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Monday, 3 August 2020

Little Dragon

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
   Through the glittering surface of the dark, azure water, down past the constant tug of the current, beneath the reach of shimmering shafts of light, where the pebbles twitched and the green fronds swayed. The roar from the mountains penetrated even here.
   The tiny wyrm froze in fright at the vibration, before a gentle hum softened the water around it.
   "Do not panic, my little dragon. It is not a sound you will hear often."
   The wyrm turned back towards its mother as she coiled her long, serpentine body tighter into her rocky nook, and lay her great head down beside him among the waving stems of reeds. The same current that tried to pull him away merely tugged at the fronds on her chin. The duckweed didn't stir far above them.
   "Their story is your story. It is time I tell you, and you shall heed it well. For the good of all of us."
   The wyrm settled and watched as the light played over her scales.
   "Eons ago, dragons were abundant. We ranged through swamps, caves, deserts, seas, forests, jungles and ice. There was nowhere we could not live and adapt to, and the world was our kingdom for millennia. We saw the rise and fall of many creatures, and few of those who survive today are anything like they used to be. But we dragons have not changed so much. We have always been the kings and queens. We fit the world perfectly. It was made for us.
   "But in time, deep time, another creature - a wingless, puny creature - arrived and took offence. A creature that cannot adapt, and instead changes the world to adapt to them. In their eyes, our perfection made us a threat, and they began to hunt us. First, because they feared us. Then because they wanted our scales to wear, as if they could become like us, and be perfect like us. Then, for nothing but sport. Hundreds upon thousands of us have fallen for the sake of their glory."
   The wyrm jolted at a splash from the bank. The serpent lifted her heavy head and watched the beaver swim past. She didn't bother even to snap at it, and lay her chin back down.
   "And they learned. They hunted us in mating season, the most dangerous time they could - that was the thrill. The excuse. But we were then also our most vulnerable. We dragons are tied to our nests." Another hum rumbled through the water, and she twitched her fronds in amusement. "But this is how we river wyrms survived where others fell.
   "Dragons are ancient, as I have said, and we have never had reason to hide. Many make spectacles of themselves in the skies for mates and territory. Water dragons, however, do not. Nor do we breathe fire or fumes. And so few have thought to look for dragons by the water, and we in turn keep away from where along the rivers the creatures make their homes.
   "But one of our kind could see what the rest could not. She knew the creatures would expand their territory, just as we did, and we would either be seen, or cut off from one another, unable to breed. Our species would die out either way. And we could not fly away to safer waters like others could to mountains, nor survive on so little in the drowned caverns.
   "Suryū knew all of this, and when they were seen along the banks of her river, she acted.
   "But she did not kill them like others did. She stalked, and she learned. And when breeding season came with the rains, she made her nest among the reeds, and she laid - sooner than anyone else."
   A glint of silver caught the serpent's eye. Stretching her small, paddle-shaped wings, she adjusted the current passing over her, raised her head, bowed her neck, snapped, and struck. The fish was gone in an instant.
   The little wyrm snatched at one far smaller. She rumbled in pride again.
   "Suryū's eggs were small, and the water she breathed over them, warmed in her belly, was a puff rather than a jet. She knew they might well not survive with such treatment. But it was a calculated risk, and, ten days later, those small eggs, tangled in algae, did indeed hatch. The small, stiff little things were nothing like dragons, and jerked about in the water, tiny and helpless. They did not survive. They could not. They were nothing familiar, and were eaten by other clutches.
   "Suryū tried again the following season, and though these grew bigger, they did not survive, either. Many were caught in fishing nets instead. But she did not tire." She turned her head, and peered at him a little closer with one great turquoise eye. "You, little dragon, are a product of much toil.
   "It was in the seventh season that Suryū perfected her clutch, with hatchlings familiar enough to go uneaten, big enough to defend themselves, small enough to slip through nets, and fast enough to catch their own prey. This seventh clutch survived, and she passed her success on to the rest of us to follow her lead for the good of our kind. Many did not, believing we should not sully our lineage, that our 'kind' would not be our kind anymore. But there is a good reason that there are so many more of you today than there are of them.
   "But the deception alone was still not enough. The waters were still not safe. River wyrms had been discovered, and our numbers shrank rapidly. This clutch still looked nothing like their mother, but how long would it be before the deception was discovered, and the puny, offended creatures imagined a new threat?
   "So Suryū taught her hatchlings to weave wings of water and spider silk where their paddles should have been. She taught them to break through the water and move across its surface on six tiny legs. She taught them to fly, thrown up by small jets of water until those delicate wings took over. Then, one day, when they had learned all she could teach them, they perched on grass and reed and looked down at her through the water, and with a final bow of her great head, she sent them flying off downstream."
   She chuckled once more. "You might well wonder. Why fly when it was the downfall of the other dragons? Because they, like you, were small enough to slip through nets. No arrow could hit them, and they cast no shadows when they flew. If eyes were looking in the water, far better to be above it.
   "You will be too, one day. And when you do, my little dragonfly, make for the vast ocean. Lay and breed your young in the streams and rivers along the way, and tell them this story. And when you, or they, or their young, reach at last the endless sea, land yourself amid the rising coils of steam and bubbles." She closed her eyes and nudged him softly with her snout, humming softly into the current. "Our cousins await your return."

Words copyright © Kim Wedlock
No part is to be reproduced without my permission.

Saturday, 1 August 2020

Book Birthdays! [free books and short stories]

Today marks the birthday of The Zi'veyn and The Sah'niir! And, because I like to take book birthdays a little too seriously, I've gotten organised for the first time since Corona struck!

     The Zi'veyn and The Sah'niir have been reduced in price
on Kindle for the entirety of August!
Search on your preferred Kindle store
or hit one of the links below for the most common stores:
The Zi'veyn: UK    US    Can    Aus    NL
The Sah'niir: UK    US    Can    Aus    NL

Otherwise, here's my schedule for the month,
including both Patreon and public posts:

1st: 'One Öre' (short story) released on Patreon Archivist tier
1st-5th: The Zi'veyn free on Kindle
8th: 'It's Just Business' (short story) released on Patreon Archivist tier
13th: Artwork compilation on Patreon, all tiers
15th: 'One Öre' made available to everyone else
15th-19th: The Sah'niir free on Kindle
20th: Artwork compilation available to everyone else
22nd: Sneak-peek of Veysuul's cover for Patreon only, all tiers
22nd: 'It's Just Business' made available to everyone else
27th-31st: Hlífrún free on Kindle

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

6 Years of The Devoted Trilogy

    Monday the 27th marked the end of the 6th year I've been working on The Devoted trilogy.
   The story has been through so many changes that the initial plan - a file dated with the above date - is virtually unrecognisable. Characters have grown in ways I'd never expected, and science has played a bigger role than I'd intended. Biological magic, political entanglement and psychological impacts - which, I suppose, is only suitable when the enemy employs such levels of deception.
   When I started, it was a relatively 'complex' plot - just enough to be interesting. It has since grown into a labyrinth. Nothing, as it turns out, is quite what it seems, from the starting situation to the alliances involved. I've worried at times that it's too dull, and at others that it's too complicated. But when I read it all through, I find myself confident rather than concerned. And for all my other worries over the years, that no one would be interested, that no one cared, that I was 'wasting my time' (side note: time spent doing what you love can never possibly be time 'wasted'), I can say that I love what my trilogy has become.

  On Saturday August 1st, The Zi'veyn turns 2 years old, and The Sah'niir turns 1. The Zi'veyn will be available on Kindle for free from then until the 5th, and I have 2 free short stories to share, as well as a new and rather different illustration that I've been seriously torn between sharing and not. But I decided, given the occasion, to go ahead and throw it out there in August.

   The first short story will be available on August 15th (Aug 1st for Patreon) and the second will be August 22nd (Aug 8th for Patreon). Patreon will also get a sneak peek of the WIP of book 3's cover before anyone else, which won't be shown publicly until it's finished.

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Darahir and Shalenn

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
   In a world of love and loss, it is a tragic truth and paradox that the two should cross so often, and an inexplicable inevitability that one should be pursued so eagerly despite the knowledge that the other will certainly follow, whether the first is successful or not. No matter one's race or disposition, blind hope and willing ignorance both fuelled and empowered them all.
   Because the joy that one could win in the lull between the two was worth every ounce of conceivable misery.

   It was in a coastal town in the luminous borders of Ygalis that Shalenn first snared Darahir's attention. Even at twelve years old, she was as beautiful as the golden rays of sunlight burning away the rain clouds, or the colours of a waterfall scattered under moonlight. Boys fell at her feet before they even understood the kind of spell she had them under, and girls detested her for it.
   Darahir, however, adored her. When her chores took her out into town, she chose her route by the best way to glimpse her, but ran away whenever Shalenn happened to be close, and when she was tied up in her alchemical studies, her attention still managed to wander its way out from her father's workshop, down the street, across the branching streams and through the magistrate's window, where the girl with sprays of elderflowers woven into her braids sat at a desk, practising her lettering. She spent hours imagining how she might finally speak to her, what she might say and how she might say it, and when that chance came, she ran away again.
   With every spring, Shalenn grew more radiant, and where boys grew bolder in their pursuit of her, and girls more hateful, Darahir grew only weaker. It wasn't helped by the fact that Shalenn rebuffed all new acquaintances - but she wasn't surprised by it. The magistrate's daughter wouldn't lower herself to the company of lechers and opportunists, not with her family's wealth and influence draping over her as she stepped so gracefully into marrying age. She was a higher breed.
   But Darahir knew that she needed only twenty seconds of bravery to prove she was different, to prove that it wasn't contacts or benefits she sought to befriend, but her.
   Bravery that, for reasons she couldn't fathom through the rapid beat of her heart, dragged a great amount of terror along with it. Every time she entertained the idea, she felt as thought she needed twenty more just to summon it. And Shalenn deserved more than a cursescript or decoction to feign it.

   For better or worse, the matter was thrown far out of Darahir's hands when she was out in the White Marshes one autumn evening, gathering salts for the cobbler's tonic.
   A shriek like the ripping of worlds shook the mists, and she abandoned her panning to run straight towards the terror, pulling a strip of parchment and ink box from her jacket as she went. She was already scrawling incantations before the second shriek tore through, and threw the crumpled sheet into the face of coalescing wraith as the helpless scream rose behind her. Seizing the woman's wrist, she dragged her away before any more could wake, and when she at last turned towards her on the safety of the road, Darahir's heart lurched and leapt up into her throat as though she'd been kicked in the gut by a horse.
   Pale, shaking, terrified, Shalenn stared back at her with eyes as wide and silver as the moon. 'Darahir' was all she said, breathed in a whisper, but that alone squeezed her heart higher. And then, with something far warmer than gratitude burning in her eyes, she kissed her.
   Surprise gripped Darahir before she could react. She recoiled instead, in shock, and in fear. And before she could make any sense of the moment, Shalenn had fled. Her sobs drifted back through the night while she stood alone in the dark, trapped in the grip of incomprehension, and the horror that chased it away.
   Weeks passed before she saw her again, at the door to Shalenn's own home, but her effort to apologise, having spent hours every day obsessing over her choice of words, were met cold.
   "It doesn't warrant explanation," Shalenn had told her primly. "Thank you for coming by. Was there anything else?"
   "No," she'd replied with a defeated furrow, "nothing else..."
   The door had been closed on her.
   And Darahir became consumed. Consumed by the insult she'd paid her, by the look in her eyes when she'd kissed her, by the taste of her lips when they'd parted. Shalenn had spurned all others, but her...
   Darahir returned to her again a week later, and again a week after that, and the week after that, bringing her elderflower perfumes and sprays, and inks for her work. And each of her visits, and each of her gifts, were met just as glacially as the first.
   But Shalenn continued to open the door, even though she knew it was her, and that was enough to lure her back time and again.
   And then, in fate's truest fashion, war crashed against their shores.
   The alchemist's craft of poisons, blade oils, bombs and cursescripts were required for the effort, and Darahir was both obliged and proud to serve. But the thought of leaving Shalenn, her insult only just beginning to thaw, filled her with a dread so deep that it invaded her very existence. And so it was that an idea came to her in her dreams.
   An echostone, an obsidian shard with which one could be summoned to another's side. With it, Shalenn could call her when her temper soothed and her insult softened, whether she was one or one hundred miles away. With it, she would not forget her. With it, she would win her, in her own time.
   Obsidian wasn't rare in Ygalis, if one knew where to look, and an alchemist always did. It took three days to create the cursescript and sear it into the glass, and she left it with a note and a spray of elderflowers on her doorstep. She didn't wait for her to answer her knock.

   The campaign lasted for two and a half years, and she battled through it all with an unwavering hope in her heart. Even when the war was lost, and Ygrona absorbed Ygalis into its own rule.
   Darahir returned to her afterwards, but the coast had ravaged, and the town taken. Ygrona's banners snapped in the breeze where Ygalis's colours had been what felt like only yesterday.
   Shalenn's home, too, had been taken by another, a rich foreign family who'd taken the rule of the town. A young family recognised her, one with a profession still valuable to keep around, and told her she'd been among those to flee just before the occupation, and had taken little with her.
   "Did she take a black, glassy stone?" She'd asked, feeling her heart rise as high as it had when Shalenn had looked her in the eye in the marshes. It fluttered when they nodded. They knew because the looters had been vocal in their irritation that she hadn't left it behind with the rest of the magistrate's riches.
   Darahir spent years searching for her, but could find her nowhere. None had seen her - though none had been looking - but she had no doubt that they'd remember if they had.
   And while she still held hope in her heart, exhaustion inevitably set in. She settled down, expanded her craft, and waited for her. She came into the service of nobles and generals, and she earned her coin and titles. And she waited for her. She turned aside courtly suiters and the sons of dukes and counts. And she waited for her.
   And all the while, the ache in her heart grew deeper.
   By her middle years, the nights seemed to stretch longer, winters grew colder, and sicknesses came more often and sank with deeper hooks. As she lay in her bed one morning, decoctions on the table beside her to chase out a fever, she felt a strange stirring in her heart, heard a phantom voice whisper beside her ear, and felt the warmth of breath brushing across her skin.
   Her hope surged, adrenaline fired, breath choked in her throat. She lay there, listening to Shalenn's voice, while the world slipped away around her.
   In the same moment, in a bedroom back in a coastal town in Ygalis, the echostone tumbled from a limp hand and shattered across the floor.
Words copyright © Kim Wedlock
No part is to be reproduced without my permission.
Shortlisted for Writers Online's Love Story competition