Natalie peered around the corner, wondering how much longer she would have to wait before the bird’s murky song echoed through the halls and set her free.

The wizard colonel in charge of the palace was unaware of her existence, and that was the only thing saving her ass right now. Natalie crossed her fingers that he wouldn’t find out about her before it was too late.

The first notes trickled through the corridor, and Natalie blew her advantage by stepping out at just the right moment, right into the path of Wizard-Colonel Larkspur. Their eyes met, and as he raised an eyebrow, the fear in her expression made him realize that this was a person he needed to know more about.

“Seize her!” he commanded, and the first three guards behind him grabbed Natalie by her arms and waist before she could turn and run in a desperate bid for freedom. “Bring her to me.”

The guards somehow managed to march Natalie the four feet between them, and the wizard colonel reached out a finger and tipped her chip up so he could look deep into her eyes. The puzzlement cleared from his face in an instant, to be replaced by a loathing that even the guards behind him could feel. Natalie cringed at the hurtful gaze, fearing the worst was about to happen.

“Take her to the dungeon at once!” His voice trembled the slightest bit on the last word, and Natalie was the only one who caught it. Her heart lifted anew with fresh hope, and she cooperated with the guards tugging her along.

She looked back over her shoulder just once, and her timing was perfect enough to catch Larkspur mid-shudder.

Natalie began to smile as she stood a little straighter. Maybe things weren’t as bad as they seemed after all.


Clara the Dragon Slayer

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Once upon a time, in a faraway land, there lived a young girl named Clara. Clara loved her mother and father very much, but on her twelfth birthday, a dragon swooped down from the blue, blue sky and ate them both up. The dragon looked at Clara, as if deciding whether or not to eat her up, too. Her parents must have made enough of a meal for him, though, and he flew off, burping a fiery belch as he beat the air with his scaly wings.

On her twelfth birthday, Clara decided that she would become a dragon slayer when she grew up.

The best–the greatest, most well-known and world-renowned dragon slayers came from a country bordering Clara’s homeland of Bodoni–a country called Eltis. In addition to training the fiercest, most dedicated dragon slayers in the world, Eltis also hosted the most respected school of magic in the world: two slightly related achievements. Related because dragons cannot be slain without magic; slightly because magic cannot be taught to someone without an innate talent for it.

With her parents lost to the appetite of a giant fire-breathing beast, Clara had no one to take care of her. Her father’s parents had died before she was born, victims of a rogue pixie who had sparked their cottage to flames while they slept peacefully in their bed. Her mother’s father had been crushed by the tree he was cutting down the previous summer, and her mother’s mother died of grief less than a month later.

She did have an uncle on her mother’s side, but no one had heard from him since he disappeared on his own twelfth birthday, nearly twenty years earlier. Sometimes Clara felt that she’d known him, she’d heard her mother talk about him so often and so fondly. Other times, Clara wondered if her uncle ever really existed. She had her doubts, since no one in their village knew of any other inexplicable disappearances.

Clara Paused to consider the fact that she was the only witness to her parents’ demise. Would anyone believe her? Of course they would; Clara was a trustworthy girl, and the marauding dragons had become more and more problematic as the year progressed. Of course they would believe her. She was twelve years old now; old enough for apprenticeship or marriage, even, if her family had been better off.

Clara laid down next to the scorched patch of ground that was all that remained of her parents. The clouds broke overhead, and a single shaft of sunlight reached down to caress her faced, drying her single tear and warming her clammy skin. Clara closed her eyes and drifted into sleep.

When she woke it was dark, and the air was growing chilly. She sat up quickly, and for a moment, lived again in a world with her parents. Then she turned her head enough to catch a glimpse of the burnt grass, and reality slammed back into her chest with a physical pain. She turned the opposite way to shut out the sight, and cocked her head as she realized that a fairy ring had sprung up around her as she slept. The small white mushrooms almost seemed to be glowing in the moonlight.

Clara tucked her feet beneath her as she sat up in curiosity, her grief momentarily forgotten. They were glowing; it wasn’t just a trick of the light. She leaned forward until she was on all fours and slowly, so slowly, crept forward.

The swish of wings sounded above her, and Clara cringed as she looked upward in fear, but it was a swooping bat, hungry for insects, not a dragon, hungry for Clara. She sighed in relief and returned her attention to the mushroom surrounding her.

But they weren’t mushrooms, after all, Clara saw as, one by one, the tiny glowing orbs began to craze with jagged cracks, She had no idea what was about to happen; no one had ever said anything about weird mushroom eggs hatching in the middle of the night. Having just turned twelve, however, Clara had precious little caution to begin with, and so she threw that little bit of caution to the wind and reached out to touch the nearest egg with one finger.

The shell fell to the ground in pieces, and Clara jerked her hand back. She quickly looked around as she heard the tinkling of the other dozen or so shells crumbling into shards. The light coming form the eggs intensified until Clara had to shield her eyes with one hand.

As one, the bright orbs rose from the ground and hovered a few inches above it. Clara fell back from the edge, then rose to stand in the center of the circle.

…to be continued.