Once in a Dragon Moon - Ophelia Bell


“You three are moving like sand sloths.” Dmitri lifted his fossil lantern, waiting for the others to catch up. “Myron was adamant. He said to meet him at sunset.”

The lantern barely illuminated ten feet into the dry-packed tunnel, but its soft, amber glow helped them avoid fissures from a decades old cave-in.

“Seriously?” Santer snorted. “We live in a pit. A pretty, crystal-encrusted pit. For all we know, the dual suns blew up while our elders played patty cake in the dark.”

Ksenia dragged her spiked gloves along the walls, sending sparks into the gloom. “Speak for yourself, shnookums. If you don’t like it here, then you should leave. It was your Volkhv ancestors who convinced the elders to march us underground, so stop complaining.”

“Why do you always bring that up? It was centuries ago, and only because the elders were too afraid to do anything else.” Santer caught Ksenia’s hand mid-scrape. “Cut that out! You’re making my teeth hurt.”

She laughed and patted his face. “Aw, the baby Volkhv is teething.”

“Nice try, adventure junkie, but goading a Volkhv never works,” Santer let go of her wrist. “We’re seers, so we see you warrior types coming a mile away.”

“Will you two cut it out?” Dmitri stopped, cocking his head as a buzzing crackle sounded in the distance. “Do you hear that?”

“What is that?” Ksenia squinted and angled her head as well, her sleek ponytail sliding over her shoulder. “A cave-in somewhere deeper in the tunnels?”

Dmitri shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine. I’ve never heard anything like it before.”

“Maybe it’s vapors escaping through the fissures,” Santer added. “Whatever it is, we should get Myron and clear out. At least until we know more.”

“And how can we know more if we don’t investigate?” Ksenia pushed past Santer to listen to the sound again. Screwing up her forehead, she looked at Dmitri. “Static?”

He nodded. “Could be. Myron would know best.”

“Then let’s ask him and get the hell out of here before the mine collapses under our feet.” Santer pushed past them both.

The three hurried down the tunnel. The buzzing crackled and whined, making them wince the closer they got to their sanctuary. Theirs wasn’t a sacred space; for the four friends, it was an escape from unending shadow and dragon-made light. They were the youngest generation of Clan Sandrekar, the Sand Dragons of the vast deserts of Nova Aurora. Or they had been, until marauders realized the dragons’ scales were worth a fortune.

Thousands of years of runoff from the Ice Mountains flowed into the desert landscape, lush with minerals. Heat from Nova Aurora’s dual suns crystalized the mix, forcing a genetic anomaly in the Sandrekar that presented in their unique opalescent scales—an opalescence unsurpassed in camouflage and impenetrability, and worth a fortune on the intergalactic black market.

They’d been hunted to near extinction until they’d escaped beneath the same sands that were once their home. All but forgotten, they thrived in complete isolation in a vast subterranean domain, fed by underground springs and crystal deposits.

“Myron!” Ksenia shouted over the piercing hum. She raced with Dmitri to their sanctuary door, shoving it open to find their geeky friend hunched over a set of archaic wires. Half his head was hidden under enormous headphones, and he didn’t look up.

Dmitri snatched the headphones. “Dude! Are you deaf? Can’t you hear that squealing buzz?”

Myron uncrossed two wires inside an open-faced metal box. The annoying buzz faded immediately, but a lopsided grin spread across his face. “This is so cool! You won’t believe it. I fixed the receiver!”

Santer moved to Dmitri’s side, opposite Ksenia, and the three peered at the box on Myron’s worktable. “That tangle of cables and dented metal was a receiver?” Santer reached to touch one of the wires, but Ksenia smacked his hand away.

“Yes.” Myron leaned back in his chair. “Better yet, I got a signal.”

“A signal for what?” Ksenia asked.

“Whatever they’re broadcasting outside. Music. Talking. A lot of time devoted to encouraging product sales.” He unplugged a cable and slid his finger along a small lever. “Listen.”

A melodic tempo trickled from the device, unlike the instruments familiar to the dragons. Myron bobbed his head in time to the beat until Dmitri reached forward and turned one of the knobs. Sharp static cut through the music, and then a single voice came through.

“—Hot Wings duo is returning to the arena after a year’s break, but we’re confident the former League champions are ready to—”

Dmitri adjusted the device again, silencing the voice. Ksenia reached out, stilling his hand.