Lessons in Dragon Slaying
By Blake & Raven Penn
Part 1: Lessons in Hunting
A lone tumbleweed rolled across the dry, reddish earth, scratching against a rock on its way past Ivar’s boots. Ivar crouched low, the scents of dirt and ashy smokesage surrounding him as he watched the burrow just below the rock.
He held his breath with anticipation, as did the pet draccoon perched atop Ivar’s head. Tiny scaled fingers clutched Ivar’s snow white hair.
“Relax your drakkin’ grip, will you, Dusty?” Ivar whispered, raising a dark eyebrow. “I’m only thirty-one—I ain’t interested in goin’ bald yet.”
“Shh,” came a tiny, bell-like voice. The seven-year-old glared up at Ivar. “Remember, Daddy? Lesson one in hunting: Silence is the first step to a full belly.”
“Right you are, Mels,” Ivar replied with a wink. “I knew it were a good idea to bring you along.”
Little Meleya settled deeper into her place crouched in the dirt, dutifully returning to the task of watching the burrow. The light desert wind tugged a few white strands loose from her long braid.
“Now, Mels,” Ivar said, scratching at the dark scruff on his chin and keeping his voice low. “Notice that wind? S’why we picked this burrow—It’ll keep our scent blowin’ downwind so the mark won’t know we’re here. Lesson two in huntin’: Keep ‘em nose-blind.”
Meleya mouthed the words, repeating them silently to herself. As Ivar watched his daughter solemnly wait for their prey to emerge, he couldn’t help but feel the tiniest bit guilty. Ivar’s wife, Freya, wouldn’t be too happy if she were to find out Ivar had taken Meleya out hunting again. She always said it was too dangerous, and that Meleya was too young.
But Ivar had spent enough time in the canyons to know it’d be more dangerous for Meleya to grow up not knowing about their rough way of life. Nomads like them had to know how to take care of themselves—even if they were only seven.
They crouched in silence for several minutes, not moving a muscle. Ivar adjusted his grip on the hilt of his long, seaxe-stye sword, which he held at the ready in one hand. In the other, he held his favorite dagger, which would be much more effective in taking out their prey. Still, Ivar always felt better having his seaxe on hand just in case.
Bored, Dusty the draccoon carefully slipped from his perch atop Ivar’s head and down his back to scamper a short distance away to the edge of the canyon.
“Careful, Dusty,” young Meleya hissed. “You’re too close to the rim.”
Dusty narrowed his beady black eyes and responded with a series of indignant chitters. He used his ringed tail to point into the vast, redrock canyon toward the cluster of stone hoodoos in the bed.
“I think he’s hungry,” Meleya said. “See those spiny trees down there? Old lady Ingrid sometimes picks their fruit and cooks it up so it’s not so tough. I could try it—if this hunt doesn’t work out.”
Ivar set down his sword and used his knuckles to muss Meleya’s hair. “Your lack of faith in me hurts, you know.”
Ivar melodramatically clutched at the dust scarf he wore around his neck. Meleya snorted at his antics, then gave a little gasp. Even Dusty’s background chatter came to an abrupt stop. Ivar’s head was up in a flash, following the trajectory of Meleya’s finger.
There in the burrow, a pair of small woody antlers peeked over the top, followed by a furry brown snout and thick fur all around the beast’s shoulders. Powerful, scaly rabbit’s feet emerged as the drakalope hopped out of its underground den.
Meleya tensed, looking at her father to make a move. Ivar was confident in his skill, though if he struck now, the drakalope would easily be able to bound right back into the burrow. If it would just come a little closer…
Ivar could practically taste the succulent drakalope meat, roasted on a spit over the fire. No one in the entire Dunefox Caravan had eaten meat in about a week. Lately the Scorchwind Desert had seemed… well, deserted.
The drakalope took a cautious hop their way. Ivar held his dagger at the ready, his muscles tightening as he prepared to strike.
Suddenly, another breeze rushed across the ruddy earth. It was still blowing their scent away from the drakalope, but it also flung a plume of dust into Ivar’s face.
The dust stung his eyes and nose, but Ivar kept from yelping so as to not scare away the drakalope. Straining, Ivar used an inordinate amount of willpower to keep from reacting.
Unfortunately, Ivar wasn’t the only one who’d gotten a face full of dust. From the canyon rim, the draccoon let out an uproarious sneeze.
Instantly, the drakalope’s eyes went wide, and it darted back into the burrow. It wouldn’t be out again for a long, long time.
“Soot on a stick!” Ivar swore, sitting up. “I shoulda known when I named you ‘Dusty’ you’d attract the stuff like scalebees to sierra roses. Listen up, Mels. Lesson number three in huntin’: Never bring your sneeze-happy pet draccoon along.”
Before either Meleya or Dusty could reply, a long blast from a craghopper horn pierced the air. Shouting followed.
“Soot,” Ivar swore again as he got to his feet, helping Meleya to hers as well. “That’s the alarm horn. Dragon must be attackin’ the caravan again.” He sheathed his dagger, but not his sword.
Without hesitation, Meleya grabbed a dry piece of sharp wood and wielded it like Ivar did his long seaxe.
“I’m ready,” she said, dark brows lowered with determination.
“Hold up,” Ivar said, plucking the stick from her grip. “Your mom’ll never forgive me if I get you tangled up in a dragon attack. You stay right here with Dusty.” The draccoon squeaked as if he resented the idea of babysitting.
“But—” Meleya started.
“No buts, Mels.”
With that, Ivar took off running toward the caravan.
Part 2: Lessons in Secret Keeping
The fight was in full swing by the time Ivar jumped in, seaxe raised.
A vicious, wild dragon bared sharp teeth as it careened toward the rest of their nomadic caravan. People scattered, running for cover in the sandy knoll nearby or ducking into the dragonhide tents they’d set up for the night.
Their attacker was an evren—a legless dragon with four-wings. Evren had pointy, erect ears similar to foxes, and were quick, bat-like masters of the skies. This one was scrawny, with mottled burgundy scales from its nose to the tip of its spiked tail. It had a pair of nasty ram’s horns curling off the top of its head.
And… were its eyes glowing bright blue? Dragons’ irises were always emerald green, matching the fire they breathed. The blue, plus the inky, gray splotches surrounding the evren’s eyes, indicated that it had been infected with the shadow wasting.
Soot. Creatures infected with the shadow wasting weren’t all that different from any other—besides the rather inconvenient fact that their bite spread the disease, as did their meat. Not that there had been a lot of meat on this skinny one in the first place.
The creature gave a shriek, swooping toward the caravan with wolfish jaws poised to snatch up anyone too slow to get out of the way.
A bolt from a crossbow whizzed past, just missing the evren’s nose. The dragon’s four wings turned to catch air and arrest its momentum. Another crossbow bolt shot toward the creature, only to skate off of the thick scales along its flank.
“Nice shot! Nearly got him!” Ivar called out, leaping over a smokesage bush to join the pair of crossbow wielders. He brandished his long, single-edged blade against the looming dragon.
“About time you showed up, Ivar,” one man said as he reloaded his heavy scaleslayer crossbow. The man wore light dragonhide armor much like the kind Ivar wore, though he was far shorter and stockier than Ivar.
“Just tryin’ to keep y’all on your toes,” Ivar replied. The dragon gave a roar, then dove toward the trio of fighters once again.
Ivar’s blade arced through the air, slashing across the evren’s more vulnerable underbelly. Coppery dragon’s blood sprayed all over his hair and clothes, as well as those of his two companions.
“Thanks a lot, Ivar.” The other crossbow wielder made a face as she wiped blood from her forehead. She was a cutthroat older woman with an attitude more harsh than the scorchwinds for which the desert was named.
“Y’all are most welcome,” Ivar replied, keeping his eyes locked on the dragon as it reeled.
The woman spoke sarcastically. “A shame your charming northern accent isn’t enough to slay wild evren.”
“Can’t fault me for tryin’ though!”
She rolled her eyes, took aim with her weapon, then fired another shot toward their draconic foe.
She hit directly in the center of its right forewing. The bolt sailed clean through, leaving a perfectly round hole in the tender skin between wing bones. It wasn’t damaging enough to interrupt the beast’s flight, but it did make it angry.
The dragon reared back, then thrust forward to spit a jet of emerald green dragonfire toward the older woman. She screamed, dropping her crossbow as she dashed out of the line of fire.
With another shriek, the wild evren landed on the ground, using the claws on the joints of each of its four wings in place of legs. In its rage, it crushed the woman’s fallen crossbow.
Ivar took advantage of the dragon’s close range to take another stab at it. But the dragon saw him coming, and lashed its spiked tail toward him.
The tail-strike sent both Ivar and his stocky companion flying. They landed hard against a nearby redrock ridge rising out of the ground just out of sight of the rest of the caravan.
Groaning, Ivar’s companion cursed as he fumbled to reload his weapon. “Drak. What’s brought it here, I wonder? Can’t be more bad luck—we’ve had two attacks already this week. You’d think we had magi secretly living among us.”
Ivar’s stomach dropped, and for a moment, he took his gaze off of the wild dragon to look at the man. Luckily, it seemed like his fellow nomad had only been musing, not accusing. He wasn’t suspicious of Ivar or his family specifically—Not yet.
Of course, the man was absolutely right to wonder. Wild dragons were drawn to ether, and ether was what coursed through the spirits of those born as magi.
Like Ivar and his wife.
It was why they lived among the nomad caravans, hiding out away from regular society. If anyone found out what they were, they’d execute them for their etherarchy.
Ironically, if Ivar had been allowed to use his telekinetic powers right now, he’d be far better equipped to take on the wild evren and keep the whole caravan safe. But as it was, that wasn’t a risk he could take with so many potential spectators.
Ivar decided then and there not to tell his wife about the man’s comment. Freya got jumpy every time she felt someone was catching on to their secret. The Dunefox Caravan was their third caravan this year alone, and the last thing Ivar wanted to do was move little Meleya again. She deserved some sort of stability.
Too late, Ivar realized he’d become distracted. The evren came at them again, swiping with its spiked tail and knocking Ivar’s companion’s head against the rock and sending his freshly loaded crossbow flying out of his hands. The weapon skidded out of sight behind the redrock ridge.
The man’s eyes rolled back in his head and he slumped to the ground. That left Ivar alone to face the wild dragon. He cried out, his seaxe swinging toward its chest.
But the evren was quick. It scrambled backward to avoid another slash from Ivar’s sword.
Ivar swung again, hoping to ward the dragon off. Sometimes a show of skill and fearlessness would get them to retreat.
But Ivar saw drool falling from the creature’s mouth, its eyes bright with hunger. The evren had definitely caught the scent of Ivar’s ether, and wasn’t going to leave without a taste.
In a jerky, lightning-fast movement, the spindly, yet powerful evren determinedly lunged toward Ivar. Its jaws snapped onto the seaxe and wrenched it from his grip.
“Well that weren’t very nice, Mister Evren, sir!” Ivar said. The dragon tossed its head to the side and sent Ivar’s seaxe sailing. Then the evren returned its gaze to Ivar, ready to take a bite out of its magi prey.
Ivar knew he needed a weapon. If he could just get to his fellow nomad’s readied crossbow behind the ridge…
The beast roared, and Ivar spotted green sparks in the back of its throat as it prepared to blast him with more dragonfire. It seemed Mister Evren liked his meals charbroiled.
Ivar dove for the crossbow, hoping to position the ridge between himself and the evren to avoid its fiery breath.
But it was too fast. The evren rounded the ridge along with him, dragonfire spewing as Ivar felt his fingers clasp around the weapon’s wooden frame.
Ivar cringed against the coming blast.
But none came.
Confused, Ivar opened one eye to see a gold-rimmed crack splitting the air between himself and the evren. Ivar instantly recognized the tear as a portal, which had opened to catch the oncoming jet of dragonfire and redirect it elsewhere.
Ivar rapidly trained the loaded crossbow onto the surprised evren, taking it right in the heart. The beast’s final shriek died along with it.
Ivar hadn’t even finished watching the evren fall to the sandy earth before he whirled on his portal-making, magi guardian.
His worst fears were confirmed when he realized she was about four feet tall with stark white hair and big brown eyes.
“Put out that rune. Now, Mels,” Ivar ordered under his breath, pointing to the glowing, golden symbol floating just in front of his daughter’s forehead. He glanced around frantically, suddenly grateful the evren had knocked them over behind the ridge where there couldn’t have been any direct witnesses to her display.
Meleya seemed rooted to the spot, so he grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her down onto the ground with him, hidden even more beneath the fallen evren’s wing.
Meleya’s brows knit, and she lost concentration on the etherarchy. The rune over her forehead dissolved in a shower of golden etherdust.
“I-I was just trying to help,” Meleya stammered, taking in her father’s distressed expression.
“How long’ve you known you were a magi?” Ivar quietly demanded, still holding her by the shoulders.
Meleya shook her head rapidly. “I didn’t know. Honest, Dad.”
“Then how’d you learn to runetrace? Where’d you figure out that symbol?”
“I saw Mom do it once. A long time ago, when we were running away from those Mage Hunters in that outlander town by the juniper glen.”
“This is your first manifestation of powers, then…” Ivar muttered, more to himself than to Meleya.
Ivar’s mind reeled. He could’ve guessed that Meleya would end up a Mystic magi like Ivar and his wife. The glowing rune had been a sure sign of Mystic etherarchy rather than that of Sentinels or Archons. The portal confirmed that she was a teleporter—a Rifter, same as Freya.
Although to the realm of Evgard, it didn’t matter which type of magi Meleya was—if anyone saw her runetracing, they’d turn her in to the Mage Hunters without delay for execution.
Meleya had gone pale, scared more by her father’s response to her runetracing than she’d been of the wild dragon.
Running footsteps pulled Ivar back to the present situation. Voices asking if they were alright, praises for a job well done. Laments over this evren’s meat being too infected with the shadow wasting to eat.
They asked how he’d done it, and what his daughter was doing there. Ivar made up some soot about his little warrior running in with a rock to distract the evren just in time for him to land the killing blow. They bought it—for now.
But the sight of young Meleya with a rune aglow over her forehead kept replaying over and over in his mind. What was he going to say to Freya? Their worst fears had come true.
Their daughter was a magi.
Part 3: Lessons in Love
White moonlight shone through the thin walls of the battered dragonhide tent. The tent was only big enough for a double bedroll for Ivar and his wife, and another smaller one a short distance away for Meleya.
Ivar watched his little girl’s shoulder rhythmically rise and fall as she slept on her side. Dusty the draccoon rested, curled up in a little gray ball beside her, and now that he was still, Ivar could just make out the tiny runic patterns in his fur. They were the only evidence that Ivar had created Dusty using dreamweave etherarchy. Freya thought it was risky keeping him around, but Ivar felt that with their family’s constant roaming, Meleya needed Dusty.
Although, Ivar had given his ethereal pet quite the scolding after the evren attack. He was supposed to have been keeping an eye on Meleya.
Meleya’s tiny features were finally relaxed, for which Ivar was grateful. After such a trying day, from the dragon attack to going to bed without dinner, it had taken her a long time to fall asleep. Meleya hadn’t said much as she’d gotten ready for bed—probably because she was afraid of her mother finding out about her first manifestation of etherarchy.
Freya rifled through their few belongings, preparing for the night while Ivar sat on their double bedroll waiting for her.
“Signe stopped by this evening,” Freya began in a voice low enough that it wouldn’t disturb Meleya. “She wanted me to thank you for taking down the wild evren earlier. And she said to thank Meleya too.” Freya’s tone shifted from casual to serious as she said the last part.
“Uh oh,” Ivar said. “I know that look. See here, Meleya and I were just out huntin’ when we heard the alarm. I told her to stay put, but you know Mels. She’s a willful little scoundrel, can’t resist an opportunity to help those she loves.”
Freya sounded worried as she replied. “I don’t like her going out so much. It’s bad enough that you’re the most competent dragon slayer in the caravan. It makes us stand out. And the idea of Meli getting so close to a wild evren…”
Freya shuddered, and Ivar bit his lip. He didn’t want to risk upsetting his wife further by telling her about Meleya’s powers. Not now.
“Just promise me something,” Freya said, double checking the ropes that held the tent flaps closed. “That you’ll keep her safe.”
“No problem, darlin,’” Ivar said, patting the place next to him. Freya finished with the ropes, then joined him.
“Signe also said your swordplay was quite impressive,” Freya said.
“Well, ain’t that kind of her,” Ivar said with a grin.
“Careful—I think she may find you a little too impressive.”
Ivar laughed, then held up his wrist and pointed to the woven marriage bracelet there. “Trust me, I’d much rather you’d’ve been there to be impressed with me. Where were you all afternoon?”
“In here. Didn’t want to risk being seen.”
Ivar studied his wife’s face. Well, he studied the top half of her face—the part that wasn't covered by the light tan bandana she almost always wore pulled up over her nose.
Freya’s eyes were gorgeous—large, round, and a rich shade of dark brown. She had lovely, perfectly shaped eyebrows, which, as usual, were knit with concern.
Ivar hoped to fix that with a kiss.
He gently tugged the bandana off her face. Instantly, Freya brought a hand to her left cheek to cover it up.
“Careful,” she scolded, glancing toward the tightly tied tent flaps.
“Relax,” Ivar said. “Ain’t nobody gonna come in at this hour.”
He carefully took her hand and pulled it away from her cheek to reveal a magi symbol branded into the flesh over her cheekbone. It was a silvermark, cut by Mage Hunters using silvered ink. Silver was the only material not susceptible to etherarchy, which meant the mark couldn’t be removed or hidden with illusions. To magi, silver brought an icy sting, and the special ink ensured that the mark would always be a cold, painful reminder that their kind weren’t wanted in Evgard.
Not that many magi lived long after being silvermarked. Freya was one of the lucky ones.
Still, if anyone saw that mark, their family would have to run again. Ivar had managed to avoid getting silvermarked himself, but whenever they were in public, Freya had to wear the dust scarf over her lovely face. It was part of why they stuck to the desert canyonlands—many people wore scarves like that every day.
Ivar kissed his wife, long and sweet. But the moment he was finished, his darling, paranoid wife pulled the scarf right back up over her face, covering up the silvermark.
“You don’t have to wear it to sleep,” Ivar said.
“I don’t want to take any chances,” Freya replied.
Ivar sighed. “That’s all life is—A series of chances. You either take ‘em, or you lose ‘em.”
“You and your made-up sayings. Half the time, they’re not nearly as profound as you think,” Freya teased.
“But that means half the time they are.” Ivar grinned.
Freya chuckled. “Goodnight, snowhead.”
But before laying down, Ivar glanced once more toward where Meleya slept soundly. He thought again of her display of etherarchy today. Ivar himself was a Psion, and had secretly dreamed of playing telekinetic catch with a son or daughter one day.
That was just a silly dream, of course. His sweet, brilliant little girl was a Rifter, just like her mom. And Meleya had succeeded in making a functional portal on her first try. In a better world, Ivar would have been incredibly proud of her.
But when Ivar closed his eyes, all he could picture was the formidable, uncertain future that lay ahead for his young magi daughter. A future filled with hiding who she was and running from those who would see her executed for her etherarchy.
And Ivar couldn’t stop the tear from falling when he imagined his sweet little girl with a painful, icy silvermark branded onto her cheek.
Part 4: Lessons in Providing
Ivar woke just before dawn to a scruffy gray tail dragging across his nose.
His face screwed up, and it took every ounce of willpower he could muster to keep from waking his wife and daughter with the realm’s loudest sneeze.
Nose still twitching, Ivar sat up and glared at Dusty.
“Thanks for nothin’, you scrappy, overgrown dragon-rat,” Ivar whispered. “Why do I even keep you around?”
Dusty made a face, and answered with a haughty chitter.
Ivar rolled his eyes and looked upward to the thinnest part of the tent. He could tell by the gray wash of early morning that it’d be a good time to try and nab a couple of scaleshrews for breakfast. His girls had gone to bed hungry last night, and that was unacceptable.
He dressed quietly, slipping on his typical Evgardian nomad armor: light dragonleather bracers, boots, and shoulder pauldrons with a harness of crisscrossed straps to keep them in place. He silently attached his sheathed seaxe to his belt then beckoned for Dusty to follow him out of the tent.
They searched for the better part of an hour. The sun had just risen when Dusty tracked down a whole pack of scaleshrews living beneath the thick, leathery leaves of a dead agave plant. Ivar played out a couple of scenarios in his head, working out the best way to get at them.
Ivan tried to crawl closer to the shrews’ nest, but his long sword kept getting in the way. The seaxe would be far too large to use on the chubby little creatures anyway, so he unclipped the sword and hid it near some rocks.
Ivar knelt beside the dry, grayish agave, clutching a very fancy dagger with a northern-style tapered blade and a handle carved from a dragonmoose antler. He and Dusty had stolen it from some traveling nobleman years ago during their more reckless days. The dagger was so sturdy and balanced, Ivar had opted to keep it rather than sell it.
Additionally, the dagger was small enough to take down the shrews without completely shredding their meat. Ivar crouched low while Dusty prepared to pull back the widest agave leaf and reveal the scaleshrews’ hideout.
Ivar mouthed to his pet draccoon, “Three… two…”
Before he could finish the countdown, Ivar heard a scream. It sounded both strangely near and far away at the same time, and his heart sank as he recognized the voice.
Scaleshrews forgotten, Ivar was on his feet in a flash, racing toward the nearby canyon rim. To his horror, he saw a little girl with a head of white hair at the bottom of the canyon. Meleya must’ve climbed down the slopes and into the canyon bed. In her arms, she held an armful of yucca palm fruits.
And standing only a few feet in front of her was an enormous wild drake.
Part 5: Lessons in Dragon Slaying
Ivar backed up, then darted straight toward the rim of the redrock canyon, gaining momentum before diving headfirst off the edge. Behind him, he heard Dusty’s furious, chittering protests as Ivar left him behind.
Luckily, they were up early enough and out far enough that Ivar doubted anyone would be around to witness what he was about to do. Although, if anyone had been, Ivar would’ve jumped anyway—Nothing was more important than getting to Meleya as quickly as possible.
Ivar fell fast, keeping his eyes on Meleya as she stood in the dusty, rock spire-filled canyon bed. She trembled before the imposing drake, dropping a couple of yucca palm fruits.
And his little scoundrel of a daughter had the nerve to hurriedly pick them up again before continuing to back away.
Soot. Of course this had to happen the morning after he specifically promised Freya he’d keep their daughter safe.
Technically, he was still keeping that promise.
Just from a distance.
At high velocity.
And while egregiously breaking the law, since he was about to use etherarchy.
The dry desert wind cut against Ivar’s scruffy cheeks, tossing his hair as he lifted a finger to runetrace. Gold light followed his finger, and the rune glowed to life over his forehead.
Just before he splattered against the stone at the bottom of the sheer canyon wall, Ivar made a pulling motion with his hands.
The dragonleather pauldron straps across his chest responded to his action, pulling him upward as Ivar telekinetically slowed his descent. He landed on his feet, red dust billowing up around him. He grinned, pretty proud of how smoothly that had gone. Soot, it felt good to use etherarchy again after so long.
Meleya’s next yelp pulled him back into the moment as he saw her fleeing the wild dragon. Right. There was no time for a pat on the back—even if that had been a ten out of ten telekinetic landing.
The chestnut-colored drake had lighter tan patterns forming diamond shapes along its spiny back, and majestic horns curving backward off its head. Nearly as big as a dragonmoose, the drake reared up on its hind legs. Then, with a mountain lion’s grace, it pounced toward Meleya.
Ivar reached out toward her, telekinetically grabbing Meleya by the scruff of the cloak and dragging her out of the way in the nick of time. Ivar breathed a sigh of relief, then chuckled under his breath as the mighty dragon ate dirt.
They were still several yards away from Ivar as the drake recovered from its fruitless pounce. Drakes were wingless, but even on foot, seven-year-old Meleya didn’t stand a chance of outrunning a fully grown dragon. Not with legs that short.
Running faster than he ever had before, Ivar thrust a hand forward. The rune still aglow over his forehead pulsed, and with another psionic push on his dragonleather straps, Ivar boosted himself toward Meleya. The extra push made him stumble, but he telekinetically caught himself by his armor’s straps again.
“Yee haw!” Ivar yelled at the top of his lungs as he waved a hand toward the drake. “Little Mels ain’t good eatin,’ I can tell you that. Otherwise I’d’ve had her for a midday morsel myself long ago!”
The drake turned its dragonfire green eyes from Meleya to Ivar, looking confused by the absurd outburst. Ivar counted that as a success. It bought Meleya and her armful of yucca fruits enough time to scramble behind a smooth, red sandstone ridge as Ivar jumped in front of the wild drake.
The drake roared, annoyed that someone now stood between him and the easy prey. Though judging by the wild dragon’s hungry eyes, he was perfectly ready to devour any human foolish enough to cross his path.
“Taste my seaxe, Lord Drake,” Ivar taunted, reaching toward his belt.
“Drak,” Ivar swore when his fingers closed around nothing. He’d forgotten he’d left his sword at the top of the canyon rim near the agave plant.
Ivar’s face was apologetic. “I don’t suppose you’d mind waitin’ until I can run up there and grab my blade, illustrious Lord Drake?”
The wild dragon answered with a roar and a slash from his powerful claws. Ivar yelped, barely diving out of the way in time.
“Guess not,” Ivar mumbled as he quickly picked himself up out of the dirt. “No seaxe today, my friend. But say hello to my favorite dagger.”
When the drake’s next strike came, Ivar blocked the drake’s talons with the flat of his gleaming blade. The drake was much stronger than Ivar was, but he managed to redirect the creature’s forward motion away from him.
“Did you see that, Mels?” Ivar called over his shoulder. “Lesson one in dragon slayin’: Should you ever find yourself engagin’ a wild drake, you ain’t never gonna overpower it. Instead, use its momentum against it. Remember, a wild dragon never hesitates, and neither should you.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Ivar saw a snow white head poke up from behind the sandstone ridge. She watched her father with wide eyes full of both terror and curiosity. Ivar even thought he saw her mouthing the lesson back, committing it to memory.
The brown-scaled dragon reared back its head, and Ivar knew what was coming next.
“Duck!” he cried, using his psionic rune to pull Meleya back down behind the rock by her cloak. He barely had time to fling himself to the ground at the drake’s feet as the beast threw his head forward.
Bright green dragonfire blasted from his mouth toward Meleya’s hiding place. The flames charred the sandstone, but Meleya was safe on the other side. Ivar flattened himself against the sandy canyon floor as the flames jetted above him.
“Woowee,” Ivar panted, rolling to his feet. “Lesson two: Should a wild dragon ever get to preparin’ a breath of dragonfire, your best choice is to shield. Don’t run away, or else they’ll just blast you from behind. If you ain’t got a shield, duck toward the dragon’s legs. He can’t roast himself, so the closer you can get the better.”
As Ivar spoke, the drake made another swipe with his claw, followed by a lash with his spiked tail. The drake seemed confused by Ivar’s nonchalant jabbering. Ivar slashed with his dagger, wishing he could use his telekinesis on the dragon itself. But psionic power didn’t work on living things.
“And Mels,” Ivar said between stabs and dodges as he fought the wild drake. “The way you were runnin’ away earlier was all wrong.”
After casting a quick glance up toward the rim to ensure they still didn’t have any spectators, Ivar telekinetically pelted the drake with some loose shale to buy more time for instruction.
“Lesson three: Never flee a dragon in a straight line. Always always weave. Got it?”
Ivar thought he heard a tiny ‘yes, daddy’ from behind the dragonfire-charred sandstone ridge. Sweat beaded along Ivar’s forehead—he was getting winded from all this ducking and rolling out of the way. Soot, this was so much easier with a sword. Time to end this thing.
“Watch carefully, Mels,” Ivar instructed. He knew a lot of the others in the nomadic caravans tried to shield their children from the brutality of slaying a dragon. But Meleya had seen her father take out his latest evren only yesterday.
Besides, as a magi, Meleya would spend the rest of her life with the burden of her ether drawing wild dragons near. It wasn’t the future he wanted for her, but Ivar wanted his daughter to be prepared for that reality.
Ivar’s psionic rune glowed with golden light as he telekinetically raised his dagger into the air. He sent it flying toward the drake, pushing and pulling on it so that it avoided the beast’s slashing claws.
The with a thrusting motion from his hand, Ivar drove the dagger straight into the drake’s vulnerable underside, right into its heart. The drake choked mid-roar as it fell lifeless to the sandy canyon floor with a thud.
“And there you go,” Ivar said, brushing his hands together. He mimed tipping his hat to the fallen drake. “Thank you kindly for the learnin’ opportunity for my girl, Lord Drake.”
Ivar turned to Meleya’s hiding place. “Any questions?”
He watched as his little girl cautiously crept around the edge of the sandstone ridge. She was eyeing the dead drake, and still holding the little cluster of yucca palm fruits she no doubt planned to cook over a fire.
“Am I in trouble?” she asked.
Ivar ruffled her messy white hair. “I sure hope not, Mels. But probably.”
Then he walked over to the drake, yanking out his dagger by the hilt. Coppery dragon’s blood dripped off the tip, and Ivar wiped it clean on the already dusty hem of his tunic.
He knelt down beside Meleya, carefully holding the blade of the dagger and offering her the hilt. Ivar could see the excited light in her eyes as she set down her fruits and took the blade.
“You’re gonna need this,” Ivar said seriously. “Life ain’t gonna be easy, and it definitely ain’t gonna be fair. But you’re strong, you’re smart, and you’re brave. And in this here family, we look out for each other.”
Meleya nodded eagerly, looking over the dagger. She carefully ran her fingers along the well-worn ridges of the dragonmoose antler handle.
Ivar cast a nervous glance upward toward the canyon rim. Then he put his hands on his daughter’s shoulders and raised an eyebrow. “Now, I’ve got one final lesson for you today. And this is the most important one.”
Meleya leaned forward as she waited to hear what her father would say. Ivar’s face was deadly serious as he fiddled with the woven marriage bracelet around his wrist.
“Not a word about any of this to Mom.”
Ivar and Meleya clasped forearms and shook on it. As they did, they heard the sound of a very upset, squeaking draccoon finally reaching the bottom of the canyon.
In his fist, Dusty proudly held up a single dead scaleshrew.
Ivar laughed, then glanced over his shoulder.
“Nice kill, Dusty,” he said. “But today, this family—soot, the whole caravan—is gonna be feastin’ on drake meat.”