Art by David Revoy/ Blender Foundation

Controlled

By Elisa Nuckle

On a humid summer’s night, Niall walked into his brother’s dining hall with outstretched arms and a broad grin. Dorim, the stockier of the two, grasped Niall with both hands and nearly crushed Niall’s spine as he roared with laughter. The metal baubles and feathers in Dorim’s blond hair jangled as he motioned Niall toward a stone table close to the ground. The strong smell of sweet wine made Niall chuckle as he sat down and popped a grape into his mouth.

Dorim emptied his wine cup in a few swigs and slapped it back down. “When was the last time we had a break this long?”

Niall shook his head. “General Torant’s never released us early since the beginning of the war.”

“Ah, it’s for the best. Peace talks don’t need our swords anyway. City’s better off with me here, where I can see her.”

“Dorim, don’t pretend you’re here to serve. It’s the women you want.” Niall laughed and caught the goblet his brother threw at his face. “Not that I can blame you.”

“Oh, yes. More than a handful of pretty faces in this palace. Too bad they’re not like the women back in Farthis. Now they knew how to have a good time.” Dorim’s cheeks burned red, and he chuckled into his second goblet as he swallowed its contents whole in an impressively short amount of time. “Have you heard from Vars?”

Niall shook his head. Their eldest brother, their leader, disappeared on a mission two weeks ago and hadn’t returned. “But the others send their love.”

“Where are those two fools at?”

“Guarding the Monarch until Torant returns.”

“A high honor,” Dorim scoffed. “And the dogs decided not to tell me?”

Niall laughed. “They knew you’d cut their heads off if they did.”

“Oh, I’d rather cut the Monarch’s off first.”

“Treason does not become the city’s finest soldier.”

“Finest drunkard, you mean. Hah.” Dorim yelled at a nearby servant to bring in the main course.

As Niall stared at the heaps of cheese, grapes, bread, and berries on his plate, complete with honeys and jam, a lump formed in his throat, and his thoughts became cold. How had his life become so bittersweet? Long ago, when his youngest brother had been in the world for only two weeks, the Monarch seized control of the city. Niall’s father and mother were loyal to the old crown and beheaded for it. An example, the Monarch announced, to those foolish enough to stand against him and his strange dragon tamer. Desperate, ten year-old Vars convinced the stooped Monarch to spare the five brothers by offering their lives to city service and defense. The Monarch, with labored breath, agreed.

Vars, Dorim, Niall, Kye, and Pontris became the Blood Brothers — the city’s finest warriors. This wasn’t something all of the Brothers professed proudly. Vars took his duty with solemn silence. Dorim drank to forget that he had been old enough to attend the beheading; Niall had not, and for that he thanked whatever gods his father once prayed to. Kye and Pontris paraded about, gained the most honor. They bore none of the anger their older siblings had for the Monarch or his rules, and Niall couldn’t judge them for their ignorance, despite the pressure against his chest and the bile that rose in his throat when he saw them walk with the haggard old ruler side-by-side.

“Oh, gods.” Dorim slammed his fists against the table. “You’re horrible company.”

[divider]
Apologies didn’t sway Dorim’s sour mood, and after several failed attempts to revive the conversation Niall left for his chambers. They weren’t far from Dorim’s, or Var’s. His younger brothers slept on the opposite side of the palace in order to assist the Monarch whenever he desired. Niall forced himself to think of other things, like the twin moons of life and honor. Their overlapping light created strange shadows in the dark. The pale beauties blocked out the stars, making the sky look like a black canvass for them to shape into their images.

Along the stone palace paths were viewing tiers. Niall stopped and went onto one that overlooked the desert valley beyond the hill country on which the palace was built. Only the occasional tree dotted the flat expanse. Somewhere in the distance the giant red cliffs of the Samaranthine River marked the end of their land and the beginning of their enemy’s on the opposite side.

General Torant marched on their enemy when Niall was sixteen and now, as a grown man, Niall had returned to the city for the first time. He walked the palace halls, smiled to the servants, watched the dragons usher the Monarch’s councilmen from floor to floor so they didn’t have to walk down those cold steps.

The behemoth beasts cast magnified shadows of themselves. Some were white or cream-colored, some as black as the night sky, while others were a strange gray-blue or seemed covered in rust. The dragons were beautiful slaves. Without their power, manipulated by the magic of the Controller, no palace would ever rest along the rocky foothills of the Tall Teeth.

Niall found himself entranced by the magnificence of each building, even the half-crumbled ones in Beggar’s Lane. Dragonbreath melted the metal and stone together in intricate detail. No blacksmith knew how to reproduce the designs the dragons created, and most — Niall included — assumed it was part of the magical mystery that gave birth to the scaled species in the first place, a mystery that only mages and the one Controller understood.

Niall heard the labored breathing of an old man, heard his sliding, awkward gait. “Does it feel foreign to you? This city. Our ways,” said the Monarch.

“No, my Monarch.” Niall bowed to the old man. “It feels as if I returned to a dream I never imagined to experience again. A sincere pleasure.”

The Monarch’s smile revealed his toothless gums, but that didn’t belie the man’s intensity. “Good, good.”

“If I may be blunt, my Monarch, is there something you require of me?”

“No, and I hope I do not have to for a time. Would that I were so fortunate.” He leaned on his cane and hobbled to the tier’s edge. “There are those who want my rule to end at last — you are one of them.” His smile was sad. “And yet you aren’t.”

“I keep my oaths, despite my personal feelings.”

“Ah, you are much like your eldest brother. Have you heard from him?”

Niall frowned. “I haven’t.”

“That’s a shame.” The Monarch stared into the city for a time. Niall shifted his weight, tapped against the columns of the rail. He was about to ask to be excused when the Monarch said, “I wish I could’ve spared your parents. Their loyalty was something I failed to value.”

“As you say,” Niall sighed.

“Tell me, how goes the war?”

Niall suppressed a surprised scoff. “My Monarch? Certainly your advisors update you on the General’s doings with more clarity than I can.”

“You’ve only been in the palace since the new moons, and now they’re full again. My advisors haven’t heard from the General in twice that time.”

Niall wanted to demand why the Monarch was being so amiable and relaxed. He preferred the hardened formality of the Monarch he remembered. This new ease unsettled him.

The Monarch stared into Niall’s eyes and chuckled. “This isn’t a trick, Arth’s son. I’m simply curious.”

“As you say.” Niall inhaled, and then said, “The war is almost over. General Torant was so confident in our good fortune that he sent Vars, myself, and my brothers back home with a squadron of men.”

“And where is Vars?”

“I wish I knew. He said he had matters to attend to that were private in nature.”

“A woman?” The Monarch smiled.

“I don’t know. If I were honest, my Monarch, he’s been distant since we left for home.”

“Strange. Likely there’s a reason. If you can, I’d like you to discover his whereabouts and report back to me.”

Niall stopped himself from asking why the Monarch didn’t ask Vars himself once he returned, and instead nodded. “As you command.”

The Monarch looked up at Niall for a while. He patted Niall on the shoulder, and there were tears in his eyes. “I hope to see you again, some day.”

Niall bowed. “If that is your wish, it will be done.”

As the Monarch hobbled down to the dragon’s landing terrace, where a grand black dragon waited, Niall tried to quell the sudden sense of dread that invaded his senses.

[divider]
Two nights later, as Niall unfastened his leather vest, he heard panicked screams followed by a dragon’s shriek of a roar. White smoke floated along the corridor ceiling. Niall grabbed his scythe from its holding place and ran out toward the palace pathways.

As he grew closer to the wailing source, a blue dragon hovered over the tier farther along the way and exhaled furious blue and white fire. Blue smoke mingled with the thickening multi-colored haze. The columns caught in the inferno collapsed into a melted mass. Niall saw the tier crumble onto the floor below, where courtiers scrambled away in a raucous frenzy. He ran towards Dorim’s rooms, barely escaping the tumbling mass of stone and steel.

Niall spotted Pontris and shouted out to him. Blood matted Pontris’s hair to his forehead. Not far behind, Kye helped Dorim struggle towards Niall. Dorim’s leg dangled lifelessly from below the knee. There was a gash in his cloth trousers, and red trickled freely behind him on the floor.

“What happened?” Niall hugged Pontris, clasped hands with Kye, and frowned at Dorim’s wound.

“The Monarch was coming from a feast on the lower levels when his dragon grabbed the reigns and yanked him from his seat.” Pontris choked on a stifled sob. “The dragon swallowed him whole as he fell.”

“And then burned my chambers to cinders,” Dorim wheezed out a chuckle. “Ceiling was on my leg before I knew day from night.”

“We need to find Var.”

Pontris shook his head. “Dorim needs a healer, and then we need to find the Controller and ask why she lost her power over the dragons.”

“Likely she didn’t,” Kye said. “And don’t give me that look, Pon. You know she’s been at everyone’s throats.” Kye turned to Niall. “The Controller hasn’t agreed with the Monarch’s policies of late.”

“She’s allowed that privilege, being what she is.”

“Half-dragon or not, threats are threats.”

“Enough!” Dorim hissed when he tried to put weight on his leg. “Where’s Var?”

Niall frowned. Var left on the new moon and never returned. Was this a coincidence? “We need to get a message to Torant. Come on.”

They worked their way through the damaged palace down to the Healer’s Court which rested in the hillside itself, fortified beyond the lowest section of the city’s three walls. Along the way the brothers picked up courtiers, servants, even some slaves, leading them to the Citadel within the Court. Niall prayed Var would be there. Alive.

Through the rest of the night they forged their way through the rubble and out of the palace. As the sun peeked over the mountains, Niall and his brothers walked up the stone street that lead to the Healer’s Court. Bleached stones lined their way, while behind them in the distance dragons of all sizes and colors flew through the city breathing ruin into the morning sky.

Before long, smoke hung over the palace like a burial shroud. Midnight blue flames licked the sides. White, blue, gray, and red fire devoured bits of stone as if it were wood, melting it until a ceiling or floor or wall collapsed.

“We have to do something,” Kye said. Pontris helped Dorim up the hill; Kye walked ahead with Niall. “The guards are few and mostly fresh.”

“They won’t know how to kill a dragon.”

“Do we?” Kye looked at Niall, who sighed. “That’s what I thought.”

“The healers might know something.”

“Doubtful. Only magic can undo itself, remember?”

Niall grunted and walked ahead.

Not long afterward, they reached the Healer’s Court. The citadel had no doors, and the cavern mouth was large enough to allow the grand multi-level carriage house the Monarch was so fond of to pass through, perhaps more. Fortunately, a dragon wasn’t able to fit.

The ceiling of the cave-like building was smooth and bleached like the stones lining the pathway. Two main walkways, also bleached, wrapped around various trees and pools like vines up wall. Symbols carved into the cave’s ceiling glowed with the sun’s radiance, and Niall felt as though he had stepped into a mythical glade and not into a hillside belly. The air was pregnant with that electric spark of magic. Never before had Niall felt so alive.

A woman dressed in a leather vest and breeches walked up to them. A curved sword hung from her belt. She wasn’t at all what Niall expected a healer to look like.

Seeing Dorim’s injuries, she took his other shoulder. “Take him to that pool.” She motioned to a small circle of water just outside of the path. “He’ll need to remove his trousers.”

“Gladly.” Dorim winked at her, and she rolled her eyes.

“I wouldn’t be, sir. Before long these pools will be filled with people.” She glanced at the wave of men and women stumbling into the citadel.

“Do you know anything about the dragons?” Niall asked.

The woman shook her head. “But the Lore Mother might.”

Niall had heard of Lore Mothers. They knew all magic spells related to healing. Rumors among the soldiers said a Mother held all the knowledge of magic in the world, but Niall didn’t know the truth of this.

“You’ll find the Mother at the top of the citadel.” The woman pointed at the graceful, curving steps at the end of the cave. They emptied into darkness.

Niall gave a small bow. “My thanks. Pon, stay with Dorim.”

Pontris groaned. “I want to learn dragon secrets.”

“You’re twenty-one. Act like it,” Kye said. He thumped Pontris on the shoulder.

Niall found this ironic, as Kye was only two years older than Pontris, but said nothing. The two brothers made their way to the winding stairs. Oddly, the rail was warm to the touch and left a tingling sensation in Niall’s hand. Was that magic or something else?

A little unnerved, Niall crossed through the dark threshold and into a small antechamber. The walls were as smooth as the ones outside. Row after row of stone was carved from the rock, and countless books rested on them. Most were so covered in dust that Niall wasn’t able to read the titles on the leather spines. In a corner to the side was a desk. On the other side, a woman folded a wool blanket over her bed. As Niall imagined, the woman’s hair was silver, her face sagging and wrinkled. Still, her honest smile gave her a youthful exuberance, and Niall realized he had never smiled like that. At least not in a long time.

“You are Arth’s sons, am I right?” Niall guessed he looked shocked, since she laughed. “I knew your father once. During a battle, he smashed his knee into splinters. Stayed with us for quite a long time.” She had a distant expression. “So long ago.”

“You’ve heard about the dragons?” Niall said.

She nodded. “You want to know if I can help?” When Niall nodded, she shook her head. “The Controller knows the secrets to dragon magic, and she guards it well. Shival is a good woman, but stubborn. What trouble she’s gotten us into.”

Kye scoffed. “How do you know she isn’t causing it?”

“I suppose I don’t.”

Niall sighed. It was a long, weighted thing. “Do you have a Calling Step?”

The Mother pointed to a small, circular pedestal next to her desk. Symbols were etched in circles that grew smaller until they reached a central point, like tree rings. They bore the history of the citadel and the Mothers that continued to carve the symbols into the stone, expanding when necessary. By its size, it wasn’t very old. Niall once used a Calling Step that could hold fifteen men on it at once.

He stepped onto the stones and summoned a mental image of General Torant. As Niall whispered the name over and over, he was transported across the desert valley, across the Samaranthine, through the endless plains towards a large camp. At least fifty-thousand men sat around fires or prepared for the long hike the morning promised.

At last, Niall’s body stopped next to a tall beast of a man. General Torant already wore his massive plate armor, about to shove his helm over his leather cap when Niall’s form manifested in a flash of white. Torant seemed unshaken by this, but Niall never knew the General to tremble or fear.

“Well, this isn’t an unpleasant surprise.” Torant made to clasp Niall on the shoulder but didn’t touch the translucent image of Niall’s body. “What news of home?”

“You haven’t heard?”

Niall explained the dragons, detailed the conversation he’d shared with the Monarch, the Controller’s disappearance, and her avid disapproval of the Monarch’s decisions.

Torant paced as Niall finished. “Damn that half-dragon.”

“General?”

“I sent the five of you home on a mission, but I gather you didn’t know that. Var must have decided not to let you know until more information was gathered, the careful man that he is. You’ve not heard from him?” Niall shook his head, and Torant went back to pacing. “Then you must know what he did and take up his mission, should he be,” Torant glanced at Niall, “unable to complete it.”

“Kye was right to mistrust the half-dragon. The Monarch called to me on the new moons and whispered his concerns. Shival was starting to realize her goals no longer aligned with the Monarch’s, and she knew she had the power to change that. He bade me return home with our army and didn’t contact again.”

“We were already home when this happened,” Niall said.

Torant nodded. “Allies of the Monarch questioned Shival sooner than he did, and came to me about it. Var knew. He was privy to these calls. In order to keep suspicions low, he asked that he lead you and your brothers on a mission to find out Shival’s intentions.”

“Since he hasn’t been seen since the new moons, we can assume her intentions weren’t honest.”

“When was she last seen?”

“Yesterday morning, according to Kye. He said he happened by her in the corridor. She seemed in a hurry and didn’t acknowledge him.”

“I’m almost to the Samaranthine. By tomorrow evening, we should be crossing at the Great Bridge. Track her, if you can, and see if she knows what happened to Var. Bring her to me alive. We have mages who must know a way to transfer her power to another or force her to calm the beasts. Monarch smile on you in death.” Torant slid his helm over his head. The two horns made him look like a beast come to life to slay his kingdom’s enemies. It was inspiring.

[divider]
On horseback, Niall, Kye, and Pontris skirted around the city in the mid-morning haze. With the entire city wrapped in smoke Niall couldn’t tell if the dragons continued to burn houses and shrines and noble palaces. When the brothers had left Healer’s Court, some claimed the dragons fought each other as much as they fought the undefended structures. Niall hoped that was true. It would buy them time.

Kye had seen Shival turn into a dragon and fly towards the Samaranthine, but no one had seen a dragon outside of the city — and that sort of news traveled fast. Shival was on foot. With the head start, she might make it to the river by the morning if she transformed occasionally, but Niall’s and his brothers’ horses were the swiftest in the city.

Niall looked into the sky, looking for dragons, but instead, rifts of red, green, and yellow flashed in the sky. Moon Ribbons during the day? Niall yelled at his brothers and motioned to the lights above. The Ribbons were faint against the sun, but there they were. Did the dragons summon them? Or was it something else? Niall took it as a sign from the moons that he was on the proper path.

By midday, Niall caught sight of dragon prints. He ordered a halt and swung off his mount. The great, three-toed prints shifted as if Shival dragged herself on. Or fell. Then there were bare footprints, but even these seemed strange. The same dragging marks followed.

A lone tree marked the horizon. Niall saw something under its shade. Two somethings. He looked down and realized the sliding mark along the hard sandy ground went towards the tree. Not bothering with the horse, he ran. Soon, the figures became clear.

Shival, dressed in only a cloth vest and tattered breeches, slept next to a body propped up against the tree trunk. It was so bloodied and disfigured that Niall couldn’t make out who it was. Careful not to wake the half-dragon, Niall motioned for his brothers to wait and crept into the shade.

He grabbed her hands and Shival jumped to life, roaring in a strange shrieking wail not unlike her half-siblings in the city. Disgusted, Niall shoved her into Kye’s hands and he bent to inspect the body.

“Does he breathe?” Shival asked. Her voice was deep for a woman’s, yet attractive. Under different circumstances, Niall might’ve enjoyed letting her speak more, but not now.

The body had been dressed in a steel chain mail tunic, or so Niall guessed. It was a man. His right leg had been bitten clean off, and blood had seeped into the ground around the wound. From the looks of the stiff joints and the already-pungent smell, the man had died last night, hopefully in his sleep. Niall bent closer to look for an insignia, a tattoo or some other identifier.

Around the man’s neck, or rather melted into his chest, was a pendant. It had been shaped like a vine, with what remained of the letter V on the front.

Vars’s pendant.

Niall spun around and grabbed Shival by the throat. He enjoyed hearing her cough as he squeezed. “What did he do that deserved this? Tell me!”

Defiance sparkled like glowing embers in her black eyes. Tears rolled down her cheeks and dripped onto his hands, but all he wanted to do was watch her life fade from her slowly.

It took both Kye and Pontris to pry Niall off her neck, and she fell to the ground in a fit of choking spasms as she tried to breathe again.

“We need her.” But Niall could tell it took every ounce of willpower Kye possessed to say that. His lip quivered. The man they all looked up to was gone, and they had to keep the bitch that killed him alive.

Niall growled and shoved himself away. Carefully, he stalked to Shival and pointed his scythe at her chest. “You’d better start talking, or else we’ll find a way to control the dragons once you’re dead.”

Shival pushed herself up into a sitting position and rubbed her neck. She trembled, but there was something feral in her that overpowered her emotions and replaced her tears with a frigid determination.

Niall pressed his blade onto her skin enough to make her bleed. “Speak.”

“You’re Var’s brother?”

We are.”

“How did you know where we were?”

Pontris bent down and slapped her hard enough to knock her to the ground. “You have no right to ask questions.”

“Pon.” Niall motioned to Kye, who led Pontris off towards their horses.

Shival picked herself up yet again. “Did Torant send you?” She scoffed and spat out a thick clot of red, then licked her lips as she scoffed. “Are you his bitch, answering when he calls?”

Niall closed his eyes and barely managed to speak through his clenched jaws. “Why did you loose the dragons on the city?”

“Would you believe me if I said I didn’t?”

“That’s rich.” Niall barked out a single, sharp laugh. “Did they decide to stop listening to you for a day, is that it?”

“No.”

“You admit your guilt then.” He picked her up by the hair and dragged her to his horse. “When we reach the General, you’ll tell him how to fix this. And then you will die.”

[divider]
“Where are we going?” Shival asked. She was tied to the back of Niall’s saddle and walked behind his horse.

“The Samaranthine.”

Niall looked into the sky. It was nearly dark. The General would reach the cliffs before they did. At their speed, it would take all night, even though Niall all but dragged Shival through the sharp rocks, sand, and harsh vegetation.

Despite his rage, something inside him felt ashamed of his actions against the Controller. Despite what she did to the city, to Vars. Niall slowed his horse a bit, to let the half-dragon catch her breath. All of this was wrong. General against Controller, Controller against Monarch, dragons against their city. A dark, tangled web of intent wove this together, but Niall didn’t understand whose or why.

Shival claimed innocence, but none of the brothers allowed her to explain. Nothing could justify what she did to Vars.

Sometime later, Niall ordered Pontris and Kye to scout ahead on foot while the horses rested. He didn’t want to push them to death, and he needed time to mull over his thoughts.

“Will you be able to handle her?” Pontris asked.

Niall nodded and, though Pontris seemed uncertain, the two younger brothers stalked off into the fading sunlight.

“They love you,” Shival said. “Vars said such bonds existed between brothers, but I had never seen it.”

“Don’t.” He pushed her away after he dismounted and left her tied to the animal. “You don’t have the right to speak his name.”

“I didn’t kill him.”

“No. A dragon bit off his leg and burned him alive.”

Shival tried to lean against the horse, but it started walking and she fell. Niall sighed and untied the rope from the saddle and tied her to him instead.

“It wasn’t me. I’ve sworn to never harm a human as a dragon. If I break that oath —”

“Your blood will boil from inside and your heart will explode, I know. But only magic can undo itself.” He threw a tiny shred of jerky at her. “Dragons are magic in physical form, or so they say.”

Shival chuckled dryly and threw the jerky at his face. “Do you know how Controllers are born? How we become sibling to magic incarnate?” Niall tried to hide his curiosity, but she saw it and smiled. It was a bitter, hateful expression. “Every drop of human blood has to be replaced with that of a dragon. In other words, you die a slow, painful death. Then you wake up with the ability to hear every dragon in existence. They don’t speak, can’t form intelligent thoughts. They’re primal things.” Niall let her inch closer.

“Then you want to act on these desires. To rip the limb from the man who whipped you, to infuse magic into a building through your breath so the one who feeds you and says nice things to you when you’ve done well will live a long and healthy life. All of this, I feel. And every day I want to kill you humans.” She sighed. “But I’m one of you, too, and I can’t escape that fate either.”

“You could turn into a dragon, stay that way.” Niall cursed himself for letting her become so casual, but something about her made him relax.

“I can only sustain that form for a time. A month, maybe a year. And then I’d be a human, but less human than before. Each time I transform it takes a shred of my former self with it.”

“Is that why you let the dragons burn it all to the ground?”

Niall glanced back at the city. The light from the fires twinkled in the distance like burning stars. Why was he entertaining this creature?

“There is another mage who learned the dragon magic. I don’t know how, but he is the one who killed your brother. I couldn’t reach Vars in time, even though he called for me.” Shival clenched her fists. “Do you know how that feels? To have the power to save a human from danger with ease, only to arrive in time to see a white dragon fly off and drop a man from his mouth without a second glance?”

“And this mage, where is he?”

“I can show you.”

“Nice try.” Niall yanked the rope and Shival fell face-first into the dirt. “But your lies won’t change your fate.”

“You are just and honorable, Niall Var’s brother. I pray you consider that.”

Shival let out a shriek. Her bones began to pop. White wings with blue membranes sprouted from her back, and her face turned into a long snout filled with teeth as long as Niall’s hand. The rope around her wrists snapped as her arms grew into forelegs.

As Niall unsheathed his scythe, the transformation finished and Shival took to the sky. He managed to sink the curved blade into her shoulder. She cried out, but she didn’t shake him loose as she rose. Niall watched the horses become black, undefined specks. He wondered if his brothers would be able to catch up but doubted it. He would die as his brother had, and he found himself praying Shival’s story of her innocence was true.

After what felt like an eternity, Niall’s arm tired. He needed to find a way to get off Shival or force himself onto her back. Part of him saw the irony in being dragged across the sky by a dragon when he had dragged her across the desert.

Shival must have heard his thoughts, because she started to descend. Niall spotted the great cliffs of the Samaranthine, but the General wasn’t there yet. Niall needed to give the General time to capture the Controller.

Niall used what remaining strength he had to push his blade further into her flesh. Her scream was agonizing. As he was about to push it more, he saw another form in the sky. A cream-colored dragon with equally white membranes barreled towards them. Shival arched her back and Niall shot up into the air with nothing to catch him. Desperate, he grabbed onto one of the spikes along her spine and managed to wedge himself between two of them. Niall considered leaving the scythe buried in her shoulder, but this other dragon matched her description of the one that killed Vars.

The Shival-dragon roared and tucked in her wings. Niall held on to her spike with all his strength and prayed to the Controllers past to save their descendant from his foolishness. Blood as red as any man’s covered her scales and dripped into the air. Could the other dragon smell it?

White and blue flames flew from Shival’s mouth as a pale fireball came straight for her. Niall cried out. The metal of his scythe burned against his thigh, and he thought his flesh would start to roast if the inferno didn’t calm. Shival swatted the remaining bits of flame with her foreleg and shrieked and hissed. It made Niall tremble.

Smoke clouded Niall’s vision, but Shival dove towards the earth. Breaking through the haze, the white dragon appeared in front of her and bit at her neck. It missed and bit her already-wounded shoulder.

Instead of crying out, Shival sank her claws into the dragon’s chest and bit at his neck over and over. It shrieked and tried to wrench itself free by clawing Shival wherever it could. It left huge gashes in her scaled chest and belly.

Niall felt Shival inhale deeply and hid his face against her spine as she unleashed fire on the other dragon’s deep neck wound. This time Niall felt his hair burn before bits of flame leapt to his skin. Pain like none he’d felt before seared through his bare arms, and he screamed. The snarling dragons and the roaring winds ripped the noise into oblivion the moment it escaped his lips.

Unable to feel his arms, Niall’s grip loosened. He felt emptiness surround him, beg him to fall. And he obliged.

The earth pulled at him, but the two dragons stayed intertwined. Shival’s wing was burned to the point where she could barely move it and she struggled to stay in the sky. As Niall fell past her, she reached out a foreleg and roared. Niall saw her rip at the other dragon’s belly and neck with newfound energy.

In a strangely human move, Shival grabbed the dragon’s neck with her forefeet and twisted it until the dragon all but looked backwards. Still, it hissed and hissed. Shival bit into its neck and it finally went limp.

Niall watched as the dragon transformed into a human dressed in the white dress-like garb of the Westernmen. The man’s body plummeted to the desert ground faster than Niall did, or at least it looked that way. Shival’s wing was snapped, and she also fell, still in dragon form.

She screeched and tried to go into a dive, managed to catch up with Niall. Her forefeet wrapped around him, the claws barely missing his burnt flesh. Then he felt the world crash around him as he slammed into the scaled hands and into unconsciousness.

[divider]
When Niall woke, a carnal rage flooded over him. A thousand sensations bombarded his mind, but the largest one was the General’s face. How he wanted to burn that face. Pain made him scream, but it sounded like a thousand beasts shrieked instead.

“Is this normal?” Niall recognized Pontris’s voice but could not see him. All he saw was Torant, all he wanted was to squeeze that throat of his, rip the blood out of him.

“Relax. His time has already come and gone.” Shival came into his mind’s eye, and the world righted itself again.

Her injuries were severe. Shival’s shoulder looked disfigured and swollen. Dried blood still marred her skin and matted her tunic to her shoulder. Her chest bore many long cuts, as if someone took a dagger and sliced her skin open out of curiosity. No blood poured from the wounds, and Niall found that strange.

As he wondered how she managed to save him, he noticed his arm wasn’t burned. His hair had regrown, and his pain wasn’t as grievous as he expected, even as his arm bent far back and several of his fingers all but touched the back of his hand.

The countless thoughts and urges swallowed his mind again, and he roared. Suddenly his outreached claws grabbed Torant, took him into the air and dropped him into a flaming whirlwind of multi-colored fire, fueled by his brethren. His sisters, his brothers. His family. Torant had lied. He’d found a way to create another Controller. Conflicting messages were too much for his siblings, throwing them into madness beyond any control. Their regret and rage coursed through his blood. Oh, how he roared for them, mourned for those they killed, and delighted at the sight of his siblings as they raided Torant’s army. Smoke filled his lungs and he blew it out again. Niall encouraged them to kill every last soldier, saw the enemy banners for the first time. Torant hadn’t even been leading the Monarch’s army toward the city.

Betrayer, oath-breaker.

Slay him.

Burn him.

Dragons shrieked and flew with Niall through the camp with newfound fervor. The city’s enemies would fall. Niall would make sure of it.

“Enough.”

Someone shook Niall and the radiant light of the Healer’s Court came into view. Pontris, Dorim, and Kye sat on the edge of a pool. Shival, completely naked, lounged in the water. Her wounds weren’t visible anymore. She stared at him, and Niall knew he looked back on her with eyes as black as her own.

They would kill all who stood against them, all who betrayed them. They would rule with a justice that burned.

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Elisa Nuckle is an aspiring fantasy and science fiction novelist. It’s always been her dream to chase ideas down and put them into concrete words. Currently, she’s undergoing enlightenment at a college in Texas, and plans on getting an English major in the not-too-distant future.

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