A Dawn of Dragonfire - By Daniel Arenson


Mori was standing on the fortress walls when she saw the phoenix rise.

A bird of fire, it soared from the snowy horizon, wings outstretched like sunrays. It must have been huge—the size of a dragon or larger. Mori gasped and shivered. The wind whipped her cloak, scented of fire, too hot for winter. She grasped her little finger behind her back, the sixth finger on her left hand, her luck finger. Her pet mouse clutched her shoulder; he too had seen the creature of flame.

"Orin!" Mori whispered, lips trembling. She wanted to cry out louder, to sound the alarm, to summon her brother and all his guards… but her fear froze her lips like the frost upon the endless forest before her.

The phoenix coiled in the distance, soaring higher, a creature of grace and beauty. It seemed woven of nothing but fire, and a wake of sparks like stars trailed below it. Mori could hear its distant call, caws like a southern bird of many colors.

Mori wanted to flee. She remembered all those stories her brothers would tell her, terrible stories of griffins attacking Requiem and killing a million of her people. Even when we took dragon form, we could not stop them, her brothers would say and squawk like griffins, making Mori run and weep and hide.

"But that was a long time ago," Mori whispered, fingers shaking, even her luck finger. It had been hundreds of years since griffins had attacked, and Requiem was strong now, so powerful no enemy could harm her. Fifty thousand Vir Requis lived in Nova Vita, fair city of the north, and each could grow scales and wings, take flight as a dragon, and defend her.

Still, she reminded herself, Nova Vita lay far north—so many leagues away, she could not count them. Here in the south, in cold and lonely Castellum Luna, only fifty Vir Requis dwelled. Her brother Orin. A few soldiers. And her… the princess Mori, an eighteen-year-old girl with one finger too many, a pet mouse, and enough fear to drown her.

She squinted at the horizon. The phoenix was undulating skyward like a candle's flame torn free from the wick. Its song carried on the wind. Her mouse twitched his whiskers, scurried down Mori's gown, and entered her pocket. Mori envied her pet; she often wished she too could hide so easily.

"Maybe it's good," she whispered. "Maybe it won't hurt us, Pip."

Without Pip, her dear mouse, she would have gone mad down here, she thought. It was just so lonely in this southern hinterland. So… so cold and distant and everything frightened her. Mori missed Nova Vita. She missed the city's marble columns that rose between the birches, so beautiful, not like the rough bricks of this outpost. She missed her father the king, her friend the Lady Lyana, and all the minstrels and priests and jugglers and storytellers. Most of all, she missed the library of Nova Vita, a towering chamber with so many books she could read for a lifetime.

Why did Father have to send her here? Why did Requiem even need another settlement? Nova Vita was good enough. Mori had tried to tell Father that, but he only spoke of Requiem recovering from the griffins, and expanding to her old borders, and how the southern air would put some courage into her, and… Mori wanted to weep. None of it made sense to her, and nothing so far had made her any braver. If anything, her fear only grew upon these cold stone walls, staring into this frosted forest, and watching this bird of fire.

As she stood frozen in fear, the horizon kindled. An orange glow rose from distant mist, spreading tendrils across the white sky; it was like sunrise from the south. The snowy forest turned red, and the smell of fire filled Mori's nostrils, spinning her head. Flames crackled and finally she found her voice.

"Orin!" she shouted from the walls. "Fire, Orin! The forest is burning!"

But no, this was no forest fire, she saw. These were no earthly flames. Countless more phoenixes spread wings. Countless wakes of fire rose like comets. The horizon blazed with an army of firebirds, eagles of sound and fury. Their shrieks rose, cries of war. The clouds themselves burned and the forest shook, its frost melting, its trees crackling.

"Orin!" Mori cried. She wanted to use her magic, the magic of Requiem. She wanted to grow scales and wings, breathe fire, and fly as a dragon. But she could only stand upon these