mate. The dragons fly, swoop up and down, exhale liquid fire from their mouths and genitals that shoots into the sky or burns the trees and cities.

They called it hellpiss all those years ago as it saturated and burned your screaming body. No water could quell it and it was said that you died in such a mixture of pleasure and pain that you didn’t know if you were going to heaven or hell. Nor did you care. Some even said it was a blessing from the gods to be killed by the fire of a dragon. Not that any of them would ever wish to experience it.

Flame is the core of the dragon’s being and liquid fire runs in their veins. In the spring and summer of their growth, they delight in dancing with it, exulting in the glory of power, heat and movement. Sometimes, if another dragon enters their territory, they play together, parry and duel in mid air. Then they fight and following on from their violence, whole cities are destroyed, beaten down by mighty wings and tails, hellfire carousing around the streets, the people turning to screaming cooked meat and ash.

It isn’t the fire that you fear, at least initially. That’s what will get you if you manage to survive the first phase of the dragon’s growth.

The dragon grows, stretches, his muscles taughten, his wings expand as they beat the air, the fire intensifies as the teeth elongate and sharpen.

Look at him as he ascends the skies, carves through and moves above the clouds, disappears, roars, causes storms around the world. Hear him as he cascades up and down, stretches, grows, howls as he seeks a mate. And so he gets bigger and stronger. And now, coming up to maturity, his twenty first year, he must be some two hundred feet in length, his wingspan about half of that.

The scales slowly slide off the young dragon, iKarius, the son of bAltharion and kAaizeliana, as he howls and screams. He feels the joy, pain and ecstasy of the fire realms as he comes of age, flies like some darkly etched angel, breathes fire into the sky and descends beyond cloud cover.

Have you ever seen such beauty as his scales slowly detach from his long, muscular body? They seem almost suspended in time and space as they catch and reflect the light. Gold, silver, yellow, orange, green, purple, black, red, all the colours of a rainbow from the fire realms.

The scales seem to move, rotate, turn round, stand stationary and silent as he sings his song of love, life and death. This song keeps them in place, defying gravity as they move around, catch the sun and the moon, reflect and shimmer, entrance and delight. Sharp as the swords wielded by the tribe’s warriors, they seem to cut through the air. They could have been there for an eternity, they just stand in time and space transfixed and transfigured by the sweetness of his song.

And then his music stops and the scales plummet to earth, raining death upon the tribe, flaying their skin and the skin of those they love, taking off arms and heads. The blood saturates the earth, screams rend the skies as iKarius shakes off his remaining scales.

But this is when the young dragon is at his most vulnerable. His new scales do not harden immediately and his soft skin, delighting in the air currents as he moves up and down, can all too easily be penetrated by sword or arrow. In his excitement and exhilaration, the dragon sometimes forgets he is not immortal, that only his hardened scales offer him invulnerability on land, air and sea.

The land breeds dragon hunters as a dead dog breeds maggots. Some travel in packs looking for bounty, others come alone seeking gold or glory. Most of them lack the skill or discipline necessary to take on even the smallest dragons. In nearly all cases they are men, swaggering, boastful and easily killed. Very few songs are sung about any of them as few have managed to kill a dragon, let alone escape from one.

Elementaliana took her bow and tightened the string. She would have one chance and one chance only. iKarius turned in mid air, having destroyed one of the citadel walls with his hellfire and something seemed to pull him towards her. He changed his position and beat his mighty wings as he flew towards her. He raised his head and his throat was exposed. She launched her arrow and it carved the air on its way towards him.

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