By Yana's reckoning, it had been a month since the king of dragons ate the sun. She had been lucky enough to join a group of two dozen refugees. Together they had found shelter from the cold and strangeness of the sunless surface in a cave, pretending the sun was only stolen to keep their hope alive. Something stolen might be returned.
It was all the same to Yana. None of them was the stuff you made legendary heroes of. The most useful member of their group of refugees was an enemy, even, a lower echelon mage-priest that had served the dragons before turning renegade. Watching him sitting in the centre of the cave, twitchy and watchful like a rat if anybody got near, she was convinced he had turned tail not out of and moral conviction, but fear of being backstabbed. It would make no difference in the long run.
He used magic to give them at least a few hours of light each day, literally making their days, and the effort seemed to warm him. The others in their coats or blankets, if they were lucky enough to have any. In the cave they were not cut to ribbons by blizzards, but it was still too cold to live. To say nothing of food.
A small commotion around the mage drew Yana's interest. Gilmey was arguing, his son cradled in his arms. The boy was coughing and shivering violently. She mage shook his head, and things went back and forth until he, reluctantly, agreed to “do something” for them.
He raised his arms and closed his eyes. The faint glow they had got used to spread out and brightened. Yana turned her face to in and closed her eyes, soaking up the warmth.
When raised voices drew her attention back to the centre of the cave, the mage was trembling with tension. Sparks and lightning danced from his hands down his body and up, crackling when they hit the ceiling. A louder crack sounded, rock breaking.
So he lost control. Of course. Yana felt strangely tranquil. She did not try to scream and run. There was no use.
Based on the prompt "The sun is gone, the dark forces have won and are ruling the lands. Magic is dangerous and usually ends up killing lots of people." by Robert S.
Ignoring her aching muscles, Janissa dragged the cowed suit across the yard of the experimental farm by his revers. It had taken a lot of self-control to not shoot him in the face. For what needed to be done, her shotgun wasn’t enough. She wasn’t even aware she was muttering strings of curses punctuated with repetitions of “deliberately”.
“None of the tests suggested any danger,” the guy whined. “There must have been a mutation.”
“Or maybe rats are not humans! Don’t give me your stupid excuses. Where can we get gasoline here?”
His eyes went even wider. “Look, I’m all for terminating the experiment and destroying the enhancement—”
“Virus!” Janissa snapped. “Stop the propaganda-speech.”
“Virus, but an uncontrolled fire might do more harm than good.”
“And risk monsters running wild?”
Janissa stopped and faced him, narrowing her eyes at his tone. “What?”
“You may have a point about humans being different. They seem to be the only species that goes all, you know… bloodthirsty. The cattle just gets slow and apathetic.”
“That I want to see. And you go in first.” She emphasised her point by tipping her shotgun in his general direction.
He nodded to that happily enough, and led Janissa into the barn.
She followed wearily, fearing a trap even though her gut feeling said he wasn’t up to setting one. All she saw were cows standing where they belonged, placidly. As the guy stood aside, she had a look at the nearest animal. Janissa had no direct experience with cows, but she didn’t think its nose should be grey and cracking. Was it even breathing?
Her drafted guide had calmed down and actually answered her muttered “What the hell were they thinking?”
“The… virus slows down the metabolism, particularly in the extremities, but affects the digestion and milk production hardly at all. The result is more milk per pound of fodder, and besides, they are sluggish and less… prone… to…” He would down and swallowed in the face of Janissa’s glare.
“So everyone in my neighbourhood who wasn’t lactose intolerant turned into a zombie to maximise your profits.” After a beat she added, “Go away before I shoot you.”
The first time morning glory grew right through the wall into Rina’s bedroom was almost funny. Sometimes she let it grow up the bar of a shelf, which did not take long, before ripping it out. The blooms were pretty, and unlike potted plants did not require her watering.
Rina was still relieved when she moved to a different flat, without plants growing through the walls. At least there had not been any in the first week. Morning glory must really like me, she thought, when the first thing she saw after waking up was the tip of a twine climbing up the wall. Since the landlord was unresponsive, she closed the cracks they grew through herself with putty — repeatedly, since the morning glory always found a way around it.
When one spring morning she woke up with morning glory tendrils wrapped around her arms, she had enough, and started looking for another place to stay. Ridiculous, fleeing from flowers, but apparently “grows like a weed” had some basis in fact
She was lucky: a few of her friends had been considering buying a house, if they could find someone else to live in and pay rent. Rina jumped at the opportunity, under the condition of getting a bedroom well above ground level.
Living with friends worked out better than she thought, which she blamed on not having to share a room. It improved her social life immensely having people around to talk to.
The persistent morning glory turned into a joke. It turned into something else when her friends found her body, strangled by a flower.
Elke was not surprised when she spotted Regina at the flea market, only that Regina already seemed to be on the way out, a wooden box with brass fitting wedged under her arm and a self-satisfied smile spread across her face.
“Am I that late? You found something already?”
“Oh yes, I got lucky.” Regina looked Elke up and down. “If you just arrived, how about we meet next weekend?” Usually they went to have tea together if they found each other at a flea market, to show off whatever they had found. “There’s at least one stand with books that might interest you. And this will look better with a bit of polish.”
“All right.” Elke thought it unusual for Regina to not launch into a monologue about her purchase, but if the other woman wanted to make it a big surprise, why not?
Paell picked his way along the wall of the cave. The floor formed of gravel and debris was treacherous in the gloom. He had not seen the sun for days, the only light filtering indirectly through the entrance, a tunnel that was neither straight, nor reachable. Besides a faint echo of light, anything that entered either flew or fell. What Paell was after was something that fell. He had discovered a thin trickle of rainwater, and salvaged a dinged but sound tin pot from the debris. If he had done it right, water should have accumulated while he had been sleeping.
The rustling of leathery wings the size of sails made him freeze, even holding his breath. The dragon veered straight towards him regardless, gravel crunching under its feet, here and there a bigger stone or something worked of metal cracking or snapping.
It made a low murring sound, deep enough to make Paell's breastbone vibrate in resonance.
"Yes, I'm awake," he babbled, "and not going far. It's not like I could get out of here."
The dragon prodded him with its nose, throwing him forward and against the wall. Its hot, dry breath washed over him; it exhaled prior to starting to sniff him.
"Look, if you want to fatten me up, you're going about it the wrong way. I'll just grow less of a treat, believe me." The dumb animal didn't understand a word. And if it did, would encouraging it to eat him now be wise?
It took another step, and the huge head turned. A faint highlight danced across the smooth surface of the dragon's eye, embedded in a face or rough scale and wrinkly skin, just an arm's length in front of Paell.
"What do you want?"
The dragon did not react; it only continued to stare at Paell. It unnerved him to look back, but he could not look away. The dragon did not blink at all; there was only an occasional twitch in its lower eyelid. Was he making it angry? Was he imagining that the dragon came closer, very, very slowly?
Paell tried to increase the distance between them, but only had the rock of the cave wall dig into his back. The dragon moved its head closer, not far, but perceptibly, and gave a more quiet version of its murr. Paell raised his hands, reflexively bracing them against the dragon's cheek, but the dragon lowered its head a little, bringing Paell's hands to the skin of its lower eyelid, rather than the scales he had aimed for.
Dragonhide was thick and tough, Paell had learned when he had tried to cut the dragon's throat while it was sleeping, but at least here it was not hot enough to burn. Feeling utterly crazy, he rubbed and scratched the skin, side to side, following its folds. The dragon half-closed its eye, bulling the lower lid up but not moving the upper lid at all. Something came off when Paell continued scratching. The dragon did not seem to mind. Loose skin flakes that had been itching? If I ever get out of here again, no-one will believe me, Paell thought, continuing until the dragon gave a strangely melodious snort that he giddily decided had to be a contented sigh.
The dragon prodded him again with its nose. With the cave wall right at Paell's back, it turned into a blow that pushed the air from his lungs. While he caught his breath, the dragon climbed out of the cave, using foothold several manslengths apart. Paell watched the shadowy form move against the grey background of the entrance, and wondered if that big lug would even noticed if he held on to its tail, and if he would have the nerve for trying.
Based on a prompt by Royce Day ("A conversation between Paell and his dragon.")
When she did not keep herself occupied, nightfall in Muirha nearly tore Sylvie apart. The settlement being snugged into a valley between high mountains meant the dull, purple shadows blanketed it early, while the sky was still a bright blue, and the light on the mountaintops started changing colour from the almost-white of day to golden yellow.
The principle was soothingly familiar; the same happened in the narrow streets of the city she had been born in, with the sun still lighting the tops of the higher buildings. But none of the towers of Yrn, even built on the island-mountain as they were, could match the splendour of those wild peaks.
In the east, the light gleaming from old snow slowly turned from yellow to orange, looking even more brilliant against the darkening sky. To the west, dark teeth had swallowed the sun already, and blocked the sunset proper.
Sylvie missed the wide horizon over the ocean, a view only a few sets of stairs or ladders away back home, the complete rainbow of colours each sunrise.
Twilight had never felt like a purple shroud at home.
The trap was prepared. Father had placed the metaphorical cookie jar in comfortable reach of the children, whom he knew to be curious as well as yet unable to tell good from bad. He had told them to keep their hands off it, threatened dire consequences.
He had given the Snake some ideas to hurry things along, so it was just a matter of time.
Doling out punishment was so much more fun when the children might think they had brought it upon themselves.