A Day of Dragon Blood - By Daniel Arenson


Three dragons flew in the night, seeing demons in every shadow.

The swamplands rolled below into darkness. Mist rose from the mangroves like ghosts, only to disperse in the flap of leathern wings. The clammy scents of moss, mud, and leaf filled the dragons' nostrils, mingling with the scent of fire that crackled inside their maws. No stars gleamed above; it was a night of cloud, of fear, of a quiet before the storm.

"Where are you?" Silas whispered, scanning the darkness. His scales clanked and his scars still blazed. It had been a year since the war, a year since the Tirans had flown over these swamplands, killed his king, toppled his home, and left his body a ruin of burnt flesh and lacerations. A year—and still the scars burned, those that covered his body and those that clawed inside him.

"My lord!" said Tanin, a young dragon who flew beside him. He was a mere boy, just turned sixteen, and green as his scales. "My lord, do you see something?"

Silas grumbled. "I'm not a lord, Tanin. And lower your voice; it could carry for a mile on this wind."

Farm boys, he thought and spat. They send me farm boys to lead in patrol. A year ago, Silas had served among a thousand true warriors, hardened dragons who fought for Requiem's glory. Nearly all had died in the war, burned in phoenix fire over the capital or cut with steel in its tunnels.

Yet I linger. Thousands of warriors died around me, in glory and fury, and here I am... a scarred, twisted old thing serving with the children of farmers and bakers. He was barely thirty, but he felt old beside these youths—his soul like ancient leather, crumpled countless times, and his bones brittle as rusted blades.

Wings churned the mist, and Yara flew up to him, her eyes bright. A slim silver dragon, a baker's daughter, she bared her fangs.

"Silas!" she said, panting. "I saw something! A shadow in the night." She pointed her claws south.

Icy fingers seemed to clutch Silas. He looked south but saw only leagues of shadows, swirling clouds, and mangroves that swayed over mud and water.

Scales clattering with fear, Tanin snorted a blast of fire. "Where, Yara? Where?"

Silas whipped his head around and hissed. "Silence, boy! Still your tongue and your fire."

He turned his head back south. He narrowed his eyes, seeking, barely breathing. Gliding silently on the wind, he sniffed the air.

Nothing, he thought. Nothing but leagues of these swamplands. No enemy. No—

Beside him, the two young dragons gasped. Silas cursed and filled his maw with flames.

Damn it.

A dozen shadows swooped from the clouds, not a hundred yards away. Red eyes blazed and fangs glinted; Silas saw nothing more of the creatures but shadow. He growled, spat a curse, and blew a jet of fire.

The flames spun and screamed, and for an instant Silas saw the beasts. His blood froze. They were large as dragons, their scales metallic, their wings wide, their jaws long and sharp as blades. Human riders sat astride them, faceless behind jagged helms. Then the fire crashed against the beasts, and their shrieks shattered the night. They screeched like smashing glass, like cracking bones, like storms. Their wings thudded and they crashed against him.

Claws tore at his scales. Fangs drove into flesh. Silas growled and slashed at them, his claws screeching against scales as hard as iron. Sparks showered. He saw Yara and Tanin fighting beside him, and blood sprayed through the mist.

"Yara, fall back!" Silas howled. "Send the signal!"

One of the beasts swooped again, scales rippling and claws lashing. Silas spun, swung his tail, and hit a head of scales and spikes. Another beast flew at his right, a mere shadow in the night, and fangs dug into Silas's shoulder. Pain blazed and in a flash, Silas was back in the tunnels, back in the darkness under Nova Vita, fighting the war that had left his brothers dead and him this burnt shell of a man. Fire once more raced across him, burning as his city collapsed and all those he knew fell dead around him.

He blasted more fire. It crashed into the creatures and showered, and Silas was back above the swamps, a year later, fighting to stop this war from flaring again. In the firelight, he saw Yara retreat. The young silver dragon puffed her chest, tossed her head back, and seemed ready to send the signal for aid—three upward blasts of fire.

Before she could summon her flame, the shadowy beasts