Cardinal – Boxy – 311 Words
Red birds swept across the snow-laden ground, hopping, chasing, flying in and out as they pleased. A chorus of chirps pierced through the distant howl of the winter wind and the crunch of snow under their small hops as they searched for food under their feet.
A small dragon slinked his way closer, moving in small but fluid increments. Dark limbs spidered along the thick layer of snow, pulling Boxy closer to the colorful birds. The wind tickled across his body, and a shiver raced through him. Flakes caught and melted in the dampest parts of his deteriorating scales, leading the chill to press deeper, relentless, yet he didn’t turn away from the relentless whip of icy wind.
A particularly loud crunch sent several of the birds scattering to the sky, and Boxy held still, dark eyes and patient smile turned skyward until one of the duller female cardinals descended, brave but wary. Some of her brethren followed behind her. Boxy’s inky limbs began to move again, caution softening his steps as he neared. When he was near enough, he lifted one of his forefeet which had been balled into a fist. Gently, he flung it out, toes opening, scattering the seed that he’d carried with him across the snow.
The birds startled until they realized Boxy had brought them food. In no time, the ground was covered in red and brown birds, hopping, cheeping, some of the cleverer ones looking to Boxy as if he might have more.
Boxy held out his forefoot again, palm up. Several seeds had stuck to his scales, and tentatively, carefully, a cardinal cocked its head before leaping into the air and landing on Boxy’s foot. Dark, beady eyes met Boxy’s own, and the dragon held perfectly still until the bird bent its head and began pecking the stray seeds from where they’d stuck.
Adversity – Orm – 340 Words
The ice overhead creaked with the shifting of the waves, straining to hold together as it rode over the shifting tides. It was thick, sturdy, certainly not going anywhere. The light that filtered through was muted and pale, weak, hardly reaching a few feet below the surface. A high piercing whine echoed through the sea, followed by a chorus of others, a cry for help that had brought Orm this far, his large shadow moving just under the ice.
The pod of whales were trapped under a vast stretch of thick ice, caught moving too late along their migratory path. A few sparse holes made it so they could breathe, but food was quickly running scarce. As Orm approached, several fled into the depths, untrusting and nervous but too desperate to abandon hope entirely. Orm’s horns and wings scraped along the bottom of the ice though the cold hardly managed to get through his scales.
At first, he simply flexed, body bowed up against the ice, pressing in the hopes that the weight would be too great, that it would start to crack and crumble. It stuck to the surface of the water, refusing to budge even when Orm’s breath began to run too fast, when his spine burned with the effort that was making little to no headway.
He dropped further in the water, eyeing the ice overhead. There was one spot where it seemed lighter, where the ice might be thinner, and Orm took aim. All at once, his powerful body pushed forward, surging through the water and slamming into the ice. There was the faintest sound, the barest crack, and Orm lowered his head before spearing up, horns jamming into the ice near the weak point he’d created. Finally, something broke, the ice breaking apart, the smallest line forming from the hole, pointed towards the open ocean.
It would take days to rescue the pod. Orm would be tired. But it was possible. And for that, he began searching for the next point he needed to hit.
Nutcracker – Kephalos – 302 Words
A series of trees scattered across several acres, verdant leaves swaying in the crisp breeze, color starting to fade with the fast coming of autumn. A veritable feast littered the ground beneath the heavy boughs. Nuts were hidden in the winding roots of the trees, embedded in the dirt when they’d fallen during the rain, lost among the rising tides of grass. Small mammals rushed to gather the forgotten harvest, stuffing their cheek pouches full before vanishing to their stores and larders, hoarding for the oncoming winter.
A small dark dragon nosed his way through the musty overgrowth, ears twitching to track his adversaries and wings flaring when one of the rodents crossed his path. His large mouth opened, full of so many teeth as he glared through green eyes and made a noise that scared the birds from the boughs overhead.
The animals around him scurried away, and Kephalos couldn’t keep the smug look from his face as his forefoot plucked an embedded nut from the ground, greedily hoarding for himself as he rolled it among the dozen others he’d gathered thus far.
Nuts weren’t a particularly large part of a dragon’s diet, but this wasn’t about food for Kephalos. He rumbled pleasantly to himself, eyeing his collection with a wag of his thick tail. It took time, but it was effective nevertheless. He lowered his head and turned so that the ground brushed along one cheek. His maw opened, tongue curling around the thick shells and pulling them into his mouth. Occasionally, Kephalos had to move his jaw, urging them up over a lip or tooth, but soon enough, he had all of them in his mouth.
With a great, satisfying crunch, Kephalos broke them all at once, scratching an itch that was otherwise impossible to reach on his own.
Snowman – Ciar – 325 Words
Snow fell in fat flakes, heavily carpeting the rolling hills that stretched for as far as the eye could see. What few landmarks there were had become largely obscured by the weather, but a new one stood on the top of a nearby hill, three large snowballs high. A facsimile of a face had been made on the topmost ball, mismatched stones set deep like eyes, a stalk of grass poking out of the vague approximation of a mouth.
Ciar’s own jagged smile widened, his pearl bobbing around him — as much a part of him as the night-black scales and the thin spotted wings — before bumping into the shape before him. He leaped into the air, zipping languidly around the snowman as he examined the simple decoration, abandoned halfway in and left to melt without further attention.
First, he found more rocks scattered on the hillside. Lopsided, uneven things, he shoved them almost haphazardly into the snowman’s face, creating a visual line of a mouth around where the grass stalk fluttered in the winter wind.
Then, he burrowed under the snow, pulling fistfuls of grass out of the frozen ground. Haphazardly, he began to stick the grass into the snowman’s head, patches and stray blades of grass creating a scraggly, uneven head of hair. Ciar’s gnarled forefeet clasped around one another, contemplating before he dove back down, scrounging around for more dead grass to complete the look.
It took time. Even as he grew impatient, when he pressed a full foot to the snow only for the wind to blow the grass away — he was committed to seeing it through. The gray sky had begun to darken by the time he was satisfied with the decoration, and Ciar puttered away to view it from a distance.
The snowman smiled blankly at him, hair ruffling in the wind. Ciar gave a pleasant little clap and took off, leaving his masterpiece for someone else to find.
Patridge – Kuunal – 319 Words
There was a rustle in the undergrowth, shadows shifting like snakes as the sun beamed down on a messy conglomerate of brush and briars. A bird with dull feathers and dark stripes rushed through the floral maze, feet pounding a staccato rhythm. Not far behind the partridge, a dragon-shaped creature scrambled. A dark, seething void of shadow pounced after the bird, two pairs of neon eyes trained on the partridge with a predator’s focus. A blue-hot flame flickered atop a dark, dripping candle, magically not affecting the plants around them.
The bird spread its wings, leaping into the air for a short burst of flight, only to find itself face-first with the little companion’s dragon. A gruesome skull grinned at the bird, eyes alight with the same flames as one of his companions. A long body writhed behind him, coils of light and shadow playing merciless tricks on the poor animal’s eyes. A laugh rattled through Kuunal’s exposed ribcage.
His companion leaped, small wings fluttering madly as it tackled the partridge to the ground in a flurry of feathers and a shrill shriek of anger. Kuunal watched with many, many eyes as the bird fought off his companion’s attempts to grapple and smother. A flash of a pink-orange beak, a scramble of its feet. It wanted so badly to live, and Kuunal did not quite have the heart to remind Candle that they lacked a mouth and could, therefore, not eat the prize they’d captured for themself.
Instead, he brought a heavy forefoot down, gently pinning Candle’s goopy tail. The partridge fluttered with a final, angry peck before scurrying off back into the undergrowth, harried and ruffled. Candle struggled to no avail, pinned and held until the bird had gotten well and truly away.
The second Candle landed just outside of the first’s reach, watching with amusement as the first struggled to pounce them instead.
Candy – Sheen – 301 Words
Crinkly little wrappers littered the table, flashing colorfully when the angle of the light hit just right. A breeze rushed through the room, knocking a small cascade of paper to the floor, exposing some wrappers with their prized candy still safely tucked away inside. The stale scent of artificial sweets hugged close to the table, sugar dancing along the tip of her tongue as she nosed her way through the empty husks, searching for the beloved prizes for which she yearned.
Magenta and cyan flashed, Sheen’s mouth open as she snaked through to the nearest piece of candy. The jagged edges of her maw caught on the wrapper, the faint taste of something akin to strawberry seeping onto her tongue through the small puncture marks left by her teeth. The very tip of her tail twitched as she wrenched her head to the side, flinging the candy towards the center of the table. She was not, perhaps, made for hunting in the natural world, the untamed wilds, but in any artificial paradise, she was just as dangerous as any predator who bore the same stripes as her.
Sheen grabbed the end of the wrapper with her teeth, winding her body around the piece of candy. Her scales caught on the wrapper, and she slowly began to move, unraveling the carefully-twisted paper until she, at last, freed her prize. Sheen fell on it in an instant, jaw unhinged as she all-but inhaled it. The sugar melted into her, unbearably sweet and completely indulgent. She hummed with satisfaction, long whiskers swaying contentedly even as her square pupils found the next wrapper still neatly hiding its delicious treat.
Hours later, she would be found, full and lazy, sprawled out in a nest of paper and plastic, every last piece of candy eaten.
Fallen Leaves – Axlotl – 319 Words
Leaves were strewn about the forest floor, the mirrored colors of the fiery sunset separated by the gnarled, naked branches overhead. Dusk had begun to cool the autumn air, a chill biting at his scales as he meandered through the woods, taking in the colors underfoot. Axlotl’s whiskers twitched, his pale head lifting at the distant rustles of wildlife: a few deer darted through the trees followed by the heavier thump of a bear headed towards its den; a rabbit darted by, a brown blur, followed by an impatient fox who quickly gave up the game, tongue lolling from its mouth and a whine caught in its throat.
Some of Axlotl’s scales sloughed heavily onto the leaves, and the fox jumped, eyes wide before it scattered off in another direction, leaving the dragon alone again, looking at the paths crushed in the leaves around him, no less pretty than the flowers that would bloom in the spring or the wildlife that would be teeming in the forest in the summer.
Slowly, he glanced around, wings fluttering uncertainly, but he was, at the moment, alone. The corners of his mouth curved into a small smile, and he set about his work. Loose scales continued to fall, shining white amid the brown, yellow, red, and orange leaves as he collected them into a pile. A few times, the wind rushed through, sending leaves from the top scattering again, but Axlotl was persistent until, at last, he had a pile of leaves bigger than himself. He took a few steps back and squatted low to the ground, tail lashing behind him before he rushed forward, colliding with the lower part of his tower. Leaves burst forward like an explosion, and by the time they’d settled, he could be found at the bottom, the weight of the leaves pressing down as he curled up beneath them, hidden away for a cozy little nap.
Pomegranates – Cypress – 319 Words
The bowl of fruit had been left unattended. The glazed clay held many round, red fruits, enough that the slightest bump would send several spilling over the side only to be gathered back up and replaced. Cypress’s crest flattened against his head, pale eyes turned up at the top of the bowl where a light dusting of frost had formed a spider’s web across the surface of some of the pomegranates.
He shook his feathers almost instinctively, more snow falling from his shoulders, icy claws scraping across the woodgrain of the table. He peered closer at the nearest pomegranate, a vague shape taking form until Cypress was certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that he saw another dragon.
Or, rather, that’s what he would tell anyone who asked.
Without hesitation, he flung himself at the offending fruit, wings battering the side of the fruit as his claws dug into the flesh of it. The skin parted, a shine of viscera red gleaming in his sight before it tumbled, finally, out of the bowl, rolling along the table, taunting him in its audacity to fight back. He screeched in indignation, beak tearing through the skin as he fell on it again. He pulled a seed from within before putting his claws on the tear and ripping open the fruit, exposing quite the treat for such a small dragon as well as declaring him the victor of the match.
He rolled one of the halves on its back, perching on it as he began to pluck seeds to eat. It rocked under the weight of him, almost sending him sprawling, but with a flap of his wings, he remained on top, though the motion brought the ice on his tail screeching down the glaze on the bowl, a sharp, piercing sound that saw him jump off the fruit and start eyeing up the next challenger who dared to face him.
Stockings – Domino – 341 Words
A line of stockings hung over the flickering fire in the hearth in various stages of drying from exposure to the elements. Each meticulously paired with its twin, pinned neatly side by side — it was a perfect backdrop, seemingly staged when compared to the general hectic atmosphere of a lived-in place. Domino liked it here, near the warmth of the flames, but there was something even better waiting as the hours dragged on and the wool began to dry.
His throat expanded with a pleased little grunt as the nearest stocking lost the last of its retained moisture. It no longer sagged with the weight of water, and there were no dark splotches ruining the monochromatic weave. Domino stuck his wings up until they were pressed together, and he slowly slinked down the hearth until he could nose inside the stocking.
Oh, yes. This was warm. Toasty, even. He pulled his head back, tossing wildly when his spines got caught in the wool. The stocking swung from its pin for a moment, perilous before it slowed and eventually stopped. Domino clambered around the hole of it, doing quick math until he found a way to swing his tail into the opening. From that point, it was a matter of gravity and carefully controlling his descent, feathered tail disappearing followed by his hind feet and then his hips.
Domino draped himself over the edge of the stocking, wings spreading as he hooked his toes into the woven wool, anchoring himself and settling in for a long, peaceful doze in the warmest part of the room, safe and sound.
At least until the pin came out. Domino yelped as the stocking plummeted to the earth, wings fluttering to try and slow his descent. He was too heavily weighed down by the stocking and collapsed in a heap with it on the floor. The distant thump of feet told him that someone had heard, and he scrambled out, taking off the second he was free to hide from all evidence of sneaky naps.
Fur Coat – Toekie – 319 Words
The coat had been abandoned by its owner, left on the ground, thrown and crumpled on the floor of the cottage. A breeze from the open door ruffled the fur, a subtle blend of grays and browns which made it hard to tell where one color began and the other ended. A red beak poked at the edge of the coat, occasionally pulling at a tuft until the coat shifted. Then, the dragon leaped back, flaring her red-tipped wings and posturing grandly until it felt safe to continue poking.
Toekie had a plan. A good plan, as far as she was concerned, which largely involved getting away from the cold of the unheated cottage by squirming under the coat itself. Finally, she managed to pull one piece up enough that she could hide herself away in a comforting and consuming darkness.
Soon, though, her nap was interrupted by a hand touching the edge of the coat. Toekie swung herself around, beak bared at the offending fingers. A few pecks and a determined bite made them draw away, but the hand soon returned with help, clasping the coat around the dragon and wrapping her up in it. Toekie struggled with a furious shriek, thrashing in her prison until there was finally a glimpse of the light outside.
She burst free, swooping at the human who had returned for their coat before retreating to a safe distance in the sky. The human shook out their coat and returned into the cottage quickly, closing the door though Toekie followed and pecked at the glass of the windows, deliberately menacing until she felt that she’d gotten her point across.
Toekie was not a dragon to be messed with, and after a quick roll in the snow to rid herself of the feeling of being trapped and helpless, reveling in her own freedom, she took off and left the cottage in the dust.
Pumpkin Spice – Mercy – 323 Words
The cafe bustled, patrons flowing in and out in an uneven but hurried rhythm, going about their days with a little more pep in their step thanks to the caffeine. The machines in the back hummed and hissed and occasionally squealed in use, piercing through the low murmur of conversation. Mercy hid under the overhang of a cushioned bench, tucked away in an unoccupied booth. The darkness of his feathers helped him blend into the shadows, though one might sometimes see the light catching off his beady eyes as they searched. He could lay in wait for hours if need be, so long as the reward at the end remained the same.
Sure enough, eventually, a patron left their cup at the table. Easily large enough for Mercy to fit into if he wanted, and easily holding enough coffee to fill him up.
He darted from the shadows, clawed feet clicking along the tiled floor. A leap into the air brought him to the tabletop, and some poor human yelped in surprise, drawing attention to Mercy who looked just enough like a regular bird to make them wonder if he wasn’t.
He had no intention of dispelling them of the notion. In fact, he had no intention of doing anything besides drowning himself in the pumpkin spice-flavored coffee that had been left unattended. Mercy all but stuck his head into the cup, pulling the hot liquid into his beak before tilting his head up, throat working to swallow it down before he dipped his head and started again.
When someone came too close, he threw his wings out, shuffling around the cup on the far side from them, continuing to drink while keeping his attention firmly on those who felt that they could sneak up on a dragon. Finally, when they were too close, he leaped into the air and further, into the Chronoscape, leaving a pack of very confused humans behind.
Feast – Prince Charming – 315 Words
Feeding a few dozen dragons was no easy feat and often required a veritable feast, especially when everyone wanted to eat all at once. Food was laid on almost every flat surface, most already pilfered, a tell-tale chunk missing with teethmarks around the edges or footprints where some greedy dragon had simply reached in and grabbed what they wanted regardless of heat or manners.
Prince Charming was hungry. He was also fashionably late. The majority of Liam’s other dragons had scattered, full and pleased with themselves, leaving the scraps behind for him. Prince Charming’s wings fluttered behind him, reedy antennae sweeping low as he eyed the remaining offerings with a distinct sense of appraisal.
He should have had first pick — honestly, no one respected the crown anymore — but… now, he could have whatever he wanted. No dragons would be squabbling with him, stepping on him, biting or yelling or fighting for their fair share. They’d already had it. Now that the mad rush was over, this was practically his kingdom. At least until Liam saw fit to put away any potential leftovers.
As such, he took his time, examining the offerings with a patience he could rarely afford. He inhaled the delectable aromas of the carefully-prepared food, weighing thoughts of texture and taste on his tongue before committing to so much as a bite. He could even afford to nip over to the sink for a palate cleanser, water rushing away the last taste and preparing him for the next.
It was, in a way, utterly decadent. He nosed through the dishes long after his stomach had begun to protest, forked tongue flickering out occasionally to grab a spare crumb or a forgotten morsel, pulling it into his mouth so that he could savor the taste one last time, always room for one more, until he had, at last, sampled everything he wanted.
Icicles – Seros – 311 Words
When Seros awoke from what some might generously call a nap and others might call a slight hibernation, icicles had grown down over the mouth of the cave. They were thick, jagged in places where they’d formed unevenly, and though he could see a warped view of the world beyond, putting his head to them and pushing did little to make them give way. Red eyes stared through the natural bars of his cage as his small companion tried to crawl through the scant space between the ground and where the tips of the icicles hung.
At the first ice-cold scrape, he called it back, not wanting an injury due to impatience. All that was needed, now, was a small application of flame. The fire of his mane raged higher, licks of flame darting between his teeth as he growled against the icicles. Slowly, they began to thin, droplets running down to the ground while steam curled into the air. At the mouth of the cave, snow began to melt from the heat, the water quickly drying and leaving Seros room to pace, dry and cracking as the flames burned hotter, his patience wearing thin.
Finally, when the weak points had thinned, Seros took a few steps back, spaded tail lashing behind him before he surged forward, throwing the bulk of his weight into the thinnest part of the icicles. For a the briefest moment, it seemed as though they might resist, each taking their share of the impact and holding strong against him, but his fire wreathed around them, and they all suddenly snapped, allowing him to sprawl free on the other side, landing almost gracefully on his clawed feet.
His companion followed once the icicles had finished shattering, trundling through the snow as they moved away from the dry spot they’d created and out into the wintry waste.
Helper – Miran – 324 Words
A whip-like tail lashed through the dark, sparse light glinting off the metallic hand on the far end. Claws caught on the alley wall, scraping inelegantly over the rough brick, an unpleasant grinding slithering up his spine, grounding him to his patience. Any moment now, his informants would arrive. Miran just had to wait here in the cramped alley, surrounded by the seething dark and a flash of metal and stars.
Finally, the first of his little companions arrived, metal toes clicking across the cobblestone and sharp-toothed maw turned up to Miran as it shook its wings and tail, anticipatory, waiting. Information flooded the connection between them. People, places, food — always the focus on food, though there was a bakery he might be able to slink by with some honey scones… Not important.
The others scarpered from their assignments soon enough, arriving with tiny metallic shrieks. The lay of the land flooded Miran’s head, and he curled his forefoot around the heft of his harpoon gun as a laugh caught behind his metal ribs. Yes, this would be easy. Especially…
He shared the first stabling’s memory of the bakery with them all, the scent of honey on their tongues, the promise of warm, sweet food in their bellies.
All they had to do was get into a little trouble. Confuse their mark, chase him a little if it came down to it. Overwhelm him out of the sunlight where Miran could fall on him to put a swift and final piece of punctuation on his miserable life.
Then, yes, they would get food. An excited chitter rippled through the stablings, a few winding around his ankles with a cat-like affection before they scampered off, scattering into the dark to chase the target Miran had given them. Such dutiful, helpful little things — they deserved a treat. Why not? It’s not as if anyone at a little bakery was going to stop him.
Wreath – Midnight – 311 Words
Midnight was busy. She hopped excitedly through the forest, her hind paws chilled by the thin layer of snow that lay like a blanket on the ground. Certain plants flourished in certain seasons, and when the ephemeral flora of spring and summer finally withered and died, it left the hardiest behind, the survivors, the ones that would last if one were to, say, use them for a bit of decorating.
She’d brought several rings with her, thin pieces of metal that she’d left somewhere nearby. Once she returned with her small arms full of flimsy, flexible limbs of pine, she could start to weave them around the ring, braids of wood and natural needles slowly twining together to form the first part of her first wreath. When she ran out of materials, she took off again, a streak of dark scales and fluttering wings as she leaped into the air, disappearing into the heavy boughs of another pine to wheedle away some more unneeded limbs, ignoring the pricking of the needles which slid mostly harmlessly off her scales. Her feet were another matter, distinct itches tingling on the sensitive insides before she hopped down, putting all four feet in the snow before picking up the pruned bits and making off for the starts of her wreaths again.
As the hours passed and the sky began to darken, her collection grew. Pinecones and seed pods had joined the pile of materials, and she’d found some bright holly with ruby red berries that could be tucked between the tight weave of the branches. It required further fussing, moving things delicately into position to create an aesthetically pleasing piece of decoration.
When snow began to fall again, she pulled the wreaths over her neck and leaped into the air, wings readily buzzing to carry her back to the den where her work could continue.
Cookies – Otto – 306 Words
The heavy, warm smell of cookies wafted through the kitchen, promises of delicious future snacks clinging to every breath as impatience writhed in Otto’s stomach, echoing up the back of his throat and curling along his tongue. His forefeet lay crossed, his head resting on them and pillowed by the thickness of his bright purple mane. Yellow slitted eyes watched the cook bustle about, narrowing occasionally in a glare as if that might make her swerve closer to the oven that glowed with an inviting yellow-orange light.
As she continued her journey, leaving the cookies to bake, Otto’s head sank further. The flagpoles coming from his hips lolled downward as both sets of wings fell almost flat on the table’s surface. It took a real concentrated effort to sulk as visibly as Otto and to look as sad as he could with the exposed bones along his back and the wide gash of his maw that almost always looked like a smile. Luckily, he was willing to put the effort in.
Courses left the kitchen, and still the cookies baked, edges crisping brown by the time the cook saw fit to reach in and pull them out.
Otto’s head lifted, the small tuft of his tail twitching, and the second the cook left the first tray unattended, he dug his claws into the table and flung himself forward into the air, jerky, inelegant movements nevetheless getting him to his goal. The tray burned under his feet, but with claws, determination, and a bit of stubbornness, he managed to get a cookie off the sheet before the cook could swipe at him. He dodged the incoming hit, maw already digging into his prize as he flew up above the cabinets, perching to finish his snack while the cook scramble to right the mess he’d left behind.
Roasted Chestnuts – Hypnosis – 324 Words
The crackle of a nearby fire drew her attention, pulling Hypnosis from her wandering. Her ears swiveled, multicolored eyes turning away and contemplating the ongoing, snowy taiga that stretched out before her before she reluctantly pulled back, headed towards the sound of a campfire. Her hooves thumped against the hardened earth, and a whistling wind combed through her velvety scales, pulling at the places where her body was less than defined, warping it with the breeze.
A lone person sat close to the fire, bundled in thick clothes. A tent had been put up and pinned into the ground, shivering in the breeze behind him. A pan rested over the open flame, a scattering of nuts inside that he occasionally nudged to one end of the pan and back, keeping them moving to heat evenly until they popped one at a time, roasted and ready to eat.
The human looked up as Hypnosis approached, squinting from the shadow of the hood pulled up around his head. After a moment’s calculation, he pulled the pan from the fire, fishing out a few of the chestnuts before rolling them into the palm of his mitten and held them out for perusal.
Hypnosis took in the woodsmoke smell then shook her head, ears flopping slightly. “I am not something to tame or pity.”
Whether the stranger understood her words, he certainly seemed to understand her tone, and pulled his hand back, cradling the precious food close to his chest until they’d cooled enough to eat.
Hypnosis considered leaving him to his fate, alone in the cold, but there was a distant, chilling howl of something that wanted to be perceived as a wolf. A shiver ran down her spine, and she struck a hoof against the ground, considering.
Either her presence would protect this man and keep the beast at bay, or they would come anyway and Hypnosis would be able to fight. She decided to stay.
Eggnog – Bunny – 303 Words
A set of heavy glass mugs had been left sitting out as the gathering died down, stylized facsimiles of a moose’s head, the great antlers meant to be held and tipped to access the drink inside. A bowl sat near, half-full with the remaining eggnog as more and more of the guests disappeared into a snow-laden night. A purple shadow slinked up to the table, large ears perking as her green eyes peeked over the edge at the ladle, mugs, and bowl, contemplating taking a drink for herself.
Ordinarily, Bunny would have asked Pollen for help, but they were busy at the moment, saying her goodbyes and preparing to leave the party as well. Time ran short, and if she really wanted to try this now, she needed to move before Pollen said they were ready to go. Bunny hopped up on her hind legs, forefeet on the table as her wings flared to help with balance. Carefully, she selected a mug of her own, setting her teeth into the glass and dragging it midway between her and the bowl. From there, she eyed the ladle where it had been left, just out of reach of where she was on the floor.
Thankfully, another guest noticed her dilemma, and without question, filled the mug with a slight, kind smile, then took the mug and gently sat it on the floor where Bunny could easily sample what was inside.
Carefully, her tongue peeked out, barely grazing the surface of the eggnog before she pulled it back into her mouth. Her ears perked at the taste, and she leaned in for a second test before committing to putting her maw almost entirely in the top of the mug, sucking the drink down and using her tongue to chase any stray drops that escaped.
Holly – Shrykh – 317 Words
A chill wind howled through the oldest parts of the forest, shaking through the bared branches, harsh winter choking the buds that had begun to form at the false promise of spring. A hunched form moved through the trees, all tattered wings and clacking bones and a vague general sense of menace.
Shrykh was busy. Though she was no one’s errand-dragon, Drakh had asked — all images and color and a general feeling rather than with words — and Shrykh liked to be busy. Busyness gave one an excuse to spurn invitation and company, a compelling task kept one from distraction. What few creatures might try to approach her despite her size, despite her appearance, despite the subtly hostile energy she carried with her everywhere would be turned away by the explanation that she had things to do.
There. Bright green leaves thrived despite the cold, red berries gleaming in defiance. Holly had been the request — as much holly as one might consider reasonable. Something about protection, she thought, perhaps some spell or superstition, but it wasn’t her place to ask. Instead, she reached out with her bony forefeet, examining how sturdily the plant had grown, if it would be easy enough to simply uproot and take back to Drakh entirely so that he could personally decide how much he needed.
A considering hum, the quick cock of her head, whiskers twitching in the wind as it held fast despite her strength, and she let it fall back into place with a rustle. Finally, she reached out with all four of her forefeet as her wings unfurled behind her. The root system couldn’t stand up to the power of her massive wings, and in short order, she ripped it from the ground entirely, leaving an uneven patch of dirt behind as she ascended into the sky, holding the holly bush close to her chest like a massive bouquet.
Family – Roosh – 308 Words
Roosh had made a family of her own. Not like people, not even like ordinary animals. Even when it came to other dragons, she had them beat. Sure, she had Aarushii, her beloved rider, and the other dragons who had hatched, belonging instantly to her as Roosh did. But more importantly were the birds that made themselves out of the clouds that surrounded her. Never was Roosh alone so long as her flock made itself, always shifting, melting away into the clouds before bursting forth with new life.
She could watch them for hours as if they were her children, thinking of them as individuals rather than temporary inhabitants, fleeting specters that would disappear as soon as she’d given them names, as soon as she’d figured out their personalities. After all, just because one disappeared did not mean it wouldn’t reappear sometime later, and how nice would it be for her to be waiting for them as if they’d never gone, eager to introduce them to Aarushii and the others and mourning them again when it was time for them to go.
More than that, though — when she flew, swallowed up by the clouds overhead, she could almost believe that they were alive, ranging out from her, using her energy to dance and play and chase through the playground that existed just for them, above the cloud cover where the sun beamed down at them without anything to hide her smile.
Some might have found it sad or lonely, but not Roosh. They were always waiting for her when she felt like flying, when she felt like paying attention, and they would return when they were ready. Best of all, they couldn’t really interrupt her sleep, which made them infinitely better than any real family, which she would certainly tell the others if they ever bothered to ask.
Strangers – Siavash – 306 Words
Heavy hooves thumped along the road, the faintest gleams of red and blue warning any strangers on the path what they were about to meet. Siavash was a sight to behold in the dark with his long, lashing tongue and dark, intimidating wings. The ribboned flags along her back waved in the wind, precursors to invading forces in worlds beyond this, claiming territory and threatening the borders of one’s own.
Even at her most innocent, her sweetest, it was hard to ignore the general aura of danger that existed around her, and the stranger she met on the road reined their steed back, eyes narrowed at the dragon who could easily fly to her destination but had chosen this, had chosen a silent meeting on an empty road in the unforgiving dark, and still she did not speak.
The rider’s steed shied away, eyes wild as its hooves thumped uneasily on the ground. A heavy breath rattled in its chest, and Siavash watched with unintentionally menacing interest, her long tail twisting behind her before she put her head down and took a step forward, intending to pass. The animal gave a shriek, almost dumping its rider before it bolted off into the night, leaving Siavash alone and a bit lonely, watching the retreating silhouette that was soon swallowed by the night.
A question from Ramiel sounded in the back of her mind, and Siavash answered, tossing her head with a creak of the armor on her body before she took off down the road, first at a trot then going faster until her wings brought themselves down and propelled her into the air, pulling her up among the stars. In the distance, she could see a flickering lantern come to life, marking the stranger as they made their way off the road and into the wilds.
Snowball Fights – Saiskit – 304 Words
Snow crunched underfoot, thick and wet, clinging to anything that stepped into it. Saiskit was no different, hind paws and front claws soaked and leaden with the extra weight that sloughed off with a gentle shake. Overhead, a flurry continued to spit flakes down on the two-headed dragon, painting their patches of black as pale as the patches of white.
The paler-faced head blinked over at its twin, eyes narrowed with some amount of mirth as the very edges of their mouth curled up in a smirk. A forked tongue flickered out, and Saiskit lowered their head, picking up snow in their beak before flinging it over the other head.
A chill wracked through their shared body, and Saiskit’s dark head whipped towards its twin, teeth bared as their frilled fin flared in irritation. The feathered head dipped away from the snap of the other’s jaws. Quickly, their forefeet both began shuffling through the snow, crunching heavy balls together before flinging them at the opposing head and wing. Their long tail thrashed behind them as Saiskit continued to play among themselves, a war breaking out between halves.
The feathered head and wing were at a disadvantage, snow clinging to the delicate barbs, needing to be shaken off if they wanted half the flexibility of the other side. Long, thin ears twitched from the dark head as it aimed yet another snowball at the farther wing, a chill running through the entire body when they hit their mark.
Too soon, the cold set in, and after some hissing and growling, they came to a truce, shaking off the last of the clinging snow before angling for home, taking off into the cold air with the promise of someplace warm and dry at the far end of their journey together, as all journeys were.
Stars – Sol – 313 Words
Stars blinked in the dim twilight, more appearing as the sun dipped further beyond the far horizon. Soon, they would paint pictures in the sky, scattered stories and varied histories speaking a certain truth to those who listened, their avatars in the deepest, darkest parts of the night pointing someone, somewhere towards home.
A bright spot remained on the ground, gleaming as if a star had fallen from the sky. Sol shook her head, mane catching in the spines of her crest and twisting in the night’s cool breeze. Her tails wound behind her, restless as she planted her hooves on the ground, wondering if she would ever dare to leave the ground behind and go galloping among the stars, tracing constellations one marker at a time.
It wasn’t impossible — that was the most vexing part of all. She could fly quite easily despite her lack of wings. The layers of the atmosphere would do almost nothing to hold her back, magic easily pushing her through the sky until she, at last, was free to go and explore, to gleam herself above all others, a light to lead, to cherish, to look up at from the ground and wonder if they could also make it to her.
But as it was… A sigh huffed out of her, steaming in the cool air. Some of her glow seemed to fade, reality biting at her heels, reminding her that she wouldn’t want to go alone, and however she might survive beyond there, there was no telling if Seth would or how far they would have to travel to find a way to bring him with her.
As far as dreams went, it was something to hold onto, to cherish and keep close to her heart. One day. One day, she thought, she would manage, and those left on the ground would tell stories of her.
Shepherd – Skylax – 331 Words
Hooves thumped heavily against the moist ground, grass rustling as the sheep nosed through the tall reeds. Occasionally, they broke into a faster pace, almost prancing along, moving together as a flock or scattering and needing to be brought together so they could all be nudged along, driven through this wild, boggy place to their next grazing field.
Skylax’s tail wagged behind him as he bounded through the grass, mostly remaining on all fours until he heard the tell-tale whistle of the shepherd, indicating that he’d lost some sheep. Then, he reared up, using his wings for tenuous balance to look for the thick, bright wool that had separated from the group. Then, he’d bounce towards the stragglers, urging them to return to the flock at large before he went back to driving them through this space where they should not, apparently, stop.
Skylax didn’t pretend to understand why this ground was forbidden for the sheep to graze on — it wasn’t his job. He was to escort them safely from one place to the next, and when that was over, he’d have a tidy sum of silvence to take home and perhaps, if the shepherd was nice, a snack to tide him over on the way. It was one way to pass a day, and it was fairly easy.
At least, so long as no one wandered too far off.
Another whistle brought him up to look, spotting the problem sheep off in the distance. It baaed in dismay, and Skylax jumped into the air, wings flapping inelegantly to get him to where the creature was stuck in the bog, hooves sinking fast in the mud as it tried valiantly to pull itself out. With a grumble of his own, he slid into the mud, hind feet slipping until he found good purchase. He slid under the sheep, nosing one leg at a time to help it free before helping it bound back to the flock, leaving muddy prints behind.
Ribbon – Shadow – 311 Words
Kija had a thing for ribbons and other pretty things. This was not the first time she’d introduced these things to any of her dragons, much less Shadow. She threaded the green ribbon — “It matches you,” she’d said — around his neck, tying it in an elaborate bow. It nestled among his soft, velvety scales, only occasionally dripped upon by the disintegrating nature of his body. If anything, the gruesome reminder of loss and decay only made it seem more beautiful, given to him in spite of how it contrasted with him.
Shadow’s long ears perked up at the distant hum of music, baring his flashing fangs in a smile at any who passed them on their way to where the musician was preparing to lead them all in a familiar song. The ribbon pressed against his throat as he swallowed thickly, looking through the crowd. Threads connected the people around them, woven together in moments. Some had barely touched one another, and others were so strongly bonded that they looked almost like Kija did to Shadow. Everyone here was somehow connected to someone else, and as the music began to play, they connected again, their bonds growing thicker, ribbons of light, of love borne from this moment they shared together regardless of whether they knew the song or not, whether they enjoyed it or not. A shared experience was a powerful thing.
Shadow watched the play of light until his eyes grew tired, when the connecting threads grew so dizzyingly interwoven that it was hard to tell where one stopped and another began. He closed his eyes instead, listening to voices that raised to sing, to feet thumping as the listeners danced. Even now, though he chose to be blind to it, he could see how the listeners came together, bound themselves to one another at least until the song ended.
Puppet – Caligin – 328 Words
A marionette danced from a multitude of fine strings, playing with the whims of the puppet master who controlled it. If not for the stillness of the face, the unfocused glass of the eyes, one might mistake them for another dragon no bigger than Caligin, simply introducing itself to another of its size. Caligin hopped closer, metallic feet making delicate, small scrapes against the cobblestones of the makeshift stage. Bony maws opened in a slight hiss, excitement bubbling up when the puppet bobbed as if accepting a call to play, moving opposite Caligin in a small dance as the Night dragon’s eyes glowed all the brighter.
“That’s it,” the performer said. “Jus’ play nice.”
Caligin could manage that, though the quiver of the strings brought mischief to mind, made him want to pull at them, sever them as if it might bring the toy to some truer form of life. He bobbed along, scales shining in the neon light as the nearby buildings lit up in spite of the impending dark. The puppet surged forward, and Caligin’s wings buzzed to life, almost threatening before he leaped over the puppeteer’s hands entirely, landing behind the toy which turned its head this way and that as if looking for him before it craned its head almost entirely around, perking when its glassy eyes spotted him. It shuffled around, the hands overhead moving with delicate precision to bring the dragon and puppet face to face again. It bowed to him, and Caligin bowed in turn, the spines on his chest and back going flat as his tail swept elegantly behind him.
The puppet’s head picked up, body twitching in a facsimile of a dance to music Caligin could only distantly hear. He leaped along, a perfect partner and excellent counterpoint to the puppet until the music, at last, faded, and left the puppeteer looking down at the small dragon who began to screech when he dared to put the toy away.
Train – Infinitesimal – 308 Words
Rails ran from one station to the next, gleaming in the moonlit night. Trains ran all hours of the day and lit up the night, golden-yellow light spilling from the windows onto the ground around the tracks, making it easy to follow no matter how high up a dragon might be. Infinity had made a hobby of following them from the station closest to her den, winding across the land like a metal serpent, taking people of all sorts from the cozy place she considered home out towards adventure, though she was never far enough that she couldn’t be called home if Dawn wanted her to be there.
Infinity’s eyes opened, all six of them focused as the train gave a shrill whistle and began to lurch along the line, moving slowly at first but picking up speed. It was no match for a dragon such as her — from the moment she leaped into the air to follow, the distance between them began to dwindle, swallowed in a matter of moments. She bared her dark fangs in a grin, the briefest thought of sabotage flickering behind her eyes. Ice on the rails would be a dangerous thing… Before remembering that if she became a known menace to the train lines, it might remove all chances for these little excursions.
As it was, she could race after the trains, pulling up when she got too close, expending energy to keep pace, imagining races with other, more worthy opponents until the air burned in her lungs and her muscles ached from the strain of pushing herself.
Then, she could fall from the sky and land gently upon the top of the train itself, stretching out on the cool metal — when it was cool, of course — until she felt ready to either fly home or continue on her own voyage.
Porcelain – Havoc – 311 Words
Pale, fragile figurines lined up along windowsills, sat at the edge of every market stall, and were enshrined in dim alleyways. Porcelain was valued here as a tool for ritual and worship, as effigies of a thousand little gods that stared outward at the passersby.
Havoc ground his teeth together, wings tucked tight to his sides and tail carefully kept in check as he walked the strange streets. An impulse nagged at him, daring him to lash out, to hear the delicate figures shatter against the ground and feel them crunch underfoot. In his mind’s eye, he could see shards littering the streets like snow but certainly sharper, more dangerous, drawing blood from the careless.
It wasn’t that he wanted to be destructive, not really. He enjoyed fighting, but this would not be a fight. It would be terrorizing, a horror to the people who lived here, who passed these small shrines every day of their lives, who would be so aware if they were suddenly gone. The urge terrified him, and, in terrifying him, it irritated him, making him want to succumb, to prove that it wouldn’t hurt him or anyone else, that he could be careless and reckless with very few consequences.
As socially inept as he might be, Havoc knew better. He knew that kind of pain would have to be deliberate and cruel. He knew that it was not him, however much it irked and rankled in the moment. So he passed through the town of little porcelain figurines, careful with every step lest one fall too heavy and send every fragile thing in the village crashing to the ground in a great cataclysm.
By the time he saw the open fields where he could unleash his wings and fly, Havoc realized he’d been holding his breath, waiting for this moment so that he could finally leave.
Stained Glass – Saffron – 303 Words
There was a solemn air about this building, empty as it was. The walls were tall and ceilings high. Every sound seemed to carry, echoing ever on in a seemingly-endless wave of sound. The wood of the walls was a dark color, even and as uniform as could be managed. If not for the windows, Saffron might have thought of it as stifling, as dreary, even.
Inlaid in each wall were beautiful windows taller than she, panes of colored glass forming gleaming scenes that had once, she was sure, meant something to someone long before this building had been forgotten and left behind. Plants snaked through the floorboards, now, and what hangings were on the walls had been eaten away by time and moths. But the windows were untouched and bright, casting soft, colorful light on the ground below and onto Saffron when she edged closer to look. The colors played off her golden armor, lights dancing along the wall and ceiling as she moved delicately, watching with no small amount of joy as she manipulated the scene before her.
At the far end of the room was the biggest window of all, a bright circle like the sun with such intricate work that she could only see the fullest extent by flying closer. She was careful of her horns and wings and the bulk of her body, not wanting to disturb this lasting piece of art so long as it would remain here to be found by others. Why, in some distant future, maybe she would want to revisit again, hurtling through the Chronoscape to a time when this place was inhabited, when the people who came here could share their stories and their methods of preserving them.
For now, though, she admired what she saw until she’d had her fill.
Spider’s Web – Scarab – 307 Words
The fence was an ugly thing, really, all dark metal pieces, spaced tightly together that nothing larger than a cat could get through with crossbeams of the same material. Blunt, efficient, not meant to be looked at and appreciated the way Scarab was currently looking at it, but that was hardly his fault.
Sometime in the early spring morning, dew on the grass and the sun barely peeking over the horizon, a spider had spun a web from one rail to the next, an intricate design that was all the more fascinating because of its lack of symmetry, uneven due to some problem with the architect itself, skewed. Scarab reached out a forefoot, jeweled eyes gleaming in the morning sun as he traced a slanted line, not quite touching either the web itself or the dew that hung from it, that did nothing to weigh down the straightness of those uneven lines.
Scarab drew his foot away, shuffling backwards slightly to avoid the temptation to ruin such fragile artwork, eyeing the other webs that surreptitious predators had spun in the fencing. These were even, carefully-created, nigh-perfect spirals of intricate design. He hummed in curiosity, scales and feathers gleaming as he jumped into the air, gliding towards one of the other webs before wheeling to another and another, searching for any that resembled the askew web he’d seen first, but none of them measured up.
By the time he turned his eyes back down, there was an inhabitant on the little web, a spider no bigger than Scarab’s own foot. The tiny thing looked as though it would startle if he approached, so Scarab kept his distance, watching it traverse its web a time or two before eventually deciding to leave the little thing to its work and to find something more interesting for himself, too.
Beginnings – Radiance – 322 Words
The festival was a celebration of the turning of the new year, the planet’s complete cycle around its star, an excited promise for the year coming and the hope that good things would begin here, the moment the sun set. Fireworks would light up the night sky in a blaze of color and light, explosions thundering across the land. There would be a thumping beat of drums and the high whine of instruments hard at work as Radiance began to dance first on the ground then, eventually, rising into the air, bright and joyful, a symbol of the coming year.
But that was a while off now.
The stalls were unmanned, and the few people and dragons present were here to help set up for the festival. The afternoon sun was warm, and if Radiance weren’t worried about being caught doing some undignified snoring, he might have stretched out for a nap until it was time to prepare, to pull the musicians into place and remind them who they were meant to be glorifying with their song, who would be dancing to their tune.
Instead, he was a bit bored, watching the comings and goings. A few vendors had begun to prepare some food that would take time, and the smell made his nostrils flare. A drummer was practicing their rhythm, the cadence uneven when they started over.
Eventually, more and more people began to show up, manning their stalls, practicing their music. A few children, accompanying their parents, ran errands among the adults as they set up, the first to experience the festival once their chores were done.
Soon, the sun dipped towards the horizon, and music swelled as the festival began in earnest. The thrum of the crowd — Radiance hadn’t thought of how loud it would seem, how, eventually, it would fall away for his dance and the ensuing fireworks. He had time. After all, it was only just starting.